On this visit to Mine Dock Park along New York’s Hudson River, I focused on a southward CSX doublestack container train. In the wide-angle view I made use of ice floes in the river as a compositional aid.
A couple of weeks ago, I made these views from a public overlook of the Palisades Parkway that show the former New York Central electrified Hudson Division at Spuyten Duyvil.
The sun was rising through a thick layer of urban pollution with made for a stunning red-orange glow.
My challenge was balancing the light so that the train running along the river wouldn’t completely disappear into the background.
Below are four variations. I’m displaying two photo files, one made with an external Lee 0.9 graduated neutral density filter. The others were made without the external filter, with one of the two images adjusted digitally using Lightroom with a simulated graduated filter.
I’ll explain each in the captions, but let you draw your own conclusions.
More than 30 years ago I admired New York Central System’s company photographs made by Ed Nowak from the elevated location above the Breakneck Ridge tunnels.
Over the years I’ve made many images from Breakneck Ridge. A couple of weeks ago, I made this view using my old Leica 3A with 35mm Nikkor lens.
There’s something about black & white film that has a timeless quality: Old, but new; traditional, reliable and comforting. Use of an antique camera-lens combination contributes to the nostalgic view point.
This frame was exposed on Ilford HP5, then processed in Kodak D76 (stock solution mixed 1-1 with water) for 9 minutes at 68F. Key to the tonality of the image is my ‘secret step’—a presoak water bath with a drop of Kodak HC110 in it.
The idea behind the water bath with a drop of developer in it is this: presoaking the film allows the gelatin to swell before encountering developer at full strength, while the very dilute amount of developer allows the chemical reaction to begin working before the primary development cycle. Since the developer is extremely dilute (and thus rapidly exhausted) the shadow areas receive proportionally greater development than highlight regions during this phase.
The sun was just rising over Bear Mountain, when I arrived at Mine Dock Park located on the west shore of the Hudson near Fort Montgomery, New York.
I set up on CSX’s River Line, historically New York Central’s ‘West Shore’ route. At first the signals were all red. Then after a bit the northward signal cleared to ‘medium approach.’
I concluded that a northward train would be taking the siding, thus in all likelihood it would be making a meet with a southward train. I secured an elevated view from the rock cutting north of the public crossing.
About 45 minutes elapsed and then a northward train took the siding as signaled. Six minutes later, this southward CSX autorack freight came gliding down river. I exposed a series of digital images with my Lumix LX7. The sun was perfect and the late autumn foliage on the trees made an already picturesque scene even better.
Nothing tricky or complicated here; it was just a matter of being in the right place for the action and paying attention to the signals.
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Back on October 30, 1999, Mike Gardner and I were on photographic expedition of the lower Hudson Valley. We were set up near Fort Montgomery on the west side of the river waiting for a northward CSX freight.
As is often the case on the Hudson, the action often seems to be on the far side of the river, regardless of which side you’re set up at.
Using my Nikon N90S with 80-200mm Nikkor zoom, I exposed this image of a Metro-North train working the old Hudson Line and framed it with a central portion of the famous Bear Mountain Bridge.
Which element has the greatest interest? The passenger train, the Hudson, or the disembodied bridge span?
It helps to have good timing.On the afternoon of January 20, 2015, I arrived at the Mine Dock Road grade crossing on CSX’s former New York Central West Shore Route (now called ‘CSX’s River Line’) This was at just the right time.
I found a location, and as I took my camera out the bag, I could hear a train approaching. This turned out to be a southward crude oil extra led by BNSF Railway 7500 in the lead. I had just enough time to change lenses, make a test exposure, before it got close enough to properly photograph.
When this train passed, the home signal located beyond the rock cut cleared to ‘approach’ (yellow-over-red-over-red), telling me there was a northward train lined, but that this would need to stop at the next signal. This was a pretty good sign that there might be a meet.
Over the next hour, I photographed three more freight trains on the old West Shore, two northbound CSX freights, followed by a southward ethanol extra led by a pair of Canadian Pacific General Electric diesels.
In addition, I made use of my telephoto lenses to photograph passenger trains working the old New York Central Hudson Division on the east bank of the river.
While I was just lucky, it helps to be able to interpret the signals and have a keen ear for trains. My scanner might have helped me too, if I’d plugged in the correct frequencies. Or it might have distracted me. As it was I did well by sitting tight and waiting out the parade.
Mike Gardner and I were enjoying a trip along the Hudson River on June 27, 1997.
This photo really says ‘1990s’ to me. A clean Conrail SD60I leads intermodal freight TVLA (New Jersey to Los Angeles) with a long line of piggyback trailers. I exposed it on Fujichrome slide film using my Nikon N90S with 80-200 zoom lens.
This lens/film combination had a color balance and contrast that I associate with my mid-1990s photography. On the down side, used of a telephoto zoom-lens and Fuji film resulted in bright headlights and ditch-lights appearing as ill-defined blobs.
I embraced the convenience and versatility of the N90S and zoom lens with 100 speed filem, which was easier and faster than my old prime lenses with Kodachrome, but I sacrificed quality.
At that stage I was still carry my Nikon F3T with Kodachrome. But following a string of processing disasters that summer, I largely phased out Kodachrome in favor of Fuji. Sometimes there’s no perfect solution, and some sort compromise is necessary.
Amtrak Turbotrain Races Southward Along the Hudson
I made this view from a hiking trail on Breakneck Ridge along the Hudson River in August 1989. At the time my standard camera was a Leica M2 that I tended to use with Kodachrome 25. Turbotrains were standard equipment on Amtrak’s Empire Corridor trains making for common sights along the Hudson.
While common on this route, Amtrak’s Turbotrains were an anomaly in American operating practice, making them an unusual and worthy subject for photography. These reminded me of the original streamlined trains of the 1930s such as Burlington’s Zephyrs, Illinois Central’s Green Diamond, and New Haven Railroad’s Comet.
Today I’m happy to have a nice selection of these trains at work, but I regret not having traveled on them. I was always puzzled when my fellow photographers opted not to make photos of them. Perhaps Turbotrains seemed too common?
On Friday, May 17, 2013, John Pickett and I went for lunch at the Riverview Cafeat Stuyvesant, New York. This is one of John’s favorite places to eat, as it offers a view of both the former New York Central Water Level Route and the Hudson River, and sits a short walk from the old Stuyvesant railway station.
I was visiting John to review some black & white negatives for upcoming book projects. John has a wonderful collection of steam-era photographs, many that he exposed with his own lens, and I’ve published a number of these in recent books, including North American Locomotives published by Voyageur Press.
I enjoy perusing John’s files and finding hidden gems among his images.
One of the photos he made shows a New York Central streamlined J3a Hudson racing west through Palentine Bridge in 1946. John grew up in Canajoharie on the opposite side of the Mohawk River from Palentine Bridge and he has great memories of watching trains in the glory days of the New York Central.
Before we sat down for lunch, John consulted his Amtrak schedule and worked out the times for train 238 running south from Albany and train 281working north from New York City. It was a toss up as he figured they were both due about the same time. ‘How exciting! I wonder which will get here first?’
As it turned out, 238 came first, but rolled through at a crawl. Soon after it passed us, we could here 281 blasting north. John passed the train a friendly wave, and, to our delight, we saw that it had a classic New York Central round-end observation at the back! ‘That was Babbling Brook!’. Neat to see a vestige of the Great Steel Fleet (what New York Central called its Water Level route passenger service) still rolling along at speed.
On March 30, 2012, a northward CSX auto rack train passes beneath the Bear Mountain Bridge near Fort Montgomery, New York, on its way up the Hudson River. This afternoon image was exposed with my electronic Lumix LX-3. This is the in-camera jpeg, made with the ‘vivid’ color profile with the camera set in the ‘S’ (shutter priority) mode using pattern metering. It was exposed at 1/640 of a second at f 5.0.
Technique: Bring This Camera Everywhere!
I’m a big proponent of always carrying a camera. And as I’ve written elsewhere, ‘If you don’t have a camera, you can’t make a photo.’ As soon as you let this guideline slip, a unique visual opportunity will occur and you won’t be able to capture it. A caveat is: always carry a good camera (why lessen the magic of a unique event with a poor quality photo?). My father had given me an antique Leica IIIa for my tenth birthday and I carried it everywhere and made photos of everything. When I was in school I was ‘the kid with the camera.’ While many of those photos aren’t very good, the point is that I was always ready —constantly going through the motions of making photos taught me how to work under numerous lighting situations. I never relegated my photography to ‘perfect sunny days.’
Over the years my philosophy has resulted in towing around various and different amounts of equipment. Constantly carrying a film-based SLR with a full set of lenses really was pretty awkward, not to mention the big bag of film! It’s one thing to have a camera, it’s another to try to anticipate every possible situation all the time. Beginning in 2001, my ‘everywhere camera’ was a Contax G2 range finder, which had its benefits, but was comparatively heavy, and while it came with interchangeable lenses, these tended to fill my pockets.
In summer of 2009, my digital guru Eric Rosenthal lent me a Panasonic DMC LX-3; I was immediately convinced of its merits and bought one. Since then I’ve made great use of it, and I feel it is as near as perfect an ‘everywhere camera’ as I’ve ever owned. The LX-3 has a variety of kin, including the newer LX-5, as well as the almost identical Leica D-Lux3/4/5 models, with newer models recently introduced. I’ve only used the LX-3, and I’m not intending to compare my camera with the gamut of similar models or its competitors available to photographers today. Rather, I describe its pros and cons, and how this tool has benefited my photography.
The LX-3 offers several key qualities that have allowed me to make numerous excellent photographs: it’s compact, versatile, flexible, fast, durable, and offers exceptionally high quality images for its relatively small size. I can bring it just about everywhere (within reason), and with it I have a dependable tool to make photos. Three of my principle objections to many small. ‘snapshot-style’ cameras are their low-quality optics, an inability to operate the camera manually, and an unavoidable delay from the time the shutter-button is pressed to the time the shutter opens. With the LX-3, not only I can get around all of these problems, but I get performance that rivals that of much larger camera systems.
The LX-3 is equipped with a great lens — a Leica Vario-Summicron f2.0-2.8/5.1-12.8 [mm] ASPH, which is extremely sharp, fast, and offers a nice color palate. While the LX-3 has a variety of modes, it has manual capabilities that allow me to set shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and focus settings (although manual focusing is awkward). Furthermore, when automatic settings are used, these allow for a degree of manual override including the ability to change metering modes and make adjustments with exposure compensation. The degree of delay varies depending on how the camera is set; when the LX-3 is used as a fully automatic camera, or allowed to ‘sleep’ between exposures, there is an objectionable delay. However, when operated manually, setting focus and exposures using the toggle switch, and leaving it ‘queued up’ and ready to go, exposure can be made virtually instantaneously. I’ve used my LX-3 set at 1/2000th of a second to capture a German ICE-3 gliding along at more than 160 mph—no easy feat even with an SLR. If you ever want that ‘deer in the headlights’ feeling, try photographing a truly high-speed train full frame with a standard lens (and no 10 frames-per-second motor drive!).
I’ve found several failings with the LX-3. It lacks a built-in view finder. While there is a separate viewfinder attachment, I’ve shied away from this for two reasons: it’s relatively expensive, and I’ll surely lose it. So while in most situations the window at the back of the camera works reasonably well, it suffers in bright daylight, and I don’t like to stand around with the camera at arms length trying to compose an image. While other models have longer zooms, the LX-3’s range is limited to a view roughly equivalent to 28-65mm on a traditional 35mm film camera. This ranges suits about 85 percent of my requirements, while having the side effect of taking away the ‘telephoto crutch’, which forces me to work with more conventional focal lengths. The battery life on the LX-3 is poor, so as a result I carry three or four batteries with me, especially in cold weather. On a busy day, I can easily tap through three batteries.
Another flaw is slow cycle time, which is partly a function of how I’ve set up the camera. I expose both a RAW and large JPG file simultaneously. While jpegs suit most of my requirements, I’m not just taking photos for today, and I’m uncomfortable with long-term storage problems and compression qualities inherent to JPG format. Furthermore, RAW files offer considerably more data, and this can be valuable both for publication and situations where post processing manipulations are necessary (both topics for another day). But, I’ve made prints from in-camera jpegs up to 13×19 inches that are fantastically sharp and colorful (including the photo displayed here). And I’ve used LX-3 jpegs in books and magazines.
The LX-3 also offers a variety of in-camera color profiles with various color palates and saturation levels; while these are strictly applied to the jpegs, they allow for added creativity when composing images. It has an excellent image stabilizer, which allows for very slow shutter speeds hand-held, and can be switched off when necessary. Another distinctive tool is the ability to control the aspect ratio (external dimensions) in camera; its four standard ratios range from a square to 16:9. In addition, there are myriad controls that enable a high-degree of customization for both user convenience and file output.
Control, flexibility, and high quality are the prized qualities that sold me on the camera. The LX-3 may appear as a snapshot camera to the unknowing observer but it offers most of the control and quality that I’d expect from a high-end SLR. My intended purpose for LX-3 was as a ‘everywhere camera’ to be carried when I wasn’t carrying my full camera kit, but it soon developed into my staple tool for railway photography, as well as urban adventures and other projects. Later installments of Tracking the Light will highlight images made with the LX-3, to demonstrate its abilities as a high quality image making machine.