On a blustery winter morning I find it nice to look through photos made on warm summer afternoons.
In June 2010, I had just bought my Canon EOS 7D DSLR (digital single lens reflex) and made an extended drive around the Midwest to visit friends, gather materials for a book, and test the camera. This went on for several weeks.
On the afternoon of June 24th, I revisited familiar territory along the Mississippi River at Savanna. Not yet fully trusting the digital camera, I exposed a number of slides from the top of the bluff.
I made this pair of images from river level of an eastward BNSF double stack was headed toward Chicago.
Of the two, I much prefer the second photo. For me this better portrays the railroad in its environment with a variety of secondary subjects to add interest.
The other day I was at the old ‘waste too much film’ bridge at Pan Am’s East Deerfield Yard near Greenfield, Massachusetts. An eastward freight was about to proceed into the yard when a hawk landed atop the code lines.
Here was an opportunity for an interesting image of the bird and a train in the distance. My intention was make a visual juxtaposition between the two subjects. An interesting concept, but one fraught with technical difficulties.
I faced several problems. The bird was too distant to make for a substantial subject using my longest lens. Furthermore there was too great a distance between the bird and the train to allow both to be in relative focus when using my 200mm telephoto lens. (An even longer lens would have acerbated this problem).
To allow for greater depth of field (relative focus) I upped the ISO on my Canon 7D to 800, which allowed me to set a smaller aperture (f11).
The larger f-number indicates a smaller aperture opening, while this lets in less light to sensor, it increases the depth of field (thus my need to increase the ISO to allow using a relative quick shutter speed to minimize camera shake). Often when photographing trains I want to use a smaller f-number to help offset the train from the background, but not in this case.
Also, some clouds obscured the sun. This had the dual unfortunate effects of flattening the light and allowing the bird blend into its background, while reducing the amount light on the scene to make an already difficult exposure more problematic.
There were several other problems. Most notably was the effect of the under-growth along the code lines that visually obscured the locomotives in the distance. If I moved to the left to get around the brush, the bird and train no longer had a workable juxtaposition.
Ideally, If I could have been about 10-15 feet higher, I might have been able to make this concept work, but there was no way to gain elevation. In this case I simply exposed the photo with the brush and hoped for the best.
Another difficulty was getting the bird to cooperate. I’m not fluent in Hawkese. But I wanted the bird to turn its head, otherwise it might just seem like a feathered blob, so I made some ‘tsking’ sounds to attract its attention.
Then the locomotive engineer throttled up and the dull roar of dual EMD 16-645E3 diesels startled the bird (or otherwise annoyed it) and it flew away. In the meantime I repositioned to make a series of more conventional photos of the freight train.
On the plus side, as the freight approached, the sun came out making for some photographic possibilities. The train was moving slowly, allowing me to change lenses and exposed a sequence of both digital and film photographs.
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.
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It was the afternoon of August 16, 2011, Chris Guss and I were on a three day visit to Kansas City Southern’s north-south mainline. We were chasing the ‘Dodger’—what I’d call a local freight—led by freshly painted GP38 in the revived ‘Southern Belle’ scheme. This locomotive was originally Penn-Central 7800.
We set up on this grade south of Neosho. I worked with my Canon EOS 7D with 28-135mm lens and Canon EOS 3 with 200mm and Fujichrome. This view was made with the digital camera.
What impressed me most about the ‘Dodger’ was its crew’s exceptional efficiency. They wasted no time when switching. There are lessons to be learned from these guys!
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
Irish Rail operates an excellent and well-patronized service on its Kent Station to Cobh line. In conjunction with this service are trains running on the recently reopened line to Midleton. Yesterday’s post focused on Cobh Junction, Glounthaune, where the lines divide.
Irish Rail’s Ken Fox gave me a personal tour of the line, driving me by road to best spots and advising me on train times, the history of the railway, and his personal experiences with the line.
While the equipment on the line consists largely of the 1990s-built 2600-series diesel railcars, the frequency of trains and the great scenery along the line, make for ample photographic opportunities.
I’m always looking for a new angle, but also to recreate the angle I used in older photos. I’d made my first images on the Cobh branch back in 1999, and since then the line had been re-signaled among other changes.
Having bright sun for the duration of our photography on October 7th was a great benefit.
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
Britain’s famed Settle & Carlisle is among the great railway lines. Its superb engineering and stunning natural settings, combined with a history of dramatic lighting effects as a result of the surrounding topography have long made this a popular setting for railway photographers.
Many years ago I rode over the line on a trip from Haworth to Arnside via Carlisle, but until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never properly photographed the railway.
My old buddy and fellow railroad photographer, TSH and I used a hired car to explore this fascinating section of railway line. We started near Garsdale and worked our way back toward Settle.
I’ve often heard that this line carried a bit of freight, and my investigations prior to arriving there indicated we should have seen about 6-7 freights during the course of the day. We saw one EWS coal train. That was all. Thankfully, the regular passenger service operated about every two hours, so at least there was some movement over the line. Bad luck, as they say.
The scenery and engineering was sufficiently impressive to compensate for the comparative dearth of traffic and I made dozens of photographs using film and digital photography.
A Long Delay Results in an Unexpected Opportunity.
We waited at milepost 17 near Sallins for the return of locomotive 461 with Railway Preservation Society Ireland’s The Marble City rail tour from Kilkenny.
After a bit of a delay, I’d became curious and tried phoning people on the train. After a few phone calls I learned that tragedy had delayed the excursion.
It was reported that Irish Rail’s regular Intercity train from Waterford was involved in a fatality on the line and the steam special was stranded at Athy while the Gardai (An Garda Síochána is the Irish name for Ireland’s national police force) conducted an investigation.
I was told by an RPSI member on the train that it would be at least 8pm before the train was on the move.
Instead of giving up and returning to Dublin, fellow photographer Hugh Dempsey and I opted to remain trackside. After all, only the Waterford trains were affected, so there would be plenty moving to photograph. And there’s the element of curiosity, just how late would the train be?
I took the opportunity to update some local people who had turned out to watch the steam special of its misfortune.
Later, a local man took pity on our prolonged wait, and dropped down to us with cups of hot tea and biscuits (cookies). In the mean time there was some nice evening light to photograph the ordinary procession of Irish Rail trains.
Finally, at 9:18pm I got word that The Marble City with 461 had reached Cherryville Junction and was making its dash for Dublin—some four hours behind schedule.
It passed us just before 10pm, which made for a rare summer evening view of an Irish steam special. Most RPSI trips run in daylight! Using film I’d have been out of luck, but thanks to advances in digital photograph I was able to make a distinctive image.
Freshly Painted GP38-2s on Jointed Rail at DeForest, Wisconsin
June 23, 2010—four years ago today—John Gruber and I followed CP Rail’s local freight from Madison toward Portage on a secondary line of the old Milwaukee Road.
Locomotive 4509, an Electro-Motive Division GP38-2 built in 1974, had endured the various changes in ownership and re-branding of the railroad, from Milwaukee, to Soo Line, and finally to CP Rail. Now, in 2014, this locomotive is 40 years old. Is it still working the former Milwaukee?
At the time of this photograph, I had just purchased my Canon 7D two weeks earlier and I was learning how to make the most of its technology. It took me about six-months to find ways to make optimum exposures using the built in histogram.
To compensate for bad luck, and a series of bad timings, I made it a point to photograph Pan Am Railways executive F-unit at Spencer.
Just about every time Pan Am Railway’s has run their glossy metallic blue F-units, I’ve either been in the air, out of the country, and/or at least a thousand miles away and traveling in the wrong direction.
Not this time. Not at Spencer. No, I knew I’d get a photo! Two or three, maybe, and in color!
I realize that PAR-1 may not have been the chief attraction of the Streamliners at Spencer event, but I was very happy to finally see this New England resident up close and in person!
Part of the attraction of North Carolina Transportation Museum’s Streamliners at Spencer event was the pre-arranged night photograph sessions. Large industrial scale flood lamps were arranged to provide roughly even lighting on locomotives that had been arranged and spotted specifically for photography.
I’ve often worked on the darker side of photography, and this was no exception. While I took advantage of the ‘arranged’ lighting to make standard views of the equipment. I made a special effort to go beyond the obvious.
Here I worked in the shadows, using the lights in a more interpretive way. I sought out scenes of the shops and facilities that were part of the background.
The challenge was trying to stay out of the way of the photo lines to avoid the ire of those with a front-lit view.
On one of the evenings there was a thunderstorm, which made matters extra challenging!
I exposed this image of Pan Am Railways GP40 310 leading MOED on the afternoon of February 17, 2014. By any measure this scene posed a difficult exposure.
The locomotive is a dark blue, while the scene posed a full range of tones from bright white snow to deep shadows. The train was moving, and there was little time for exposure bracketing.
Using the camera’s histogram, I’d made a test exposure before the train came into the scene, and then made a series of images focused on the composition.
Working with my Canon EOS 7D, I always expose simultaneous Jps and Camera RAW files. Most of the time the in Camera hi-res Jpg proves acceptable, and simply archive the RAW files for the future.
However, in this instance when I got home, I found that the in-camera Jpg appears to bright to my eye. I re-checked the camera’s histogram for that file and confirmed that the image was exposed correctly.
In previous posts I’ve explained that with modern digital imaging old-school film-based assessments of ‘under’ (too dark) and ‘over’ (too light) exposure do not allow for the most accurate way of selecting exposure. (see: Snow Exposure—Part 1)
Instead of using the image at the back of the camera, or even the photo on my home computer screen, to judge exposure, I use the histogram. This graph allows me to select an exposure that maximizes the amount of information captured by the camera on-site.
In this case, although the Camera processed Jpeg seemed too bright (over exposed), the camera RAW file was perfect. Since the problem was in the camera’s translation of the RAW to Jpeg, the solution was simple:
I converted the RAW to a Jpeg manually, which produced a result that matched the scene. This retained excellent highlight detail in the snow, produced a pleasing exposure for the side of the locomotive and hills beyond, while retaining good shadow detail in the tree at the left.
I did not manipulate or adjust the file except to scale the image and convert it to a Jpg for presentation. (the RAW file is far too large to up-load effectively).
It doesn’t snow in Dublin very often, and when it snows it rarely stays on the ground for long. It had started snowing heavily overnight on November 28, 2010 and when I awoke, there was a fresh blanket of snow all over everything.
I made the most of morning. Among the locations I selected was along the LUAS tram line that follows the Grand Canal.
A man was feeding the birds and these were circling. Using my Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens, I made a series of photos of an inbound LUAS Citadis tram heading toward the city center from Tallagh.
The birds in flight make an already unusual situation even more interesting. They add depth and life to a cold and frosty scene. The tram itself is almost incidental. Yet we can follow its progress along the canal, its tracks gradually descending in the distance.
Fifty years ago, it would have been pretty neat to see a Burlington GP30 at Pennsylvania Railroad’s Enola Yard. Yet for the context of that photo to be fully appreciated, it would help to have the location of the locomotive implied in the image.
A few weeks ago, Pat Yough and I were driving by Norfolk Southern’s Enola Yard and spotted this SD70ACE. These days, BNSF locomotives on Norfolk Southern and CSX are not unusual occurrences. Not in Pennsylvania anyway.
After a tight image of the locomotive, I stood back and made a few views intended to convey location.
It’s not what you see, but the images made of what you see.
The Belgian cities have admirable tram networks. By far the most extensive is that in Brussels. Here tram routes crisscross the city. While long sections of tram subway now serve central Brussels, there’s still lots of street running.
Modern Bombardier-built ‘Flexity’ articulated trams dominate the fleet. Yet there’s still some variety of older cars, including articulated PCCs.
For this segment, I’ve largely focused on the more modern cars as they offer the greatest contrast with Brussels’ eclectic old world architecture.
I have mixed feelings about the gold and silver livery. While more subdued than the gaudy colors used in some cities, it tends to look a bit grimy, especially in dull light.
For me the old Boston & Albany West end is hallowed ground. This was the first true mountain mainline in the modern sense. The line was surveyed in the mid 1830s and by 1839 trains were working over Washington Summit.
Over the last 30 years I’ve made countless trips to photograph this line and it remains one of my favorites. Yet, I rarely come up here in the winter.
On Friday, February 7, 2014, my father and I went up to Huntington to catch Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited, train 449. Not far behind was CSX’s Q427.
This freight runs daily between Portland, Maine and Selkirk, New York via Ayer and Worcester, Massachusetts. This day it had a pair of General Electric Evolution-Series diesels of the type that have come to characterize modern freight operations on the Boston & Albany route.
Since the train wasn’t making great speed, we pursued it on Route 20, stopping to make photos at opportune locations. At CP 123 (where the line goes from single track to two-main track) Q427 met an eastward freight holding at the signal. We continued upgrade ahead of the train.
I remembered that there’s a gap in the hills at Chester which allows for a window of sun on the line that lasts late in the day. So we zipped ahead of the train.
At Chester, Pop set up his tripod to make a hi-resolution video of the train climbing. I positioned myself with my Canon EOS 7D with a telephoto lens to make use of the window of sun against a dark background.
As the train grew closer I also exposed more conventional views with my Lumix LX3. The heavy train took more than two minutes to pass.
Difficulties of Photographing in the Spring and Summer.
That’s just what you want to read about right now, isn’t it!. Gosh, those awful warm months with the long days, soft sunlight and thick foliage.
Well, here I have two views, both made at about the same location off Route 67 in West Warren, Massachusetts at approximately the same time of the morning. Both views show a CSX eastward freight.
The first was exposed on July 31, 2010; the second two views were made on May 10, 2013. While I’ve used one of these views in a previous post (see: Quaboag Valley in Fog and Sun, May 10, 2013 ), I thought these made for an interesting contrast with the earlier image.
The primary difference is that in the interval between 2010 and 2013 CSXT cut the brush along the Boston line and performed undercutting work at West Warren. This is just one of many locations that benefited visually from such improvements.
A secondary difficulty about photographing when foliage is at its summer peak is selecting the optimum exposure. In the 2010 image, I took a test photo and allowed for some nominal overexposure of the locomotive front in order to retain detail in the foliage. I then made a nominal correction in Photoshop during post processing to make for a more pleasing image.
In contrast from the iced grip of winter, these photographs were made on June 30, 2010. This was a gorgeous warm summer’s morning; birds twittered the tree branches as the sun light streamed through a gauzy haze to burn away the dew.
I arrived early at the famed ‘Railfan’s Overlook’ to make photographs in the early light of day. In the distance, I could hear the thunder of a heavy train climbing east toward the Allegheny Divide at Gallitzin.
Norfolk Southern’s busy former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline rarely disappoints, and this morning it was alive with trains.
Using my Canon EOS 7D, I worked the glinting sun to its best advantage as an eastward Pennsylvania Power & Light coal train clawed into view. As it worked the grade, a westward RoadRailer led by former Conrail locomotive glided down grade.
At the back of the coal train were a pair of freshly painted SD40Es making a classic EMD-roar as they worked in run-8 (maximum throttle).
How I wish I was enjoying a warm June morning on the West Slope right now!
Yesterday (February 7, 2014), after several months of testing, Amtrak’s new ACS-64 Siemens built ‘Cities Sprinter’ locomotive 600 made its first revenue run on Amtrak train 171 (Boston to Washington).
My dad and I went to Milford, Connecticut on the North East Corridor to catch the new electric. Pop made some B&W photos with his Leica M3 from the east end of the platform. I worked the curve at the west end with my Canons.
I popped off a couple of slides with the EOS 3 with a 100mm telephoto, and exposed two bursts of digital images using the Canon 7D with 20mm lens.
By the way the 20mm on the 7D has a field of view equal to about a 35mm lens on a traditional 35mm film camera.
The new electric sure looked nice! I’ll be keen to see the B&W photos and slides when they are processed.
After 171 passed, I made a few photos of a Metro-North local, then Pop and I went over to inspect the recently opened Metro-North station at West Haven, where we made a few photos of passing trains.
Watching trains today, it seems that graffiti is omnipresent. Hardly a freight passes without heavily tagged cars in consist.
Railcar graffiti isn’t a recent phenomena. Traditional chalked tags have appeared on cars for generations. I recall photographing a tag that read ‘Edward Steichen knew’ back in the mid-1980s, and I first noticed spray-painted graffiti on the New York Subways in the 1970s.
Yet, the proliferation of large colorful spray-painted murals and haphazard spray tagging has only become widespread on mainline trains in the last couple of decades.
While freight cars are the most common canvases, I’ve see locomotives and passenger cars tagged as well.
Nor is the phenomena isolated to the United States. Train graffiti is a worldwide occurrence. I’ve photographed heavily tagged trains in Poland, Belgium, and (wouldn’t you guess?) Italy! (Among other places).
Almost every photographer I’ve met has an opinion on graffiti.
Would you like to leave a comment? Tracking the light is interested in your opinion(s). See the comments section toward the bottom of the page.
Tim Doherty asked me a few weeks back, “Have you ever tried a shot from the north side of the Millers Falls high bridge?” I’d looked a this several times, but was discouraged by the row of trees between the road and the railroad bridge.
So, on January 12, 2014, at the end of the day (light), Tim and I went to this location with the aim of making images of Amtrak’s northward Vermonter crossing the aged Central Vermont span.
As there was only a hint of light left, I upped the ISO sensitivity of my Canon EOS 7D and I switched the color balance to ‘tungsten’ (indoor incandescent lighting which has the same effect as using tungsten balance slide film (such as Fujichrome 64T), and so enhances the blue light of the evening.
A call to Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent) confirmed the train was on-time out of Amherst. Running time was only about 20 minutes (a bit less than I thought) but we were in place, cameras on tripods, several minutes before we heard the Vermonter blasting for crossings in Millers Falls.
The result is interpretive. The train’s blur combined with view through the trees and the deep blue color bias makes for a ghostly image of the train crossing the bridge.
Here we have an instance where everything came together nicely.
On Friday January 24, 2014, I’d got word that Amtrak’s heritage locomotive number 822 was working the westward Lake Shore Limited, train 449
This was the second time in a ten-day span that I’d be alerted to a heritage locomotive on this run. As noted in my January 18, 2014 post, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, the weather wasn’t cooperative on my previous attempt at catching an Amtrak heritage locomotive.
By contrast on January 24th it was clear but very cold. I opted to make the photo at West Warren, where it’s nice and open and there’s a distinctive landscape.
Normally, Amtrak 449 passes East Brookfield at 1:30pm, and Palmer about 1:50pm. West Warren is roughly halfway between them, so I aimed to be there no later than 1:35pm
As it happened, 449 was delayed on Charlton Hill and passed more than 15 minutes later than I’d anticipated. Other than resulting in my nose getting a bit cold, this delay produced little effect on the photograph.
I opted for a traditional angle because I wanted to feature the locomotive as the primary subject this scenic setting. I picked a spot on the road bridge over the Quaboag River where I could make a view that included the old mills and waterfall, as well as a side view as the train got closer.
Working with my Canon EOS 7D fitted with a 40mm pancake lens, I set the motor drive to its fastest setting, and exposed three bursts of images as the train rolled east on CSXT’s former Boston & Albany mainline.
Since the camera’s buffer will quickly become saturated when making multiple photos in rapid succession, I was careful to wait until the train was nearly where I wanted it in each of the three sets.
The word was out that Norfolk Southern’s Pennsylvania Railroad painted heritage locomotive was to work a detoured stack train over CSX’s Trenton Subdivision to avoid a scheduled engineering project at Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Pat Yough and I planted ourselves at the West Trenton, New Jersey SEPTA station in anticipation. A number of other enthusiasts had similar plans, so there was plenty of company.
The former Reading station building at West Trenton is now privately owned (and serves a non-railroad function), while the platforms remain active for SEPTA’s regularly scheduled passenger trains to Philadelphia.
When we arrived, morning clouds were giving way to sun. A pair of westward CSX trains was holding just west of the electrified zone and the radio was alive with activity.
In a little more than an hour we caught three SEPTA trains and four freights. This kept me and my three cameras pretty busy. My goal was not just to photograph the trains, but to capture these trains in this classic railroad environment.
This morning dawned with a blood-red sunrise. Something about a red sky in the morning?
What I’d call ‘winter’ has been given all sorts of new fancy names. Probably the most absurd is the ‘polar vortex.’ Next up is the term handed to today’s precipitation: ‘bombogensis.’
Call it what you like. By about 2:30 pm today 6 inches of snow was improving photography all over Philadelphia, and by 5 pm there was 8-10 inches was making for interesting images.
My brother Sean and I spent the afternoon in Philadelphia making photos of SEPTA and snow accumulation while running errands. Falling and drifting snow made for some dramatic photography opportunities.
Snow exposure I always tricky. My basic rule of thumb is to use the camera meter to set a gauging point, then open up (over expose) by 2/3s to a full stop above the camera meter. Using the histogram on the back of the camera, I then fine tune my exposure depending on the setting.
For me, SEPTA is one of the most photogenic American big city transit systems. Sure, other cities have their charms, but Philadelphia has a lot going for it; variety, accessibility, interval services on most routes, real time displays at stations, visual cues to its heritage, interesting and varied equipment and etc.
On January 16, 2014, my brother Sean and I, spent an afternoon and evening wandering on SEPTA’s rail systems making photographs. I had a minor agenda to ride a few pieces of the network I’d not yet traveled on.
I worked with two cameras; Lumix LX3 and Canon EOS 7D, but traveled relatively light (no film body or big telephotos)
All of the lines we traveled were well patronized (some at standing room only) and yet everything seem to run to time. SEPTA’s staff were friendly and helpful. (Especially when we were running for trains).