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!
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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.
During the long days of July, I made a point of being up and OUT as early as there was light in the sky.
Those trains that go bump in the night in Winter have a bit of light on them in July.
I made this view before 6 am of the New England Central local crossing the Palmer diamond. The popular Steaming Tender restaurant is located in the old Palmer, Massachusetts Union Station station at left.
While on the surface this was a comparison between black & white and color images; in fact it was a more complex comparison between similar photographs.
One clue was the following, “I wonder how many viewers will notice the fundamental difference between the digital photograph and the film images?”
The other major clue was in the title, “Two Takes, Four Views.”
A little background. On May 16, 2017 I made the color photo of New England Central GP38 3809 leading train 608 upgrade. A few days later, I was following the same train with the same locomotive-consist and I had the opportunity to return to Bridge Street and make another image from the same location. Rather than repeat my efforts in color, I opted to make a black & white photograph with my Leica.
The secret: The fundamental difference between the images is that they were exposed on different days.
Thus there are subtle differences in the angle of the camera to the train, the lighting (higher in the B&W photo as a result of being exposed about an hour later), the locomotive exhaust is different (which several viewers commented on), the train consist itself is different (although the locomotives are the same), and in the elapsed days between images the leaves on the trees had grown to obscure more the track in the distance (which is why it is more difficult to see the freight cars in the black & white views).
Admittedly, by comparing color with black & white it was easy to steer many viewers from observing the other, and more subtle, differences between the black & white and color images. I further hid my secret by directing the observer to study variations in tonality between the three variations in the B&W images.
Would you have noticed more quickly if the leading locomotive had been a different engine in the color view?
Tracking the Light Posts Daily
Oh, and by the way, I prefer the color view over the black & white, the light was much nicer.
New England Central’s grade over State Line Hill climbs through Monson, Massachusetts. When I’m in Monson—where I live for part of the year—I can hear the trains as they pass through town.
In recent posts, I’ve focused my cameras on New England Central’s weekday freight, job 608, that runs from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer and back.
In the long days, the present schedule for 608 finds it in a number of classic locations that are well-lit for photography.
I can go after the train on any given morning, as often as I choose, and this allows me the freedom to explore different angles, photographic techniques, and visit locations repeatedly to make more interesting images.
I like to work in black & white and I choose to use traditional film cameras with which I can craft images in the old school. I process the film myself using custom-tailored recipes, and then scan for presentation here.
Why black & white film? First of all it’s not simply monochrome. My black & white photography is the culmination of decades of experimentation. This shouldn’t imply that the photos are inherently better than simple digital snap shots, but infers that I’ve put more thought and energy into achieving my end result.
Here I’ve displayed three variations of a black & white image I exposed using a Leica IIIa with 35mm Nikkor lens at Bridge Street in Monson. I’ve adjusted the contrast and tonal range producing subtle differences in each interpretation. For comparison, I’ve also supplied a similar digital color view that I exposed with my Lumix LX7.
I wonder how many viewers will notice the fundamental difference between the digital photograph and the film image variations?
Years ago I’d ride my ten-speed bicycle to the Stafford Hollow Road Bridge in Monson, Massachusetts. I’d wait for Central Vermont’s freight to New London.
If I was lucky, I’d catch CV working upgrade with GP9s/Alco RS-11 making a healthy roar as they approached Stateline Summit.
On the morning May 31, 2017, I was leaving the Monson Post Office (having just mailed a letter to Ireland) when I heard New England Central 608 (running south from Palmer to Willimantic) tackling the grade in town.
I was surprised to see a Providence & Worcester GP38-2 in the lead. I supposed since New England Central and P&W are now both in the Genesee & Wyoming family it makes sense that the locomotives of these two connecting lines would get a bit mixed up.
Regardless, I knew that this would make for an interesting photograph. Among the places I caught 608 was at my old Stafford Hollow Road location.
My late friend Bob Buck had photographed here since the 1940s and always called the location ‘Smith’s Bridge’. I know he would have been delighted to see these photos of a P&W GP38-2 leading the southward freight.
Using my Canon 7D with a 100-400mm zoom lens, I exposed this view of New England Central 608 approaching Stateline Summit on the Connecticut-Massachusetts boundary.
I selected this perspective to illustrate the undulating grade profile of the former Central Vermont Railway approaching Stateline Summit. The train is crossing the ‘false summit’ while the top of the grade is the rise in tracks near the switch stand.
I’m standing north of the state line looking south; the train is in Connecticut.
While this camera-lens combination doesn’t represent my sharpest equipment, it is useful for photos like this one.
Earlier in the month I’ve highlighted various photographic adventures with New England Central 608 (freight that works from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer and back). Today’s post focuses on the southward journey.
Over the years, I’ve photographed many trains climbing the former Central Vermont Railway grade over State Line Hill, and beyond into Connecticut, so this chase is old hat for me.
Yet, I’m always looking for a new angle, or to place today’s train in a classic setting that I may have captured years ago.
These views are all from the morning of May 17, 2017 and exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Lately, New England Central’s (NECR) Willimantic-Palmer freight 608 has been running on favorable schedule for photography.
If you’ve been following Tracking the Light lately, you might have gleaned the mistaken impression that New England Central’s northward freight can only be photographed hard out of the sun at Stafford Springs, Connecticut.
In fact on its present schedule there are many nicely lit photographs of the northward run between Willington, Connecticut and Palmer, Massachusetts, this time of year.
And, when the crew turns quickly at Palmer, there can be a host of very nicely lit locations in the southward direction.
It helps to know where and when to go. I’ve been at this a while. Back in Central Vermont Railway days (precursor to New England Central) and before I could drive, I’d chase this line on my bicycle. By the time I was 15 I knew all the best angles.
These views are from one productive morning a few weeks ago. More to come!
This time, I processed it using Ilford Perceptol developer diluted 1:1 with water; after fixing and rinsing, negatives were toned in a 1:9 selenium solution for eight minutes, rewashed and scanned.
One small change; in this instance, I gave the film a little more toning than previously, which should make for slightly more silvery highlights. This is a subtle change, and probably barely perceptible on internet presentation.
Compositionally, I’ve made an effort to include the village and not just focus on the locomotives.
I’m by no means done with this project, and I’ll continue to post with more photos and insights over the coming weeks. (Including some color views to please Dave and others morally opposed to black & white).