Warren, Massachusetts is a favorite place to photograph, but also a tricky one.
I used Warren as an example for a similar compositional conversation in Trains Magazine, published about two years ago and featured photo of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited.
Yesterday (December 29, 2017), I arrived in Warren just in time to set up and catch CSX’s late-running Q264 (loaded autoracks for East Brookfield) race up the grade and pass the recently restored former Boston & Albany station.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 with 18-135mm lens, I exposed a burst of images.
I’ve selected three of these, and then annotated versions of the image that I like the best so that you may benefit from my compositional considerations.
There’s no correct answer to composition; in this instance I prefer the more distant view of the train because it better features the old passenger station and the town of Warren; here’s why I feel the composition works:
Yesterday (March 1, 2016) I posted a view of a CSX intermodal train working upgrade at Warren, Massachusetts in the nice morning sun. This was a nice start to a very productive day.
What I didn’t explain was the back-story.
Although I’ve been at railway photography for more than four decades and I spend a lot of time at making my photographs. Occasionally I make mistakes.
Some are minor ones. Others can have more serious implications.
On Saturday February 26th, I was traveling with Mike Gardner. We’d met Tim Doherty and Pat Yough at CP83 (near the Steaming Tender restaurant) in Palmer, Massachusetts.
Shortly after we arrived, CSX’s talking equipment detector in Wilbraham sounded, alerting us to the eastward train. We decided to drive to West Warren to make our photographs. We had ample time to do this, but not enough time to waste.
Upon arriving in West Warren, I noticed that both my Lumix LX7 and FujiFilm X-T1 cameras had only a few photos left on their respective cards. I should have checked this the night before and put fresh cards in the cameras.
However, since I had a minute, I hastily put new cards in the cameras and wiped them clean.
The day was extraordinarily productive. Mike and I photographed trains on CSX, New England Central, Berkshire Scenic and Pan Am Railways, making it Millers Falls, the Hoosac Tunnel, and Washington Summit among other notable locations.
My Fuji camera was acting strange.
Among other problems, it was taking forever to store the images from the camera buffer to the card. I’d expose a burst of images, and two minutes later it would still storing them.
Meanwhile the Lumix was giving me so much bother, I put it down and instead opted to work with my Canon EOS 3 loaded with slide film.
By the end of the day, I notice that the 32GB card in the Fuji was nearly out of space, but I’d only exposed about 150 frames. (Normally I get about 840 images saved as RAW and JPG on a 32GB card). Something was wrong.
I was getting a bit worried, because the next day I was booked on a transatlantic flight, and there’s nothing worse than having serious camera trouble when traveling.
Digital cameras don’t start acting strange because they are in a bad mood.
However, when I went to down load my photographs, I quickly discovered the source of my problems.
In my rush to put cards in the cameras, I inadvertently put the card formatted for the Fuji in the Lumix and vice versa. Also, rather than re-format the cards, I simply wiped them. Each type of digital camera uses different protocols for storing data, which is why the cameras were acting slow.
I put new cards in each camera and re-formatted them (which effectively erases all data on the card). Problem solved.
Tip for the day: Don’t mix your cards up, take the time before embarking on a fast-paced day to make sure you have clean, formatted cards in your digital camera(s).
Or, if you use film, to make sure your camera is loaded and that your ISO setting is correct.
The sky can make all the difference in a photograph. However, often the way a modern camera presents exposure tends to push sky detail toward over exposure (that means its too light).
The result is a washed out sky that loses all the color and detail that made the scene interesting.
Thankfully, with careful exposure and post processing manipulation of a RAW file, it is easy enough to balance sky detail with the primary subject.
I made these photos the other day at Mattapan during a visit with Tim and Will Doherty and Pat Yough. All were exposed using my FujiFilm X-T1 with a Zeiss 12mm Touit lens
I processed the photos using Lightroom (an Adobe program that allows for easy adjustment of the the RAW files).
My first move was to digitally introduce a graduated neutral density filter across the sky to locally adjust contrast and exposure with an emphasis on retaining highlight detail. Next I lightened shadows and adjusted mid-tone detail with the clarity sliders.
My intent was to recreate the scene. It would be easy enough to create a total fantasy using these tools. That balance is purely subjective.
Tomorrow I’ll present a more dramatic example complete with ‘fantasy’ treatment. Stay tuned!
Every so often a train stops in a photogenic location, which provides ample opportunity to make a variety of images.
Such was the case the other day, when Petri and Pietu Tuovinen, Markku Pulkkinen were providing me tour of greater Kontiomäki.
This pair of Finnish Sr2 electrics had brought a loaded iron ore train west from the Russian-border and were waiting for a path to continue toward Oulu at the junction with the electrified line at the west leg of the Kontiomäki triangle.
While the train was stopped, I used the moment to expose photographs with three cameras. These are a few angles made digitally with my FujiFilm X-T1 mirror-less camera, and my pocket-size Lumix LX-7. The slides remain latent.
Since the lighting was relatively even, my goal was to obtain the most impressive angle that features the contours and colours on the Sr2s. VR is in a transition from the older white and red livery to a new white with bright green scheme.
One traditional school of thought when making photographs is capturing the ‘decisive moment.’
This moment is arbitrary, but in theory it is the instant in time when the elements in the composition are at their optimum relation to one another.
When I work with my old Rolleiflex to photograph moving trains this is a good philosophy. I’ll carefully consider all the elements in the frame, and wait, with shutter poised, until the train is at its optimum point, and ‘click.’
Some time later, often days or weeks later, I’ll process the film. Maybe I got what I was hoping to capture, maybe not.
Such is not the case with my Fujifilm X-T1. The relative cost of exposing one digital frame versus a dozen is inconsequential as compared to film. While the ability of the camera to make a burst of images rapid has completely altered the way I consider my compositions and expose photos.
I’ll still study the scene and look at all the elements. Typically I’ll make a few test photos to check sharpness, exposure and how different focal lengths alter the scene.
But when the train arrives, instead of exposing one photograph, or in the case of my old slide camera a few ‘motor drive’ dupes, I’ll might make a burst of images all the while adjusting my framing to subtly alter the composition. More is better, right?
Then after the fact I can decide which image I like best. I can erase the rest.
Below are five similar views made within seconds of each other. These portray an Irish Rail perway train working the quad track in suburban Dublin. Operation of this particular train is sporadic, and making photographs of it require knowledge, planning and patience.
When it finally came into view, I wanted to be sure I made the best possible photo that shows the train in its environment. Which one do you like the most?
A visit to Prague in May 2000 fulfilled my desire to make gritty urban images. Using my Rolleiflex Model T and Nikon F3T, I exposed dozens of photographs of eclectic Bohemian architecture and electric railed vehicles.
This image of Tatra T3 working westbound on Prague’s number 9 route is typical of my photography from that trip.
Prague is one of those great cities that seems to beckon a photo at every turn. Or certainly that was my impression.
I’m presenting two versions of the image: the first is tightly cropped view made possible by the camera’s excellent optics and careful processing of the film (also for some adjustments for contrast in digital post-processing); the second is a pure, un-cropped image. Take your pick!
Back in the old days, if I went out and forgot to load my camera it was tough luck. No film, no photo. And, yes, there were several occasions where I suffered this humility.
Today, with my Lumix LX3, there’s a feature that gets me out of the occasional jam. The camera has a built-in memory that allows me to make several photographs when there is no memory card inserted (or if the memory card has an error/failure).
This means that in those rare situations where I have the camera, but have forgotten the card, I can still make a few photos.
Case in point. On April 11, 2012, I’d grabbed the camera and walked into the Dublin city center to run some errands. At the time, the LUAS tram network had a specially painted tram advertising Magnum ice cream bars. I’d seen this several times, but not managed to get a photo of it.
In fact, this tram had proved unusually elusive, and previous efforts to find it in sunlight failed. But on this day, as I wandered through Smithfield, the purple Magnum tram glided along side of me and came to a stop at an intersection in full sun. Perfect!
Except, when I went to make a photo, I got an error message telling me there was no card! I’d taken it out to download it and left it at home! OH NO! But the camera gave me the option of saving the file to the camera memory! Yea!
I was interested to find this collection of Maine Central locomotives at Boston & Maine’s East Deerfield Yard in September 1984. At the time, Guilford’s gray and orange livery was still a novelty.
Using my father’s 21mm Super Angulon on my Leica 3A, I composed this somewhat unconventional view of the ready tracks. This lens was a favorite of mine at the time. I still use it occasionally.
The composition works despite being foreground heavy and exposed on the ‘dark side’ of the locomotives. The image nicely integrates the infrastructure around the locomotives while offering a period look.
At the time I was studying photography at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and made regular visits to photograph the Boston & Maine.
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.
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.
The other night in Palmer, Massachusetts an arctic breeze was blowing, but that didn’t stop me from making time exposures to capture the holiday spirit.
I exposed these photos despite numb hands and cold feet. I used my Lumix LX-3 (choice night camera in cold weather) fitted to a large Bogen tripod.
Years ago, I fitted plastic-foam pipe insulation to the tripod legs (as per recommendation by experienced cold-weather photographer Mike Gardner). This makes it easier to handle the tripod when it’s very cold.
My exposures varied from about 1.6 seconds at f2.8 (ISO 200) to 25 seconds at f4.0 (ISO80). I set the camera manually using the histogram from test exposures to gauge my settings.
Christmas lights on dark nights make for exceptionally difficult contrast. If you overexpose to allow good shadow detail the lights get blown out (losing their color[s] as a result). Underexpose to feature the lights and the sky and shadows turn to an inky black.
Somewhere in between is a compromised setting. Rather than ponder the subtleties of the histogram as the blood in my toes congealed, I opted to take a series of images, one after the other, and select the best of the bunch in a warm environment later on.
A Broadside Pan of Modern Locomotives with Autumn Foliage.
Early in the morning of October 22, 2013, I noticed that CSX’s Q422-22 was working the east end of Palmer yard. It was too dark to make a conventional image, and the location of the train not suited to make a night photograph, so I headed east.
CSX’s Q422 is not a train I often see. This is a carload train that runs from Selkirk Yard (near Albany) over the former Boston & Albany main line to Worcester. It is one of many symbol freights on the B&A route that tends to be nocturnal.
When I was photographing in the 1980s, Conrail operated a similar train which carried the symbol SEPW (Selkirk to Providence & Worcester). This tended to run in the mid-morning and normally followed the intermodal parade.
I made many images of the old SEPW, which back in 1984 typically operated with sets of four GE B23-7s (rated at 2,250 hp each).
Memories of those days flashed through my mind as I drove east toward daylight. I followed the line up the Quaboag River Valley, as I have many times in the past. At West Warren, there was a glow in the eastern sky, but it was still pretty dark, so after a few test shots I continued eastward.
I considered a favorite location at Brookfield, near milepost 67, but decided against it because it was too head on (stay tuned for an image at this location in an upcoming post).
I’ve found that in very low light, it helps to photograph trains off-axis to minimize the effect of locomotive headlights. When ambient light levels are low (at dawn, dusk, and very dull days) the relative brightness of headlights can result in undesirable flare which can be especially annoying with digital photography.
Recent undercutting work at East Brookfield resulted in clearing of a small hill that has made for a great broad-side photo location. This is set back from the tracks and provides good elevation. Here, I set up and waited.
Before long I could here the chug of General Electric diesels across the Brookfield flats and then my scanner chirped something to the effect of: “CSXT Q422-22, Clear Signal CP64.”
To get the effect of speed and set the locomotives off from the background foliage, I exposed this image at 1/125th of a second at f2.8, ISO 800.
As CSX’s Q422 ascended Charlton Hill on it last leg of the trip to Worcester, I headed in a north-westerly direction toward Millers Falls. I’ve learned that make the most of a New England autumn, it helps to keep moving.
Autumn Color and Mirror-Like River Make for a Diorama-Like Setting.
The rugged unsettled Quaboag Valley between Palmer and West Warren is a beautiful place, but difficult to work with photographically. Access is limited and the narrow valley combined with heavy overgrowth shadows the line much of the day.
My favorite vantage-point is this twin stone-arch bridge near West Warren. Since my last visit, logging efforts have opened the vista a bit more, allowing a slightly higher view of the tracks.
On October 23, 2013, I learned that CSX’s Q022 (eastward Intermodal container train destined for Worcester) was about an hour away, so I put myself in position to make a photograph.
The season’s leaves were just past peak, which is my preferred time to make autumn images of trains. Why? I’ve found that when almost all the trees are orange, brown and yellow, with hints of red, images seem more autumnal than when some trees are their most brilliant shades of red and orange but others remain green.
A stroke of luck was the very still day: there was virtually no wind while relatively low water-levels in the Quaboag allowed for a mirror like reflection of the bridge and train. This effect is much harder to achieve when the sun is out causing light breezes that tend blur the surface of the water.
On the Morning of October 25, 2009, I brought my brand new Lumix LX3 out for a test run. I had just received my first digital camera and this was a trial to see if it was any good.
I’d bought it on the recommendation of Eric Rosenthal. My initial hope for the camera was to use as a light meter and to make photos of friends.
That morning I drove to East Brookfield and made this image of the old Boston & Albany station. Two eastward trains came by and I photographed those on film, not trusting the new purchase for anything important.
I later drove around making photos of local architecture in the autumn color. I soon found that the LX3 was an extremely powerful tool capable of very sharp images and useful for making a great variety of railway photos.
Approximately 11 months later, I received a phone call from Dennis LeBeau of the East Brookfield Historic Society: the station had been torched by vandals and gutted. For another year or so the skeletal remains of the building remained trackside as a sad reminder of what had been.
This Lumix image is exactly four years old today. In the interval, since I made this image I’ve released the LX3’s shutter more than 15,000 times.
The Underground cleverly blends transport and style. In my experience it is one of the world’s most popular public transportation systems. Phrases like ‘Mind the Gap’ appear on mugs and T-shirts, while many shops sell stylized maps of the Underground network.
In previous posts I focused on the human side of Irish Railway Record Society’s Dublin-Cork excursion on 20 July 2013.
However, I also made my own share of classic views showing Saturday’s railway excursion at identifiable locations. I’ve displayed a few view here. In addition to digital image I also exposed color slides at key locations.
See posts from the last few days for more views of Irish Railway Record Society’s 20 July 2013 diesel hauled trip on Irish Rail to Cork, Cobh and Midleton.
Contemporary views of a Traditional Streetcar Route.
On the afternoon of Sunday June 30, 2013, Pat Yough and I visited Media, Pennsylvania to photograph SEPTA’s Route 101 Streetcar.
A century ago, single-track streetcar lines graced many American towns. The era of the electric trolley car faded decades ago. Today, Media is virtually in class by itself. Historic re-creations aside, where else in the USA does a single-track streetcar route serve “Main Street”?
The 101 Route is one of two SEPTA (former Red Arrow) streetcar lines radiating from its 69th Street Terminus in Upper Darby in suburban Philadelphia. The other trolley line is the 102 route to Sharon Hill. 69th Street is also served by the Route 100 high-speed interurban line to Norristown (the old Philadelphia & Western line) and the Market-Frankford elevated.
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.
Something a Bit Darker: Enigmatic or just playing around?
Palmer in Gloom and Rain, May 24, 2013.
Friday evening May 24, 2013 wasn’t the driest night in recent days. I was in Palmer, Massachusetts to meet some friends for dinner. On the way in, I timed my arrival to intercept CSX’s westward Q437 (Worcester, Massachusetts to Selkirk, New York). I’d learned that one of the specially painted ‘Diversity in Motion’ AC4400CWs was leading.
The day was in its final moments with just a hint of blue in the sky. The signals at CP 83 (dispatchers control point, measuring 83 miles from South Station, Boston) lit up moments after I arrived. That gave me about six minutes to think up a photo solution. Since the car-park (parking lot) at Steaming Tender was comparatively empty, I opted for a broadside pan. All I had to work with was my Lumix LX3.
I set the LX3 for 200 ISO, switched ‘off’ the image stabilizer (I’ve found this tends to interfere with long pans), and selected ‘aperture priority’ with f2.6 and +1/3 exposure compensation. Then I set the focus manually and waited. There’s a slow order through Palmer, and Q437 passed traveling not faster than 30mph. I made a long pan and the camera selected a shutter speed of 1/3.2 seconds. A long exposure, but not long enough. I still needed to lighten the image in post processing using the program’s ‘curve’s’ feature.
After dinner, it was raining steadily. Rich Reed, Bill Keay & I returned to CP 83 to observe the arrival of a southward New England Central freight. I made a couple of more long pans in the gloom of night. Then, I placed the camera on an old railroad tie to make one final exposure of the train in the rain.
Something a bit different anyway and it cost me nothing but a few moments of my time (and suffering some gratuitous dampness.)
May 10th holds symbolic railroad significance as the anniversary of completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in 1869—an event that had great national and international importance. Many other railway anniversaries can be linked to May 10 as well.
In 2007, I coordinated a team of 37 photographers to document a full day’s worth of North American railway activity from Nova Scotia to southern California and from the Pacific Northwest to southern Florida in what became a book titled The Railroad Never Sleeps published by Voyageur Press.
Although this seems to be out of print, it remains a stunning photographic collection, which is especially impressive considering it was entirely accomplished within the limits of just one day!It’s hard for me to believe that six years have passed since that day.
Yesterday (May 10 2013), I got up early and aimed for Palmer, Massachusetts, with an aim of making a variety of railway images on this significant day. In the course of just a few hours, I’d photographed five train movements on three different railroads. I was home by 9:30 am. (Although, I was out again later in the day to investigate some changes to railway infrastructure).
When I began my photography there was thick fog clinging to the valleys; this gradually burned off leaving bright sun. Here’s a selection of my efforts.
Yesterday morning, jetlag had me awake and alert considerably earlier than I’m accustomed. By 7 am, I’d photographed three trains on two railroads in two states and was on my way home to get some work done. Crazy thing, jetlag.
The highlight of the morning’s impromptu photo excursion was this image of New England Central’s ‘Pride of Palmer’ (GP38 3851) climbing through Monson, Massachusetts with a short freight for Willimantic, Connecticut. This is passing Monson’s ‘tornado alley’, where, nearly two years ago a freak afternoon twister made splinters and memories of many fine buildings and trees.
One of the great features of Britain’s preserved Bluebell Railway is its exceptional attention to detail. Everywhere you look there is something to make the past, alive. Old advertisements, piles of luggage, semaphore signals, cast iron warning signs, and buckets of coal.
You hear the clunk of a rod moving a signal blade from red to green, followed by the shrill guard’s whistle and the slam of a wooden door. Then a mild hiss as the automatic brake is released and the sharper hiss from the locomotive as it eases off the platform. Yet, the Bluebell experience isn’t all about its locomotive, or its trains. The Bluebell is a railway experience.
The time warp ends when you arrive back at East Grinsted, where you insert your ticket with its magnetic stripe into automatic barriers, then board a modern electric multiple unit with sealed windows, plastic décor and space-age loos that look like they belong on the set of Star Trek.
The Bluebell Railway is Britain’s first standard gauge preserved steam railway. It dates from the early 1960s, and for more than 50 years has offered excursions over a scenic portion of former Southern Railway, ex London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. Today the railway runs from East Grinsted to Sheffield Park (south-southwest of London), and includes a relatively long tunnel.
Bluebell, like many of Britian’s steam railways, is a fully functioning preserved line, complete with stations, signal boxes (towers), authentic period signal hardware (including semaphores), engine sheds and lots of staff (presumably mostly volunteers), all of which contributes to the appearance of an historic British railway. In other words, it’s like a time machine!
On Saturday April 20, 2013 David Hegarty and I traveled from London by train via East Croydon to East Grinsted. It was a beautiful clear bright day. Bluebell had just recently reopened its line for connections to British rail network at East Grinsted.
While not especially photogenic, I found the new East Grinsted transfer a big improvement for reaching the Bluebell. On previous visits, I’d hired a car and drove directly to Horsted Keynes—a mid-point station on the Bluebell. All things being equal, its nice to arrive by rail.
It was interesting to travel behind steam (British Railways 2-10-0 class 9F) over newly laid track. We spent a full day wandering up and down the line by train. At one point we went for a long hike following signposted footpaths to a known good spot (what friends like to call a KGS). I’d found the spot, north of Horstead Keynes, about 10 years ago.
Biggest challenge to making photos on the Bluebell is their operating practice of locomotives facing north, which can present some difficult lighting angles considering most of the line is on a north-south alignment.
Yesterday morning (Tuesday April 16, 2013) was sunny and warm, but very windy. Fluffy clouds raced across the sky casting shadows as the rolled along. This is always a tough situation when waiting for a train to pass. Often, it seems the desired train passes just as cloud obscures the sun.
I was lucky; a big cloud was just clearing as Irish Rail 080 exited the Phoenix Park Tunnel. There was more than a two-stop difference between the cloudy and sunny spots. With full bright sun, I caught Irish Rail’s ‘High Output Ballast’ (known on the railway as HOBS) passing Islandbridge Junction.
I made a few Fujichrome slides with my EOS 3 and some digital with the Canon EOS 7D. I’ll have to wait a few weeks for the slides, but here are my digital efforts.
The program begins at 1900 (7pm) upstairs at the Exmouth Arms, 1 Starcross Street, LONDON NW1, (advertised as a 5 minute walk from London’s Euston station). A nominal donation of £3.50 is asked of non-IRRS members (members £2.50)
Two years ago today, I was visiting Britain’s preserved North Yorkshire Moors Railway. This is an amazing operation. The railway is worked with a colorful mix of preserved steam and diesel locomotives. Trains work on a regular schedule, traversing the sublime Yorkshire Moors. In addition to beautifully restored stations and signal boxes (tower), the railway is well accessed by hiking trails. This location was recommended to me by a member of the railway’s station staff at Goathland—and is only 10-15 minute walk from the station platforms.
This was a pleasant place to spend a crisp Spring morning. I could hear locomotive 92214 barking up the grade for several minutes before it came around the bend into view. Later in the week I had business attending the annual London Book Fair, which while interesting and necessary, couldn’t compare to my brief experience on the North Yorkshire Moors!
It was a rare day in Dublin. After what has been reported as the coldest March on record (and, undoubtedly one of the grayest), waking up to a clear blue dome was a joy. As a weekday, Irish Rail had fair bit on the move, above its normal schedule of passenger trains.
My first move was to catch the ‘down IWT Liner’ (Dublin to Ballina International Warehousing and Transport container train) from my usual spot. This place is easy, too easy, so has often become my default location. Not to linger, I hopped on the LUAS (Dublin’s tram system) to meet my friend Colm O’Callaghan down (at) the North Wall (near Dublin port).
We proceeded to a favored overhead bridge at Claude Road on Dublin’s North Side to catch Irish Rail’s last orange 071 (number 084) working a long welded rail train up from the permanent way depot (track maintenance yard). This was delayed coming across from Islandbridge by the passage of scheduled trains on the Sligo Line.
After catching this unusual train, we moved down to the Cork Line at Lucan South to wait for the ‘Up IWT Liner’ from Ballina led by another of the 071 Class General Motors diesels.
All of these images were exposed with my Canon EOS 7D. Had I anticipated such a productive venture, I would have brought along a film camera. Perhaps next time!
The program begins at 1900 (7pm) upstairs at the Exmouth Arms, 1 Starcross Street, LONDON NW1, (advertised as a 5 minute walk from London’s Euston station). A nominal donation of £3.50 is asked of non-IRRS members (members £2.50)
Belgium’s jewel is among Europe’s most magnificent railway terminals.
On the morning of Friday March 22, 2013, I rode an SNCB (Société National des Chemins de fer Belges—Belgian National Railways) train from Brussels to Antwerpen Centraal (Antwerp Central Station). It was bright and sunny, a real contrast to my experience in Dublin on the previous day where it was cloudy, windy and raining.
I first visited Antwerpen Centraal in May 1996. Since that time this classic stub-end terminal has been transformed into a three-level railway intermodal center. Tracks on the lowest level permit through services without the need for trains to reverse direction as was previously required.
The station head-house is among the most opulent and best kept anywhere in Europe, while the steeply pitched balloon train shed makes for a wonderful venue to photograph trains, its glass windows acting as enormous soft-box.
On Friday March 22nd, I had about 45 minutes at Antwerpen Centraal between trains. I used my time to good advantage and exposed a variety of digital images with my Lumix LX-3, and some Fuji Provia 100F with my Canon EOS-3. The film will be processed at a later time.
The terminal is well-suited to the city center and connected to myriad destinations through an excellent public transport system operated by De Lijn. This includes a 1000mm gauge tram network that still hosts vintage President Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars.
My layover at Antwerpen Centraal was a sideshow to my main effort: I was on my way to a location near Antwerp port where I was aiming to photograph freight trains. Keep your eye on this space for those images!
On June 14, 2010, I spent the day tracing the route of the old Erie Railroad between Marion, Ohio and the Ohio-Indiana state line. At Marion, the former Erie line is still active, albeit integrated with other routes. West of Marion, it’s largely abandoned. In some places the former double-track mainline is easy to follow, in others it has been ploughed under with virtually no evidence left to hint that it was ever there.
At Kenton, Ohio, I found this vestige of Erie double track, where the line crossed County Road 140, east of Main Street. I’m looking east, toward Marion. I can only imagine The Lake Cities (Jersey City-Chicago) racing west across this crossing, or one of Erie’s magnificent S-class Berkshires hitting the crossing with tonnage.
I was happy to find track in place to give me some sense of what the railroad was about. Who knows what I’ll find if I return in ten years time.
Here’s a panned view of an Irish Rail intercity railcar near Islandbridge, Dublin that I exposed a little while ago (February 18, 2013). A pan of a 22K-series ICR? No, this isn’t a litany of complaint regarding the common Rotem-built Irish Rail intercity vehicle. Rather, it’s an example of one of my favorite techniques for showing motion. I learned to pan from my father, who used the technique to compensate for slow speed Kodachrome film. In the early 1960s, he made some stunning rainy-day images of Pennsylvania Railroad’s Baldwin ‘Sharknose’ diesels working the New York & Long Branch. Check my Vintage Diesel Power by Voyageur Press to view some of these photos.
The trick to making a successful pan is to manually select a moderately slow shutter speed (1/15th to 1/60th of a second), then follow a train with the camera, gently releasing the shutter at an appropriate moment. I find that pivoting my whole body helps makes for smoother motion. Key to this exercise is planning to continue the panning motion after the shutter is released. Stopping too soon may result in unplanned blurring of the main subject. Also, I usually pick a fixed point in the frame to follow the front of the train. My Canon 7D has lines on the viewfinder screen that aids this effort. I’ll discuss the panning technique in greater detail in a future post.
I’m not talking about stripping down and running naked through the snow. That sounds like a recipe for frostbite, hypothermia or worse! Rather, I’m focused on how to best select exposure when working in winter situations. Snow is especially difficult to work with for several reasons. First, it’s abnormally bright and results in high contrast situations that is both difficult on the eyes and the camera sensor. Second, most camera meters aren’t designed to work with fields of white, so tend to recommend the wrong settings. Third, for many photographers, making images in snow is an infrequent experience, and one that tends to lead to uncertainty and higher rates of exposure error.
My approach to snow photography stems from years of practice. In general, I take the information provided by camera meters as advisory. I rarely rely on automatic settings without some manual adjustment. Why? I’ve learned to carefully gauge exposure and apply settings manually. Furthermore, I’m distrustful of automatic metering, especially for railway photography, because the automation is programmed to deliver adequate imagery other than what I’m trying to achieve. Perhaps no other situation is as difficult for a common-meter to gauge as sunlit snow imaging.
Many years ago, my father lent me a Weston Master III, and instructed me to wander around the house making exposures and write them down. No photos were exposed. I was about nine and I found this exercise confusing and frustrating because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be doing. However, I overcame frustration and learned to use the light meter. A decade later, I had the opportunity to learn Cibachrome printing (used to make vivid prints from color slides). At the time, I was primarily working with Kodachrome 25, which I’d been taught to nominally underexpose to produce more saturated colors.
Translating Kodachrome to Cibachrome was revealing; I’d found that my rich, slightly-underexposed slides, which when projected on a nice bright screen looked fantastic, were in fact rather difficult to print. The biggest issue was contrast. While under-exposure may have enhanced the color saturation, it also made the image more contrasty. So while it turned out that my old theory on underexposure had it flaws, I discovered that slightly overexposed slides printed very well. I needed to determine ideal exposures in order to make optimal slides.
Aiding my efforts was my notebook; I’d been recording my exposures for years, but with the Ciba exercise I began making even more detailed notes, recording slide exposures to the third of a stop. Eventually, I assembled a chart with ideal exposures for Kodachrome 25 in various lighting situations. In general, I’d discovered that to make prints, slides needed to be about 1/3 stop brighter than I’d been making them for projection. All very well, but what does this have to do with making digital images in the snow?
Exposing Kodachrome is history, but the lessons I learned from this material still apply. (The short answer to the question was that snow in bright daylight should be exposed at approximately 1 ½ stops down from the full daylight setting without snow; thus with Kodachrome 25, if my normal daylight setting was f4.5 1/250, my snow exposure was about f8 1/250 +/- 1/3 stop). Many of my slides have appeared in books, magazines, as well as here on Tracking the Light. Take a look at my recent book North American Locomotives for some top-notch printed reproductions of Kodachrome.
Digital photography offers some great advantages over Kodachrome, including the ability to review images on-site—thus removing the uncertainty of exposing slides and having to wait for days (or weeks) to see if your exposures were correct. It’s now easier than ever to make good snow exposures and learn immediately from miscalculation. Related to this is the ability to use a digital camera’s histogram as an on-site exposure tool.
Histogram? Yes! This is perhaps the greatest feature on my digital cameras. It allows me to set my exposure ideally, allowing key images to capture the greatest amount information, thus minimizing detail lost through unwanted under-or over-exposure. Positively invaluable when making images in the snow.
Today, before a train enters the scene, I’ll make a series of test exposures and judge them by the output of the histogram. This allows me to refine my exposure to a point that exceeds what I could have achieved with my detailed chart and Kodachrome. In my next post, I’ll detail this process with more examples.
Tonight (February 8, 2013) a blizzard rages outside the window. The roads are closed, the railroad is quiet (so far as I know), and I’m not out, knee-deep in snow, trying to make night photos. (Ok, so I’m as mad as hatter, or worse—used to be lots of hatters here in Monson, back in the day.) However, I pulled up an image from my digital archive of Florida East Coast GP40-2 417 at New England Central’s Palmer Yard office on February 22, 2011. There’s something incongruous about a Florida East Coast locomotive in the snow. I’d met Bob Buck of Tucker’s Hobbies that evening for dinner, and later we’d stopped by Palmer yard to see what was about.
Since that night, nearly two years ago, New England Central has applied its own lettering to several former Florida East Coast locomotives; Bob has passed on; and New England Central has become part of the Genesee & Wyoming short line railway empire. Everything changes.
Braving frigid temperatures to take advantage of incredible low-light; on this day, three years ago (February 8, 2010), Pat Yough, Chris Guss & I were in Toronto photographing in suitably arctic conditions. Cold but clear—there’s a fantastic, surreal quality of light in sub-zero temperatures which can lead to great images if you chose to endure the conditions. Not, only were we up early, but the night before we spent an hour or more making night shots from the Bathurst Street Bridge. It didn’t get any warmer by daybreak, which we photographed from the lake front west of the city center. On that morning, after setting up the tripod, my numb hands only managed to record in my note book, “0646 [6:46 am]—ugg. Twilight—cold.”
While we made an intense tour of Toronto area railroading, among the most memorable images were those exposed toward the end of daylight near Queensway & King Streets along the Canadian National quad-track line west of Union Station. This is one of the busiest lines in Canada, and hosts a flurry of trains at rush hour. For me the highlight was a pair of in-bound GO Transit trains with new MP40PHs running side-by-side as the sun hugged the horizon over lake Ontario. A few minutes later, I scored a VIA train gliding under a signal bridge in last glint of sunlight. At the time, I was still working primarily with film, and I kept both Canon EOS-3s busy. One was fitted with my 100-400 IS zoom, the other with a 24mm AF lens. The only digital camera I had was my Lumix LX-3, which I learned tends to chew through battery power in sub-zero conditions. By the end of the day, I’d drained three full batteries. The McDonalds on King Street made for a nice place to thaw hands on cups of hot chocolate while watching TTC’s trams glide by at dusk. On the way back we swung by Niagara Falls, my first visit to the famous waterfall, despite having photographed trains crossing the gorge on several occasions over the years.
South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority provides public transportation in the Philadelphia area and is one of the most eclectic and historically diverse transit systems in the USA. In addition to former Pennsylvania Railroad and Reading Company suburban railway services, it also operates two street car/light rail systems, several third-rail rapid transit subway/elevated services, the former Philadelphia & Western interurban third rail electric line (100 route), and myriad bus and electric (trolley) bus routes. Despite the variety of former operators, today’s SEPTA is reasonably well integrated and offers a variety of interface points between different transport modes. From my experience the transit vehicles appear clean and well maintained and the stations, many of which retain a classic appearance are also generally well appointed. The trains typically operate a regular interval service, with most heavy rail routes offering at least an hourly frequency, with express or extra services at peak times.
Over the years, my brother Sean and I have explored SEPTA as part of a greater urban experience, and I’ve gradually accumulated a considerable body of work depicting the network. SEPTA’s mix of modern and historic equipment combined with Philadelphia’s patchwork urbanity offers seemingly endless opportunities for image making.
Collected here are a few of my most recent efforts that were exposed over the last few days since the New Year. Significantly, these were largely made while using SEPTA as transport, thus integrating my photography with my transportation—an age-old tradition in urban-rail image making. I’ve found that SEPTA’s $11 Independence Pass is great value for such exercises. When possible, Sean and I will ride at the front of a vehicle, which both provides picture possibilities and allows for a better understanding of operations.
See my book Railroads of Pennsylvania for more about SEPTA, Pennsylvania Railroad, Reading Company and the history behind these operations.
On Wednesday January 2, 2013, I revisited Philadelphia’s old Reading Terminal with my brother Sean and Michael Scherer. It was still a functioning passenger terminal when I first visited this iconic railroad facility in the late 1970s with my family. In 2007, I covered its history in my book Railroads of Pennsylvania.Here’s an excerpt of my text:
In the 1890s, Philadelphia & Reading invested its anthracite wealth in construction of one of Pennsylvania’s most ornately decorated company headquarters and passenger terminals. Facing Philadelphia’s Market Street, one of downtown’s main thoroughfares, Reading Terminal represented an ostentatious display of success, but one that now has benefited citizens and visitors to Philadelphia for more than a century.Like many large railway terminals of its time, Reading Terminal followed the architectural pattern established in Britain, perfected at London’s St. Pancras station. This pattern features two distinct structures for the head house and train shed. The Reading station architect, F. H. Kimball, designed the head house to rise nine stories above the street and its façade is made of pink and white granite, decorated with terra cotta trimmings. Behind the head house is the functional part of the station, an enormous balloon-style train shed—the last surviving North American example—designed and built by Philadelphia’s Wilson Brothers. The terminal closed as a result of consolidation of Philadelphia’s suburban services on November 6, 1984. Its modern underground replacement—SEPTA’s Market East Station—is nearby.
Designed by Philadelphia’s Wilson Brothers and built by Charles McCall, Reading Terminal’s vast balloon shed is the last surviving example of its type in the United States.