Tag Archives: Bronx

Sunrise at Spuyten Duyvil, The Bronx, New York—lessons in graduated filtration.

A couple of weeks ago, I made these views from a public overlook of the Palisades Parkway that show the former New York Central electrified Hudson Division at Spuyten Duyvil.

The sun was rising through a thick layer of urban pollution with made for a stunning red-orange glow.

My challenge was balancing the light so that the train running along the river wouldn’t completely disappear into the background.

Below are four variations. I’m displaying two photo files, one made with an external Lee 0.9 graduated neutral density filter. The others were made without the external filter, with one of the two images adjusted digitally using Lightroom with a simulated graduated filter.

This is my Lightroom work window. In the big window is the camera JPG of the view exposed without an external filter.

I’ll explain each in the captions, but let you draw your own conclusions.

Image 1: This in-camera JPG shows a view made without an external graduated filter. Except for necessary scaling for internet presentation, I have made no changes to the appearance of the image. This shows the challenging lighting; if I exposed for the sky, the train would be lost in an inky blackness, if I exposed for the train and city scape, the sky gets washed out and loses the effect of a dramatic sunrise. Yet since this image didn’t use a filter, and required no post processing, it was by far the easiest to make.
Image 2: This was image was made from RAW file exposed at the same time as the above JPG (Image 1). No external filter was applied. Using Lightroom, I’ve digitally applied a graduated filter to the sky and manually adjusted the file by lowering highlight and over all density while increasing the highlight contrast and saturation. (By the way, the clouds were naturally terraced, all I’ve done is manipulate the RAW image to allow this effect to be be more apparent in the final image.)
Image 3: In this photo, I’ve applied the external Lee 0.9 graduated neutral density filter to the front of the lens and adjusted it to cover the sky. This tapered filter allowed me to capture more highlight detail in the sky while leaving the bottom portion of the image unfiltered. This is the in-camera JPG, and other than scale the image for internet presentation, I made no further alterations to it in post processing.
Image 4: Working with the RAW file exposed at the same time as image 3, I’ve implemented a variety of small contrast, exposure and saturation adjustments aimed at producing a more pleasing image. Obviously, further adjustment is possible. I could for example lighten the trees behind the train. So this image features both the Lee graduated filter and post processing. To my eye it looks the most like the scene at the time of exposure.

Tracking the Light Posts Daily.

Tracking the Light’s Classic Chrome Archive: doubleheaded Amtrak GG1s at Pelham Bay Park.

I exposed this image on Kodachrome from my grandparents balcony in Coop City, The Bronx, New York in August 1979. How I wished I'd been trackside for this move, but at least I saw it, and documented it with my Leica 3A.
I exposed this image on Kodachrome from my grandparents balcony in Coop City, The Bronx, New York in August 1979. How I wished I’d been trackside for this move, but at least I saw it, and documented it with my Leica 3A.

Brian Solomon is traveling in Finland, but Tracking the Light should continue to post photographs daily!

Pelham Bay Park Part 2, January 1984.


A View From Grandma’s Terrace.

In yesterday’s post, I explained that my grandparents had a Coop City apartment in The Bronx. It was on the 19th floor of a 1970s-era tower block located at the periphery of New York City and the edge of Pelham Bay Park. Looking East, it offered a view of the Hutchinson River (with Goose Island in the middle) and of Amtrak’s former New Haven line to Penn-Station on the far shore.

The best part of the apartment was the terrace, which faced the river and the tracks. As young kids, my brother, Sean, and I would spend hours sending paper airplanes and bubbles, (and sometime heavier items) off the terrace to see how far they’d go. But for me the highlight of the apartment (apart from grandma and grandpa) was the regular passage of trains.

By age 10, I’d learned to calculate running times. Eastbound (northbound) trains running toward Boston would pass 17-20 minutes after leaving Penn-Station, while Westbound (Southbound) trains were less predictable, and sometimes wouldn’t show up until after they were scheduled to depart Penn-Station.

Until 1981, Amtrak would occasionally operate its elderly GG1 Electrics, and I’d keep my Leica handy for just such an event. On rare occasions, two trains would pass in front of the apartment.

I vividly recall a frenzied moment, when Sean shouted, “there’s two trains!” I panicked and in the 10-15 seconds I had to act, I failed to locate the camera. “You missed it! I can’t believe you missed it!” Eventually, the situation repeated itself, and a photograph resulted.

By 1984, freight had been diverted off the line, while most Amtrak trains to New Haven consisted of eight to ten Amfleet cars hauled by AEM-7 electrics. The one elusive train was Amtrak’s Night Owl that passed in the wee hours (as owls do) and this train carried sleeping cars. Even at night these cars looked different than the others.

In the relative silence of early morning, trains would make an audible clatter crossing the bascule drawbridge that was just out of sight from the terrace. We were visiting for New Year’s at the end of 1983. One night during that visit, my sixth sense for trains alerted me in my sleep that the southward Night Owl hadn’t gone by at its usual time (about 3 am).

By daybreak, the Night Owl still hadn’t gone by. So, I readied my old Leica 3A, and waited. Shortly after sunrise it rolled by, and I exposed several Ektachrome slides. These might have been better if I’d used a longer lens, yet, had I done that, then the photos wouldn’t have shown all the heritage equipment, including the train’s sleeping cars, that distinguished it from ordinary North East Corridor trains. While not my greatest effort, it’s not too bad considering I was half asleep and not yet skilled with the camera.

Amtrak at Sunrise
Night Owl at Pelham Bay Park January 1984.

I found this slide last month mixed in with some ‘3rds’ (my old term for slides that were not bad enough to throw away, yet neither good enough to give away—what I called 2nds, nor acceptable for slide shows—1sts). Time has move it up a couple of degrees. I’m not giving it away.


See: Pelham Bay Park Part I, andKid with a Camera Framingham, Massachusetts, 1982.

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Pelham Bay Park, December 1982.


Amtrak AEM7 Crosses The Hutchinson River in The Bronx

Coop City in The Bronx.
Amtrak’s Bascule drawbridge over the Hutchinson River in December 1982. Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar Lens.

Between 1973 and 1985, my paternal grandparents lived at Co-op City in The Bronx, New York City. They had a great view of Amtrak’s former New Haven Railroad line from New Rochelle to the Hell Gate Bridge, which carried all of Amtrak’s Boston-New York trains. Until about 1980, this route also hosted infrequent freights.

When I was younger, I’d keenly watch for trains from my grandparents 19th floor terrace, all the while hoping to see Amtrak’s aged former Pennsylvania GG1 electrics. By 1982, all of Amtrak’s GG1s had been retired.

I made this morning view of a Penn-Station bound Amtrak train approaching the bascule drawbridge over the Hutchinson River led by an AEM7 electric. The scene itself wasn’t remarkable at the time, but I’m glad I made the effort to put it on film. It fascinates me now and brings me back to another time. Although details, such as how to effectively work with backlighting eluded me, I managed to get my exposure pretty close anyway.

I was 16 at the time. I used my Leica 3A with f2.0 50mm Summitar—the camera I carried with me everywhere. A couple of years ago, I located some of my long-lost early negatives and made a project of scanning them. The miracle of modern scanning technology coupled with post-processing allowed me to finally make something of photos I’d made before I was technically competent to make decent prints.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post; “the view from grandma’s terrace.”

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