Last week I had a few minutes between trains, during which time I exposed these views of the Chicago Transit Authority’s famous ‘L’ at the Chicago Loop.
Although it is common misconception that the ‘loop’ is so named for the circular arrangement of CTA’s elevated railway downtown, the name pre-dates the ‘L’ and actually stems from Chicago’s cable car days. (Chicago, rather than San Francisco, once held title to the world’s most extensive cable operated streetcar network.)
This isn’t your typical cable car image. Where photographers, myself included, have often focused on San Francisco’s exceptionally steep hills, where cars appear to cling precariously to tracks, instead I’ve tried to make the most of one of more level sections of the cable car system.
I exposed this on Kodachrome 25 this using my old Nikormat FT3 with a secondhand Tokina 400mm lens.
This exceptionally long telephoto was very sharp but had very shallow depth of field. I used this quality to set background highway traffic, include some MUNI Trolley buses, out of focus, thus helping the viewer concentrate on the main subject—the famous cable car.
Although a simple image, there’s a lot to see in it. Despite my use of selective focus, the path of the cable car track (with its trademark central conduit) leads the eye beyond the car and around the corner toward Powell Street.
Aiding my effort was the rich afternoon sun for which San Francisco is often blessed. There’s an exceptionally pleasant quality to Bay Area sunshine that is best experienced in person, but has made for a great many photographic opportunities. I miss that quality of light when I’m not there!
On the afternoon of August 21, 2009, I worked San Francisco’s famous hills aiming to make images of Muni’s cable cars, arguably one of America’s most pictured railway operations. I set the exposure manually using the camera’s spot meter to base my judgment. I sample the sky and street and aimed for texture in the highlight areas, allowing the shadows to go dark. My choice of film was Kodak Ektachrome Elite 100 (EB3) which offered an ideal color-balance for such a silhouette. San Francisco’s many above ground wires added a geometric framing to the image.