A few years ago, Irish Rail rebuilt its Youghal Branch between Cobh Junction and Midleton. After decades of inactivity, this route now enjoys a regular interval passenger service. I find it fascinating that this long closed railway is again alive with trains.
A year ago, on a previous visit to Cork, I tried some photos at this location near the Midleton Station. However, it was a flat dull morning and my results weren’t up to par.
So a few weeks ago, Irish Rail’s Ken Fox drove me back to this spot, and on this visit it was bright an sunny. Moments before the train arrived, a thin layer of high cloud momentarily diffused the sunlight, which complicated my exposure.
As the 2600-series railcar approached, I made several digital images with my Canon EOS 7D and 200mm lens and a single Fujichrome color slide using my Canon EOS 3 with 40mm pancake lens.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
At 9:49am on July 29, 2009, I exposed this image of Union Pacific 5526 leading an eastward double stack train on the former Western Pacific at Sand Pass, Nevada. At the back of the train, another General Electric diesel is working as a ‘distributed power unit’ (a radio controlled remotely operated locomotive).
Phil Brahms and I were exploring the former Western Pacific route across one of the most remote and lightly inhabited regions of the continental United States. This is lonely, barren, wind-swept and wide-open country where you can see for great distances.
Rail traffic was sparse, but we found about four to five freights per day in daylight.
The desert gets much bigger after sunset; the haunting sounds of the wind blowing across the desert floor in the dead of night and the radiant sky with stars blazing above cannot be captured on film. Yet these things stay with you.
That morning, I wrote in my notebook, ‘at dawn, before sunrise, I climbed a hill—coyotes were howling to the east (of me).’
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
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.
Arctic Conditions in Central Europe Made for Great Light and Cold Fingers.
It was my last full day of a week-long visit to Austria in winter 2006. I was changing trains at Wörgl, having spent the better part of the day making photos in the snow. Using my last roll of Fujichrome 400F, I exposed a series of sunset photos from the platform.
Wörgl is a busy place where lines converge on their way west through the Inn valley towards Innsbruck. Every few minutes something would pass over the mainline, and there was an electric switcher working the yard.
Thinking about the photography: working in low winter light the 400 ISO slide film had two advantages. Its faster film speed made it easier to work hand held and helped stop the action. While the warmer color balance favored the snowy sunset scene by accentuating the reds and yellows in the sky.
It was painful to be outside, and as the sun set it got even colder. But soon, I was gliding eastward on an InterCity train to Salzburg ensconced in the warm dining car. I’d enjoyed a hot ‘scheinsbratten mit sauerkraut’ and a tall glass of Schneiderweiss for dinner. The frosty landscape fading from blue to black as the train rolled into the night.
Southern Pacific 2472 Entertains its Public in May 2008
Back in May 2008, I was researching for my book Railroads of California, when I visited the Niles Canyon Railway and made this photograph of Southern Pacific 4-6-2 No. 2472 at Sunol.
This Baldwin-built heavy Pacific was a fine sight that attracted thousands of visitors to the railway. To the delight of its fans, it powered excursions over the line between Sunol and Niles Station at Fremont.
I’ve made lots of photos of 2472 over the years; and one of these images from the 1990s is the cover of my recently released locomotive anthology titled Classic Locomotives published by Voyageur Press. By contrast, the photo display here is focused on the engine’s fans rather than the locomotive itself.
Incidentally, This old Baldwin has been one of my favorite locomotives for years, and coincidentally, when my mobile phone provider issued my cell phone number about ten years ago, it was these four digits I was given. Although the phone company had the right idea, they gave me the prefix for the Prairie wheel arrangement rather than that for a Pacific.
I’ve always liked to make macro views of railways. Examining the texture, colors, and shape of the equipment, track and structures allows for better appreciation of the subject.
One of the best times to make close ups and detail photographs is under dramatic lighting; low sun or stormy light, where richer qualities make for more pleasing tones. Even the most mundane and ordinary subjects seem more interesting with great light.
Yet, detailed views can also make use of dull days when by focusing on texture and using extreme focus can compensate for flat lighting.
Irish Rail made for an especially good subject for detailed images, in part because there was so much antique equipment to photograph. Well-worn infrastructure is inherently fascinating. Here out in the open metal has been doing a job for decades and often it shows the scars from years of hard work, like an old weaver’s time weathered hands.
I’ve made hundreds of Irish Rail close-ups over the years. Here a just a few. Look around railways near you and see what you find! Sometimes the most interesting photographs can be made while waiting for trains.
In November 2005, Translink NI Railways (operator of railway services in Northern Ireland) was in a transitional phase equipment-wise. New 3001 class railcars had been recently introduced, yet many of the older 80-class and Castle class railcars were still on the move.
I drove to Belfast from Dublin, and spent two days riding around on NIR trains making photographs. For the most part the days were sunny and brisk.
At that time of year, the sun in the northern latitudes tends to stay relative close to the horizon throughout the day, which can result in a stark contrasty light.
These images were exposed on Fujichrome at Coleraine, where the Port Rush branch diverges from the Belfast-Derry/Londonderry line.
Like NIR, I too was undergoing an equipment transition; I’d just recently bought a Canon EOS 3, but was still using my older Nikon F3T and N90S for many photographs.
Some places are famous for fantastic light and San Francisco Bay is one of them.
The combination of stunning scenery and amazing weather and light effects has made this city one of my favorite place to make photographs.
Warm air wafting in from the Sacramento Delta meets cool damp Pacific air producing coastal fog. The sun rises through layers of California smog which gives the light a warm rich quality as it burns through the mists hovering over San Francico Bay, Marin Headlands and the city.
Shortly after sunrise on September 16, 2009, I exposed this view of a container ship heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Soon the ship was out on the open ocean and I was airborne headed east on Jet Blue.
Last week, I traveled by train from Dublin to Cork to make photographs and visit with friends. I was traveling light and only brought two cameras, my Lumix LX3 and Canon EOS 3. In addition to some Velvia 100F, I also played around with some Fuji 400 color print film I had stored in the refrigerator.
Initially I focused my attention on Kent Station, which features a unique curved train-shed that make it one of the most interesting railway structures in Ireland. Signaling at the Cobh-end still retains a few mechanical semaphores.
Later, I worked east making a variety of images at Glounthuane (Cobh Junction) where Cobh and Midleton lines come together. The Midleton line had been closed for decades and was only reopened for passenger service in 2009. Years earlier, I’d explored the then derelict line.
Where that visit was blessed with bright sun through out the day, on this recent trip I experienced more ordinary Irish weather.
Here are a few views from the two cameras. Special thanks to Ken and Janet Fox and Donncha Cronin for location advice and local transportation. Also thanks to John Gunn Camera shop on Wexford Street in Dublin for color negative film processing and prints.
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In October 2007, I was working on my Railroad’s of Pennsylvania book, when Pat Yough and I made a very productive chase of Tioga Central’s excursion train, which operated, from Wellsboro Junction, Pennsylvania compass north along the old New York Central Fallbrook route (including over a Penn-Central-era line relocation).
Back in the mid-1980s, I failed to take the opportunity to chase an empty Conrail coal train down the line south of Gang Mills Yard (near Corning, New York). At the time the line still went all the way to Newberry Junction, near Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Conrail operated ENSY/SYEN (Enola-Syracuse) manifest trains on this route three days a week, plus unit coal trains.
I’d been standing at the bridge (now gone) at the east end of Conrail’s Gang Mills Yard. There were two trains coming. A westward double stack on the former Erie route, and a southward unit coal train heading down the Fallbrook. I opted to follow the stack train because I didn’t have a good map of Pennsylvania.
Six months later Conrail abandoned the Fallbrook as a through route, and lifted the line south of Wellsboro through the super-scenic Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.
While, I’ve since chased Wellsboro & Corning freights and the Tioga Central excursion, I’ve always regretted my poor decision that day. A map, a map, my kingdom for a map!
An RS-1 wearing a Lehigh Valley-inspired livery leads a Tioga Central excursion north of Wellsboro Junction on October 7, 2007. I’d just bought a second-hand 24mm Canon lens from Thom Kinard, and this was a good opportunity to try it out on Canon EOS 3 loaded with Fujichrome.
In November 2009, I was at Stucumny Bridge near Hazelhatch (west of Dublin on the Cork line) to take a look at the recently opened quad track. It was a clear evening and the sun was an orange ball hanging in the western sky.
Shortly before sunset, up and down Mark 4 trains (Dublin-Cork) passed each other making for a nice illustration of the relatively busy line. I’ve always like glint photos where trains reflect low sunlight but these are hard to execute in Ireland for a variety of reasons.
I exposed this with my Canon EOS 3 and f2.8 200mm telephoto on Fujichrome Velvia 100 slide film. (Velvia has a super-saturated color palate that tends to enhance the sunset glow).
I calculated the exposure based on the sky rather than taking an overall reading that would tend to over expose the image. Here a bit of experience working with low sun really helps.
For me the real problem with the photo is the difficult wire cutting across the middle of the frame. There may have been an angle to avoid this altogether, but with the two trains moving, I had only a few moments to release the shutter. The electrical pylons and high voltage wires in the distance don’t bother me, these are part of the scene.
I’ve taken the liberty of making an adjusted version of the photo by using Photoshop to extract the wire. I enlarged the scan of the slide and using the ‘Healing Brush’ and ‘Clone’ tools, I effectively blended the offending wire out of the image.
This is not something I normally do. Typically, I don’t apply visual surgery to alter my photos. However, with modern tools and a sense for retouching this is not especially difficult. It’s taken me twice as long to write up this post than it took to erase the wire. You can be the judge.
On the evening of June 26, 2013, I arrived at East Brookfield to find Dennis LeBeau observing CSX’s undercutting operations immediately east of CP64.
Over the last few years, CSX has been improving its former Boston & Albany route between Selkirk Yards (near Albany, New York) and its Worcester, Massachusetts terminal.
Conrail improved clearances on the line in the mid-1980s and began running international containers on double-stack trains in 1989 (I first photographed an eastward Conrail double-stack in Spring 1989). However, CSX’s desire to run larger domestic containers on double stack trains has required further clearance improvement.
Once complete, the Boston & Albany route will be clearance compatible with most of CSX’s former Conrail mainline, which should allow for more traffic to be sent to Worcester. The clearance improvements are coincident with the recent closure of Beacon Park Yard at Alston, Massachusetts in favor of expanded facilities in Worcester.
On Wednesday evening, CSX had every track in East Brookfield occupied, as it cleared equipment from the mainline to allow east and westbound freight to pass (Amtrak had cancelled train 448 (Boston section of Lake Shore Limited). Once traffic had passed, work crews resumed their re-ballasting of the recently undercut mainline.
I was one of a half-dozen civilians observing the activity. Late in the day, the sun emerged from a cloudbank to provide some soft lighting and I kept three cameras busy, documenting the changes.
Last week I rode from Chicago Union Station over the former New York Central Water Level route to Albany and then via the Boston & Albany to Worcester, Massachusetts.
A familiar run, I first made this trip in August of 1983 and I’ve done it many times since. However, both my first trip and most recent have a commonality: I began these trips with some photography on the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy ‘Triple Track’ near Aurora, rode a ‘scoot’ into Chicago and changed for the Lake Shore at Union Station.
While I enjoy train travel, I’m not especially keen on really long runs. My usual limit is about 8 hours. I make exceptions for the Lake Shore. For me this is one of the most interesting American runs.
The queuing process at Chicago Union leaves much to be desired. It reminded me of a recent experience with jury duty. Yet once ensconced in my seat in an Amfleet II coach I was happy enough.
We departed Union Station 3 minutes after the advertised and gradually lost more time over the course of the run. I don’t mind this especially, after all the train’s long standing nick-name is, “The Late for Sure Limited.’
Gliding east in the darkness, I squinted to pick out familiar landmarks, as this trip is the thread that really ties my recent posts together.
At 9:37 pm we eased over the 21st Street Bridge; a few minutes later we clattered across the diamonds with the old Rock Island at Englewood, and at 9:58 we raced through Hammond-Whiting, Indiana. I noted where Chris Guss and I had stood a week earlier to photograph both an EJ&E freight and NS’s Interstate Heritage Unit.
Northern Indiana was alive with trains. We passed a CSX stack train at Curtis on the adjacent former Baltimore & Ohio. East of Michigan City we overtook a South Shore freight led by a pair of GP38s roaring along under wire like an apparition from another era. I heard the Doppler blast as the South Shore hit a crossing alongside of us. It was just a momentary glimpse in the night and not far from a spot where Mike Danneman made photos on an icy February afternoon some 18 years ago.
A seeming endless parade of Norfolk Southern freights greeted us on the Water Level Route. Every few minutes a low base roar would precede locomotives blasting by on an adjacent main track. Although Conrail has been gone 14 years, I still find it odd that Central’s old Water Level Route is now run by two separate railroads.
I dozed off, waking briefly at Toledo to watch an oil train roll east, and empty hoppers used to move fracking sand clatter west. Somewhere between Toledo and Berea, Ohio we lost about an hour.
Near Berea we met the rising sun and passed the old tower—sacred ground visited by my late friend Bob Buck and countless other fans over the years. This is the divide, from here east we were rode on CSX tracks.
We paused for Cleveland, then Erie, and for many miles we ran parallel to the former Nickel Plate Road, which now carries Norfolk Southern freight east of Cleveland. I was pleased to see many photographers line-side; my train’s journey was well documented!
At Buffalo, I had a pleasant surprise: instead of taking the normal route via CP Draw and CP FW, we were routed over the Compromise Branch that takes a more northerly (and slightly longer route) through Buffalo, rejoining the other line at CP 437 (the control point near the ghastly decaying remnants of Buffalo Central Terminal). Amtrak’s 48/448 serves the suburban Buffalo-Depew station instead of the old terminal.
Behind me a woman traveler was on the phone describing her trip on Amtrak from Oregon: “We live in such an amazing country! Crossing the plains I saw endless herds of wild Bison and red Indians on horseback! There were wagon trains crawling dusty trails against purple mountains and rainbows! And amber fields of grain! Is that wheat, do you think? And Chicago was like the emerald city, its towers scraping the sky. Such a skyline! And all through the Midwest big factories making the produce of America! It’s just wonderful!”
Indeed. Was she on number 8? Or perhaps one of those ‘Great Trains of the Continental Route’ as advertised in my August 1881 Travelers’ Official Guide?
At Rochester, my old friend Otto Vondrak came down for a brief visit. He and I share various Rochester-area experiences. Then eastward into ever more familiar territory.
At Schenectady, a Canadian Pacific freight overtook us on the Delaware & Hudson before we resumed our sprint to Albany-Rensselaer, where we then sat for an eternity waiting for station space. Here 48 and 448 are divided, with the latter continuing down the Hudson to New York City.
East of Rensselaer, I paid extra special attention to our progress. There are few railroads I know as well as the B&A. At 4:38pm we met CSX’s Q283 (empty autoracks) at Chatham. We paused at CP171 (East Chatham) to let pass our westward counterpart, train 449. At Pittsfield, CSX’s Q423 (Worcester to Selkirk) was waiting for us.
The highlight of the trip was the sinuous descent of Washington Hill’s west slope. There was test of the Westinghouse brakes near the deep rock cut east of Washington Station, and I continued my trip through time and space. Familiar places and landmarks blitzed by the glass; Lower Valley Road, Becket, Twin Ledges, old Middlefield Station, Whistler’s stone bridges along the valley of the Westfield’s west branch, the old helper station at Chester, and east through Huntington, Russell, and Woronoco.
At West Springfield we passed the old Boston & Albany yard. Watching the parade of trains in evening at the west end of the yard were ghosts of departed members of the West Springfield Train Watchers; among them founding member Norvel C. Parker, Stuart Woolley—retired B&A fireman, Joseph Snopek—photographer and author, and of course, Bob Buck—B&A’s greatest fan and proprietor of Tucker’s Hobbies. I waved and they waved back. (Hey, at least I wasn’t seeing herds of wild bison!)
After a stop at Springfield Station, I was on my final leg of this journey. We rattled over the Palmer diamonds—where I’ve exposed countless photos over the years, and raced up the Quaboag River Valley, through West Warren, Warren, West Brookfield, Brookfield, and East Brookfield—where my friend Dennis LeBeau and his loyal dog, Wolfie, were line-side to salute my passage.
At Worcester, my father, Richard J. Solomon was poised to collect me. And so concluded my latest Lake Shore epic. And, yes, 448 was indeed late: 1 hour 15 minutes passed the advertised. Tsk!
General Motors Single Cab Diesels Wander Far and Wide in their Final Years.
In their final few years of service, Irish Rail 124 and 134 worked a great variety of services. For me, simple knowing these two engines were out there, made photographing Irish Rail more interesting.
Sometimes I knew where they were, other times one would appear unexpectedly. Occasionally they’d get paired together and stay that way for a while, but more often than not, they’d be paired with one of the 141/181 class Bo-Bos.
All of my images of 121s at work were made on film (slide and black & white negative). By the time I’d acquired my first digital camera, old 124 and 134 were no longer active.
Sifting through my slides from their last five or six years, I’ve found numerous images of these engines. As I’ve mentioned previously, every time I saw one, I expected it to be the last time, so I made the most of every opportunity. Here’s a lesson: never expect that you’ll see something again; so photograph to the best of you ability when you have the chance.
John Gruber and I went over to Madison’s Lake Monona anticipating Wisconsin & Southern’s (WSOR) road freight heading to Janesville. I’m working against a deadline, so I brought the laptop with me to read, write and edit, while waiting for the train thus making dual use of my time. John said, ‘You’re putting me to shame!’ All he brought was a camera.
After a 40 minute wait, we heard a horn sounding for a crossing. But it wasn’t coming Madison as we expected. This wasn’t the southward train, but the northward run! So 20 minutes from sundown a pair of SD40-2s crawled across the causeway. It was here that Bill Middleton made some iconic photos more than 60 years ago. John remembered, “His first published picture in Trains; it featured the Dakota 400 crossing the bay.”
I exposed a few slides with my Canon EOS 3, and a flurry of digital images with my EOS 7D. Then we drove over to WSOR’s Madison yard, where we found another freight ready to leave. I made a few photos with my Lumix LX-3 in the fading light.
Chicago is well suited for night photographs. On the evening of June 11, 2013, Chris Guss and I took advantage of warm and windless weather to make a variety of railway images in the downtown area.
I employ a variety of techniques to make night photos. This evening, however, I emphasized my Canon EOS 7D and turned up the ISO to unusually high settings in order to stop the action.
Where color slide film essentially topped out at 400 ISO. My 7D allows me to dial in up to 6400 ISO. Does this offer the same clarity of ISO 100 or 200? No, of course not. But, it’s not so bad either. Is this high ISO technique the only way to make night photos? Hardly, there are many good ways to go about exposing images at night and this is just one.
Today, I can make photos digitally, that would have been all but impossible with film. (Although, that’s never stopped me from exposing a few slides here and there anyway).
About 10 months ago (July 2012), I started Tracking the Light. In the short time span since then I’ve had about 19,000 hits. While small numbers compared with Gangnam Style’s viral You-Tube dance video (with more than 1.7 billion hits), it’s a gratifying start. (BTW, there are some train scenes in Gangnam Style, so it isn’t a completely random reference).
In my introductory post, I offered a bit of my background with a taste of my philosophy on the subject of railway photography; ‘There is no ‘correct way’ to make photographs, although there are techniques that, once mastered, tend to yield pleasing results. I hope to expand upon those themes in these Internet essays by telling the stories behind the pictures, as well as sharing the pictures themselves.’
What began as an infrequent opportunity to share work via the Internet has evolved into a nearly daily exercise. In the interval, I’ve learned a bit what makes for an interesting post, while working with a variety of themes to keep the topic interesting.
Regular viewers may have observed common threads and topics. While I’ve made a concerted effort to vary the subject matter considered ‘railway photography,’ I regularly return to my favorite subjects and often I’ll post sequences with a common theme.
Occasionally I get questions. Someone innocently asked was I worried about running out of material! Unlikely, if not completely improbable; Not only do I have an archive of more than 270,000 images plus tens of thousands of my father’s photos, but I try to make new photos everyday. My conservative rate of posting is rapidly outpaced by my prolific camera efforts.
Someone else wondered if all my photos were ‘good’. I can’t answer that properly. I don’t judge photography as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Certainly, some of my images have earned degrees of success, while others have failed to live up to my expectations (It helps to take the lens cap ‘off’). Tracking the Light is less about my success rate and more about my process of making images.
I’m always trying new techniques, exploring new angles, while playing with different (if not new) equipment.
The most common questions regarding my photography are; ‘What kind of camera do you use?’ and ‘Have you switched to digital?’ I can supply neither the expected nor straight-forward responses. But, in short, I work with a variety of equipment and recording media. I aim to capture what I see and preserve it for the future. I try to have a nice time and I hope to entertain my friends.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 was a clear bright morning. I heard New England Central’s 608 climbing State Line Hill through Monson. I dithered briefly about heading out to photograph it. I’ve only photographed New England Central’s trains about a thousand times (metaphorically).
When I went to make myself a cup of tea I discovered to my horror that there wasn’t any milk! Poor show. So, I made the most of both problems. I drove to Stafford Springs, where I waited all of five minutes to score a few nice bright shots of a pair of New England Central GP38s. (I made a couple of slides too—just for ‘the record). Then stopped in at the shop in Stafford Hollow for milk before heading home again.
What I find interesting is that, 16 years ago I made similar images of the same GP38s in the same location! A lot has changed in that time. Back then New England Central was part of RailTex. Now, after a dozen years as a RailAmerica road, it’s a Genesee & Wyoming property.
Somehow, I doubt that in another 16 years I’ll still be able to make images just like these. But you never know. It’s nice having an interesting railway nearby.
My brief encounter with Mass-Central’s borrowed GP15-2 on May 10, 2013 (see Quaboag Valley in Fog and Sun, May 10, 2013 encouraged me to seek out this locomotive and spend some more time photographing it on the former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch.
This branch is one of my longest running projects. Back in 1981, I rode my 10-speed bicycle from Monson to Ware to make photographs of Mass-Central’s recently acquired EMD NW5, number 2100. Now, more than 30 years later, that old engine is still on the property, and I’ve been up and down the line by road (and rail) dozens of times.
Despite this familiarity, at least once a year (if not once a season) I’ll take a photo-trip along the line. So, having a nice freshly painted locomotive against fresh spring leaves is a good excuse to get out and the exercise cameras.
Much of the line is on a southwest-northeast angled alignment; and since trains tend depart northbound in the morning from Palmer and return after midday, I’ve found that the southward return chase can be the most productive for making clean locomotive images.
On Monday May 13th, I spent the morning writing and running errands. Then in late morning, I followed Mass-Central’s line up to Gilbertville where I waited for the weekday freight to pass on its northbound run. (Just to clarify; the weekday freight is all I’d ever expect to see. The days of Boston & Albany’s steam hauled mixed train and milk specials have long since passed!)
My timing was good, and after a little while the GP15-2 rolled through northbound with two cars. Not much of a train, but it collected a few more cars near Creamery and continued to South Barre where it worked for about an hour delivering and collecting freight cars.
As expected, the southward chase offered better angles and nicer train. Not only did the southward train have a decent consist of cars, but the sun made some well-timed appearances.
I made photos with both film and digital Canon bodies as well as my Lumix LX-3, while following all the way south to Palmer (where Mass-Central interchanges with both CSX and New England Central).
I’ve learned to take advantage of unusual or new motive power on the branch, as things can (and do) change quickly. To use a cliché; it’s best to strike when the iron is hot! I was pleased with my results featuring the GP15-2 and I wonder what motive power I’ll find next time I follow the line?
Although less photographed than historic cable cars and vintage streetcars, San Francisco Muni’s light rail routes offer plenty of interesting opportunities to make urban railway images.
San Francisco enjoys spectacular weather and lighting conditions. My favorite times to photograph are a sunrise and sunset. While the modern Breda-built cars lack the flair of historic PCC’s (see San Francisco Muni F-Line, May 2008), they still make for interesting subjects for the creative eye.
San Francisco Muni’s F-Line route operates with a variety of vintage streetcars, including streamlined PCC cars painted in various historic liveries to represent systems that originally operated these cars.
Popular with tourists and residents alike, the vintage cars are fun to ride and photograph. Unlike most modern transit, the F-Line offers continual variety, with different cars operating from day to day.
In May 2008, I made this photograph of PCC 1061 dressed for Pacific Electric in front of the restored Ferry Building on San Francisco’s Embarcedero. Originally built for Philadelphia, this was among the cars acquired for operation in San Francisco in the early 1990s. Some restoration work for out-of-service heritage cars has been done by the Market Street Railway (volunteer support group for Muni’s historic rail lines ); these are turned over to Muni when restoration nears the point where cars are ready for revenue service.
Working with Wonderful Light in an Infrastructure-Intense Environment
San Francisco Bay is famous for its beautiful light; the combination of soft sun with rolling Pacific fog and layers of pollution make for a rich textured golden glow in evening and mellow bright conditions during the height of the day.
Following my Northern California theme presented over the last few posts to Tracking the Light, I’m offering a few views of San Francisco Bay exposed in August 2009.
These images were exposed on Fujichrome slide film with a Canon EOS 3 and 100-400mm lens.
On the evening of August 15, 2009, I was photographing along the former Western Pacific near Oroville, California. At that time, Union Pacific was doing heavy work on its parallel former Southern Pacific line over Donner Pass, and it was understood that double-stack container traffic would soon be shifted off the old WP route in favor of Donner Pass. Time was running out to regularly catch double stack trains on the WP route and I focused my efforts on making the most of this while I could.
At the end of the day, I made this image of a westward double stack train stopped at a signal east of Oroville. Wildfires had filled the atmosphere with smoke, which lend to a surreal painterly light. Low sun accentuated the effect and the combination of California golden grass with smoke tinted glint light offered wonderful photographic opportunity.
I exposed these images on Fujichrome slide film with my Canon EOS 3 using several different focal lengths. It was a spectacular finish to a productive day of photography. I’d made my first visit to the Western Pacific in October 1989, nearly 20 years earlier. Hard to believe so much time had passed between these trips. In 1966, my father, Richard Jay Solomon, rode west over this line in a dome car on Western Pacific’s famed California Zephyr.
Significantly, this portion of the Western Pacific route (between Oroville and the lower reaches of the Feather River Canyon) was built new in the early 1960s as part of a line relocation forced by construction of the Oroville Dam.
In this case, I’ve walked (or scrambled) further down the hillside from my parking place on Carquinez Scenic Drive. The road is gated overnight and opened to the public in the early morning hours. Finding the right street in Martinez to reach Carquinez Scenic Drive can be a trial to the uninitiated, a good map or sat-nav device is recommended. I used a Northern California DeLorme Atlas and Map Quest, (plus vague memories of having photographed from this road in the early 1990s).
Working with hard silhouettes requires careful exposure. Also, I’ve found it helps to avoid excessive lens flare. This is one of those things you rarely read about. If the sun (or other bright light) hits the front element of your lens it will cause flare which will change the contrast of the image and may cause patterns (light streaks or blobs).
While in some instances it may be desirable to include flare (Hollywood discovered the dramatic use of flare in the 1960s and 1970s), often it is best to minimize it.
What to do? Shade the sun from hitting the front of your lens. Traditionally a lens hood will solve this problem . However, when the sun is very low to the horizon, a simple lens hood isn’t sufficient. To compensate, I’ll try to find something to stand behind (such as a hedge, awning, convenient sign post). If this fails, I’ll use my notebook (which I carry with me everywhere) to shade the lens. For this reason, I often carry a 5×7 in size notebook with a dull charcoal gray cover (to minimize reflection).
I’ll position the notebook in such a way so its shadow covers the front element, but the notebook itself isn’t in the image. This is a handy trick to use for night photography too. It helps to have the camera on a tripod (or have a capable assistant to hold the notebook!)
In this instance, my intent was to emphasize the glint off the rails and signal bridge in a hard silhouette. Notice where I’ve positioned the locomotives in relation to the glinting sun. I’ve deliberately exposed for the highlights, allowing the shadows to consume most detail.