Last night a damp inky gloom greeted us as we alighted from Amtrak’s Vermonter at the former Pennsylvania Railroad station at Wilmington, Delaware.
A SEPTA Silverliner V electric multiple unit set sat on the opposite platforms waiting to depart for Philadelphia.
I made several exposures with my Lumix LX7. Working with the RAW files in Lightroom, I maximize the amount of visual information in the photos by lightening shadows and darkening highlights while adjusting contrast and color saturation.
The train is now approaching its station stop at Meriden, Connecticut.
It was announced that from Hartford the train was completely sold out. Thus demonstrating that old adage no one rides trains anymore because they’re too crowded!
I exposed these photos with my FujFilm XT1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Touit lens.
As we roll along, the files were downloaded to my MacBook using Image Capture software, scaled for internet using Lightroom, and uploaded via Amtrak’s WiFi to WordPress for presentation on Tracking the Light.
Tracking the Light Posts Daily, and sometimes more than once!
These days the only regular trains to use the old Santa Fe Raton Pass crossing are Amtrak 3 and 4, the Southwest Chief. The days of helpers over the three percent are all but a memory.
This day two weeks ago: Arriving on No.4, we had more than ten minutes at Raton to stretch our legs and take in the mountain air.
I used the opportunity to make some twilight images of Silver Splendor, the Budd-built Vista-Dome that I was traveling on.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and Zeiss 12mm Touit lens, I exposed several views in the blue glow of evening. Dusk is a great time to balance the light inside the passenger car with outside illumination.
Between Albuquerque and Raton Pass (on the New Mexico-Colorado state line) I counted three bastions of Union Switch & Signal style-T2 upper quadrant semaphores on our journey over the former Santa Fe in Vista-Dome Silver Splendor.
I watched the blades drop from the vertical as we passed—a scene I’d not witnessed for many years.
In 2018, these signals represent the last large collections of active semaphores on any North American mainline.
The Style T2 was detailed in my book Classic Railroad Signals in a sidebar titled ‘Sante Fe Semaphores Survive in New Mexico’ by John Ryan and the late John Gruber.
Last week, I awoke to sunrise east of Flagstaff, Arizona riding in Budd Vista Dome Silver Splendor as it traveled east on Amtrak no.4, the Southwest Chief.
The luxurious 1956-built stainless steel dome is a classic car from America’s streamlined era.
It was on its way to a new home on the East coast after years being based in California.
The pleasure of traveling in a Vista Dome is enjoying its comfortable elevated panoramic view of the passing scenery. An added bonus on BNSF’s former Santa Fe Transcon is the unceasing parade of freights.
These images were exposed digitally using my FujiFilm X-T1. Some of the photos were adjusted in post processing to compensate for the dome’s tinted glass.
On the afternoon of November 14, 2018, I exposed this view from the east bank of the Connecticut River looking across toward Windsor Locks as Amtrak’s northward Vermonter crossed the circa 1906 New Haven Railroad-built bridge.
To help balance the contrast and better retain detail in the sky, I used an external graduated neutral density filter made by Lee Filter.
This is a 0.9ND or three stops grad filter.
In addition, I adjusted the camera RAW file to maximize highlight and shadow detail, control contrast and improve saturation.
Brian Solomon sits down with Trains’ passenger columnist Bob Johnston and retired Amtrak engineer Craig Willett to talk about the national passenger carrier. This is the second in a multi-part conversation that began in Episode 2.
In the mid-1930s, Milwaukee Road introduced its high-speed streamlined Hiawatha on its Chicago-Milwaukee-Twin Cities route where elegant purpose-built shrouded 4-4-2 and 4-6-4 Alco steam locomotives whisked trains along in excess of 110mph.
Today, Amtrak’s Hiawathas have Siemens Chargers on the Milwaukee end, and former F40PH Control-Cab/baggage cars, known as ‘Cabbages’ on the Chicago-end.
While Amtrak provides an excellent corridor service, today top speed is just 79mph.
I can’t help but think that as a nation we’ve lost the plot on this one.
We went from elegant, fast steam streamliners to this?
While waiting for the northward train. I made a series of photographs of Amtrak’s relatively new Sturtevant station. I’ve always liked the effect of a twilight sky, when the blue light of evening nearly matches the intensity of electric lighting.
Here, I worked with my Zeiss 12mm Touit lens. This is flat-field lens, so keeping the lens level, minimizes perspective distortion.
I was without my small tripod, and I used the camera handheld at a low angle. To make use of the reflections of the station in the parking lot.
I set the ISO to 2000. Here are two post-processing variations of the Camera RAW file that feature different contrast curves.
I was curious to experience one of these new locomotives.
The Siemens-built Charger is powered by a Cummins diesel and has a European appearance.
Among their Amtrak assignments is the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha corridor.
I waited on the platform at the new Sturtevant, Wisconsin station. The eerie blue glow of the locomotive’s LED headlights could be seen reflecting off the rails long before the train arrived at the station.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Touit, I set the ISO to 6400 and panned the train arriving at 1/30thof a second at f2.8.
To better balance the color and keep contrast under control, I modified the camera RAW file in Lightroom to produce this internet suitable JPG.
Here we have a potpourri of necessary clutter; a patched well-traveled road, various electrical poles and lines, the cooling tower for a power station, a signal-relay cabinet, a stray street light, and of course an Amtrak P42 Genesis diesel of the much-maligned industrial design.
Not pretty; but portrays a four-quadrant grade crossing gate protecting the highway an Amtrak train from Chicago crosses.
NOTE: This post originally appeared on July 17, 2018, but owing to unknown technical faults the photos would not display properly. There should be four images displayed below with captions.
Tracking the Light is about process and not every photograph is a stunning success.
This post is part of my on going series of exercises photographing Amtrak’s Boston Section of the Lake Shore Limited that is running with extra sleepers as result of the temporary suspension of the New York section owing to Penn-Station repair.
Last week, my father and I drove to West Warren, Massachusetts, this time to photograph the eastward train, Amtrak 448.
The benefit of West Warren is the relatively open view with identifiable features. As mentioned previously, summer photography on the Boston & Albany has been made difficult by prolific plant growth along the line that has obscured many locations.
In this instance, I worked with two cameras; my old Canon EOS-7D with 100-400mm zoom, and my FujiFilm X-T1 with f2.0 90mm fixed telephoto.
Admittedly, the Canon combination isn’t the sharpest set up, but it allows me to play around with a very long telephoto.
The X-T1 is very sharp, especially when working with the fixed (prime) lens.
Complicating matters was that it clouded over shortly before the train arrived, reduced the amount of available light. Details are in the captions.
Monday July 9, 2018, my father and I wandered to East Brookfield, Massachusetts to photograph Amtrak’s eastward Lake Shore Limited.
Working on Fujichrome slide film, I first exposed a sequence of photos of the train coming through the switch at CP64 using my old Canon EOS3 with 400mm lens. Those slides remain latent (unprocessed) because I haven’t finished the roll yet.
Then at the last moment I decided to make this image using my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm lens
The difficulty is the extreme exposure difference between backlit sun on tracks at CP64 and the inky shadows on the line immediately to the east. Since my exposure was set for the sunlit sections, the shadow areas were underexposed.
The alternative was to expose for the shadows and let the highlights blow out (lose data), which would make for a lighter train, but less data captured.
In post processing, I worked with the Fuji RAW image, lightening the shadows, while adjusting color temperature and contrast. I’ve presented three images.
The darkest photo (above) is a JPG made without adjustment; the lighter two represent variations in post-processing adjustment.
If nothing else, these photos demonstrate the great dynamic range possible with the Fuji X-T1 digital camera.
Personally, I’m curious to see how my slides turn out!
This summer Amtrak 448/449, the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited, is the onlysection of the Lake Shore Limited!
Construction at Penn-Station New York has encouraged Amtrak to cancel the New York section of this popular train, and reassign its Viewliner sleeps to the Boston section.
A clear afternoon had me searching for locations. My first choice was the Tennyville Bridge in Palmer (Rt 32 bridge), but a large quantity of freight cars in Palmer yard discouraged me. My next choice was the field east of Palmer off Rt 67, but I vetoed this place because of excessive brush.
Brush and trees are real problem this time of year along the old Boston & Albany. Not only do the obstruct views of the tracks, but they cast impenetrable dark shadows.
So, I ended up at my standard fall back location at West Warren. Although, I’ve photographed Amtrak 449 here dozens of times, it had several advantages.
It’s a relatively short drive; it has elevation and an unobstructed view of the line from both sides of the tracks; its east-west orientation makes for nice early afternoon lighting; and the waterfall and mills make for an iconic and readily identifiable backdrop.
So, West Warren it was. Again.
I made this sequence with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 27mm pancake lens.
Two difficulties; the nosy angle of the sun made it difficult to get an acceptable broad side angle on the train, so the three sleepers at the back are visually marginalized. Secondly, the wedge angle of the Amtrak P42 front-end kicked back the sun with harsh ‘nose glint’.
My goal was to stop Amtrak’s Acela Expressat speed.
I wanted to use the fastest shutter speed, so I dialed in a wide aperture on my Lumix LX-7.
However, I was using the aperture priority ‘A’ setting, and when I ‘opened up’, I inadvertently overexposed, because the maximum shutter speed possibly on this camera is 1/2000thof a second, and the correct shutter speed/f-stop combination for my wide aperture was probably closer to 1/4000thof a second.
The result is an overexposed digital RAW file.
That means I let in toomuch light. Not only is the tonality too bright, but I’ve suffered data loss in the highlight areas.
Working with the RAW file in Lightroom, I was able to adjust my exposure, and recover some of the highlight detail lost in the in-camera Jpg.
The result is pretty good.
So why bother getting the exposure right if you can adjust the photo after the fact?
Ideally, when a photo is exposed properly the RAW file should capture the maximum amount of information. When a photo, such as this one, is overexposed it suffers from data loss. Although the correction looks presentable, the bottom line is that the file has less data than if it had been correctly exposed.
So while you can ‘fix it’ after the fact, it pays to get right on site—when you can.
This is a grab shot; I didn’t have time to do what I intended (and the sun went in).
We arrived at the small cemetery at West Northfield, Massachusetts minutes before Amtrak 56 (northward Vermonter).
The brush along the railroad has recently been cut. Unfortunately, a brush cutting/removal machine was awkwardly (as in non-photographically) positioned by the tracks, foiling my intend angle for a photo. I was going to try ‘plan b’.
I’d heard the crew call ‘Approach’ for East Northfield, I was hoping for time to swap to a wide angle lens, when I saw the headlight.
No time: so instead, I hastily composed this vertical view using my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm lens.
I like the American flags, placed for Memorial Day. I wonder about my placement of the front of the locomotive relative to the gap in the brush. Should I have let the locomotive continue a few more feet to the left?
In my early days, picturing former Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 electrics was one of my main photographic interests.
I held Amtrak’s newer E60 electrics is disdain. These modern, boxy electrics appeared to be supplanting the GG1s. For me they lacked the historic connections, the elegant streamlined style, and the character of the GG1. They were bland and common.
I may not have been fond of the E60s. But I always photographed them. They were part of the scene, and important elements of modern operations.
Recently I rediscovered these E60 photos along with some other long-missing black & white negatives.
I’ve been making photos at the Junction at East Northfield since the 1980s.
The other day, on the third visit in two weeks to this iconic New England location (where New England Central’s line connects with Pan Am Railway’s Conn River route), I had a reckoning.
It occurred to me that railroad timetable ‘East Northfield’ is actually north and west of the town of Northfield, Massachusetts.
How is this possible?
Some Highway maps show railroad ‘East Northfield’ in West Northfield.
This timetable location has been called ‘East Northfield’ since the steam era, and the present NECR sign reflects this historic geographic incongruity.
No doubt at some point in the future, the geography will be retro-actively re-written to accommodate this oversight on the part of historic railroad timetable writers. What will they make of my captions!
Yes, I’m trying to pick a title that will get you to read this post.
I could call it ‘Fast Train on the Bridge’ or ‘Amtrak on the New Haven’, or ‘What? NO! Not Westport, Again!’ Or perhaps the accurate, if opaque, ‘Trailing View over the Saugatuck.’
In late April, I made this trailing view of a Boston-bound Acela Expresstilting train crossing the former New Haven Railroad draw bridge at Westport, Connecticut.
By working from the outbound Metro-North platform in the evening, I cross lit the train for dramatic effect and to better show the infrastructure.
Cross-lighting, is when the main light source (the sun in this case) primarily illuminates only the facing surface of the subject, while the surfaces are bathed in shadow. This presents a more dramatic contrast than three-quarter lighting, which offered relative even illumination across the subject.
Cross-lighting is often most effective for railroad photography when the sun is relatively low in the sky. In this instance the compression effect that results from the long telephoto lens works well with the cross lit train.
Exposed digitally using a FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens. To make this photo work, I had to carefully mind the shadows from catenary polls so they didn’t appear to interect the sloping face of the Acela Expresstrain set.