Tag Archives: backlighting

Three Tips for Making Better Railroad Photos

1) Use your foreground. Unless you’re a ballast enthusiast, avoid emphasizing the ballast. Too many railroad photographs suffer from excessive foreground clutter and other distracting elements, so when you’re composing an image pay attention to the bottom of your frame.

2) Watch your focus. Although most modern cameras have auto focus systems, too many use center-weighted auto-focusing sensors. These produce an unfortunate side-effect of encouraging novice photographers to center their subject, which tends towards bland and ineffective composition. More advanced cameras have tools such as variable focus points and focus locks that help you get around the centering problem.

Although an imperfect image, take notice the focus: A center weighted autofocus system may have resulted in the front of the locomotive appearing soft, while the hoppers at the center of the image being  tack sharp. Alternatively, I  may have had to alter the composition to suit the failings of the auto focus system, which would have produced a compromised photo.

3) Avoid Flare. One of the reasons traditional photography technique stressed over the shoulder lighting was to avoid the unpleasant effects of lens flare. This is caused when the primary light source hits the front element of your lens and cause streaks and patterns across your image while lowering overall contrast. You can make successful backlit photographs by finding ways to minimize direct sun or other primary light sources; stand in the shadow of a tree, building or other object; no shadows available? Make your own with a flat piece of cardboard, book, or spare copy of TRAINS magazine. One last point: while you should avoid flare, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should eliminate it entirely. In certain circumstances, a little flare can improve a photo. Watch the way Hollywood uses flare for dramatic effect.

To make this backlit shot work, I used a 28mm wide-angle lens and shaded the front element with my left hand to avoid unwanted lens flare. Notice how the clouds and foreground elements frame the primary subject, adding interest and balance without becoming overly distracting. Also, would a dark colored locomotive have produced an equally effective photo? The effect of slight backlighting on a silver train can result in a dramatic effect.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

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.


Tracking the Light Posts Everyday.

Pan Am Southern’s Boston & Maine at Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Last week, on my way to Greenfield, Massachusetts, I learned there were a pair of westward freights heading over the old Boston & Maine Fitchburg route.

Pan Am’s EDRJ (East Deerfield to Rotterdam Junction) was nearly ready to depart East Deerfield yard, while empty autorack train symbol 287 (coming from Ayer, Massachusetts) was to run around it and proceed west first.

I opted for a different angle, deciding to make photos from the passenger platform built to serve Amtrak’s Vermonter in 2014.

I made these views with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with 18-135mm zoom lens.

Thin morning cloud/haze helped soften the effects of backlighting at this location.

Pan Am symbol freight 287 works west at Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Wide angle view; Pan Am symbol freight 287 works west at Greenfield, Massachusetts.
About 20 minutes after 287, Pan Am’s EDRJ came into view. In the lead are two of the former CSX GE-built Dash8-40Cs. I made this view to show more of the environment, including the chain-link fence by the passenger platform.
Wide view of EDRJ.
Nice shade of blue on Pan Am painted EMD diesels. Wouldn’t the GE Dash8-40Cs look nice in this paint?

Subtle control in post processing can really make a difference.

These images were adapted from the camera RAW files. I adjusted shadow contrast among other small changes to further balance for backlighting.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily

DAILY POST: Quaboag River Sunset, June 1986

Conrail’s GE C30-7As catch the Glint.

Conrail at Palmer.
At 7:00 pm on June 17, 1986, I used my dad’s Rollei T to capture this image of Conrail eastward freight SEBO-B crossing the Quaboag River bridge west of Palmer, Massachusetts.

In early summer 1986, Conrail was weeks away from converting the Boston & Albany route from a traditional directional double track mainline to a single-track line under the control of CTC-style signals with cab-signal. The first section to be cut-over to the new control system was between Palmer to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Among the results of this change was the abandonment and eventual lifting of the old westward main train west of Palmer.

I was well aware of this pending change and had been documenting Conrail’s work in the area over the preceding months.

On the evening of June 17, 1986, I focused on the westward main track at the Quaboag River bridge just west of the Palmer diamond as Conrail’s eastward SEBO-B dropped down the short grade toward the Palmer yard.

While the train adds interest to the scene; my main focus was the track in the foreground that would soon be gone. I made a variety of images in this area on the weeks up to Conrail’s cut-over day.

Photographing directly into the clear summer sun produced a painterly abstraction. I’ve allowed some flare to hit the camera’s lens which obscures shadow detail and makes for a dream-like quality.

Years after I exposed this frame, I moved to California where I met photographers that had perfected this photographic technique. Interestingly, railroad photographers had been using backlighting to good advantage for a long time. In  searching through archives I’ve come across fine examples of Fred Jukes’ and Otto Perry’s works with similar backlighting effects.

Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.

Please spread the word and share Tracking the Light with anyone who may enjoy seeing it!


Enhanced by Zemanta

DAILY POST: Santa Fe in the Tehachapis, 1993.

Warbonnets among Iridescent Rolling Hills.

Santa Fe Railway
The head-end of Santa Fe’s second 199 works Southern Pacific rails in the Tehachapis between tunnel 1 and 2 near Bealville, California at 7:45am on April 3, 1993. I exposed this photo on Kodachrome 25 slide film using a Nikon F3T with 35mm lens at f4.5 1/125 second. Here’s a secret: the F3T has a removable prism; and to make this image, I pre-focused then took the prism off and held the camera close to the ground. Incidentally this means I composed the image in reverse. At the time, my camera didn’t have a motor drive, so this was a one shot effort. Take careful notice of the lighting and focus points.

California’s rolling Tehachapi mountains south of Bakersfield is one of the West’s great places to watch and photograph trains. Here through creative use of scale, depth-of-field and backlighting, I’ve made a real railroad look like a model!

In the early 1990s, I made several productive trips there. In Spring 1993, Brian Jennison and spent a few great days making images of SP and Santa Fe trains. On this morning we were joined by local photographers Bruce Perry and the late David Burton.

On the morning of April 3, 1993, I climbed a grassy hill near Bealeville to make this  image of Santa Fe’s westward second 199 winding its way downgrade between tunnels 1 and 2.

Working with my Nikon F3T and 35mm PC lens, I played with focus and scale to make an image that looks like one exposed on a model railway. This was my way to cope with some difficult lighting on a photogenic subject and following in the California tradition, I’ve micturated on established ‘rules’ of conventional railroad photography.

I’ve always liked the purple lupin in the foreground.

Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.

Please spread the word and share Tracking the Light with anyone who may enjoy seeing it!




Enhanced by Zemanta