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.
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.
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!
Amtrak ‘Cities Sprinter’ ACS-64 number 633 tows one of its sister electrics with train 163 as it arrives at Providence, Rhode Island on Saturday, December 2, 2017.
I exposed this view using my Lumix LX-7.
Amtrak’s line at Providence is charmless, but functional. Heavy electrification in an urban environment is rarely picturesque. To make a satisfactory image of a moving train takes patience, skill or both.
This is a routine view of American passenger rails in action, nothing sexy, and nothing complicated or tricky photographically.
Does my cross-lit midday view of a Siemens electric with 1970s-era Amfleet passenger cars work for you?
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.
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).
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 couldn’t have anticipated then that engine 603 would someday be a museum piece!
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.
White balance was set at ‘daylight’ in order to better retain the blue glow of dusk.
Not just any old ‘mainline,’ but the famous Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) Main Line— so called because it was built as the ‘Main Line of Public Works’ in the mid-Nineteenth Century.
I made this view of Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian taking the curve at Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
Where most of the trains on this line draw power from the high-voltage AC catenary, Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian changes from an electric to a diesel locomotive at 30th Street to avoid the need to change at Harrisburg.
This is Amtrak’s only service on the former PRR west of Harrisburg. The lone long distance train on what was once a premier passenger route, and unusual on the electrified portion of the line.
I exposed this sequence at Berwyn using my FujiFilm XT1 and 18-135mm zoom lens.
To make the most of the curve and autumn color, I positioned myself on the outside of the curve at Berwyn. The chug of Amtrak’s P42 diesel alerted me to the approach of this westward train.
Back in the summer of 1981, I was changing trains at New Haven, Connecticut and made this photograph of a new Budd-SPV2000 assigned to the New Haven-Springfield shuttle.
Until I scanned this photo, I didn’t realize I’d made a photo of Amtrak’s short-lived LRC tilting train. Look in the distance to the right of the SPV-2000 and you’ll see the Canadian-built tilting train.
The other evening I arrived at Trenton, New Jersey on board Amtrak train 55 the Vermonter.
The blue glow of dusk prevailed. That moment between daylight and evening when the hue of the light adds a extra atmosphere to photographs.
That is of course, unless your camera has its ‘auto white balance’ set, which will neutralize the color and make for blander, duller images.
To avoid this problem, I set my white balance to ‘daylight’, which forces the camera to interpret the bluer light more or less as I see it.
These images were exposed using my Panasonic Lumix LX7 in ‘Vivid’ mode at ISO 200.
Other than scaling the in-camera Jpgs for internet presentation, I’ve not made changes to the appearance of these photos in Post Processing; color balance, color temperature, contrast, exposure and sharpness were not altered during post processing.
Amtrak’s Vermonter passing an old Tobacco Barn in the Connecticut River flood plain north of Northampton, Massachusetts.
Sunday, June 25, 2017, Amtrak’s mobile App indicated that train No. 54, the Sunday Vermonter had departed Northampton about 7 minutes past the advertised.
Tim suggested we try the location pictured here (right off Massachusetts Route 5). It’s the same spot that about a month earlier we caught Pan Am Railway’s office car special returning from Springfield.
This setting reminds me of locations in Illinois and Iowa, looking across farm fields with old barns as props. In the mid-1990s, I made many photos along those lines.
Working with my Lumix LX7, I exposed a camera RAW file of Amtrak’s 449 at West Warren, Massachusetts on May 31, 2017.
This location is old hat for me. I’ve made dozens of images of Amtrak here over the years.
Here I’m presenting two versions.
The top is the completely un-modified camera RAW (no changes to color, contrast, shadow or highlight detail) that I converted in Lightroom to a JPG for internet presentation
On the bottom is a modified RAW file (saved as a Jpg for internet presentation). Here, using Lightroom I’ve applied a mask to the sky area to improve the exposure and better pulling in cloud detail, while adjusting for color and saturation.
I applied a small circular mask on the front of the locomotive to reduce the effects of glare. In addition, I made overall changes to contrast, while boosting saturation, and lightening shadows slightly.
The end-effect is a more saturated and pronounced sky, lighter shadows, a slight warming of overall color temperature, and better controlled highlight areas.
If you don’t like these, you can try it yourself sometime. Amtrak 449 passes West Warren daily between 245 and 310 pm
These days, I typically have at least one digital camera and a film camera loaded with either black & white or color slide film, plus a back-up instant photo capture/transmitter that subs as a portable telegraph, mobile map, music box, and portable phone.
On my May 6, 2017 visit to South Station with the New York Central System Historical Society, I made a variety of color photos using my Lumix LX7, and traditional black & white photos with an old Leica IIIa loaded with Ilford HP5.
So! Do you have any favorite photos from this selection? Which camera do you feel better captures Boston’s South Station?
For a change, I thought I’d present a three-quarter lit view of a nice clean train on a clear sunny January afternoon. (If you are viewing on Facebook, be sure to click the link to Tracking the Light to see the un-cropped image).
Often on Tracking the Light I detail unusual or uncommon photographic techniques. I’ve discussed how to make pan photographs, how to work with graduated neutral density filters, how to expose at night or in very low light.
I made this at Old Saybrook. Pat Yough and I were wandering around Connecticut after the BIG Railroad Hobby Show, and we paused here to catch Amtrak 163 led by clean ACS-64 635.
Nothing fancy about this photo, although I’ve include the relevant details in the caption, just in case you are curious.
Working with my Nikon F3 fitted with a vintage Nikkor f1.4 50mm lens, I made these views at Strafford, Pennsylvania along the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line west of Philadelphia.
It was a dull Sunday afternoon in January and my hope was to make iconic views using traditional materials that might work more effectively than modern digital color photographs (although I exposed some digital images as well.)
For this batch of Foma Retropan, I returned to hand processing in Paterson tanks. I used Retro Special Developer stock solution (diluted 1:1 with water) with a 4 minutes development time. Prior to introducing the primary developer, I pre-soaked in a water bath with a drop of Retro Special Developer stock for 1 minute.
My aim was to retain the broad tonality achieved with earlier experiments while keeping the grain size relatively fine.
Honestly, I’m not sure that these photographs work for me. But the lighting was pretty tough. (Flat, dull, and lacking in character and direction).