Tag Archives: Belgium

Thalys at Antwerp.

In February 1999, I exposed this view of a Thalys TGV-style high-speed train at Antwerp, Belgium using my Nikon N90S with Fujichrome Sensia II (100 ISO).

To make the most of the angular high-speed train against a backdrop of traditional brick buildings, I used a moderate telephoto lens and a relatively slow shutter speed (probably about 1/60thof a second). This has the effect of keep the train sharp while softening the background and foreground.

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SNCB at Brussels Midi 22 Years Ago!

Upon arrival from Köln, Germany On this day, 25 May 1996, my father and I made photographs in the rain at Brussels Midi.

I’ve since returned to Brussels on many occasions when the weather has been more hospitable.

Brussels is among the cities profiles in my new book Brian Solomon’s Railway Guide to Europe, now available from Kalmbach Books/Kalmbach Hobby Store.

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I Visited SNCB’s Antwerp Central Station on this day in 2016.

 

It was on this day, 25 April 2016, almost, 20 years after my first visit to Antwerp Central, I made the opportunity to revisit this amazing European railway palace.

SNCB’s (Belgian National Railway) Antwerp Central had been completely transformed since my 1996 visit (while traveling from Brussels to Amsterdam with my dad).

It now features tracks on three levels, including a through line at the lowest level.

Steel and glass train shed at Antwerp Central Station on 25 April 2016. Lumix LX7 photo.

 

Lowest level of Antwerp Central.

 

A through Amsterdam to Brussels train arrives on the lowest of three levels. Photo adjusted in Lightroom to compensate for contrast and colour saturation.

In my railway travels across Belgium, I’ve photographed at Antwerp Central on a half dozen occasions over the years, and the station remains one of my favorite.

These photographs were exposed digitally with my Lumix LX7, which is an ideal tool for making urban images.

Antwerp is among the cities featured in my new Railway Guide to Europe published by Kalmbach Publishing.

Click here to order Brian Solomon’s Railway Guide to Europe.

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I exposed the cover photo in Germany’s Rhein Valley using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm lens.

 

 

 

Bruxelles Central/Brussel Centraal (Brussels Central Station)

Brussels Central Station features six tracks below ground, with an art deco styled station building above ground.

It lies between Brussels two main termini; Nord/Noord (North) and Midi/Zuid (South).

The incongruity in names and spellings is a function of Belgium’s two primary languages (French and Flemish) combined with the tendency of the English language to rename places without consideration for local spelling or pronunciation.

During my most recent visit to Belgium I made a couple of visits to Belgium’s main stations. While not strictly photographic ventures, I always plan to make photographs during the course of my travels.

Opportunity taken on site can save a lot of running around later on.

If you are interested in railway stations consider my book: Railway Depots, Stations and Terminals published by Voyageur Press.

SNCB is a very busy railway and Brussels Central handles a tide of trains at rushour.

This sign represents the Flemish spelling for the station.

Photos exposed using my Panasonic Lumix LX7.

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Belgium’s Train World.

Located adjacent to the SNCB lines at Schaarbeek (on the north side of Brussels), Train World is Belgium’s premier railway museum.

I visited last week, having arrived by train from the Brussels suburbs. I’d bought my museum ticket in conjunction with my SNCB fare.

City trams also serve the museum.

You enter Train World from the old railway station building, which has been beautifully restored. Beyond are a series of train halls, that display the history of Belgian railways using real equipment: locomotives, railway rolling stock, signals, literature, signage, etc.

It’s well worth a visit.

Photos exposed using my Lumix LX7

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Antwerp in the Rain; Trams and Bountiful opportunities for Eclectic City Scapes—16 new Photos.

It was a rainy Monday when I arrived in Antwerp. Working with my Lumix LX7, I spent several hours riding the Lijn trams and making photos.

Does the rain and gloom ad atmosphere to this eclectic Flemish port city? There’s a lot of history here.

Lijn has been buying new low-floor articulated Flexity-2 trams to replace its antique fleet of four-axle PCCs, so I was keen to catch the older cars at work while I still can.

(See related posts: Gent Revisited—Trams, Castles and Cobble StonesGent in Six PhotosTrams of Gent Part 2Trams in Basel, Switzerland; 21 April 2016).

A modern Flexity2 tram glides through the rain in Antwerp. Lumix LX7 photo.
A modern Flexity2 tram glides through the rain in Antwerp. Lumix LX7 photo.

Complicated track work makes for a more interesting urban image.
Complicated track work makes for a more interesting urban image. The PCC is almost incidental to the scene.

There are plenty of eclectic establishments in Antwerp where you can grab a bite to eat an enjoy a glass of beer while watching the tram cars grind along cobblestone streets.
There are plenty of eclectic establishments in Antwerp where you can grab a bite to eat an enjoy a glass of beer while watching the tram cars grind along cobblestone streets.

Antwerp enjoys a complex transport system with tram lines on many streets. However, expansion of the tram subway may soon reduce the number of surface services in some parts of the city center.
Antwerp enjoys a complex transport system with tram lines on many streets. However, expansion of the tram subway may soon reduce the number of surface services in some parts of the city center.

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Could a bus be as photogenic in such a setting?
Could a bus be as photogenic in such a setting?

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Among the advantages of photographing on a cold wet day is that there tend to be few people on the streets to get in your way. Not to be antisocial, but masses of urban humility can be a problem when composing tram photos.
Among the advantages of photographing on a cold wet day is that there tends to be few people on the streets to get in your way. Not to sound  antisocial, but masses of urban humility can be a hindrence  when composing tram photos.

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Near the main railway station there's a tram loop.
Near the main railway station there’s a tram loop used by route 11 cars.

This level crossing is a great place to catch the action.
This level crossing is a great place to catch the action.

I don't think everyone was quite as enthusiastic about tram tracks and cobblestones as I was.
I don’t think everyone was quite as enthusiastic about tram tracks and cobblestones as I was.

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Curbside running makes it easier to board the cars.
Curbside running makes it easier to board the cars.

Here's my car now!
Here’s my car now!

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White trams navigating narrow dark cobble-stone streets makes for some interesting contrast. So, would shafts of sun have improved these images?

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Hidden Treasures: Preserved Locomotives at Saint Ghislain, Belgium; Don’t miss Brian’s Exposure Guide for old Locomotive sheds.

Locked away in an old locomotive shed at Saint Ghislain, Belgium are a wonderful collection of historic SNCB locomotives maintained by Patrimoine Ferroviare et Tourisme. See: http://www.pfttsp.be/index.php/fr/

Mauno Pajunen organized a visit to this collection and provided translation while Rousman Phillippe offered a guided tour.

I was most impressed by the semi-streamlined stainless-steel clad electric (SNCB 1805) that formerly worked TEE international services and by the Baldwin diesel locomotive built under license.

Until my visit the to the shed at Saint Guislain, I'd only seen this class of locomotive in old photos. The pitched cab profile and stainless-steel side panels are very pleasing. They just don't style locomotives like this anymore!
Until my visit the to the shed at Saint Guislain, I’d only seen this class of locomotive in old photos. The pitched cab profile and stainless-steel side panels are very pleasing. They just don’t style locomotives like this anymore!

SNCB_historic_loco_Saint_Ghislain_DSCF6294

Photographing in a locomotive shed such as this one requires special technique.

If you just let the in-camera meter do the work you will get under-exposed (dark) images such as this. Why? Because the camera meter is trying to balance the scene for the window which leads to overall under-exposure. Action on the photographer is necessary on-site to avoid this problem.
If you just let the in-camera meter do the work you will get under-exposed (dark) images such as this. Why? Because the camera meter is trying to balance the scene for the window which leads to overall under-exposure. Action on the photographer is necessary on-site to avoid this problem.

Direct and indirect lighting from skylights in the roof and large side windows results in extreme contrast with lower regions of the locomotives bathed in darkness that tends to confuse the in-camera light meter. (A meter doesn’t know what your subject is and only provides a balanced reading and doesn’t work in this situation.)

If you are not careful you may end up with an unacceptably dark result. (see above).

By manually controlling the exposure you can compensate for the effect of windows and skylights, thus creating a more pleasing exposure inside the shed.
By manually controlling the exposure you can compensate for the effect of windows and skylights, thus creating a more pleasing exposure inside the shed.

My solution is relatively simple: manually over-expose in range of 2/3s of a stop to 1 stop, and then control highlight detail in post processing.

The easiest way to do this with a digital camera is used a manual mode and then watch the suggested exposure settings offered by the built in meter and then add 2/3s to 1 stop to the recommended value. Thus if the meter suggests exposing a f2.8 at 1/60th of second, open up the aperture to nearly f2.0 without changing the shutter speed.

Another way of doing this is by adjusting the meter to over expose by 2/3 or 1 full stop. Each camera has its own means of doing this.

In my case, I set the ISO to 400, so my average exposure was f4.5 1/60 of a second (camera meter was recommending f5.6 to f6.3, which would have resulted in an unacceptably dark image).

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I adjusted my exposure from scene to scene, while tending toward overexposure based on the meter setting and carefully gauging the histogram to avoid loosing data in the shadow areas.

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Since the highlights of the outside windows and skylights are not important to the overall scene, it isn’t a problem to allow for a loss of detail in these areas.

After exposure, I adjusted the files in post-processing to bring the mid-tones and shadow areas to an expected level.

SNCB_historic_loco_Saint_Ghislain_DSCF6319

This was one of my favorites: a Baldwin diesel built under license. Careful exposure allowed for adequate detail of the trucks and underbody.
This was one of my favorites: a Baldwin diesel built under license. Careful exposure allowed for adequate detail of the trucks and underbody.

SNCB_Baldwin_historic_loco_Saint_Ghislain_DSCF6300

The boiler was outside.
The boiler was outside.

Wide angle close up of Walschearts valve gear. Old Egide was a Belgian after all!
Wide angle close up of Walschearts valve gear. Old Egide was a Belgian after all!

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Another trick is working in confined spaces. For these images I used a super wide-angle lens, specifically a Zeiss 12mm Touit, which I purchased specifically for photography in settings such engine sheds, signal towers and locomotive cabs.

 

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The end of the line for SNCB! A Dozen photos at Quiévrain.

International borders are often bad for railways.

An invisible political boundary (the dashed line on a map) can prove a greater obstacle than a towering mountain range when it comes to impeding railway operations.

In mid-April, my Irish friends and I explored the Gotthard Pass, where massive investment will soon make the old line over the mountain redundant as the new 35.5 mile Basistunnel beneath the Alps will divert most of the through traffic.

A week later I was exploring the border area between northern France and Belgian Wallonia with Mauno Pajunen.

This is in an area of relatively dense population that was once the center of a thriving coal mining community. Quiévrain, Belgium is a town located an hour or so from Brussels and is relatively near to large French cities of Lille and Paris.

The tree growing out of the roof of the old station is indicative the sad state of the railway here.
The tree growing out of the roof of the old station is indicative the sad state of the railway here.

Despite the poor state of the facilities, SNCB continues to provide a relatively frequent passenger service to Quiévrain. Electric trains offer an inexpensive and comfortable way to travel to Mons and Brussels where connections are available to many other cities across the country.
Despite the poor state of the facilities, SNCB continues to provide a relatively frequent passenger service to Quiévrain. Electric trains offer an inexpensive and comfortable way to travel to Mons and Brussels where connections are available to many other cities across the country.

Generally speaking SNCB (Belgian National Railways) provides an excellent service across Belgium, with most stations seeing at least an hourly passenger service and many lines operating with an even greater frequency.

Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.

At one time a through railway line connected Belgian cities of Brussels and Mons with the French city of Valenciennes via Quiévrain . Today, SNCB continues to operate a regular interval passenger service from Brussels to Mons with some trains continuing south to Saint Ghislain and Quiévrain.

But Quiévrain is the end of the line and the state of the station area is a sad reflection of better times now long gone.

This was once a handsome station.
This was once a handsome station.

 

Evidence of the old line remains and the tracks are still in place (although no longer connected).

The town is divided between Belgium and France, with the French town being called Quiéverchain. Differences in the price of tabacco and alcohol between the two countries has led to a thriving business on the Belgian side of the border.

Here we are at the French-Belgian frontier which divides the town of Quiéverchain/Quiévrain. Good luck getting through the place by rail!
Here we are at the French-Belgian frontier which divides the town of Quiéverchain/Quiévrain. Good luck getting through the place by rail!

Oh dear! The connecting stink buggy has arrived.
Oh dear! The connecting stink buggy has arrived.

SNCB provides excellent signage at stations.
SNCB provides excellent signage at stations.

It had been many years since you could take a train directly from Mons to Valencienes.

In theory, you can ride from Brussels to Valenciennes via a change of trains at Lille, but this is the long way around and impractical for regular travelers.

The end of the line for SNCB! (but the tracks once continued into France.)
The end of the line for SNCB! (but the tracks once continued into France.)

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Elsewhere in Europe cross-border services have flourished, yet the end of track at Quiévrain clearly demonstrates how borders create barriers between population centers that need not exist.

Soon you will be able to travel faster than ever before from Zurich to Milan, but not by rail from Mons to Valenciennes!

Only a short walk from the end of track will reveal the old line that once continued across the border. A ghost from another era.
Only a short walk from the end of track will reveal evidence of the old line that once continued across the border. A ghost from another era.

I find disused railways sad, yet fascinating. Like discovering evidence of a forgotten empire.
I find disused railways sad, yet fascinating. Like discovering evidence of a forgotten empire.

Mons to Monson and Back (via Virtual Time Machine).

On October 1st, 2015, I arrived at Mons, Belgium by SNCB Train from Brussels. It was my first time in this southwestern Belgian City, and my impressions were skewed by the fact that the entire railway station was a construction zone.

Mons was only a brief layover for me, as I was traveling to Valenciennes, France (just over the frontier) to give my talk on railway photography to the European Railway Agency.

My host Mauno Pajunen explained that the Mons station had been under construction for several years and that the classic old station building had been demolished to make way for a modern facility.

Since I had a few minutes, I made a few photos of the railway at Mons, but with very little context to guide me; it seemed to be just a jumble of catentary masts, wires, temporary platforms, cranes, cables, concrete and steel.

Looking west at Mons, Belgium. Construction everywhere! Nice bright day though. Lumix LX7 photo.
Looking west at Mons, Belgium. Construction everywhere! Nice bright day though. Lumix LX7 photo.

A Seimens electric at Mons with an SNCB passenger train. Belgian railways provide an excellent service with trains operating every few minutes. Sadly, there's no direct cross boarder service with France.
A Seimens electric at Mons with an SNCB passenger train. Belgian railways provide an excellent service with trains operating every few minutes. Sadly, there’s no direct cross border service to France.

An antique in modern dress!
An antique in modern dress!

AnSNCB 300 series EMU pauses at Mons. Lumix LX7 photo.
An SNCB 300 series EMU pauses at Mons. Lumix LX7 photo.

All the brightness and construction somehow reminded me of California in the 1990s.
All the brightness and construction somehow reminded me of California in the 1990s.

A week later I was back in Monson, Massachusetts, after some complex and intensive travel involving four countries, a half dozen trains, a fair few trams, two aeroplanes, several buses, and a bit of driving.

55 years earlier my father and Jack May had visited Mons on their wanders around Europe. On arrival back in Monson, I searched the slide collection for some context. Here is one of the slides my father exposed on Kodachrome.

My father, Richard Jay Solomon exposed this view at Mons of SNCV trams near the railway station using a Kodak Retina 3C and Kodachrome slide film. Mons doesn't look like this any more. The trams are long gone, and place is a construction site. Back then you could also get a train across the border!
My father, Richard Jay Solomon exposed this view at Mons of SNCV trams near the railway station using a Kodak Retina 3C and Kodachrome slide film. Mons doesn’t look like this any more. The trams are long gone, and place is a construction site. Back then you could also get a train across the border!

Well, at least on my visit the sun was out!

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Belgian Coastal Tramway—Revisited.

Last weekend (October 3, 2015), I made my second visit to the Belgian Coastal Tramway (LIJN Kusttram). This tramway is one of Europe’s more unusual railways. It’s a narrow-gauge electric interurban line that connects towns and cities along the Belgian coast using modern trams.

The setting is peculiar to my eye, as much of the coast is characterized by mile after mile of high-rise apartments that face North Sea beaches. Between resort areas are heavy port facilities, such as that at Zeebrugge.

Panoramic composite of the Belgian coast exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1.
Panoramic composite of the Belgian coast exposed using a FujiFilm X-T1.

On my first visit, back in March 2013, I traveled from Ostend to the south end of the line near the French border. Back then it was gray, cold, and exceptionally windy. In other words, it was a complete contrast to last weekend, when it was warm, sunny, and comparatively still.

During this more recent visit, I explored the North-end of the line with some of my Irish friends who are now living in Belgium. At no point did my two journeys on the coastal tramway overlap.

LIJN Kusttram the Knokke terminus at the north-end of the route. Lumix LX7 photo.
LIJN Kusttram the Knokke terminus at the north-end of the route. (The tram carries a destination for De Panne at the far south-end). Lumix LX7 photo.

Blankenberge Pier. Lumix LX7 photo.
Blankenberge Pier. Lumix LX7 photo.

Blenkenberg Pier. Lumix LX7.
Blenkenberg Pier. Lumix LX7.

One of these days I’ll need to visit again, and travel the line from end to end. I’ve by no means worked the most dramatic or most characteristic locations on the line.

Interestingly, I’ve seen relatively few published photos on the route, which makes it a bit more mysterious, and perhaps more interesting to explore.

Belgian Coastal Tramway at Blankenberge.
Belgian Coastal Tramway at Blankenberge.

Advertisements. Lumix LX7 photo.
Advertisements. Lumix LX7 photo.

Sunset on the Coast Tramway. Lumix LX7 Photo.
Sunset on the Coast Tramway. Lumix LX7 Photo.

A passenger validates a ticket on-board the Kusttram.
A passenger validates a ticket on-board the Kusttram.

Knokke terminus at dusk. exposed with a Lumix LX7.
Knokke terminus at dusk. exposed with a Lumix LX7. There are some 70 stops between Knokke and De Panne. That could take a lot of exploring!

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SNCB at Villers Abbey, 2 October 2015

Riding in the eerie glow of dusk from Charleroi to Ottignies, my SNCB (Belgian Railways) train passes the romantic ruins of a medieval abbey.

I looked this location up on line and learned that it was called the Villers Abbey, and is a popular attraction in the Wallonia region of Belgium.

The next day, I returned by road with some friends who lived nearby to expose these photographs.

The old abbey makes for a fascinating subject, while the railway provides added interest.

Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.

Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.

Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.

Perhaps I’d been living under a rock, but I’d never heard of this place before. It’s certainly one of the more interesting places to photograph trains in Belgium.

Elevation is available on the east side.

Low evening sun suited the environment. Yet, I think a foggy morning might offer an even more evocative atmosphere. Someday, I’ll have to try it again!

Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
Villers Abbey, FujiFilm X-T1 photo

Which is a more compelling image? The train in distance, or up close?
Which is a more compelling image? The train in the distance, or up close?

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Charleroi—40 Minutes of Nice Light

I’ve passed through Charleroi, Belgium at various occasions over the years. For me it is a place similar to Newark, New Jersey.

Like Newark: Charleroi offers connections between transportation modes and is the location of an important secondary airport and  has a light rail-subway that blends an historic network with modern construction.
Also, both city’s environments are characterized by post-industrial backdrops.

On Thursday, October 1st, a change of trains at Charleroi afforded me a 40-minute window to make photos. Rich polarized sun at the end of the day made for some nice lighting to capture the city’s trams and SNCB trains.

SNCB station at  Charleroi  Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.

TEX Tram at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
TEX Tram at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.

TEC tram catches a wink of sun on 1 October 2015. FujiFilm X-T1 photo.
TEC tram catches a wink of sun on 1 October 2015. FujiFilm X-T1 photo.

SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.

SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.

My train to Ottignie at the SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.
My train to Ottignie at the SNCB station at Charleroi Sud. Lumix LX7 photo.

Low sun offers contrast and rich lighting that is well suited to making dramatic railway images.

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SNCB at Schaerbeek—Film and Digital.

Why limit yourself to one media, when you can use two? Enjoy the best of both, go nuts.

Or, as the case maybe, slip across the street for a glass of Jupiler at the Le Cheval de Fer (The Iron Horse).

That was my call any way. I visited Schaarbeek/Schaerbeek at the end of March.

Restored railway station at Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek in Brussels, Belgium. Exposed with a Lumix LX7.
Restored railway station at Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek in Brussels, Belgium. Exposed with a Lumix LX7.

Schaerbeek is a large station in suburban Brussels. Out front is a tram terminus where modern Flexity trams gather between runs. The station building is a classic, and just recently restored. The railway themed pub is nearby and in sight of the station.

This bizarrely adorned tram was paused at the Schaerbeek tram terminus. Where was it going? I jumped on and went for a spin. An hour later I was a Lancaster. Didn't look like Pennsylvania to me, but hey! (By the way, that's Le Cheval de Fer to the right of the tram.) Lumix LX7 photo.
This bizarrely adorned tram was paused at the Schaerbeek tram terminus. Where was it going? I jumped on and went for a spin. An hour later I was at Lancaster. Didn’t look like Pennsylvania to me, but hey! (By the way, that’s Le Cheval de Fer to the right of the tram.) Lumix LX7 photo.

SNCB is the Belgian national railway and it runs a lot of trains. While most trains don’t stop at Schaerbeek, there’s no shortage of action. In just a few minutes, I’d caught a variety of equipment passing.

Since I had three cameras and sunlight, I made the most of my brief time at this railway nexus.

Before long, pictures exposed and beer consumed, I was rolling along through cobble stone streets on one of the aforementioned Flexity trams.

Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek station exposed on Provia 100F with a Canon EOS 3 fitted with 40mm pancake lens.
Schaerbeek/Schaarbeek station exposed on Provia 100F with a Canon EOS 3 fitted with 40mm pancake lens. Slide digitized with a Epson V600 flatbed scanner.

Detail view of the station exposed with my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
Detail view of the station exposed with my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.

Detail made with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.
Detail made with a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera.

At the north end of a station platform I exposed this classic view of a Class 27 SNCB electric leading a passenger train. exposed on Provia 100F with a Canon EOS 3 fitted with 40mm pancake lens. Slide digitized with a Epson V600 flatbed scanner.
At the north end of a station platform I exposed this classic view of a Class 27 SNCB electric leading a passenger train. exposed on Provia 100F with a Canon EOS 3 fitted with 40mm pancake lens. Slide digitized with a Epson V600 flatbed scanner.

Trailing view exposed digitally using my Fujifilm X-T1 camera.
Trailing view exposed digitally using my Fujifilm X-T1 camera.

Where are we again? Fujifilm X-T1 photo.
Where are we again? Fujifilm X-T1 photo.

Another Class 27, this viewed from under the old station canopies. Fuji X-T1 photo.
Another Class 27, this viewed from under the old station canopies. Fuji X-T1 photo.

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Through the Streets of Brussels.

My experience with the Brussels tram network spans nearly twenty years. This fascinating railway network involves a complex route structure with lots of track and several different types of trams.

Street photography has its fair share of challenges. Automobiles and pedestrians mingle with trams in ways that make it difficult to set up shots.

Further complicating matters is the sedate shades of silver and bronze now favoured by STIB (the transit operator), which I find difficult to photograph satisfactorily.

However, in addition to the regular tram livery are a large number of specially painted advertising trams and a handful of old PCCs in the earlier yellow livery, which certainly add a bit of colour to the fleet.

These photos were all exposed during one afternoon in late March 2015.

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STIB_55_Tram_crossing_dual_carriageway_DeVinci_Brussels_P1180958STIB_92_Tram_and_yellow_PCC_at_Scharbeek_Brussels_P1180974

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STIB_red_Tram_92_route_P1190018

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STIB_Route_97_PCC_Janson_Brussels_P1190032

STIB_Route_81_PCC_near_Midi_station_Brussels_P1190039

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Gent in Six Photos

The other day I posted a selection of images at Gent, Belgium. I made dozens of photos on my recent visit in late March 2015 and I thought I’d post a few more of the most interesting images.

Gent Lijn 24 PCC with castle. Lumix LX7 photo.
Gent Lijn 24 PCC with castle. Lumix LX7 photo.

Fuji X-T1 photo at Gent, Belgium.
Fuji X-T1 photo at Gent, Belgium.

Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.

View from the 22. Lumix LX7 photo.
View from the 22. Lumix LX7 photo.

Brand new low-floor tram on the streets of Gent. Lumix LX7 photo.
Brand new low-floor tram on the streets of Gent. Lumix LX7 photo.

Lumix LX7 photo.
Lumix LX7 photo.

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Gent Revisited—Trams, Castles and Cobble Stones

At the end of March 2015, I furthered my exploration of Gent, Belgium, a small city that features a fascinating narrow-gauge tram network operated by Lijn.

This is an enchanting place to wander around and make photographs.

PCC viewed through castle gate. Exposed with a Fuji X-T1.
PCC viewed through castle gate. Exposed with a Fuji X-T1.

PCC detail. Exposed with a Fuji X-T1.
PCC detail. Exposed with a Fuji X-T1.

Exposed with a Fuji X-T1.
Exposed with a Fuji X-T1.

Trams operate on frequent intervals on several intertwined routes with sections of single track, numerous level crossings, and a seemingly endless back drop of classic architecture.

Trams serve the main railway station (Gent Sint Pieters) making possible an all rail journey from myriad points across Europe. I arrived from Brussels on an IC train.

I’ve previously featured Gent in a pair of Tracking the Light posts published on August 27 and 28, 2013. See: Trams of Gent—Part 1 and Trams of Gent Part 2

Tram with castle. Exposed with a Fuji X-T1.
Tram with castle. Exposed with a Fuji X-T1.

Tram with castle. Exposed with a Fuji X-T1.
Tram with castle. Exposed with a Fuji X-T1.

More soon!

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A Dozen New Photos: Antwerpen Centraal‑Part 2.

Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.

Among my recent book projects is an illustrated examination of railway station architecture to be published by Voyageur Press later this year. This is an excerpt of my text:

Today’s Antwerpen-Centraal is a blend of architect Louis de la Censerie’s elaborate and elegantly adorned station building and spacious balloon-style shed with two modern new levels. The lowest level provides through connections to the north. The original station opened in 1898, while the improved and expanded modern terminal reopened in 2007.

I revisited this railway wonder of the modern world at the end of March 2015. Yesterday I presented a few interpretive images, today I present an more literal collection of images.

Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.

Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.

Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.

Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.

Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.

Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.

Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.

Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.

Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Fuji X-T1 photo.

Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.
Antwerp Central Station—Lumix LX7 photo.

Antwerpen_Centraal_station_325_DSCF4687

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La Hulpe Station at Night, March 2015.

On an evening last week, using my Lumix LX-7, I exposed this time exposure of Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges’s (Belgian National Railways or SNCB) Gare de La Hulpe.

This railway line is being transformed from double track mainline line to a quad track line to facilitate an improved suburban service akin to the Paris RER.

Exposed using a Panasonic Lumix LX7 set at ISO 80 at f1.7 for 5 seconds.
Exposed using a Panasonic Lumix LX7 set at ISO 80 at f1.7 for 5 seconds.

To make this image, I rested the camera on the bridge railing, exposed a pair of trial exposures to gauge the lighting conditions, then set the camera (shutter speed and aperture) manually to allow for sufficient exposure of the sky and shadow areas.

As previously mentioned on Tracking the Light, to make successful night photos it is important to give the scene sufficient exposure (usually 2/3s of a stop more than allocated by many built-in camera meter settings), while keep the camera steady for the duration of the exposure. Keeping flare to a minimum is also helpful.

See related articles:

Charleroi to La Hulpe. 

Lumix LX-3—part 2: Existing Light Digital Night Shots.

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Belgian Narrow Gauge PCC

On March 26, 2013, I had 47 minutes to change trains at Antwerpen Centraal (Antwerp Central Station).

I used my time to wander around and make photos, including this image of some old PCC trams working narrow gauge tracks near the station.

Antwerp. Exposed with my Lumix LX3
Antwerp. Exposed with my Lumix LX3

My previous visits to Antwerp were plagued by dull light, which too often afflicts coastal regions along the North Sea. This morning I was rewarded with low rich sun.

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Ottignies—13 Minutes to Change Trains

Making the Most of It.

Belgium’s Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges (Belgian National Railways or SNCB) operates a top-notch passenger network with interval frequencies on most routes. This works on a hub and spoke system, where planned changes allow passengers a great variety of destinations.

New EMUs bask in the sun at Ottignies on an August 2014 evening. Lumix LX7 photo with the 'Vivid' colour profile.
New EMUs bask in the sun at Ottignies on an August 2014 evening. Lumix LX7 photo with the ‘Vivid’ colour profile.

On an August 2014 evening, I arrived at Ottignies from Charleroi on my way to La Hulpe in the Brussels suburbs. My journey itinerary gave me 13 minutes to change from one train to another.

Ottignies is an old school station with traditional platforms and canopies. While this can’t last forever, I’ll take its situation as a blessing. Refurbished stations are fine for passenger utility, but offer less in the way visual character.

Since I’d changed here previously, I had a sense for where the light would be.

That’s right! I had precisely 13-minutes to make photographs, and I was prepared to make the most of it! (And yes, I exposed some colour slides too. You know, for the record.)

My Lumix has an HDR (high dynamic range) feature that takes a rapid fire sequence of three images and blends them in camera. This increases highlight and shadow definition and produces more even contrast. The subject(s) need to be static however or the feature doesn't work so well.
My Lumix has an HDR (high dynamic range) feature that takes a rapid fire sequence of three images and blends them in camera. This increases highlight and shadow definition and produces more even contrast. The subject(s) need to be static however or the feature doesn’t work so well.

New sign with old canopies and platforms, a good compromise. An old General Motors powered diesel lurks in the yard beyond. Lumix LX7 photo.
New sign with old canopies and platforms, a good compromise. An old General Motors powered diesel lurks in the yard beyond. Lumix LX7 photo.

Well now this is a bonus. An old SNCB class 55 diesel with a Colas ballast cleaner. Lumix LX7 photo.
Well now this is a bonus. An old SNCB class 55 diesel with a Colas ballast cleaner. Lumix LX7 photo.

Colas is a company with a hand in many businesses. They run trains in the UK too.
Colas is a company with a hand in many businesses. They run trains in the UK too.

This high contrast scene made for a perfect opportunity to test the capabilities of the HDR feature. I think it did a respectable job of holding detail while balancing contrast. Lumix LX7 in HDR 'scene mode'.
This high contrast scene made for a perfect opportunity to test the capabilities of the HDR feature. I think it did a respectable job of holding detail while balancing contrast. Lumix LX7 in HDR ‘scene mode’.

Ottignies is a busy station. As I was focused on the ballast cleaning train, a southward InterCity train arrived. I made a colour slide of it as it glided to a stop then repositioned for this view with my Lumix in HDR 'scene mode'.
Ottignies is a busy station. As I was focused on the ballast cleaning train, a southward InterCity train arrived. I made a colour slide of it as it glided to a stop then repositioned for this view with my Lumix in HDR ‘scene mode’.

I reverted to the Vivid colour profile without the benefit of HDR for this low angle view of this SNCB class 18. This is a Siemens Vectron and the same basic locomotive design that Amtrak is now using on the North East Corridor. Lumix LX7 photo.
I reverted to the Vivid colour profile without the benefit of HDR for this low angle view of this SNCB class 18. This is a Siemens Vectron — the same basic locomotive design that Amtrak is now using on the North East Corridor. Lumix LX7 photo.

My train arrived and I took a seat on the upper deck. This was a contrast from the old single-level electric that I'd traveled on up from Charleroi. I was heading toward Brussels in the rush hour, so I was moving counter flow. Lumix LX7 photo at Ottignies, Belgium.
My train arrived and I took a seat on the upper deck. This was a contrast from the old single-level electric that I’d traveled on up from Charleroi. I was heading toward Brussels in the rush hour, so I was moving counter flow. Lumix LX7 photo at Ottignies, Belgium.

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Take a Ride on the SNCB

Charleroi to La Hulpe.

My time in Charleroi had come to a close. My next destination was La Hulpe in the suburbs south of Brussels. While I anticipated taking an Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges (Belgian National Railways or SNCB) train to Brussels and changing trains there, the ticket seller convinced me to try another option.

“It’s cheaper and faster to travel to Ottignies.” Ok, why not.

When I went up to platform 3A at Charleroi Sud, what appeared to be the oldest train in Belgium rattled in to collect me. I ended up riding a line I previously didn’t even have on my map (this turns out to be line 140).

While the train’s inside was nicely refurbished, it retained openable windows, a rare treat in today’s world of train travel.

No sooner than I boarded the train and the rain began, again. But after a while the sun came out and so I made a series of images using my Lumix LX7, which I was able to hold out the window at arms-length  while keeping a sharp eye on the rear display screen.

Exposed with a Lumix LX7 with built in neutral density filter engaged, 1/3 second at f8, 80 ISO. Handheld with aid of built in image stabilizer. Looking away from the direction of travel.
Exposed with a Lumix LX7 with built in neutral density filter engaged, 1/3 second at f8, 80 ISO. Handheld with aid of built in image stabilizer. Looking away from the direction of travel.

Among the Lumix LX7s features are a built in neutral density filter and image stabilizer. This allowed me to make relatively long exposures in bright daylight while keeping the camera steady.

SNCB’s track is flawless, and the heavy aged train provided a solid, nearly vibration-free ride, allowing me to expose a series photos using long shutter speeds intended to blur the tracks and countryside while keeping the train sharp.

Hooray for old trains on good track!

Exposed for 1/8 second at f8, 80 ISO with neutral density filter. The ND filter cuts the exposure by two full stops, so without it my exposure time would have been about 1/30 of a second. Enough for a bit of blur, but not enough for the appropriate effect.
Exposed for 1/8 second at f8, 80 ISO with neutral density filter. The ND filter cuts the exposure by two full stops, so without it my exposure time would have been about 1/30 of a second. Enough for a bit of blur, but not enough for the appropriate effect.

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Interurban Throwback: Charleroi —Part 2

A Tale of Two Tram Cities.

Sometimes I stumble into the past. Although I was keen to explore Charleroi by tram, I wasn’t expecting the vestige of roadside interurban operation on the long line to Anderlues.

Frequency on this line is only about every half hour, and I nearly gave up on this leg of my journey while waiting for a delayed outbound tram at the dark and dire brown-tile transfer station called Piges in western Charleroi.

Much of the route features modern construction on concrete elevated structures and subway, a creation of the Charleroi Metro. However, once beyond a turn-back station at the end of this infrastructure intensive right of way, trams operate on a vestige of the old Vicinal network (once the operator an extensive system of Belgium’s interurban tram lines).

In Anderlues, the tram uses single track gutter-side street running. All I can say, is this really cool for a modern-day operation. Lumix LX-7 photo.
In Anderlues, the tram uses single track gutter-side street running. Let me just say, is this really cool for a modern-day operation. Lumix LX-7 photo.

This includes side-of-road operation with long sections of single track, passing sidings and brick-lined streets. I was astounded. I checked my calendar, and it confirmed that it really was August 2014, not sometime in the mid-twentieth century.

However, as is too often the case, I was on short-time and only had a few hours to explore this fascinating railway.

A tram takes a corner in Anderlues. Moments later  torrential rains dampened my photography. Lumix LX7 photo.
A tram takes a corner in Anderlues. Moments later torrential rains dampened my photography. Lumix LX7 photo.

Hard rain at Anderlues.
Hard rain at Anderlues.

A tram takes a siding on single track at Anderlues. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.
A tram takes a siding on single track at Anderlues. Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens.

Working single track outbound at Anderlues. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens.
Working single track outbound at Anderlues. Canon EOS 7D with 100mm lens.

This reminds me a bit of my father's photos of Johnstown Traction Company's operations in the 1950s. Lumix LX7.
This reminds me a bit of my father’s photos of Johnstown Traction Company’s operations in the 1950s. Lumix LX7.

Streetside pickup point; an inbound tram pauses for a stop to collect passengers in Anderlues. Lumix LX7.
Streetside pickup point; an inbound tram pauses for a stop to collect passengers in Anderlues. Lumix LX7.

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Tomorrow, take a ride on the SNCB!