Five years ago, I was poised at the army bridge near Mosney over the old Great Northern line to photograph the, then new, Belmond Grand Hibernian on its run from Dublin to Belfast.
This luxury tour train made weekly tours of the Irish network in season.
Irish Rail class 201 number 216 was painted to match Belmond’s train set, and was routinely assigned to the train.
Belmond’s choice of a dark navy blue made for challenging photos in conditions other than bright sun. In photos, this shade of blue often appeared almost black, and when lightened using post processing software tended to shift green.
In this view, I selectively lightened the front of the locomotive, and applied minimal lightening to the shadow areas of the entire scene. I’ve attempted to retain the true color of the train as best I can.
Yesterday I learned through social media that New England Central 3850 suffered a main generator fire while climbing State Line Hill (located in my hometown of Monson, Massachusetts.)
Over the last 26 years, I’ve made countless photos of this antique EMD diesel-electric at work and at rest.
While I cannot predict the future, I know that often with older diesels, a main generator failure may represent the kiss of the scrapper.
When it came to New England Central in 1995, 3850 carried the number 9531, which is how I picture it in the December 1996 view below.
I made this photo at Palmer, Massachusetts using a mix of artificial lighting, including electronic strobe for fill flash, and my original Fujichrome slide is strongly tinted.
I scanned this slide using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner driven by Epson Scan 2 software. Working from a high-resolution TIF file, I initially scaled the photo without corrections.
Then, working with slider controls in Adobe Lightroom, I implemented a variety of color corrections, plus contrast and exposure adjustements to overcome flaws with color balance and exposure. Below are both results for point of comparison.
Tracking the Light is a Daily Photoblog focused on railroads.
NI Railways had a minimalist presence in Derry, Northern Ireland when I visited there on 5 April 2002.
The railway station consisted of a 1960s-era bus shelter style building and a single platform serving two tracks, situated flush with the River Foyle.
I made these photos while boarding an NIR 80-class railcar bound for Belfast.
My camera was a rugged Contax G2 Rangefinder fitted with 45mm Zeiss Planar lens and loaded with Kodak Tri-X black & white film. I used a red filter to alter the black & white tonality and boost contrast.
For me the film’s contrast and stark spring lighting was well-suited to the minimalist railway infrastructure.
Tracking the Light is a blog that focuses on the process of railroad photography, and how certain techniques produce different results. Light, angle and season play an enormous role in the end result.
In yesterday’s Tracking the Light, I featured a misty autumn-morning view of a westward Guilford Rail System freight crossing the bridge over the Deerfield River on approach to the east portal of the Hoosac Tunnel.
Today, I’m featuring a photo exposed a few months later (February 2005) of another westward freight crossing the same bridge: winter versus autumn; south side of the bridge versus the north; and later in the morning. Another difference was my choice of lens: 45mm on the winter view; 180mm on the autumn.
In addition, I’ve included two slightly different versions of the February 2005 photo, as well as one of the photos from yesterday’s post for point of comparison.
This freight was EDRJ, which Pat Yough and I followed all the way to the Hudson River and beyond!
Both images were made from a scan of the same slide, which had been exposed on Fujichrome film using a Contax G2 rangefinder with 45 mm Zeiss lens.
Languishing in my Miscellaneous Railroad Seconds file (Bad Slides) from 1982-1983 was this back lit winter view of the Central Vermont Railway yard in Palmer, Massachusetts.
I’d exposed this Kodachrome 64 slide using my old Leica 3A fitted with 50mm Sumitar.
This is a technically flawed photo. It is considerably off-level. The exposure is slightly on the dark side. The composition is a bit loose. And the color is decidedly magenta owing to a processing abnormality on the part of Kodak.
As an exercise, I decided to scan the slide and import into Lightroom to see if I could improve it.
I’ve included the unadjusted scan. A screen shot of the adjustment window. And, my final adjusted image.
I ended up wondering how I might photograph this scene today, using my most modern cameras. Also I wonder, is my ‘bad slide’ really all that bad? It may mean little to random viewers, but it conjured up in my memory the Palmer Yard of my youth. There’s a pair of idling Central Vermont Alco RS-11s, and in the distance the train they had recently delivered. Just about everything in the photo reminds me of how exciting I found railroading when I was 13.
Would a ‘better’ photo convey the same feeling for me?
Over the years I’ve used a great variety of Camera-film combinations.
In 2009, I largely worked with a pair of Canon EOS-3s loaded with Fujichrome.
On an October trip to photograph along the old Erie Railroad, I had one of my EOS-3s fitted with a Canon 100-400mm. The morning of the 6th, I caught Western New York & Pennsylvania’s HNME (Hornell, New York to Meadville, PA) arriving a Meadville.
A dozen years earlier I’d photographed the same Montreal Locomotive Works diesel working the Cartier Railway in Quebec using Nikon cameras loaded with Kodachrome.
I wonder how I might capture this scene today with my current camera combinations?
On December 28, 2005, toward the end of Irish Rail’s final beet season, I stood on the western shore of the Barrow, where I aimed a Nikon F3 fitted with a 180mm f2.8 lens and loaded with Fujichrome toward the multiple span Pratt truss that crosses the river.
NI Railways 112 (on loan to Irish Rail) worked east across the span at about 5mph with a train of four-wheel empty beet wagons.
Last night I scanned the nearly 16-year old slide using my Epson V600 scanner at relatively high resolution (3200 dpi) then imported the resulting TIF file into Lightroom.
The RAW scan exhibits a minor red tint. To compensate I made a variety of changes. First I moved the black point to the limit of data loss with the aid of the histogram. This adjusted the tonal range of the slide, then I worked with green-magenta and blue-yellow color correction sliders to balance the color, while paying close attention to hue in the shadow areas.
Finally I made some nominal contrast and saturation changes to make for a more pleasing image before outputting as a medium resolution JPG crafted for optimum internet presentation.
Below is the unadjusted JPG along with my final adjusted JPG for comparison. Since every computer screen is slightly different and provide varied interpretations of my images.
the proof of success for my adjustments may be in the color prints that I have yet to make.
In addition, I’ve also included a screen shot of the Lightroom control panel so that you may see how I’ve moved the sliders to improve the scan.
On a July 2002 morning, I made this view of an LKAB class Dm3 heavy electric passing the disused electric substation at Torne Träsk, Sweden.
My friend Markku Pulkkinen and I spent several days in high summer exploring the Malmbanen that connects Swedish iron ore mining areas in the Arctic with the port of Narvik in Norway.
At that time, many of the ore trains were still powered by the massive three-section Dm3 siderod electrics.
Working with a vintage German Rollieflex Model T, I exposed this view on Kodak 120 Tri-X in the 2 ¼ inch square format. When I returned to Dublin, I processed the film in a custom mix of Ilfotec HC developer. Recently I scanned the film using an Epson V600 flatbed scanner powered by Epson Scan 2 software, then made minor adjustments to contrast using Adobe Lightroom.
For the Facebook output and lead-in image I cropped the square photo, but this view is uncrossed.
The other day I uploaded Epson Scan 2 to drive my ten-year old Epson V600 scanner.
I decided to make a few test scans and selected this Fujichrome color slide I exposed of a San Jose-bound Cal Train at Bayshore, California on August 13, 2009.
I was delighted with high-quality scan using this improved scanner-driver combination. I imported the TIF file into Adobe Lightroom to make minor adjustments to color and contrast in order to improve the Web-presentation.
Twenty years ago on a visit to Germany, I spent a couple of days photographing around the historic city of Dresden.
This black & white photo at the Dresden Neustadt station features a former DR (East German Railways) Russian-built diesel-electric, DB class 234, a type colloquially known as a ‘Ludmilla’.
Working with myvintage German-made Rolleiflex Model T, I made this photo on 120-size Fuji Neopan 400 roll film. I processed the film in Agfa Rodinal Special (not to be confused with Agfa Rodinal) mixed 1-32 with water for 3 min 45 seconds. I scanned the negative using an Epson flatbed scanner.
I’ve been reviewing 40 years worth of Amtrak photos for an article I’m writing for a German magazine.
In the mix of old chromes was this 2003 view of the eastward Lake Shore Limited east of milepost 129 between Chester and Middlefield, Massachusetts on CSX’s old Boston & Albany mainline.
Relatively few of Amtrak’s P42 Genesis diesels were painted in the short-lived Northeast Direct livery, making this a relatively unusual photo.
Working with a Nikon fitted with an f2.8 180mm telephoto, I was trying to make the most of a heavily backlit situation in early October. In situations like this I’d typically use my notebook to shield the front element of my lens to minimize the effects of flare. Backlighting autumn foliage helps accentuate the colored leaves.
On this day Amtrak was the booby prize; I was really after the Ringling Brothers Circus Train that was coming east from Selkirk Yard. And that photo is stored in a different file.
There was a low ceiling at Crawford Notch, NH the other evening. The tops of the mountains were in the clouds, yet the tracks and station were clear from mist.
Kris & I arrived after sunset when there was just a hint of daylight remaining. Regular readers of Tracking the Light may recognize that I like to make photos at twilight, and often work my cameras when there is very little light remaining in the sky.
Below are three interpretations of the same Nikon NEF RAW file that reflect minor adjustments to contrast, color temperature and color saturation.
The old Pennsylvania Railroad Middle Division is a favorite stretch of railroad.
I first visited this location on the heavily traveled east-west trunk route back in 1988 with my old pal TSH.
In November 2001, Mike Gardner and I were on a week-long photograph blitz of Pennsylvania and paused a Mifflin for a few hours to make photos of the action.
I exposed this Fujichrome color slide using my Contax G2 rangefinder fitted with a 28mm Zeiss Biogon lens. The Zeiss lens was extremely sharp from corner to corner while offering exceptional color rendition.
Gray Locomotives in High Sun—Variations on a theme.
High sun—when the sun is at or near the highest point in the sky—can be a difficult time to make railroad photos. The harsh contrast presented by midday light makes for unflattering and abrasive visual conditions. But does that mean we should refrain from photography? I know many photographers who might say ‘Yes.’
Last month on the way to Moosehead Lake, Kris Sabbatino and I paused at Pan Am Railway’s sprawling Waterville Yard where we made a few photos of a freight sitting near the east end of the yard.
Guilford painted GP40s are a rare item these days, and worthy of documentation. Soon all of Pan Am Railways may be swept into CSX, giving a growing urgency to photographs of this New England railroad system.
I made several images of the GP40s idling in the yard using my FujiFilm XT1. In Post processing, I adjusted the camera RAW files making slight changes to contrast, exposure and color temperature. Below are four similar variations of the same scene.
On October 8, 1992, I made this Kodachrome 25 slide of the old Boston & Maine station building at Woodsville, NH.
Although a relatively subtle quality, notice that the verticals are parallel with the sides of the photo. This was made possible by working with a Nikkor 35mm PC (Perspective Control) lens. This had an adjustible front element used to keep vertical lines from visually falling away from the film plane (when the camera was kept level).
I miss my old PC lens, which I sold in 1997.
The line in front of the Woodsville Station was lifted in the mid-1990s.
Last night Conway Scenic Railroad operated its annual Firecracker Expresses to carry spectators from Conway to North Conway for a patriotic fireworks display.
Although it had been raining all afternoon, the sky cleared off at sunset, and the fireworks went ahead as scheduled, beginning just after 930pm.
As part of of my role as Conway Scenic’s Manager of Marketing & Events, I helped organize our special trains and their promotion. Several hundred people rode the trains which operated as advertised.
My Fiancé Kris Sabbatino and I traveled on the Firecracker Express to North Conway and made photos of the railroad’s iconic station and the explosive displays.
It was an excellent event.
Working with my Nikon Z6 Mirrorless digital camera mounted on my antique Bogen tripod, I made a variety of time-exposures.
Years ago I’d photographed fireworks using color slide film. I realized that I hadn’t done this in a long time and this was my first serious effort to capture a fireworks display digitally. I was a bit rusty at getting my timing right, but after missing a few of the loud bangs in the sky, I managed to refine my technique.
Working with the camera at ISO 200, my exposure times ranged from 4 seconds to 30 seconds, while I varied my f-stop between 4.0 and f11.
In general, I found I obtained my most satisfactory results at about 10 seconds at approximately f8.
After exposure, I imported the camera’s RAW NEF files into Adobe Lightroom for contrast and color adjustment. Through this technique I was able to improve the sky detail and balance the appearance of the images to reflect the scene more closely as I saw it. The benefit of the Nikon Z6 is its sensor’s exceptional dynamic range.
In 1990, I’d bought a second-hand F4 Nikkor ‘prime’ 200mm telephoto. For several years I made great use of this lens to photograph trains across the West.
Through the 1990s, my photography was telephoto heavy.
These days, I’ve shifted my focal length wide.
Most of my digital photos are made with focal lengths between 16-70mm (super wide to short telephoto).
But, when I tend toward the longer telephoto range, I still reach for my film cameras.
Partially because I have several excellent long telephotos for my Canons, but also because when I think ‘long’, I think film.
So when Kris Sabbatino and I visited the Junction at ‘East Northfield,’ Massachusetts on March 8th (2021), I made this long view on Ektachrome using my old Canon EOS-3 with f2.8 200mm lens. This winning camera-lens combo has served me well for nearly 15 years.
Perhaps, it helps that I’m photographing a classic train with 1960s-1970s vintage EMD diesels bracketed by searchlight signals.
I made these images the other night when Kris & I were photographing the St Lawrence & Atlantic’s westward road freight (train 393).
Night photography isn’t easy, or straight forward.
There’s a variety of approaches.
These images were exposed during the last hints of daylight.
To capture the train in motion in very low light I used a ‘secret combination’: a telephoto with a wide maximum aperture and a high ISO setting on the camera.
The telephoto minimizes the relative movement of the train to the camera sensor; the wide aperture lets in greater amounts of light and thus allows for a faster shutter speed. Likewise, the higher ISO also contributes to using a faster shutter speed.
However, the real secret was exposing manually, taking into account of the very bright headlights relative to the over all scene, while taking a position relatively off axis to the headlights to avoid the very bright lights directly hitting the front element of the lens.
FujiFilm XT1 with f2.0 90mm lens, camera set to ISO 3200 and 1/60th of a second.
We paused last winter at Ely, Vermont where I made this silhouette on Ektachrome of the old Boston & Maine station and its historic train order semaphore.
This was one of several slides I made that day of railroads in Vermont.
Why film? Because it works. Because some photos made on film wouldn’t as well if exposed digitally. But most importantly, because I like film. I made my first Ektachrome color slide c1971, and some 50 years later, I still occasional expose slides.
The long days of summer offer a rare opportunity to catch Genesee & Wyoming’s St. Lawrence & Atlantic through freights in daylight.
Last Friday, 25 June 2021, my fiancé Kris Sabbatino and I drove to Locke Miles, Maine, east of Bethel, where we set up along South Pond to wait for the westward freight, job 393.
The light was fading when we finally heard a distant whistle.
Our friend Andrew Dale had been keeping us updated as to the trains’s westward progress.
I made this image of the leading locomotives reflecting in South Pond using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera. I set the ISO to 800, the aperture to f4.0 (my widest setting), and the shutter speed to 1/100th of a second.
After the train passed we pursued it West into the night.
In April, Kris Sabbatino & I made a visit to Cape Cod, where we spent a morning at West Barnstable photographing the Mass Coastal and visiting a chicken farm.
Mass-Coastal operated a ballast train with its rare GP28 (as previously featured on Tracking the Light). Working with my vintage Canon EOS-3 with 100-400mm image stabilization zoom, I exposed a slide sequence on Kodak Ektachrome E100 reversal film.
The film was processed by AgX lab in Michigan, and last night I scanned a few of the slides using a Epson Perfection V600 flatbed scanner powered by Epson software. After scanning, I imported the TIF files into Adobe Lightroom for color and contrast fine-tuning.
Finding trains on CP Rail’s Moosehead Subdivision requires patience and good luck. On our visit last weekend Kris Sabbatino & I found that operations consisted of basically one road freight in each direction a day.
Moosehead Lake is an area of exceptional scenic beauty and Greenville, Maine is a lovely rural town with several fine places to eat. We only spent a small portion of our visit to the area line-side waiting for trains, but kept our ear to the ground anticipating the sounds of an approaching freight.
Several times, Kris heard or spotted a train before I did. And this was a huge help in getting into position line side with time enough to make photos of the passing freight.
One evening at Greenville, we heard a distant whistle, and drove west to the old Greenville Junction station to photograph its passage.
Lighting at the station was tricky. The evening sky exhibited subtle hues of magenta and blue, while the station building was in shadow. Light levels were low enough to require a high ISO setting on the camera to stop the action.
For these photos, I worked with my FujiFilm XT1 with 16-55mm Fujinon zoom lens. I set the camera to ISO 1000.
In post processing, I converted the Fuji RAW files to DNG format using Iridient X Transformer, then imported these into Lightroom for adjustments. These included lightening the shadows, while darkening the highlight regions to hold detail and color in the sky, plus some contrast and color control.
For comparison, I’ve included the unmodified In-camera JPG and the adjusted DNG versions of the same image at the bottom of this posting.