You’ll need to click on Tracking the Light to see the vintage photo.
On January 25, 2019, Pat Yough and I were aiming to catch New England Central 611 on the Millers Falls high bridge over the Millers River. This stunning 1905 pin-connected deck truss has been one my favorite spans to photograph in Massachusetts.
I made my first photographs of the bridge nearly 33 years ago: On May 14, 1986, I’d followed Central Vermont 447 north from Amherst (where I was enrolled at Hampshire College). The train was running at an abnormal time, which gave me the opportunity to make a late afternoon photo at Millers Falls.
Although I made some nice sun lit photographs on Kodachrome 64 of the CV GP9s and CN M-420 diesel working across the bridges, two problems vexed me and resulted in these slides spending more than three decades in the ‘seconds file’.
As the train rattled across the bridge, a huge flock of pigeons soared in the sky, which at the time ruined the image for me, since many of the birds looked like dark blobs that resembled dust on the emulsion. The other difficulty was more serious.
I was using an old Leitz 50mm collapsible Summitar lens which had a loose front element and had lost its critical sharpness. Although on a small scale the photos made with this lens appear ok, when enlarged they are unacceptably soft. I’ve electronically sharpened the photo here to make it more appealing for internet presentation.
Ultimately, I discontinued the use of the soft lens, but it took me several months before I recognized and accepted the problem, and found funds to rectify it.
After catching New England Central’s local freight at White River Junction (featured in Friday’s Tracking the Light), I figured we had time to zip down I-91 to Brattleboro, Vermont and catch road freight 611 on its run south to Palmer, Massachusetts.
Rolling down Cotton Mill Road, I spied 611 led by five vintage EMD diesels pulling across the causeway south of Brattleboro Yard.
Pat Yough, visiting from Pennsylvania, wanted to try for a photograph at the Junction in East Northfield, on the Vermont-Massachusetts state line, so after a cloudy day photograph near Vernon, we overtook the slow moving freight.
Shortly before the train arrived, the clouds parted for a few moments, and a brilliant ‘sucker hole’ illuminated the tracks.
Working with my 18-135mm zoom lens, I quickly adjusted my composition to make the most of this sunny opportunity. And made several nice sunlit telephoto shots.
By the time the train rolled below us, the clouds had dampened the morning light. Yet, the chase was on . . .
As New England Central 608 approached downtown Stafford Springs on January 14, 2019, I set my Nikon F3 to expose a textured image.
The old buildings adjacent to the tracks are as much of a visual attraction as the train itself.
Working with an f1.8 105mm lens, I exposed three frames of Kodak Tri-X.
To process the film, I used my custom tailored split process, that uses two developers, followed by selenium toning of the fixed negatives. This maximizes the tonality of the film, while giving me glossy highlights. A secondary effect of the toner is the slight lavender hue.
After processing, I scanned the negatives in color using an Epson V750 scanner.
Although Brian is traveling, Tracking the Light still Posts Daily.
In recent months, New England Central’s Willimantic-Palmer freight, job 608, has been largely nocturnal while the railroad undertook a major rehabilitation program.
New rail, ties and crossing protection have been installed. The switches at State Line are improved. And the railroad is in the best shape it’s been in decades.
Monday morning, December 10, 2018, I heard 608 working north through Monson.
That afternoon, I heard the train on its return run. So Pop (Richard J. Solomon) and I headed out to intercept it.
We caught it at both ends of the siding at State Line, then proceeded to Stafford Springs, where I made these views using my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens.
High contrast low December sun proved challenging. To make the most of the light, I applied an external graduated neutral density filter tapered and positioned to hold the sky exposure.
Compare the camera produced JPG file with adjusted RAW images. (There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The JPG reflects a ‘pre-profiled’ camera setting based on Fuji’s Velvia color setting. The RAW’s were adjusted by me to reflect conditions at Stafford Springs.)
In post processing, I worked with camera RAW files by lightened shadows, darkened highlights, and reduced overall contrast while warming color temperature and slightly boosting saturation.
As we departed Stafford, I noticed a better angle to catch the train. Stay tuned!
Clear evening, northward freight, five units and a deck-girder bridge; working with my FujiFilm XT1, I made this broadside view at Three Rivers, Massachusetts of New England Central’s 611 on its return run from Palmer to Brattleboro, Vermont.
My Zeiss 12mm Touit is a special application lens. It’s very wide, very sharp, and free from barrel distortion. However, its necessary to keep the camera level to avoid line convergence as a result of the wide field of view.
A clear sky and low autumn sun begs for photography.
Yesterday, Mike Gardner and I visited Palmer, Massachusetts for lunch at the Steaming Tender, located in the old Union Station, where CSX’s former Boston & Albany crosses New England Central’s former Central Vermont.
Not a wheel turned. So after lunch, I ascertained that New England Central’s 611 was close. Off we went, driving north.
At Three Rivers we saw the freight crawling south through town and hastily set up our photograph.
Nothing fancy; this is just a traditional three-quarter view of a colorful freight in nice afternoon light with late autumn foliage. There’s something satisfying about that.
It was July 6, 2015, three years ago, that Paul Goewey and I photographed New England Central at Springfield Street in Belchertown, Massachusetts.
Our vantage point is from the old Central Massachusetts Railroad right of way—a line that was abandoned in the early 1930s, when Boston & Maine obtained trackage rights over the parallel Central Vermont (now New England Central) line.
The day dawned clear and bright. I spent an hour at CP83 in Palmer making good use of the light. The railroads cooperated and supplied a parade of eastward trains, and these favored the sun for classic views.
I’ve made countless thousands of photos at Palmer, Massachusetts, but it’s always nice to keep the files fresh.
Soon the scene is likely to change since CSX is installing new equipment for its positive train control signaling, and this will likely result in new signal hardware in place of the Conrail-era signals installed during single-tracking in 1986-1987.
Then something unexpected happened, and by shear luck I caught a rare move! Stay tuned for Part 2.
Brian Solomon’s Tracking the Light Posts Every Day.
I rolled down the passenger-side window of my friend’s Golf, and exposed a series of photos with my Lumix.
I’ve described this technique previously; I adjusted the f-stop (aperture control) manually to its smallest opening (f8), my ISO was at its slowest setting (80), and I put the camera to aperture priority.
I intended this combination of settings to automatically select the appropriate shutter speed for ideal exposure, while using the slowest setting to allow for the effect of motion blur.
I kept the camera aimed at the locomotive while allowing for ample foreground to blur by for the effect of speed.
This works especially well to show the large diesel working long-hood forward, which is not its usual position.
Years ago, the view from the road bridge at East Northfield, Massachusetts was more open than it is today.
The trees have grown up making it more challenging to expose photos of trains at the junction between former Boston & Maine and former Central Vermont lines here.
At one time, a century or more ago, B&M’s Conn River route crossed the CV here. B&M’s line continued across the Connecticut River and rejoined the CV at Brattleboro.
Later, the two routes were melded in a paired track arrangement. However, by the time I started photographing here in the 1980s, the B&M route north of East Northfield was no longer functioning as a through line.
On the morning of April 27, 2018, I made this view of New England Central freight 608 led by a former Southern Pacific SD40T-2 ‘tunnel motor’ diesel.
The light was spot on for a series of three quarter views featuring a vintage GRS searchlight signal that protects the junction.
At 8:08 AM on April 27, 2018, New England Central 611 was on the move south from Brattleboro, Vermont.
Bright hazy sunshine made for excellent conditions for photography.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto, I exposed this view looking across the Connecticut River backwater south of Brattleboro yard.
To make the most of this contrasty scene, I imported the Fuji RAW file into Lightroom and made minor adjustments to highlight and shadows to improve the appearance of the image, then slightly boosted saturation to make for a more pleasing photograph.
NECR freight 611 was on the move toward Palmer, Massachusetts and a bright morning on hand, so the chase was on!
On February 3, 1995, Canadian National Railway’s American affiliate Central Vermont Railway ended operations.
Shortly thereafter, the newly created RailTex short line called New England Central assumed operation of the former CV route. Since that time, New England Central became part of Rail America, which was then acquired by Genesee & Wyoming.
Despite these changes, a few of New England Central’s start-up era GP38s are still on the move in the classy blue and yellow livery.
Although exposed more than 30 years apart. This pair of ‘then and now’ photos at Maple Street in Monson, Massachusetts, helps delineate my appreciation for New England Central and Central Vermont.
I made these views of New England Central job 608 working timetable northward at Stafford Spring, Connecticut.
It was about 7:30am, and the sun was just tinting the eastern sky.
Rather than set my camera with ‘auto white balance’ (a typical default setting), I opted to fix the white balance with the ‘daylight’ setting.
Auto white balance arbitrarily selects a neutral color balance and adjusts the balance based on the conditions at hand. This is a useful feature in some situations, such as photography under incandescent lighting, or in situations with mixed lighting, such as in a museum or subway.
However, auto white balance settings have the unfortunate effect of minimizing the colorful effects of sunset and sunrise and so using the ‘daylight’ setting is in my opinion a better alternative.
But there’s really much a more complex problem; the way that digital cameras capture images is completely different to the ways the human eye and brain work in fixing visual stimuli. You could write a book on that!
Tracking the Light Posts Daily!
Tracking the Light Posts Different Photos Every Day!
Here are two views of the same train: led by the same locomotive, at the same location, more or less at the same time of day, exposed using the same camera with the same lens.
Both photos show New Engand Central job 608 led by GP38 3845 working northward in the morning along Plains Road in Willington, Connecticut (south of Stafford Springs).
Photos were exposed digitally using a FujiFilm XT1 with 27mm pancake lens. The slight difference in angle may be attributed to the inconvenience of a mushy snow bank along the road in winter view that was not a problem in the summer.
Too often railway photographers seek ‘calendar lighting’, (over the shoulder three-quarter (morning or afternoon) sun, with a minimum of shadows, diffusion, or other natural lighting effects).
There’s nothing wrong with these classic conditions, but when applied repetitively in exclusion to other types of lighting it can result in a predictable body of work. Formulaic is a term that comes to mind.
Consider cross lighting; when the sun illuminates from an angle opposite the subject, yet not in the photo. This offers bright light on the front of the subject, but shadows on the side creating a more dramatic angle.
This effect can be tempered when the lighting is low, diffused (by clouds, mist or pollution) and/or when bright foreground (such as snow) reflects light into shadow areas.
I made this cross-lit view on the New England Central at Stateline Summit in late afternoon. Notice my use of foreground.
Sun and freshly fallen snow makes for a nice setting.
New England Central job 608 was making its way from Palmer back to Willimantic with about 20 cars of freight.
In the lead was one of the railroad’s original GP38s, still wearing the classic blue and yellow livery that was applied to these locomotives at the time of New England Central’s start-up in 1995.
I made this view at Plains Road south of Stafford, Connecticut.
Although much of the location was shadowed, a shaft of sun on the grade crossing made for photo opportunity with a telephoto lens. I stood back a bit to allow for slight compression effect owing to the longer focal length, and aimed to frame the leading locomotive between the crossing signals.
I set my focus point slightly off-center to hit the locomotive square in the nose.
The combination of snow on the ground, very cold temperatures, and low light make for excellent photographic conditions, if you can bear to be outside.
I exposed this view of New England Central 3476 shortly after sunset in Palmer, Massachusetts.
The snow reflects light from below, thus providing greater illumination of shadow areas that under ordinary conditions would be underexposed at this time of day.
Cold temperatures and clear overhead conditions result in a inversion effect, which traps particulates and other airborne impurities that acts as a light filter resulting in a scene with more red and magenta spectrum than normal.
This effect is intensified at sunset because the sunlight has to pass through much greater amounts of polluted atmosphere because of its relative angle to the ground.
To make the most of these lighting conditions, it helps to set the camera white balance to ‘daylight’, since ‘auto white balance’ while tend to cancel out the effect of the rosy lighting conditions.
So often I’ve heard the following lament, “I saw that once but I didn’t take a photo.”
The other day I was on my way to get a haircut when I passed under New England Central’s 611 departing Palmer, Massachusetts for Brattleboro, Vermont.
The weather was poor, the lighting bland and I had an agenda of things to attend to.
But I had my Lumix LX7 handy and I went after 611 anyway!
My head-on views were not worth describing here. Not today anyway. However, I like this trailing view at Barretts, Massachusetts of New England Central 721, still in Union Pacific paint (but with NECR lettering).
This captures some of the drama of the accelerating freight and makes reasonably good use of the lighting. Afterwards I resumed my mission to get a hair cut.
My point? Whenever possible, regardless of the weather and other things to do, I take the time to make photographs; of railroads and whatever else catches my interest.
I wanted to write, ‘why sometimes winter is better.’ Except this is a late autumn photo. (If you accept that the Winter Solstice is the defining date for the beginning of Winter.).
On December 6, 2017, Paul Goewey and I arrived at Depot Road in Leverett, Massachusetts several minutes ahead of the southward New England Central road freight, job 611 from Brattleboro.
I was interested in exploring this angle looking toward the rock cut immediately north of the old station location.
I’ve made a number of views from the old station area in summer, when the cutting tends to be obscured by brush and harshly shadowed.
And that’s why sometimes Winter (or late autumn) is better. The lack of foliage combined with diffused light opens up numerous photo possibilities that are impractical when the trees are leafed out and underbrush is thick.
Since Genesee & Wyoming took over Rail America, gradually the fleets of diesels operated by the component railways have been repainted into G&W’s corporate livery of orange and black with yellow highlights.
This traditional paint scheme had been used by the original G&W short line railroad for decades.
Here I’ve put the brightly colored diesels in scene that makes the most of the scheme.
New England Central 611 is southbound at Northfield, Massachusetts with locomotive 3475 in the lead. A cloud has briefly diffused the morning sun.
To make the most of the lighting and the scene, I made this telephoto view looking down a road, visually placing the orange and black locomotive in front of a yellow house.
The dominance of orange and yellow for the primary subjects works well in the late autumnal scene, as these colors mimic the muted foliage and grasses associated with the season.
Picking the best exposure is an important part of photography.
Today with modern metering, computer guided exposure aids (program modes) and automatic lenses, most photographers don’t spend a lot of time worrying about exposure details.
It might surprise some Tracking the Light readers that in most instances I set my exposures manually, and I only use camera metering in an advisory capacity (In other words I look at the camera meter but don’t necessarily accept its advice).
While I often use my Lumix LX7 in ‘A’ mode, I routinely over-ride the camera’s exposure advice using manual controls. With my FujiFilm XT1 and Canon digital cameras (and film cameras), I almost always set my exposure manually.
Last week, working with my FujiFilm XT1 I made these views of New England Central freight 611 working south of Brattleboro, Vermont. The stunning scenic setting of the Connecticut River backwater combined with dramatic morning cross-lighting and a dark background makes for an excellent illustration of a difficult lighting situation.
Here, many camera automatic modes might grossly overexpose the scene in a misguided attempt to compensate for the dark background.
I’ve metered manually and gauged exposure using the camera’s histogram (set up to show the distribution of pixels in regards to exposure.) I’ve offered two variations here, exposed 1 full stop apart.
A ‘stop’ is a standard increment of exposure. The amount of light reaching the sensor or film doubles/halves with each change of one stop. So going from an aperture setting of f4 to f5.6 (one stop) cuts the light by half. Likewise, a shutter speed change from 1/250 to 1/500 will also cut the amount of light by half.
The darker image was exposed at f5.6 at 1/400th of a second at ISO 400; while the lighter image was exposed at f4 at 1/400th of a second at ISO 400. (In other words the only the aperture setting was changed.)
Both exposures are acceptable, but you may have a preference for one versus the other. The photos here have not been altered for density, color balance or color temperature in post processing; both are scaled versions of the camera produced JPGs.
Last week I made this digital portrait of New England Central 3476 using my FujiFilm XT1 with f2.0 90mm lens.
Soft cross lighting combined with a wide aperture made for pleasing photographic conditions to picture this engine against a backdrop of Vermont colorful autumn trees and distant New Hampshire hills.
The locomotive was working New England Central’s Brattleboro (Vermont) to Palmer (Massachusetts) turn freight, job 611, and was among many images I exposed that day.
This old EMD-built locomotive has a long history, having worked for Southern Pacific and Union Pacific before coming east to New England. I wonder if I crossed paths with it up on Donner Pass, in the Tehachapis, or on former Rio Grande lines in Colorado and Utah?
A side-benefit for me of transatlantic jet lag is that I’m wide awake for sunrise.
The other day, I drove to Stafford Springs, Connecticut as the sun was rising.
Typically New England Central 608 passes the village between 7 and 730 am. On this day it appeared about 724 am.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Tuoit lens, I made a series of images of the freight passing.
I carefully exposed my RAW files to retain some sky detail, intending to adjust exposure, contrast and color in post processing.
It would be fallacious to suggest that the RAW file represents reality. It doesn’t.
It is important to understand that the camera RAW file is an equivalent of a ‘negative’ in film photography. The RAW file simply represents the raw data as captured by the camera sensor. This data requires interpretation to produce an image that resembled what the human brain perceives.
I made a series of small adjustments to highlights, shadows, color temperature, and color balance, while working with masks in the sky to control detail and color.
My only regret is that my graduated neutral density filters were still packed away in my luggage, as these would have been useful in this situation by allowing for improved sky detail by effectively selective expanding the dynamic capture of the sensor.
I’ve included both the RAW file (scaled for internet) and my interpreted post-processed JPG. To give hints as to what I’ve done, I’ve also included screen shots of the Lightroom work windows.