Yesterday, Wednesday, June 28, 2017, I arrived in Palmer at about 5am. Although there was clear blue dome above me, a blanket of mist had filled the Quaboag Valley. This was just beginning to clear, when I heard CSX’s westward freight Q427 (Portland, Maine to Selkirk, New York) approaching.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm pancake lens, I exposed several bursts of digital images as the train rolled by the old Palmer Union Station (now the popular Steaming Tender Restaurant).
Consider that this is a lesson in lighting: even when you photograph trains at the same location, at the same time of day (but on different days) the results can be significantly different as result of ever changing lighting conditions.
Working with my Lumix LX7, I exposed a camera RAW file of Amtrak’s 449 at West Warren, Massachusetts on May 31, 2017.
This location is old hat for me. I’ve made dozens of images of Amtrak here over the years.
Here I’m presenting two versions.
The top is the completely un-modified camera RAW (no changes to color, contrast, shadow or highlight detail) that I converted in Lightroom to a JPG for internet presentation
On the bottom is a modified RAW file (saved as a Jpg for internet presentation). Here, using Lightroom I’ve applied a mask to the sky area to improve the exposure and better pulling in cloud detail, while adjusting for color and saturation.
I applied a small circular mask on the front of the locomotive to reduce the effects of glare. In addition, I made overall changes to contrast, while boosting saturation, and lightening shadows slightly.
The end-effect is a more saturated and pronounced sky, lighter shadows, a slight warming of overall color temperature, and better controlled highlight areas.
If you don’t like these, you can try it yourself sometime. Amtrak 449 passes West Warren daily between 245 and 310 pm
The long days make for photographic opportunity. While modern digital cameras have the ability to capture scenes previously out of reach with film. Yet, sometimes there’s still work to be done after the fact.
The other day, Pat Yough and I were exploring locations along Amtrak’s former New Haven Shoreline at Madison, Connecticut.
“It’s the Acela.”
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a 27mm pancake lens, I had very little time to prepare for my image.
However, the colors of the evening sky attracted my attention and I knew I needed to use a relatively fast shutter speed to stop the action. I set the ISO to 6400, which allowed me to use a 1/500th of second shutter speed at f3.2.
(I set my camera manually.)
While the front of the Acela was exposed more or less as I’d hoped, the sky detail was washed out.
Later, using Lightroom for post processing, I was quickly able to produce three variations of the original image that brought back sky detail.
Admittedly the original file isn’t the sharpest image. But, I find one the great benefits of the digital medium is the ability to go back to the camera RAW file and adjust color and contrast sliders to make for a more pleasing final photograph.
Which of the four photos is your favorite?
Tracking the Lightdisplays new imageseachand every day!
Every so often I like to stir up the muck, open a few eyes, raise a few fists, and perhaps invoke a couple of smiles.
I made this digital photograph using a recently devised camera technique. I created the image ‘in-camera’ using my mirror-less FujiFilm X-T1 with the electronic shutter; I did this without unusual external attachments, filters or complicated post-processing manipulation.
So, how did I do it? And why?
Shocking railroad photograph? Sometimes a technique is so raw, so radical, or so non-conventional, your eyes will grip the results, while your brain tries to add up the dots.
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.
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 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.
Amtrak 449, in sun and rain; one day and the next. Last week, I was over in East Brookfield visiting the LeBeaus to do some videography for a music video. Dennis LeBeau lives a block from the Boston & Albany (CSXT’s Boston Line).
I said to Dennis, “I’m just going to nip down to the bridge to catch 449. It should be getting close.”
“Passes here every day at one-thirty. I’ll join you in a minute.”
I phoned Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent: 1-800-USA-RAIL) to find out if 449 as on time out of Worcester. As it turns out, it departed Worcester Union Station 4 minutes late.
Worcester is at CP45, East Brookfield is CP64. It takes 449 about 25-30 minutes to run the 19 miles.
Since it was nice bright afternoon, I opted for a broadside view that shows a few of the houses in town. At 1:39, Dennis shouted to me from the road bridge, “He’s around the bend.” I was poised to made my photograph with my Lumix LX3.
This can be tricky since there’s really only a split second to get the train in the right place. If the camera isn’t cued up, all I’ll get is a photo of the baggage car. But I was ready, and put the train precisely where I wanted it.
The train glided through town. I turned to make a few going away views with my Canon, and said to Dennis, “You know that never gets old. I’ve been photographing that train since the 1970s.”
Dennis said to me, “I’ve been watching it since it was the New England States Limited, with New York Central E8s!”
A day later, I was in Palmer (CP83). The word was out that Amtrak 145 (one of the Genesis P42s in heritage paint) was working 449. The weather was foul, but since I was in town anyway, I figured I’d give the train a roll by.
It was stabbed at CP83 by a southward New England Central freight going into the yard, which allowed ample time for photos. Such a contrast in days. Pity the heritage P42 hadn’t worked west a day sooner.
Earlier this year, my friend Dan Bigda asked me to make photographs of his magnificent O-scale layout for a feature article in the January 2014 issue of O-Scale Railroading (recently published).
I made several visits and with the help of Dan Bigda and Dylan Lambert, I exposed several hundred digital images with three cameras.
For close ups and macro views I used my Lumix LX 3 and my father’s Lumix LX-7, while for telephoto images, I worked with my Canon EOS 7D.
Most of the scenes were artificially lit with hot lamps. I positioned twin Lowel halogen lights on tripods to emulate natural light. Depending on the scene, I worked with blend of direct light with light diffused with photo umbrellas.
Almost all the photographs required long exposures and most were made with the aid of a tripod.
Dan’s layout features some fascinating structures, and I made a special effort to capture these as well as making images of the trains. Also, Dan has a great collection of O scale freight cars and well weathered locomotives.
The layout recreates the setting of New England industrial railroading as it looked from the late 1960s until the early 1980s.
Thinking up new ideas everyday takes a lot of effort, so today, I’ll rely on clichés and old ideas with a new twist to fill the gap.
Back in the day, in the 1980s, I’d wander up to the Boston & Maine at East Deerfield where I’d photograph trains on well-worn rights-of-way led by first and second generation EMDs. I was thrilled to find freight trains on the move!
The poor ‘ol B&M had seen better days. New England had been in industrial decline since World War I. It was my understanding that the old phrase ‘it’s gone south,’—meaning ‘it’s gone to the dogs’—originated when New England’s textile industries began closing and heading to the Carolinas and Georgia. (Never mind Southeast Asia, China and what not).
Guilford Transportation came about and melded Maine Central with B&M and briefly with D&H. For a few years the railroad was really busy. Traffic was on the upswing, new intermodal trains were introduced, and run-through locomotives from D&H, Maine Central, as well as Norfolk & Western/Norfolk Southern became common.
Then a souring passed over the scene. ‘All that glitters is not gold’, as they say (paraphrasing an English poet), and the well-trodden paths to the Hoosac Tunnel and along the Connecticut quieted for a time.
Things changed again with the dissolution of Conrail. Now Guilford is Pan American Railways and Pan Am Southern. Metallic blue paint has begun to replace charcoal and orange. And traffic is on the rise.
Yet to me, while there’s been some changes, the old B&M is a throwback to another time.
Yes, there’s a few new signals, some new welded rail here and there, and some nice fresh ties. Many of the old searchlight signals and signal bridges are gone and here and there the tracks have been trimmed back. But the B&M has the appearance of retro railroad. It’s like classic rock with spin.
Last week, on November 21, 2013, my old friend Paul Goewey and I went up to East Deerfield. It was like old times. First and second generation EMD diesels were moving freight in every direction while decaying vestiges of New England industry could still be found at every turn.
Just sayin’ it seems to me that at the end of the day, it is what it is, and MORE!
I’m often asked, “How do I find trains to photograph?”
The short (and not especially enlightening answer) is that I pay close attention to the railway. (Whichever railway I’m photographing). Here are some basic tips:
1) Always pay attention.
2) Carefully study the details of the operation you wish to photograph: Learn when crews are called, how far they normally work, and what is expected of them en route. How long does it take to make a brake test? How long to make a station stop? How long to make a set-out or pick-up? Where are passing sidings and what are the distances between them. Learn about train weights, locomotive performance, and rates of acceleration and braking. Learn grade profiles and how these can affect train speeds. Find out about slow orders (both temporary and those in the timetable). Keep in mind, a scanner can only help you when you understand the information it provides.
3) Use these details to find out how they may affect when trains run.
4) Learn to distinguish good information from poor information.
5) Never assume anything without good solid information.
6) Don’t assume that everyday is the same (but always learn from the passage of trains, make careful notes as to the times trains pass and how long it takes for them to get between stations, and why.).
7) When interpreting schedules, find out how a specific schedule is to be used by the railway in question.
8) Know what questions to ask, and find the right people to ask.
9) Don’t assume that because someone works for a railroad that they are up to date on operations. Railroaders are like photographers, if three of them answer a question, you’ll get four answers.
10) Don’t expect railroaders to: ‘tell you when the train is coming.’ (see number 9).
11) Remember: on a railway plans will change, trains may be delayed, and no day is ever exactly the same (except in Switzerland).
12) Never assume there isn’t a train coming; you’ll be surprised.
13) When a train passes take the time to learn about it. Was it a regularly scheduled move? Was it an unscheduled extra? Was it running to schedule or was it hours late? Is it scheduled to run daily, three times a week or once a year? IF it runs daily, is it scheduled for the same time every day? If it doesn’t run at the same time, find out why.
14) When nearby a railway always use your ears. LISTEN! One of the best tip-offs that a train is approaching are the sounds it makes. Listen for whistles, engines working upgrade, as well as the sounds of braking, and cars clattering. Listen for switch points being moved or other tips that something may be about to happen.
15) Learn a railroad’s signaling and how its signals are expected to normally work. No two signaling systems are exactly the same. Learn when ‘red’ means a train is coming and ‘green’ means one is not (and vice versa!) Also, when ‘yellow’ means you just missed the train you were hoping to see.
16) Remember, a train is coming (but so is Christmas).
17) Put all of the pieces to puzzle into play.
18) Be patient.
19) Be persistent.
20) Take notes.
21) Accept that everyday is a learning experience.
More on finding Passenger and Freight trains in future posts.
Acting fast, I made the most of an extra move. Earlier in the day, I’d stopped in to Tucker’s Hobbies in Warren, Massachusetts on Friday afternoon October 25, 2013. I was there to visit with Rich Reed who was working the counter.
Back in the day, I’d made many Friday trips to Tucker’s to visit with my old friend Bob Buck, proprietor of the hobby shop (and premier Boston & Albany railroad enthusiast). It’s been a little more than two years since Bob took the final train home, but his spirit still smiles on Warren.
I inquired if Rich had seen much on the mainline (CSX’s former B&A route), which passes within sight of Tucker’s. “No, there’s been nothing except the Lake Shore (Amtrak 449 Boston to Chicago).”
These days, east of Springfield, CSX can be very quiet in daylight. There’s a couple of eastward intermodal trains destined for Worcester (symbol freights Q012 and Q022) that make it over the line in the morning, and recently I’ve occasionally seen trains running to Pan-Am Railways via Worcester and Ayer (Q426 eastbound and Q427 westbound).
Departing Warren for East Brookfield, I turned on my old scanner, just in case.
Driving east on Route 9, I’d just passed the State Police Barracks, when the radio crackled, and I heard a key snippet of information, ‘ . . . clear signal CP64, main to main westbound’ (or something along those lines).
I was just east of milepost 67, and now I knew that train was heading west across the Brookfield flats at milepost 64. But the sun was near the horizon and I had to act quickly if I hoped to make a photograph.
Initially, I thought, ‘I’ll head to the Route 148 Bridge at milepost 67’, but I quickly changed my mind because I realized that the tracks swing slightly to the north before reaching milepost 67, and at the late hour in October, the line might be shadowed. I didn’t want to risk it.
Instead, I pulled off of Route 9, near the old Clam Box road-side restaurant. Here, CSX had cleared the right of way of bushes and trees (during recent upgrading and undercutting work to improve clearances.)
Within a couple of minutes the train came into view. It was an extra westward empty Ethanol train, the first I’d seen in many months on CSX. I exposed several digital photos and made a few images with my father’s Leica M4.
It had been exactly four years to the day, since I made the photos of East Brookfield Station that appeared in my post on October 25, 2013. See: East Brookfield Station, October 25, 2009 Coincidence? Not really. I know the foliage and light angles favor the Brookfields at this time of year.
See tomorrow’s post for action shots at milepost 67.
New England is famous for its autumn foliage. When making railroad photos in the season, are the leaves the subject, the setting or simply background?
On the morning of October 17, 2013, I made a series of photographs of Pan Am Railway’s (Pan Am Southern) westward freight symbol 190ED between Erving and East Deerfield. Leading the train were a pair of SD40-2s in the latest corporate scheme.
I made my way to the former Boston & Maine bridge over the Connecticut River where there was some very colorful foliage in the foreground and background. Incidentally, this is the location of the ‘icon photo’ used to introduce Tracking the Light.
As the freight eased across the bridge, I had ample time to compose several images. Working with my Canon EOS 7D with 40mm lens, I exposed a non-conventional image focused on some foreground foliage, and used a low aperture to deliberately allow the locomotives to be out of focus.
I then changed my focus to the locomotives and bridge and exposed several more conventional images. I also had time to pop off a color slide with my dad’s Leica M4.
I realize that the image focused on the leaves won’t appeal to everyone. But I find it a bit evocative. It’s more about the foliage than the train, yet the train remains the subject. You cannot help but see the engine’s headlights, like evil eyes, peering from beyond the leaves.
As an aside, the lead locomotive interested me. Pan Am 606 is a variation of the SD40-2 produced with a longer than normal short-hood or ‘nose’ to house 1970s-era radio-control equipment. At this point in time this feature is a left over from an earlier time and its original owner. Pan Am neither has a need to use such locomotives in mid-train remote service, nor is the locomotive like to remain so equipped. But it is a visually distinguishing feature that sets it apart from other locomotives on the railroad.
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.
Traveling by special train allows unusual perspectives of otherwise ordinary operations. It allows for images of technological contrasts and angles not normally possible.
The RPSI’s vintage Cravens are ideal rolling platforms from which to make photos because the windows open. Also, since the train travels at more conservative speeds, you have more time to absorb and record the passing scenes.
I’ll often work with a zoom lens and fast shutter speed (1/500th of a second or higher) as to quickly frame an image and stop the action.
Other opportunity for photos are when the train stops for water, to collect or discharge passengers, and other long pauses at station platforms. All of these images were exposed during the The Marble City express excursion on August 25, 2013.
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.
About four miles east of the center of Palmer (Depot Village) CSX’s former Boston & Albany mainline passes a bucolic setting at the bottom of a broad sweeping field as it heads up the Quaboag River Valley. This is best viewed from Route 67, not far east of the split with Route 20.
One summer’s evening more than 30 years ago, my father and I stood out in the field to make a photo of Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited (train 449). Since that time I’ve returned many times to photograph trains.
I’ve paired two sets of images here. The black & white photograph was made on March 15, 1986 (‘Beware the Ides of March!’). The color images I exposed a week ago Sunday (July 14, 2013).
Among the changes to the scene over the years has been an increase in undergrowth. A more dramatic change was the recent installation of a voltaic farm (solar panels) on the northside of the field. This alteration has greatly changed the character of the place.
According to an article in a recent Palmer Journal Register, perimeter fencing may soon encircle the voltaic farm. Undoubtedly this progress will further improve the photographs made here beyond all previous measures of aethetic virtue.
Brand New General Electric Locomotives at a Classic Location.
On the morning of July 9, 2013, I visited State Line Tunnel on CSX’s former Boston & Albany mainline. This is a favorite place to catch trains in action on the line.
The air was heavy with moisture and as a result sound carried exceptionally well. I arrived at my location at 6:48 am. At 6:54, I could hear an eastward train blowing for a crossing near Chatham, New York, approximately 10 miles to the west (as per the timetable). At 6:56, the train reported a ‘clear’ signal aspect over the scanner.
Since the only signal in the area is located at CP 171 (the control point east end of the siding at East Chatham) I knew the train was about to cross the New York State Thruway. I then could trace the progress of the train as it sounded for various crossings in Canaan. By 7:04 am, I could cleared hear the engines working upgrade.
A 7:08, CSX’s intermodal train Q012 came into view. In the lead were three factory-clean General Electric ‘Evolution-Series’ diesel-electrics in the 3100-series (model ES44AC). As modelers might say, ‘right out of the box.’ Nice!
The train roared into the tunnel below me as I exposed a sequence of images with my Canon EOS 7D and 40mm pancake lens. I’d brought a tripod, but opted not to use it, as hand held gave me greater flexibility.
About 40 minutes later, I heard a westward train sounding for Stateline crossing. I relocated, and made images of CSX light engines exiting the west portal of the tunnel.
Until late-1988, this line had directional double track. Since then, just a single main track passes through the tunnel. The railroad uses the 1912-era bore, leaving the older 1840s-era bore void of track.
SERVICE NOTICE: Tracking the Light will soon be undergoing an upgrade which may result in a temporary service disruption of a day or more.
In 2005, SEPTA re-introduced regular streetcar service to its number 15 route along Philadelphia’s Girard Avenue using historic President Conference Committee (PCC) trolley cars. These are painted in the old Philadelphia Transportation Company’s livery, which ads class to the service.
My brother Sean lives just a few blocks from Girard Avenue, and on the afternoon of July 3, 2013, we made a project of photographing the cars in service. While on previous trips we’ve gone for a spin, this time we drove, allowing me to make the maximum number of photos in just a limited time. We’ll take another spin on another day soon!
While SEPTA’s Route 15 seems to run on 10-15 minute intervals, not every service has a PCC. At least one of the runs was provided by a bus. I made an image of this as well because I’ve learned from my study of railways, that it is best to photograph everything and sort out the wheat from the chaff at a later date. (In other words don’t judge your subject).
This trip, I made digital images with my Lumix LX3 and Canon EOS 7D. On previous trips I’ve photographed the Route 15 in black & white using a Leica M4, and made color slides using my Nikons and Canon EOS 3.