Category Archives: Tips and Technique

Difference of Seasons: July versus January—Two Views.

Here are two views of the same train: led by the same locomotive, at the same location, more or less at the same time of day, exposed using the same camera with the same lens.

Both photos show New Engand Central job 608 led by GP38 3845 working northward in the morning along Plains Road in Willington, Connecticut (south of Stafford Springs).

Photos were exposed digitally using a FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens. The slight difference in angle may be attributed to the inconvenience of a mushy snow bank along the road in winter view that was not a problem in the summer.

New England Central 3845 north on July 28, 2017.
New England Central 3845 north on January 9, 2018.

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Four Angles on the Same Freight—L427.

Mike Gardner and I stopped in at Hinsdale, Massachusetts and found CSX L427 (Portland, Maine via Pan Am to Selkirk< New York) stopped on the old Boston & Albany mainline waiting for a crew change.

This had a cool all-EMD locomotive consist; SD60M, SD40-2, SD60M. On a line that tends to be dominated by GE diesels, this symmetrical EMD arrangement is unusual.

We took the time to make photos from a variety of angles.

From the gazebo in Hinsdale, Massachusetts.
Hinsdale.
It brightened up briefly for this classic three quarter angle.
I actually exposed more than a dozen photos, but I like these the best.

Why settle for one view when you can have many?

Icy Morning with CSX Q022—Variations on a Location

It was a bitterly cold morning just after sunrise when I made these views looking across a field off Route 67 east of Palmer, Massachusetts (near CP79, the control point 79 miles west of South Station, Boston, that controls the switch at the east-end of the control siding at Palmer.)

All were made from the same vantage point.

I was working with two cameras. My FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto, and my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake.

The exposure, color profiles and color temperature of the cameras were set up differently, which explains the slight difference in overall density and tint.

Do you have a favorite? And why?

Digitally exposed with a FujiFilm XT1 fitted with a 90mm telephoto.
Digitally exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens.
Digitally exposed with a Canon EOS 7D with 40mm pancake lens.

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Mass-Central at Thorndike, January 3, 2018—See Tracking the Light for Six Snowy Views.

On the previous day, CSX B740 had interchanged a healthy cut of cars for Mass-Central at Palmer, Massachusetts. So I surmised that this would be a good time to catch Mass-Central working both of its GP38-2s together.

Paul Goewey and I arrived in Palmer early, and once we were sure Mass-Central was ready to head north up their line toward Ware (old Boston & Albany Ware River Branch), we began scoping photo locations.

Although brisk and cold, the sun was clear and bright and there was a good amount of snow on the ground.

We set up at the Main Street Crossing along the valley’s namesake river. We didn’t have to wait long before we heard the train coming up the line.

Into the sun. Post processing adjustment was necessary to maximize the detail captured in the Fuji RAW file.
A telephoto view at the same location looking timetable north.
An exposure adjustment gave me this photo.
Mass-Central’s northward train approaches Main Street in Thorndike. Camera JPG.
Adjusted file with wide-angle view point at Main Street Thorndike, Massachusetts.
Post processing adjusted RAW of the train trailing on the crossing.

These views were exposed using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.

 

Palmer— Then (again) and Now.

I’d mentioned that among the top ten reasons that I wanted to make photographs in 2018 was to revisit old places to make dramatic then and now comparisons.

This is a work in progress. And I’ve published similar comparisons for Palmer previously.

Below are several views looking west from the Palmer station toward the diamond crossing.

Over the decades I’ve made hundreds of photos here.

The vintage photo dates from Spring 1984. This view works well for modern companions because I conveniently left lots of room to the right of the locomotive while including details such as the code lines.

The color New England Central views were exposed on January 3, 2018.

These are imperfect comparisons because I’m not working from precisely the same angle, nor am I using equivalent lenses.

1984 view exposed with a Leica IIIA with 50mm Summitar. Central Vermont northward local freight crossing Conrail’s former Boston & Albany line.
For point of reference the old eastward Boston & Albany mainline is in the same place, as are the rails used to hold the old Palmer sign in the black & white photo that is now a white box with a yellow stripe near the second locomotive in the color view.
Compare the track arrangements between the 1984 and 2018 views.
Enlarged version of the 1984 view. The old westward main was removed from service in summer 1986, and later lifted.

The 1984 views were made with a 50mm Leica Summitar, while the more recent views were exposed digitally using a Fujinon 90mm lens. However, I also made a few color slides using a 40mm Canon lens. But those are pending processing.

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Style-S Semaphore Where You Wouldn’t Expect to Find One.

In my books on railroad signaling I’ve chronicled the history of Union Switch & Signal’s Style S semaphores.

See: Classic Railroad Signals

In the 1980s and 1990s, I made a project of photographing these three-position semaphores on Conrail’s former Erie Railroad route.

Recently a Style S signal has appeared in Palmer, Massachusetts in front of the railroad-themed ‘Train Masters Inn’.

A recent photo of the preserved US&S Style S semaphore in front of the Train Masters Inn on South Main Street in Palmer, Massachusetts. Can you spot the erroneous installation?

I asked the owner where he got it, and he indicated from a dealer in Ohio.

For point of comparison, I’ve included a few of my photos of semaphores along the old Erie.

This was a signal near Erie’s 242 milepost. The style of blade is a bit more modern than the signal in Palmer as it uses a different counterweight arrangement. However careful comparison between this blade and the preserved blade should lead to a conclusion.

Certainly, the signal in Palmer has similarities with the Erie’s; same type of blade as used on older installations, same type of finial.

Careful observers will notice the operating mistake in the way this preserved signal was installed; something that could be easily rectified.

A Susquehanna SD45 roars west at Canaseraga, New York on the old Erie Railroad mainline. Exposed on Kodachrome in May 1988.
Conrail’s BUOI is running on track 1 against the current of traffic so the semaphore is displaying ‘stop and proceed’ as this is automatic block signal territory. Believe it or not, this was exposed on May 7th, 1989 following a freak late season snow storm.
So I ask, where did this signal come from? Is it from the old Erie? And if so, where .I’d like to know.

The Train Masters Inn is a B&B located near the old Palmer Union Station. See: train masters inn.

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Classic Angle at the Diamond.

I knew it as the Boston & Albany and Central Vermont diamond in Palmer (diamond describes the shape of rails made by the angled level crossing of the two lines). I made my first photos at this location before I entered 6th grade.

Fast forward to January 2, 2018. I stepped out of the car at Palmer and with the crisp winter air I could hear a train approaching eastbound.

So often my ears have alerted me to a train. In this case the two-cycle roar of classic EMD 645 diesels.

I ambled toward the diamond and made these views. Over-the-shoulder light, with rich mid-morning sun, at a readily identifiable location; nearly perfect.

Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm lens, I exposed a sequence of images designed to mimic the angle I’d used here many years earlier.

There are more trees here now than in years gone by. Yet I’d made vertical views here before to emphasize the signal.
CSX GP40-2s lead B740 eastbound over the famous diamond.
CSX local freight B740 was carrying cars of pipe to be interchanged at Palmer Yard with the Mass-Central. That gave an a idea for the following day.

 

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Swiss Colour—Trams at the Basel Hbf.

25 April 2017, I spent a few minutes making photographs of trams at the transit hub in front of the Basel Hauptbahnhof (main railway station).

In the vertical view I’ve included some flowers in the foreground for colour and depth.

The railway station makes for a nice transportation  backdrop.

Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm Fujinon zoom lens.
The flowers mimic the colours of the the trams.

 

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Cross Lighting at State Line

Too often railway photographers seek ‘calendar lighting’, (over the shoulder three-quarter (morning or afternoon) sun, with a minimum of shadows, diffusion, or other natural lighting effects).

There’s nothing wrong with these classic conditions, but when applied repetitively in exclusion to other types of lighting it can result in a predictable body of work. Formulaic is a term that comes to mind.

Consider cross lighting; when the sun illuminates from an angle opposite the subject, yet not in the photo. This offers bright light on the front of the subject, but shadows on the side creating a more dramatic angle.

This effect can be tempered when the lighting is low, diffused (by clouds, mist or pollution) and/or when bright foreground (such as snow) reflects light into shadow areas.

Exposed digitally with a FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit.

I made this cross-lit view on the New England Central at Stateline Summit in late afternoon. Notice my use of foreground.

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Retro Local Freight—CSX B740

Back in the early 1980s, Conrail routinely assigned GP40-2s to road freights on the Boston & Albany. Back then I ignorantly dismissed the GP40-2s as ‘boring’. (But, I made photos anyway).

Today, being older and wiser and having a greater appreciation for locomotives of all kinds, I look back fondly on those olden times.

Luckily, I don’t have to go too far to find GP40s on the move. CSX still assigns vintage GP40-2s (albeit modernized) to the Palmer, Massachusetts local freight, symbol B740. (On the old Boston & Albany).

I see these locomotives as classics, yet still earning their keep, and wearing modern paint.

Exposed digitally; metered manually, ISO 400, f7.1 at 1/500th of a second.
Telephoto view of CSX B740 at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts.

Last week when I exposed these views of CSX B740 at CP83 near the old Palmer Station, it was bright, but partly overcast midday with diffused high sun. Snow on the ground helps lighten the shadows—Decent, if not perfect, conditions for photographing locomotives.

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Final Photo of 2017.

This was the last photo I exposed in 2017.

It was about 4 degrees Fahrenheit at East Brookfield, Massachusetts, when I made this view at 9:38pm on December 31st looking west toward CP64.

The signal had just changed from all red (stop) to red over flashing green (Limited Clear) on the main track.

I exposed the photograph with my FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens with the camera mounted on a Gitzo tripod.

Using the ‘A’ mode with aperture set to f2.8, the exposure value boosted by about 2/3rds of a stop, and ISO set to 400, my effective shutter speed was about 5 seconds. A length of time that seems like forever when you are standing alone in the dark with an icy wind in your face.

I checked my exposure and focus and thought to myself ‘good enough’. Which means that if it were warmer, I’d make another image.

This image is a scaled version of the camera-produced Jpg. I did not alter contrast, exposure, sharpness or make other visual corrections during post processing.
Some purest somewhere may someday examine my file and determine that it was made in 2018, and it would have been If I was in Ireland. I don’t bother recalibrating my camera’s clock when I switch time zones. It’s just one of those things.

CSX’s Q007 was lined west. But opted not to wait for it.

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Top Ten Reasons to Make Photographs in 2018.

Too often I hear veteran photographers provide excuses for why they haven’t made photos in a long time. Here’s a tip for YOU in 2018, ditch the excuses and find the time to make photographs.

Here are ten reasons why I will be making railway photographs in 2018. Maybe you can come up with you own list:

10) It’s a great excuse to travel.

Milano Centrale. Exposed with my Lumix LX7.

9) It’s a great motivation to get out of bed.

I don’t want to miss the morning liner! Exposed with my FujiFilm XT1.

8) I might need new material to keep Tracking the Light fresh?

New England Central on the move.

7) I want to revisit old places to look for new angles.

I’ve made hundreds of photos at Dublin’s Connolly Station, but I’m always trying to find something a little different.

6) I want to revisit old places to make dramatic then and now comparisons.

Back in the 1980s, I made a lot of photos at the Palmer Diamond. I made this one in December 2017. I’m using a composite feature on the camera to simulate the effect of a model railroad.

5) I like to experiment with equipment, photographic techniques, lighting conditions, and new locations.

In April 2017, I made my first trip to Lake Geneva.

4) Things are on the cusp of change (really) and there’s no better time than now to photograph.

Just because a railroad has been around for more than 20 years, doesn’t mean it will be around forever. Get your photos before it’s too late.

3) It allows me to explore history.

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania allows you to step back in time. Lumix LX7 photo.

2) It gives me great opportunities to spend time with my friends.

I took lots of railway trips with my friends in 2017. This is a view on Northern Irish Railways.

1) I like being around railways and their inherent sense of motion and commerce.

PCC cars on the move in Philadelphia.

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Connecticut Trolley Museum Winterfest—2017.

Snow, crisp cold air, and lots of decorative holiday lights: that’s the attraction of Connecticut Trolley Museum’s Winterfest.

Here’s a tip (two really): When making photos in this environment it helps to have a good solid tripod. And, if you going to bring a tripod that uses a clip-on system to attach the camera to the tripod head, IT REALLY HELPS to make sure you have your clip!

Last night, I exposed these photos using my FujiFilm X-T1 firmly mounted on a Gitzo Trip. I planned my visit to the Connecticut Trolley Museum to coincide with sunset, so that I could make use of the last of daylight before the inky black of night set in.

Connecticut Company car 1326 in the Tunnel of Lights. FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens.
Connecticut Company car 1326 in the Tunnel of Lights. FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens.
Connecticut Company car 1326 in the Tunnel of Lights. FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens.
Boston Elevated Railway car. FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens. RAW File with Tungsten light balance, shadows boosted in post processing.
Boston Elevated Railway car. FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens.
Boston Elevated Railway car. FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm pancake lens.
Boston Elevated Railway car. FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm pancake lens.
Connecticut Company 1326 with FujiFilm X-T1 and 27mm pancake lens.

I experimented with my camera’s pre-programmed color temperature settings while also trying various Fuji film color profiles. With one or two images, I adjusted the RAW files to make the most of the scene.

By the time I was done with my first round of photography my fingers were pretty numb.

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CSX at Warren, Massachusetts—Lessons in Composition Revisited—Six views.

Yes, I’ve done this before.

Warren, Massachusetts is a favorite place to photograph, but also a tricky one.

I used Warren as an example for a similar compositional conversation in Trains Magazine, published about two years ago and  featured photo of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited.

Yesterday (December 29, 2017), I arrived in Warren just in time to set up and catch CSX’s late-running Q264 (loaded autoracks for East Brookfield) race up the grade and pass the recently restored former Boston & Albany station.

Using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens, I exposed a burst of images.

I’ve selected three of these, and then annotated versions of the image that I like the best so that you may benefit from my compositional considerations.

I prefer this view over the two closer images. I think the composition works better (as illustrated in the annotated versions) and it emphasizes the station, which personally I find more interesting than the train.
This view was made seconds after the one above. Although the train is closer, most of the interesting elements of the old station have been obscured.
This is a nice photo of CSX’s Q264, but it could be anywhere on the Boston & Albany line. Why bother going to Warren if the station and town are cropped?

There’s no correct answer to composition; in this instance I prefer the more distant view of the train because it better features the old passenger station and the town of Warren; here’s why I feel the composition works:

Important, yet subtle compositional elements at work. Look at the position of the locomotive cab where it visually intersects the station building. It does this as cleanly as possible, without obscuring the dormer window or resulting in visual confusion. The similar color of the locomotive cab and clock tower make for interesting counterpoint. What if the tower was red brick and the locomotive cab was blue?
Here I’ve highlighted several areas of interest. These are points that naturally attract the eye and are focal points to the composition,  providing both  interest and balance.
Here’s is general outline of the composition. The trees provide visual support and context, but are not central subjects. Would this image work as well without them?

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Boston & Maine Station—Eagle Bridge, New York on December 27, 2017.

Yesterday was pretty frosty when I arrived at Eagle Bridge, New York.

I was just passing though, but made time to expose these photos. Not a wheel was turning, so I made these atmospheric images of the derelict Boston & Maine station and environs, demonstrating that you can make interesting railroad photos without a train.

Exposed digitally using my FujiFilm X-T1

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Amtrak in the Snow; f9 and be there.

Running errands again.

Amtrak 449 was only 2 minutes late leaving Worcester.

I stopped in at CP83 in Palmer between tasks (I had to mail a letter and visit the bank).

Signals lit westbound; first all red, then a high green on the main track.

“Clear signal CP83 main to main”

f9.0 1/500th of second at ISO 400.

With my ISO preset to 400, using the histogram in the camera, I set my exposure as follows; f9.0 1/500th of a second.

I like my snow white; but not blown out (over exposed).

F7.1 1/500th at ISO 400.
F7.1 1/500th at ISO 400.

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Haircut and an SD40-2 Trailing View.

So often I’ve heard the following lament, “I saw that once but I didn’t take a photo.”

The other day I was on my way to get a haircut when I passed under New England Central’s 611 departing Palmer, Massachusetts for Brattleboro, Vermont.

The weather was poor, the lighting bland and I had an agenda of things to attend to.

But I had my Lumix LX7 handy and I went after 611 anyway!

I made this trailing view using my Lumix LX7 handheld.

My head-on views were not worth describing here. Not today anyway. However, I like this trailing view at Barretts, Massachusetts of New England Central 721, still in Union Pacific paint (but with NECR lettering).

This captures some of the drama of the accelerating freight and makes reasonably good use of the lighting. Afterwards I resumed my mission to get a hair cut.

My point? Whenever possible, regardless of the weather and other things to do, I take the time to make photographs; of railroads and whatever else catches my interest.

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Tracking the Light Wishes You Happy Holidays!

Here’s my holiday card. Amtrak’s westward 449 led by heritage locomotive 156 passes West Warren, Massachusetts, Sunday December 10, 2017.

Amtrak 156 has been on my list for a long time. Of all the Amtrak paint schemes over the years, this is by far my favorite.

Although I caught 156 second unit out three days earlier (see yesterday’s Tracking the Light), this locomotive had eluded my photography for years. Apparently it had been assigned to the Vermonter for a month a few years ago, but I was out of the country.

Every other time it was some place, I was some place else.

But finally everything came together; first snow of the season, Amtrak 156 in the lead, and soft afternoon sun at one of my favorite former Boston & Albany locations; the engineer gave me a friendly toot of the horn, and I’m pleased with the outcome of the photos.

Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm Fujinon Aspherical pancake lens. File processed using Lightroom. And yes, I also exposed some color slides! (But no black & white film).

I hope you have a great holiday season and you find your 156 in the new year.

Tracking the Light wishes you Seasons Greetings too!

 

 

 

Housatonic, Pittsfield, Massachusetts; 3 Photos from Tracking the Light

This post is really about clouds and change.

Two weeks ago, fellow photographer Mike Gardner and I were in Pittsfield, Massachusetts waiting for the arrival of the Housatonic Railroad freight from Canaan.

Standing on a bridge completed in 2016, we were at the center of what had been a massive General Electric plant, but has since been closed and largely demolished.

Somewhere in my older photos, I have a photo of an eastward Conrail freight led by GE diesels passing through this plant that had straddled the Boston & Albany mainline. I also have a photo of the Alco switcher that worked the plant.

The Housatonic freight arrived and paused to make its drop for CSX. The sun emerged from the clouds and I made these views.

Lumix LX7 view. The buildings in the distance were once part of the GE complex that occupied this site.

 

Wide angle view with Lumix LX7.
This new bridge is more than a vantage point, but part of the story. I like the extreme depth of field in this view.

For me the train is incidental. The dramatic cloudy sky with the ruins of the GE Plant tell the story. A story so often repeated across New England.

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Something Green to Think About.

December 21 will be the Winter Solstice.

Since that usually means month’s more of cold wintery weather, I thought I would run a photo from last Spring to give you something to envy.

Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1.

I made this photo of a TPC interurban car at Les Planches, Switzerland back in April.

The sun was warm, yet the air still cool. Alpine snows had melted and the grass and trees were turning green.

I made this image while researching Swiss Railways for my book on European Railway Travel. Today, I’m editing the layouts for the book, which is expected to be published by Kalmbach Books in 2018.

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Ooops! More Lousy Railroad Photos.

Here are some recent examples of photos gone wrong.

It would be grand if every time I pressed the shutter I made a calendar perfect picture. (If, of course, I wanted to illustrate calendars all day long).

Trains move while I’m trying to make photos. If I don’t get everything set right, move at the wrong instant, or the technology slips up, then the moment is gone by the time I get it together.

Many times I get what I’m aiming for, but sometimes I goof it up.

Yes, I make lousy photos. Sometimes.

Auto focus failure. Large amounts of infrared light, the lack of a defined focus area, or low contrast can confuse a camera’s autofocus system.
This is really hopeless and I’m not even sure what I was aiming at. Great use of pixels, eh?
Too late! There was a photo opportunity, probably about a second before this exposure was made. There’s also too much foreground. Ah well, it was a dull day anyway.
I previously published a better version of this effort. Here the framing is off, the level is wrong, and I shook the camera. A bad photo all around, certainly one for the bin! (Trash).
Oh no a post got in my way, and I included fellow railway enthusiasts. And it was cloudy and I’m tight to the platform. It’s just ALL WRONG. Time for a beer.

Too often the cause of the lousy photo is malfunctioning technology, or my over reliance on automated camera functions. Other times it’s just me. People make mistakes. Luckily no harm comes if I make a bad photo.

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Searchlight Sunset at Athol, Massachusetts.

Here are some views I made the other evening at Tyters interlocking, west of Athol, Massachusetts, where the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg goes from two to one track westbound.

Intermodal train symbol 23K from Ayer, Massachusetts was heading into the sun.

Over the last few years Pan Am Railways/Pan Am Southern has replaced many of its old General Railway Signal searchlight heads with modern signal hardware. Yet some of the old signals survive, for now.

Image exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera with 18-135mm set at 66mm, (making this equivalent to a 100mm lens on a traditional 35mm film camera)
Searchlight hardware has been out of favor since the 1990s and in recent years have been replaced at rapid rates. I’d composed an editorial on this subject for Pacific RailNews back in 1996.

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Grain Train! Drama Along the Millers River.

The old Boston & Maine Railroad’s Fitchburg route hugs the Millers River east of Millers Falls as it ascends toward Erving and Athol.

Last week, Paul Goewey and I followed Pan Am’s slow moving eastward unit grain train destined for Ayer, Massachusetts. This had been delayed by telemetry communication problems with its tail end.

A radio telemetry unit is used in place of a caboose on most North American freight trains. This communicates air pressure information relating to the air brake system, and can allow the engineer to set train brakes from the rear end in event of an emergency.

Four former CSX GE-built DASH8-40Cs were leading the train.

We set up near Farley’s, located at a grade crossing a few miles timetable west of Erving, where I made these photos of the train working the grade.

Back-lighted conditions accentuated the drama of the ascent by illuminating the locomotive exhaust.

Telephoto view: Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm zoom lens.
Wide-angle perspective from the same vantage point. Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm zoom lens.
Sneaky tip: we removed a few wayward branches from the foreground of the scene prior to arrival of the train to minimize unwanted visual distractions in the composition of our photos.

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New England Central—Almost Winter.

I wanted to write, ‘why sometimes winter is better.’ Except this is a late autumn photo. (If you accept that the Winter Solstice is the defining date for the beginning of Winter.).

On December 6, 2017, Paul Goewey and I arrived at Depot Road in Leverett, Massachusetts several minutes ahead of the southward New England Central road freight, job 611 from Brattleboro.

I was interested in exploring this angle looking toward the rock cut immediately north of the old station location.

I’ve made a number of views from the old station area in summer, when the cutting tends to be obscured by brush and harshly shadowed.

And that’s why sometimes Winter (or late autumn) is better. The lack of foliage combined with diffused light opens up numerous photo possibilities that are impractical when the trees are leafed out and underbrush is thick.

Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 with an 18-135mm lens.
Exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens.

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Nocturnal View—South Station on Atlantic Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts.

The other night I made this digital photograph of Boston’s South Station.

Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Touit, I set the ISO to 1600 and handheld the camera at ¼ sec.

I calculated exposure manually using the camera meter, and then intentionally increased the exposure by about ½ stop. (In otherwords I let in more light to the sensor than recommended by the meter).

In post processing, I adjusted contrast and exposure to control highlights and lighten the night sky in order to overcome two of the common failings of night photographs: blasted highlights and excessive inky blackness.

Boston’s South Station facing Atlantic Avenue.
Here’s a screen shot of my reduced Jpg with the EXIF data. This shows how the camera was set. Notice ISO, f-stop, shutter speed, and white balance fields.

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Sunrise at Worcester Union Station

Autumn sunrise. No two are the same. The mix of clouds and particulates in the air make for endless mixtures of texture and color.

Last week I arrived in Worcester to take the 7am MBTA train to Boston.

I made these sunrise views using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens handheld.

Worcester Union Station: MBTA 011 with the 7am train to Boston.
Worcester Union Station.
December sunrise in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Working with the RAW files, I made some minor adjustments in Lightroom to balance highlights with shadows and tweak color balance.

The RAW file is not what your eye sees.

Where the in-camera Jpg uses a pre-profiled set of parameters in regards to color saturation, contrast etc. The digital RAW file represents the data as captured by the camera and is comparable to a film negative; it represents an intermediate step that requires adjustment and interpretation to produce a pleasing photograph.

I typically expose both a pre-set in-camera Jpg (often with one of Fuji’s digitally replicated film color profiles, such as Velvia) and a RAW file simultaneously.

 

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Housatonic at Housatonic—Revisited!

In June 2016, I posted on Tracking the Light some views of the Housatonic Railroad at Housatonic, Massachusetts (located along the Housatonic River).

See: http://briansolomon.com/trackingthelight/2016/06/14/housatonic-railroad-at-housatonic-an-example-of-contrast-control/

In November 2017, I returned to this location in advance of the approaching northward Housatonic freight NX-12 that featured two early 1960s-era GP35s in the lead followed by 32 cars (28 loads, 4 empties) and another GP35 at the back.

I find the railroad setting here fascinating. The combination of the traditional line with wooden ties and jointed rail in a setting of old factories, freight house and passenger station makes for a rustic scene out of another era.

Working with a Nikon F3 with 50mm lens I made a series of black & white photos on Kodak Tri-X. And, I also exposed a sequence of digital color photos using my FujiFilm X-T1.

Freight house at Housatonic, Massachusetts. Exposed on Tri-X with a Nikon F3 fitted with a 50mm Nikkor lens. Film processed in Kodak D76 1-1 with water for 7 minutes 20 seconds at 68F.
Freight house and factories, looking north from the westside of the tracks. In today’s railroad world, this scene is decidedly rustic. 
Digital color photo exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1. RAW File processed in Lightroom with contrast adjustment to improve shadows and highlights.
Tri-X black & white photo of Housatonic Railroad freight NX-12 working northward.
Digital color photo exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1. RAW File processed in Lightroom with contrast adjustment to lighten shadows and control highlights.
Tri-X photo with 50mm lens.
Digital color photo exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1. Fuji Velvia color profile; camera Jpg scaled for Internet.
Digital color photo exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1. Fuji Velvia color profile; camera Jpg scaled for Internet.

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At the End of the Day; Twilight at Mechanicville, New York.

Here’s a photo from my lost archive.

I’d spent November 24, 1984 with some friends exploring railroads in the Albany area.

Delaware & Hudson had recently been included in the Guilford network and its operations were being melded with Boston & Maine. At the time, D&H still had a lot of old Alco diesels.

We had stopped by Mechanicville earlier in the day, and I made a selection of photos (that I’ll post at a later date) then we drove via Schenectady to Rotterdam Junction to photograph Conrail.

On the way back east, we made another visit to Mechanicville, when I exposed this twilight view. This is an evocative image that represents a symbolic twilight as well as a literal one.

Exposed with a Leica 3A on Kodak Tri-X, processed in Kodak D76 1-1.

It was twilight for the D&H Alcos; twilight for the old Mechanicville Yard; and twilight of the brief colorful and busy era on Guilford before a series of strikes changed everything.

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Amtrak Pepsi Can on Kodachrome—High Resolution Scan (and how I made it).

I have thousands of properly exposed Kodachrome slides from the 1980s and 1990s. This view of Amtrak 502 was exposed at Oakland, California 16th Street Station in August 1992.

Gradually I’ve been scanning these into my archive. I’ve experimented with several different scanners and software, using various settings and techniques.

So far, I found that I get sharpest and most colorful scans by using a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 driven with VueScan 9×64 (version 9.5.91) software.

For more on VueScan see: www.hamrick.com

VueScan offers me a high degree of control, but I’ve found requires a bit of practice and experimentation to obtain the best scans.

I typically scan Kodachrome 25 slides at 4000 dpi (dots per inch) and  then output as a Tif file to obtain the greatest amount of data. For this slide I opted to make a multiple pass scan to retain a higher degree of shadow detail. (VueScan offers the multiple pass option under its ‘Input’ pull down menu).

To make the most of the scan for internet presentation, I imported the Tif file into Lightroom and lightened the shadows and balanced the highlights, before outputting as a scaled Jpg. (The original scan remains unchanged during this process).

Kodachrome slides recorded tremendous amounts of information and the original Coolscan Tif is far too large to present here.

Incidentally, a version of this photo appears on page 148 of my book Modern Diesel Power (published by Voyageur Press in 2011). The scan in the book was made by my publisher and isn’t the scan presented here.

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The Famous Keddie Wye

BNSF in the Feather River Canyon Part 2

The old Western Pacific Junction at Keddie, California between WP’s east-west transcon line from Oakland to Salt Lake City and the Inside Gateway/High Line route north to Bieber was once one of the most photographed bridges in California.

What’s not evident from most photographs is that this impressive looking bridge can be viewed from California Highway 70—the main road through the Feather River Canyon.

The famous Keddie Wye.

On a dull October 2003 afternoon I made this view of the famed ‘Keddie Wye’ (as the junction is popularly known).

Contrast and texture make this photo work. My color slides from that day of the train crossing the bridge are less impressive.

Exposed on Kodak 120-size Tri-X using a Rolleiflex Model T with a Zeiss Tessar; processed in Ilfotec HC, and scanned using an Epson V750. Final contrast adjustments were made in Lightroom to emphasize highlights and lighten shadows.

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Housatonic Railroad at Canaan Union Station—November 2017.

A little more than a month after the events of 911, the historic Canaan, Connecticut Union Station was destroyed by fire.

Thankfully the classic structure has since been reconstructed and today it stands along the Housatonic Railroad line where the old Central New England route once crossed.

Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a 18-135mm Fujinon zoom lens set at 98mm.
Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a 90mm Fujinon prime lens.
Exposed with a FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a 90mm Fujinon prime lens.

I made these photos last week on a visit to Canaan. Sometimes it helps to be in position at a sunrise and watch how the light changes as the sun climbs into the sky.

I featured the old Canaan Union Station in my book Railroad Stations published by MetroBooks in 1998.

For more information on the station see: https://canaanunionstation.com/history/

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Boston & Maine Railroad in the 1980s; Working with some Underexposed Photos.

In March 1984, I borrowed my father’s Rolleiflex Model T and exposed a roll of 120-size Ektachrome of Boston & Maine freights in the Connecticut River Valley.

The Rollei was an old camera and there was nothing electronic on it. Setting the camera was entirely up to the photographer. I was still in high school and my skills at using a hand-held light meter were less than perfect.

In short, the combined effect of snow on the ground and my lack of experience left me with some seriously underexposed medium format transparencies.

Scanning lightened the photos significantly, yet the results still demonstrate my failure to expose properly. To make for a more pleasing images I needed to adjust exposure and contrast in post processing. However it was important to scan the transparencies in such a way as to capture as much information as possible.

I was disappointed with my results and left the uncut film in the box that it was returned to me from the lab. I left them there for 33 years and only re-discovered them a few weeks ago. (Try that with your digital photos. No actually, don’t try that!).

With the technology now at hand I decided to see what I could do to make these photos presentable despite serious underexposure (suffering from receiving insufficient light).

Working with an Epson V750 flatbed scanner, I scanned the transparencies (positive color film) using VueScan 9×64 (version 9.5.91) software.

Scanning, like photography, is an art and I’ve found to make the most effective scans often requires a bit of knowledge and skill.

I’ve worked with both the Epson and VueScan software, and while both produce excellent results, for this effort I chose VueScan because it allowed me greater control of the scanning process.

To extract more information from these difficult photos, I opted to make multi-pass scans, which do a better job of capturing detail in high-lights and shadows. The software combines the data in the final file.

This is a screen shot of the VueScan work window. Notice the histogram at the left. This shows the distribution of data in the image relative to highlights, middle areas and shadows. The graph thus indicates that too much of the data is toward the shadow end, thus the unfortunate effect of gross underexposure.
This is the input control window. Notice that I’ve selected to make a multiples scan with three samples. This gathers greater amounts of information from the image than a single pass scan. While not necessarily immediately evident to the naked eye, this provides a base with which to adjust the photograph in post processing. In other words I’ll lighten the image after scanning, but want to retain as much detail as possible.

Once scanned, I then imported the Tif files into Lightroom for post processing adjustments. The photos presented here are scaled from the original tif files (which are far too large for internet presentation).

Here’s the lightened scan after scaling for internet presentation. Keep in mind that original transparencies are nearly opaque.

The results are not perfect, but vastly superior to the muddy, dense original chromes.

To allow you to better understand how I’ve set up the scanner with the VueScan software, I’ve included screen shots (above) of the various sub-menus which show the various options and parameters I used.

There is more than one way to make a scan, and I’m sure if I continue to play with these chromes I may get an even better result. However, I have thousands of photographs that need scanning, and I’m limited to 24 hours a day.

For more on VueScan see: www.hamrick.com

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BNSF in the Feather River Canyon-1

On October 30, 2003, I spent a day photographing BNSF and Union Pacific trains on the old Western Pacific route through California’s Feather River Canyon.

This exceptionally scenic route has long been a popular place to picture trains.

Although photogenic, one of the conceptual problems with the canyon making the balance between train and scenery work.

Too much train, and the canyon becomes a sideshow. Too much canyon and the train is lost in the scenery.

One way to make balanced is through the clever use of lighting.

That’s what I’ve done here.

Exposed on Kodak 120-size Tri-X using a Rolleiflex Model T with a Zeiss Tessar; processed in Ilfotec HC, and scanned using an Epson V750. Final contrast adjustments were made in Lightroom to emphasize highlights and lighten shadows.

I’ve pictured an eastward BNSF climbing through Rich Bar, and by back lighting the train, I’ve helped emphasize it’s form that might otherwise be lost in the darker reaches of the canyon.

 

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Amtrak 603 Then and Now.

Over the years I made countless photos of Amtrak’s block-like E60 electrics working underwire.

So for me it’s a bit strange to see one of these 1970s-era machines on static display outside of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania alongside a PRR DD1 electric and some other classics, including a 1980s-era AEM-7 (topic of a future Tracking the Light Post).

Exposed using a Lumix LX7 in November 2017.

Since today Amtrak 603 represents the E60 fleet, I scanned through my archives to locate photo of 603 at work on the Northeast Corridor. It’s pictured with a long distance train on August 1, 1986 at Linden, New Jersey.

I made this view on Kodachrome using a Leica 3A fitted with a 200mm Leitz Tellyt using Visoflex reflex attachment.

I couldn’t have anticipated then that engine 603 would someday be a museum piece!

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Amtrak Northeast Direct Heritage Unit in Motion.

Two weeks ago I caught Amtrak engine 184 in the Northeast Direct heritage scheme working train number 56 (northward Vermonter).

 The light was fading, so I upped the ISO on my FujiFilm X-T1 to 1000 and exposed these views using my 27mm pancake lens.

Although I set the shutter to 1/320 of a second, the relatively fast train still necessitated panning to keep the locomotive sharp. Panning had the effect of setting off the background in a sea of blur and conveying a sense of motion to the photos.

The Northeast Direct livery was briefly applied to locomotives in the mid-1990s. Engine 184 was repainted in this livery in 2011 to commemorate Amrak’s 40th Anniversary.

White balance was set at ‘daylight’ in order to better retain the blue glow of dusk.

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