Working with my old Nikon F3T and an f1.8 105mm lens, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide of a Cal-Train ‘Commute’ departing San Francisco, seen taking the bend at 7thStreet in February 1992.
Interestingly, lately I’ve been making good use of this same camera and lens combination for exposing black & white negatives and Fuji Provia 100F color slides.
If this image seems familiar, its because back in the 1990s it appeared in various publications.
I scanned the slide this morning using a Nikon Coolscan5000 digital scanner and processed the hi-res TIF file in Lightroom to adjust color and produced a scaled file for internet presentation.
Typically, I scan Kodachrome slides at 4000 dots per inch (or higher) to maintain the high resolution of the original photographs. Since these files are in the 120-170MB range they require scaling to upload them to WordPress for presentation here.
Tracking the Light is a work in progress and publishes new material daily!
Consider this composition. Since the eye is naturally drawn to the front of the on-coming locomotive, I’ve made for a more complex image by placing this primary subject off-center.
When setting up this photograph, I was interested in secondary emphasis on the jointed rail, then still in use on Southern Pacific’s mainline at Oyster Point, railroad-timetable east of the old Bayshore Yard.
I was also interested in the wafting sea fog, a common atmospheric condition of the summer climate in San Francisco.
Key to my interest and another crucial compositional element was the dual-headlight arrangement on the Cal Train F40PH-2 locomotive. Although not purchased by SP, these were the last locomotives delivered new to feature the once-standard SP lighting arrangement—a classy characteristic of SP diesel operations.
By 1991, the application of oscillating headlights (commonly called ‘Mars lights’) had fallen out of favor and the practice was already on the wane. The headlights standout because of the slightly backlit lighting that leaves the front of the locomotive dark.
Often it’s the details that make a difference. In April 1991, I made a few photos at Cal-Train’s Bayshore platforms near the San Francisco-end of the old Bayshore yard.
By that time the yard was but a ruin—a vestige of another era. Southern Pacific’s operational presence in San Francisco, still its headquarters at that time, was a shadow of what it had been, and diminishing.
What caught my eye was the old wooden speed-restriction post with Southern Pacific written on it. Here was tangible evidence of the SP at Bayshore.
I made a point of featuring the sign in this pair of photos of passing Cal-Train ‘Commutes.’ Interestingly, these Cal-Train F40PHs were the last locomotives delivered with the classic SP ‘full lighting package’ which included headlight, white oscillating lights, a red oscillating light, and class lamps.
Pan photo exposed on Kodachrome 25 with a Nikon F3T fitted with a Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens.
I made this image using my Canon EOS 3 with a 20mm lens. This outbound Cal-Train commute had just discharged passengers at the old Southern Pacific station at San Mateo.
I want an iconic modern image that said ‘California’. What better way to do that, than focus on the Cal-Train logo while incorporating the warm blue sky, palm trees, and a reflection of the sun in the window of the train?
I’ve long been intrigued by the short section of the former Southern Pacific Bayshore Cutoff at the old Potrero Wye, where the railroad runs beneath I-280.
This location offers a graphic contrast; the immensity of the highway shadowing the railroad both literally and metaphorically.
The location also poses a photographic challenge. During high light, the tracks are completely within shadow, so I’ve found the best time to photograph is early in the morning or late in the day, when sunlight is below the bridge.
Yet, low sun also poses a problem, as calculating exposure is neither intuitive nor can a camera meter be relied upon. The overwhelming highway structure will tend to result in overexposure as a camera meter tries to compensate for the darkness, yet the side of the train reflects the full brightness of the sun (which to further complicate matters, may be less than sun at midday).
I made this photograph of an inbound Cal-Train ‘Baby Bullet’ in April 2008, using my Canon EOS 3 with a 50mm lens on Fujichrome slide film. I used my Minolta Mark IV handheld meter in reflective mode to sample the exposure on the side of a gray highway support column, and preset my camera accordingly. (I didn’t make note of the exposure, but it was about f5.6 1/500th of second.)
The resulting color slide looks just about perfect, but my exposure/contrast problem was repeated when I went to scan the image.
Here, I found the scanner software’s auto exposure had the reverse problem of my in-camera meter and tended to underexpose the scan. The result was not only too dark, but unacceptably contrasty.
I switched off the auto exposure, and instead used the software’s exposure histogram to set exposure manually as to better balance the highlight and shadow areas. Using this setting, I made a another scan. Afterwards, I fine-tuned the improved scan using Photoshop to make for a more pleasing image by adjusting both contrast and color balance.
This image is an exception; most of the time I’m satisfied with my first scan. Incidentally, the pictures reproduced here are scaled Jpgs from very large Tiff scans. The file size of the Jpgs is just a fraction of the original scan size, which is adequate for small-size internet viewing.