A significant portion of Porto’s modern light rail Metro system is built on the right of way of an historic narrow gauge network.
In March 2019, photographer Denis McCabe and I visited the old station at Senhora da Hora in suburban Porto. The station building an a water tower survive, providing visual clues of operations from former times.
Tracking the Light is on ‘auto pilot’ while Brian is traveling.
I’m not talking about surreptitiously documenting nefarious underworld dealings of Sicilian criminals, but rather the trains and operations of Switzerland’s Montreux-Oberland-Bernois railway line.
This narrow gauge line famously operates via the Golden Pass route offering hourly long distance trains as well as local services to communities along its lines.
In April, it was among the routes that Denis McCabe and I explored.
We were fortunate to have clear blue skies, which when combined with stunning Alpine scenery makes for great photographic possibilities.
I’d researched a variety of potential locations, and opted to photograph around Gstaad and Gruben, where open Alpine meadows, tall bridges, and distant mountain peaks made for great settings.
Traveling to Gstaad, we hoped off a train that had 14-minute pause in its schedule, and on the recommendation of photographer Barry Carse, immediately set out to find the high viaduct beyond the station.
We found it easily enough, and went charging up a steep slope to position ourselves above the bridge, only to find there was a well-established trail already there! This made getting back to the station much easier.
Here’s a small sample of my digital efforts at Gstaad. My primary focus was exposing color slide film with my Nikon; and those images are en route to the lab now.
Tracking the Light aims to publishing new material each and every day.
Bord na Mona (Irish peat board) operates an extensive network of narrow gauge industrial railways in the Irish midlands.
It has been nearly two years since I last explored this fascinating diminutive railway in action.
It helps to have the sun to photograph Bord na Mona, as the bog can be outright dreary on a dull wet day.
The sun seemed to have emerged from the lingering blanket of dampness that lately has prevailed across Ireland, so Denis McCabe and I made a foray to Shannonbridge, County Offaly location of the busiest Bord na Mona railway operation.
Bord na Mona trains come clattering along, often running in pairs or groups, but patience is often needed to find trains on the move.
Check out Tracking the Light’s archives for previous posts on the Bord na Mona.
Below are two versions of an image I made of a Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn narrow-gauge train engaging the Abt rack system on its steep ascent from Göschenen to Andermatt.
These were made with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera on my visit to the Alps with Stephen Hirsch, Gerry Conmy and Denis McCabe in mid April 2016.
The first is the unadjusted (except for scaling) Jpg produced in camera. Notice that the sky is washed out and lacking in detail.
The second image is a Jpg that I produced from the camera RAW file by making nominal contrast and saturation adjustments in Lightroom.
The aim of the second image was to hold the sky and highlight detail that was lost by the camera Jpg. This demonstrates the ability of the RAW file to retain greater detail than the Jpg.
Instead of using an external graduated neutral density filter, as I had with some previous images displayed on Tracking the Light, I used the equivalent graduated neutral density filter in the Lightroom program.
Why not use the external filter in this situation? Two reasons:
The external filter is cumbersome and takes time to set up.
I wanted to improve the appearance of the sky without darkening the mountains. Using the electronic filter gives me the ability to selectively control highlights and shadows in the graduated area selected by the filter, while the external graduated filter would have covered the top of the image and darkened the mountains as well as the sky.
Both are valuable tools for improving a photograph.
It may surprise some readers, but the full moon provides the same light color balance as the sun, just at a significantly lower intensity.
This is one of the many differences between the way a human eye interprets a scene and a photographic image.
Where to the eye moonlight—even the full moon, appears dark, a camera can capture a moonlit scene so that it has the same color and illumination ratios as daylight. The difference isn’t with the scene, it is with our perception of it.
Complicating matters are the ways cameras collect light. Back when I used Kodachrome 25, very long time exposures rarely turned out as I hope they would. The film’s ISO rating in very low light was irrelevant.
The primary reason for this condition was a combination of the film’s long reciprocity curve and its very poor sensitivity in extremely low light. Essentially in moonlight, the film lost its effective sensitivity.
Basically this meant that Kodachrome was optimized for daylight situations and its ratio of sensitivity was not proportional in very low light (and effectively lost its ability to record images). So, when I left the shutter open for hours in moonlight, the film was incapable of recording an accurate image.
Even when I’d calculated the theoretical correct exposure. All I’d get back from the lab was a fairly dark slide with a few overexposed specular highlights (bright spots). Not very inspiring.
In the mid-1990s, Mel Patrick encouraged me to experiment with Fuji Provia 100F in moonlight. This was a modern film. Not only was it vastly more sensitive in low light, but it provided a much better color rendition in night situations. While the film still suffered from the reciprocity effect, I found it possible to calculate and compensate for this failing.
Yet, even with this improved film, moonlight exposures still required very long exposures, sometimes up to an hour or more.
Mel had made some outstanding railway landscapes by moonlight, and I tried to emulate his successes.
A difficulty was finding situations where there was virtually no man made light, since mercury, sodium, and incandescent lights not only tend to be much brighter than moonlight, but cause objectionable color casts and harsh contrast (a topic for another day).
While there are relatively few places in the eastern United States that are completely free from man-made light (even in the wee hours), in the West, clear open skies (and a dearth of population and objectionable light) abound.
I made this image at the summit of Cumbres Pass, Colorado in September 1998. My car and my tent can be seen in the distance. I don’t recall offhand, but my exposure was about 40 minutes at f2.8 using a Nikon F3T with Nikkor 24mm lens. My camera was firmly mounted on a Bogen tripod.
Today’s Tracking the Light displays two images exposed about a year apart from the same overhead bridge near Orbisonia, Pennsylvania.
In both instances I’m photographing the first train of the morning working upgrade away from Orbisonia station using a telephoto lens.
Although the location and time of year, and overall scene are similar, I’ve produced two different images, owing to slight differences in my angle and the lighting, as well as the position of the locomotive and its exhaust smoke. In addition I was using different camara-lens combinations.
Subtle changes can result in significantly different photos.
Last week, Mark Healy and I made a foray into Irish bog lands searching for narrow gauge peat trains operated by Bord na Móna (Peat Board). We’d been watching the weather closely and tried to time our visit for a bright clear day.
We got it wrong. Despite a rosy sunrise in Dublin and generally good forecast, we faced fog, cloudy and just general overcast in County Offaly.
After more than a half dozen visits to this rarely photographed industrial railway, I thought I was beginning to have an understanding of their operations.
I got that wrong too! While, we’d photographed a dozen trains by the end of the day, actual operations were quite different than what I expected.
Initially we worked the lines radiating out from Shannonbridge. Our first train was the ever-elusive ash train. That was a bonus for us. After about five hours, having photographed several loaded and empty trains, we decided to head east toward Edenderry, which is the focus of another of Bord na Móna’s networks.
On the way we stumbled upon an obscure Bord na Mónaoperation. Driving east on highway R357 east of Cloghan, Mark noticed a level crossing. “Hey! There’s a pair of trains.” I mistook these for trains heading to Shannonbridge
My error was corrected when we chatted to one of the drivers. Turns out these were empty trains heading out loading to bring peat to the Derrinlough briquette factory. Just dumb luck to catch this operation.
We finished the day inspecting operations near Mt Lucas and Edenderry. Pity about the lack of sun.
I’ve dealt with Bord na Móna several times in previous posts.
Summer offers more pleasant temperatures and longer days, but also brings more foliage, taller grass and other challenges that I didn’t experience in February!
I think its safe to say that I didn’t get bored with Bord na Mona. From the first moment trackside, the railway seemed to be buzzing with trains. The section of double track running east from Lanesborough toward Mountdillon was especially busy.
I even had another opportunity to catch one of the ash trains on the move. (See: Bord na Mona’s Ash Train). Perhaps my bold proclamation of its elusivity has tipped the scales in my favor—a sort of reverse jinx, as it were.
Or maybe, its my persistence. It’s nice to get a lucky catch, but likewise, the more time spent trackside, the better the odds of seeing the unusual, as well as the elusive, the rare, and the obscure. Having a better sense for when trains run helps too!
For me anyway! On Saturday, August 3, 2013, I scored a few photographs of Bord na Mona’s ash train on the move near Shannonbridge, County Offaly. (Yes, and by the way, that’s ash train, and not ASH TRAY. Just to clarify.)
Now, someone at Bord na Mona might read this and say, “Elusive ash train? Why that’s scheduled to run every day at 2 pm.” Or, perhaps, it is scheduled to run every third Saturday after the first full moon on months that don’t end in ‘R’. (But, none-the-less, scheduled).
Irregardless, so far as I was concerned, photographing the ash train on the move was a real coup! In the last year, I’ve made a half dozen ventures to photograph Bord na Mona’s narrow gauge lines, this was the first time I’d seen an ash train on the move. Certainly, I’ve seen them before, just not rolling along out on the road.
Yet, I’d call it elusive! It’s all a matter of perspective. More on elusive (or at least unusual trains) in future posts.
Incidentally, unlike elusive trains, Tracking the Light regularly posts new material almost every day! So, to use an obsolete cliché, stay tuned!
In a follow up to yesterday’s post, here’s a few more images from my early August adventure with Ireland’s Bord na Mona narrow gauge. I was working with three cameras: my Lumix LX3, my Canon EOS 7D digital SLR (single lens reflex) and my Canon EOS 3 35mm SLR.
Since it will be a while before the slides are processed, all the images here are from the digital cameras.
I’ve found my visits to photograph the Bord na Mona railways exceptionally rewarding and productive and I look forward to more photography trips in coming months.
It was fifteen years ago that I made my first acquaintance with Ireland’s bog railway, a narrow gauge network operated by Bord na Mona (peat board). At that time, a tourist train run as the Clonmacnoise & West Offaly made regularly scheduled trips from the Blackwater depot near Shannonbridge in County Offaly.
As I recall, it was an oppressively damp day. Having arrived under swollen skies, I checked in at the booking office, skeptical if the line was even in operation, only to learn that not only was it running, but that the first couple of trains were sold out!
Using the time between tourist trains, I made some black & white photos of the peat trains, then returned to ride the line.
On another occasion two years later, I returned with my father, and family friend Tom Hargadon, and made another spin out on the bog. Since that time, the Clonmacnoise & West Offaly excursion has been discontinued.
A Busy Irish Narrow Gauge Industrial Railway.
In early August 2013, I reacquainted myself with Bord na Mona’s Blackwater network, having explored other of Bord na Mona’s railway operations in recent months. See earlier posts:
Blackwater is from my experience, by far the busiest of Bord na Mona’s operations, as the West Offaly power station at Shannon Bridge has the most voracious appetite of the peat burning plants served by Bord na Mona narrow gauge railways. Quite simply there were trains crawling everywhere I went.
The day featured a rapidly changing sky. This made for some wonderful lighting and visual effects, but also resulted in me getting unexpectedly soaked when the sky suddenly opened up. One minute it was sunny, the next there was near horizontal rain! On my next visit I’ll bring plastic bags and a jumper!
See tomorrow’s post for more Irish Bog Railway photos!