Classic Chrome: Southern Pacific 4449 Silhouette

It’s rare that I’ll display one of my all-time favorite photos (if you are not viewing this on Tracking the Light, you’ll need to click the link to get the full image).

This has been published several times. It’s a simple image, but it wasn’t easy to make.

Exposed on Kodachrome 25. This is one of my personal favorite images of all time.
Exposed on Kodachrome 25. This is one of my personal favorite images of all time.

I exposed it in September 1991. As I’ve previously told, Southern Pacific’s Bob Hoppe had hired me for the weekend to document an event involving engine 4449.

Following a serious derailment at the Cantera Loop, where the railroad spilled toxins into the Sacramento River above Dunsmuir, California, SP organized the historic streamlined engine and train to make public appearances in the Sacramento River Canyon as a goodwill gesture.

Brian Jennison and I made the most of the three days of Daylight steam specials. Over the years, I made great use of these photos.

My choice image is this one. It clearly shows SP’s famous engine, yet captures it in motion and in silhouette.

I had two frames left on my roll of Kodachrome 25 (actually I thought had had only one left, but I also managed a photo of the tail car).

I opted for a ‘wrong side’ view of the engine, in order to make this silhouette with the oaks that characterize the rolling valley along Hooker Creek north (railroad timetable east) of Tehama, California.

To insure I kept a hint of rail in view, I needed to gain a vantage point slightly above rail level. Rather than pan the locomotive, I set my F3T on a tripod and used my Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens nearly wide open.

The locomotive approached at speed; I had only one shot at this, and timing was everything. I wasn’t quite ready when I could hear the distinctive exhaust of the locomotive rolling up the valley. Some last second fumbling with my meter, convinced me to lower my shutter speed. Thus the hint of motion blur.

Five minutes later, it would have been too dark to capture this scene on Kodachrome 25, which was the only imaging medium I had that day.

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2 comments on “Classic Chrome: Southern Pacific 4449 Silhouette

  1. In the original posting, I probably ought to have mentioned that this silhouette of SP’s 4449 is presented in its original unmodified form. So, other than scan the slide, I did not crop, enhance, sharpen, or otherwise manipulate the image. It is shown full-frame, as I exposed it on the day back in 1991.

    Honestly, I don’t know if I could make that image with my digital cameras. Part of the reason is that because the digital camera offers greater flexibility, rather than settle for a ‘wrong side’ angle with a comparatively show shutter speed, I’d be tempted to rack up the ISO and take a more conventional (albeit less evocative) photo for the ‘right side’.
    Brian Solomon

  2. Michael Walsh on said:

    An amazing picture. Might be difficult to do today, despite all the fancy new features in modern cameras.

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