In 1997, I still kept one camera loaded with Kodachrome 25.
At the end the day on August 6th during a visit to Vermont, Mike Gardner and I paused at the Bellows Falls station for a few photos.
Working with a Nikon F3T, a 24mm Nikkor wideangle lens, I made this Kodachrome slide of the setting sun reflecting off the rails of the diamond where Green Mountain Railroad crossed New England Central.
There are certain types of lighting siutation where Kodachrome really shined! And this is one of the them.
On October 8, 1992, I made this Kodachrome 25 slide of the old Boston & Maine station building at Woodsville, NH.
Although a relatively subtle quality, notice that the verticals are parallel with the sides of the photo. This was made possible by working with a Nikkor 35mm PC (Perspective Control) lens. This had an adjustible front element used to keep vertical lines from visually falling away from the film plane (when the camera was kept level).
I miss my old PC lens, which I sold in 1997.
The line in front of the Woodsville Station was lifted in the mid-1990s.
It was a lazy late-summer evening in September 1990, when I hiked up to the tunnels at Cape Horn, east of Colfax, California on Southern Pacific’s Donner Pass crossing.
East and westward freights were converging upon me, and I wondered which would reach me first. Listening to my scanner, I knew the down hill train was close, when I hear the eastward freight roaring through Colfax below me, on its approach to Long Ravine.
In this telephoto view, I’m focused on the rear-end helper on the uphill eastward freight.
Working west of Buffalo, New York, my old pal TSH and I paused at Silver Creek between the parallel mainlines operated by Conrail and Norfolk Southern. We were on one of our epic Summer photo journeys.
I made this photo on Professional Kodachrome 25 (PKM) using my recently-purchased Leica M2 rangefinder fitted with f2.0 50mm Summicron lens.
A Conrail freight was rolling eastward along the old New York Central Waterlevel Route.
I was standing under the awning of the disused former Nickel Plate Road freight station that was situated between the two highly polished mains.
Recently, I rediscovered this 33-year old slide in a collection of other photos from the same trip.
Notice how the missing floor boards mimic the pattern of the code line poles partially obscured by the bushes, and also the window pattern on the freight station.
Tracking the Light is a daily blog that explores railroad photography!
This Kodachrome slide has languished in the darkness for 32 years.
I’d followed a westward empty Conrail coal train through New York’s Canisteo Valley on the evening of April 7, 1989.
It had been an overcast day with laden clouds. Yet traffic had been heavy on Conrail’s former Erie Railroad lines in western New York.
At the time Conrail was routing coal empties west from Hornell via the old Erie main line that went through Alfred and Andover, then operated as the Meadville Line.
West of Hornell this route ascended a steep grade that brought heavy trains to a crawl.
In the fading light of that April evening, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide along Canacadea Creek. If I recall correctly, my shutter speed was about 1/30th of a second.
Why such a slow film?
That is what I had in my Leica M, and so I made do.
Here are two versions of the scanned image. The first is scaled but unmodified. The second is a heavily modified image to make the most of the extremes of Kodachrome’s capturing ability while adding drama to the scene.
Working with ripe professional Kodachrome 25 (PKM), I made a series of photos of Norfolk Southern trains traversing the former Nickel Plate Road street trackage on 19th Street in Erie, Pennsylvania.
This was part of a great adventure with my pal TSH in the summer of 1988 that brought us to many fascinating places on the railroad.
Kodachrome was wonderful film, and PKM was among my favorite emulsions, but when used a little on the ripe side (too fresh) it shifted cyan (blue/green).
I scanned this slide the other day using a Nikon Coolscan5000 digital scanner then imported the high-res TIF scan into Adobe Lightroom for adjustment.
Working with the sliders in the program, I made a host of small corrections to color, contrast, and exposure that improve the overall appearance of the photo while minimizing the effects of the cyan color cast.
I’ve included a scaled version of the unaltered scan; my adjusted scan, and one of the Lightroom work windows that shows some of the adjustments that I made during post processing.
I exposed this color slide on a visit to Brussels with my father in May 1996.
I carried two cameras on that trip. My primary body was a Nikon F3T that I bought new from Nikon in 1990. My secondary camera was second hand Nikkormat FTN with an outer covering of red leather. I called it ‘my red Nikkormat’.
Back then, I’d usually load Kodachrome 25 in the F3T, and Fujichrome 100 in the Nikormat. I exposed film in both cameras manually using a handheld Sekonic Studio Deluxe light meter to calculate exposure.
In 1986, my pal TSH and I had been comparing the differences between Kodachrome 25, Kodachrome 64, and Fujichrome 50 slide film.
It was early during this trial period that I made this photo of Central Vermont’s southward freight 562 with Grand Trunk Western 5808 in the lead ascending State Line Hill in Monson, Massachusetts passing the old Zero Manufacturing plant on Bliss Street.
I was very much impressed by the colors in this image when it was returned to me from Kodak, and the appearance of this slide and other K25 images contributed to my decision to adopt this emulsion as my standard slide film.
Note: To get the full picture, you will need to view this post on Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light.
I like to find non-standard angles and unusual perspectives to make common subjects, uncommon.
In April 1989, an Amtrak F40PH leading Amfleet, was about as common as it got.
I’d set up along Conrail’s former New York Central Waterlevel Route at milepost 399, near the School Road grade crossing, east of Batavia, New York.
Working with a Leica M2 with 200mm Telyt prime telephoto attached using a Leica Visoflex and fixed to a Bogen 3021 tripod, I selected a rail-level view.
My angle deliberately forces the eye away from the primary subject. Why do this? The bright Amtrak train already dominates the scene, so by forcing the eye downward it makes for an unusual angle that better captures your attention.
An unwise photo editor, might try to crop the bottom 20 percent of the image in a misguided effort to center the train from top to bottom.
Sadly, photographer’s compositions are too often foiled by less insightful editors.
In July 1995, Sean Graham-White organized for him us to research a story about the Belt Railway of Chicago’s expansive Clearing Yard. We spent two days with the aid of an assistant train master photographing and taking detailed notes.
At the time I was an Associate Editor of Pacific RailNews, and the story appeared in the magazine later that year.
Among the dozens of color slides I exposed was this view showing a collection of antique Electro-Motive diesels.
It was a hot, humid summer’s afternoon, and the light was something less than ideal for Kodachrome.
I’ve scanned and digitally processed this slide to make the most of the image.
This included considerable color correction and contrast adjustment.
Below is the scaled, but unadjusted scan; the Adobe Lightroom work window showing the degree of some adjustments to the original scan, and my final adjusted output.
Often I consider my Kodachrome slides among my finest photographs.
By not always.
In the mid-1990s, Kodachrome went through an unsettled phase and the film didn’t perform as well as it had in the late 1980s early 1990s. The reasons for these changes may be a discussion for another day.
On April 11, 1997, I joined photographers Mike Gardner and George Pitarys on a productive chase of New England Central’s southward freight, number 608.
At Willimantic, Connecticut, I made this photo along the river by some old thread mills (some since demolished).
April light can be challenging. Harsh contrast combined with a yellowish tint from air pollution makes for a raw ‘brassy’ quality that Kodachrome didn’t reproduce well.
I scanned this slide a little while ago and then imported the TIFF file into Adobe Lightroom, which I used to soften the contrast, lighten the shadows and correct the harsh color rendition. See adjusted version below
It isn’t perfect, but then again the lighting on the day wasn’t ideal.
In August 1984, I was on a big solo rail adventure. Among the places I visited by train was Montreal.
My friend Brandon Delaney had recommended Dorval as a place to watch trains. Here, double-track Canadian Pacific and Canadian National mainlines ran parallel to each other and there was a continuous parade of freight and passenger trains.
On August 14th, I traveled out on commuter train from Windsor Station and spent several hours soaking up the action.
Among the trains I photographed was this eastbound VIA RDC set on the CN heading for Central Station.
I’d positioned myself where the codelines crossed from the north-side to the south-side of CN’s line. This was my clever compositional trick that makes for a more interesting photograph by focusing the eye toward a secondary horizon.
Here’s a classic from my Kodachrome file: Southern Pacific SD40T-2 8378 West ascending Beaumont Hill on the Sunset Route at Cabazon, California on January 30, 1994.
I had Kodachrome 25 loaded in my Nikon F3T, which was fitted with an f5.6 Tokina 400mm lens.
My focus point was not on the front of the locomotive, but rather on the searchlight signal to the right of the train. Since the signal was the emphasis of the photo, you may wonder why I didn’t move a little closer to make it appear larger. The reason is simple: I wanted to include the ‘Cabazon’ sign on the signal relay cabinet, which identifies the location and was key to the interlocking.
Just in case you are curious, the second locomotive in the train consist is a Conrail SD40-2.
Boston & Maine was making its image transition to Guilford. While Guildford’s B&M acquisition had occurred a few years earlier, many B&M locomotives still retained their B&M blue paint. This period of transition on the railroad coincided with transitions in the way I made photos.
Here a pair of GP7s was leading the southward EDSP at Keets Road in Deerfield, a short distance south of Deerfield Junction. Notice the small stenciled Guilford ‘G’ on the short-hood of the locomotive.
I’d recently discovered the superior qualities of Kodachrome 25. While very slow, this yielded great color, exceptionally fine grain, and about 2 ½ stops of exposure latitude.
For this slide, I had my Leica IIIA mounted to a Visoflex fitted with my father’s 200mm Leitz Telyt. This seemingly Rube-Goldberg inspired arrangement was klutzy compared with a conventional single lens reflex, it allowed me to use telephoto lenses and gave me an ability to selectively pinpoint my focus. The nature of the Visoflex screen did not encourage focusing on a central point.
As previously described on Tracking the Light, I often use focus to direct the viewers eye in relation to my compositions, while allowing portions of the image to be less than pin sharp, which can produce a pleasing effect too often lost with modern hyper-sharp digital photography. The combination of a long lens with slow film produced endless opportunity for focus experimentation.
On the evening of August 22, 1986, I exposed this pair of Kodachrome 25 slides on the Maine Central’s Rockland Branch at Wiscasset, Maine.
At the time traffic on the branch was almost nil.
I used a 21mm Leica Super Angulon lens which offered a distinct perspective of this rustic scene. My interest was drawn to the two rotting schooners in the westward view, while in the eastward view I was aiming to show the vestiges of the piers for the long defunct Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington 2-foot gauge.
On February 5, 1996, I exposed a series of Kodachrome 25 color slides of New England Central 9529 switching at Palmer, Massachusetts.
The railroad later renumbered its engines from the 9500-series to the 3800-series, but in 2020 a few of its now geriatric GP38s still work the line in the 1995-era Conrail-applied New England Central start-up paint.
25 years in the same blue and yellow scheme. While not a world record, it is still pretty impressive.