Thursday evening, Kris and I took a drive up to the former Grand Trunk Railway route, operated by Genesee & Wyoming’s St Lawrence & Atlantic. We caught up with photographer Andrew Dale, and drove east to West Paris, Maine intercept the westward road freight 393.
A mix of old and new camera technologies allowed me to push the envelope of railroad night photography.
I attached my old Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens (which I retreived from storage in Dublin last month) to my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera. This is a ‘fast’ lens, and a full stop and third faster than my 70-200mm Z-series zoom.
Working with a mix of street lighting and a hint of dusk in the sky, I made a hand held pan photo of the lead locomotive crossing West Paris’s Main Street.
I bumped the camera ISO to 40,000, and set the 105mm to f1.8, this allowed me a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second. I set the shutter speed, aperture and focus manually.
Last night Conway Scenic Railroad operated its annual Firecracker Expresses to carry spectators from Conway to North Conway for a patriotic fireworks display.
Although it had been raining all afternoon, the sky cleared off at sunset, and the fireworks went ahead as scheduled, beginning just after 930pm.
As part of of my role as Conway Scenic’s Manager of Marketing & Events, I helped organize our special trains and their promotion. Several hundred people rode the trains which operated as advertised.
My Fiancé Kris Sabbatino and I traveled on the Firecracker Express to North Conway and made photos of the railroad’s iconic station and the explosive displays.
It was an excellent event.
Working with my Nikon Z6 Mirrorless digital camera mounted on my antique Bogen tripod, I made a variety of time-exposures.
Years ago I’d photographed fireworks using color slide film. I realized that I hadn’t done this in a long time and this was my first serious effort to capture a fireworks display digitally. I was a bit rusty at getting my timing right, but after missing a few of the loud bangs in the sky, I managed to refine my technique.
Working with the camera at ISO 200, my exposure times ranged from 4 seconds to 30 seconds, while I varied my f-stop between 4.0 and f11.
In general, I found I obtained my most satisfactory results at about 10 seconds at approximately f8.
After exposure, I imported the camera’s RAW NEF files into Adobe Lightroom for contrast and color adjustment. Through this technique I was able to improve the sky detail and balance the appearance of the images to reflect the scene more closely as I saw it. The benefit of the Nikon Z6 is its sensor’s exceptional dynamic range.
Here’s another of my photos at dusk from our pursuit of St. Lawrence & Atlantic’s westward freight 393 last week. Kris and I were positioned along the south shore of the Reflection Pond near Gorham, NH.
My tripod was occupied holding my Canon EOS-3 during a 30 second time exposure. This film photo remains latent at this writing.
While the Canon was exposing film, I made a few hand held photos with my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Touit with the ISO set at 5,000.
These are two of the 1/2 second exposures that night.
I adjusted the Fuji RAW files using Adobe Lightroom.
The other evening, Kris Sabbatino and I stopped at the old Maine Central station at Crawford, New Hampshire shortly after moonrise to make night photos of the station.
I mounted my Lumix LX7 on a heavy Bogan tripod and set the ISO to 200. Working in manual mode, I set the camera to between 40 and 80 seconds and tripped the shutter manually (without using the self timer).
Working with the RAW files in Lightroom, I made slight adjustments to highlights and shadows.
Catching the stars in the night sky has always been a favorite effect of mine. I first tried this back in 1977 in my back yard in Monson, Massachusetts.
Last month I made this photograph of a down Irish Rail Intercity Railcar paused at Newbridge on the Dublin-Cork mainline.
I was changing trains on my way to Sallins.
Exposed using a Lumix LX7, file processed in Lightroom and scaled for internet presentation. To make the most of the nocturnal setting, I set my camera to overexpose by 1/3 of stop (+ 1/3 on my exposure compensation dial). This compensates for the specular highlights which tend to skew the camera meter toward underexposure.
In this situation under exposure would result in the image appearing too dark.
Back in October 1984—35 years ago— I made this nocturnal view of Central Vermont RS11 3606 at the Palmer, Massachusetts yard.
With my Leica mounted on a tripod, I exposed this view using a mix of existing light and electronic strobe for fill light. I’d work with a large Metz flash that allowed me to control the quantity of light being emitted. To soften the blast, I’d squelch the emission to about 1/4th and wrap the flash head in a white trash bag. I’d then make a series of blasts from different angles while leaving the shutter open.
My old Leica 3A had a ‘T’ setting that would leave the shutter open indefinitely. An exposure such as this would require about 30 secs to a minute for me to make the blasts.
This was one of at least four frames that I exposed that October evening so long ago! My notes from the day have vanished, much to my disgust, as I tended to keep records of all my photography.
At 8pm on December 27, 1997, I exposed this view looking west at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts.
Mike Gardner and I were returning from one of our all day photo adventures in the Albany area and we decided to make a few more photos before heading home.
The signals lit and there was a green on the mainline, indicating a westward train was near.
This back in Conrail days, when the Boston & Albany route was still very busy with freight. It was years before the old Union Station was transformed into the Steaming Tender restaurant. And there were a few more buildings and businesses on Palmer’s main street.
It was more than a decade before I bought my first digital camera and I exposed this using my Nikon N90S on Provia 100F color slide film.
On the evening of 26 Nov 2005, I exposed this Fujichrome slide on the platform at Mallow, County Cork.
A relatively long exposure was needed, so I mounted the camera on a Manfrotto tripod. The swirling steam leaking from Irish Rail’s Cravens carriages added to the mystique of the image.
This was a regularly scheduled train for Tralee, and toward the end of locomotive-hauled Cravens service on the Cork-Kerry runs. Not too long after this photo was made Irish Rail replaced the old steam-heated Cravens on this run with diesel railcars.
I tried to pick and exciting sounding title! These are some more of my thoughts on railroad night photography, the nuts and the bolts:
The other evening at Clontarf Road in Dublin, I was experimenting with various ISO settings in preparation for a more serious photo I was about to expose under the wires on Irish Rail.
Normally with my Lumix LX7, I limit the ISO settings to between 80 and 200, because this camera tends to get noticeably noisy/grainy at the higher settings.
Higher ISO increases the effective sensitivity of the sensor but does so at the expense of image quality, especially in regards to exposure latitude and noise. (Technically that’s not exactly correct, but for the sake of space and clarity that’s how I’m going to explain it here.)
In my night situation using a higher ISO setting will allow me a faster maximum shutter speed, which I need to stop a train in motion. Yet with each one-stop increment the image quality suffers more severely.
Keep in mind with each doubling of the ISO, the camera gains one stop: So, ISO 100 to 200 is one stop, 200 to 400 one stop, etc; and each jump allows an equivalent one stop increase in shutter speed. So in the lighting conditions at my location and using my LX7 aperture set at f1.4, ISO 100 allowed 1/15 of a second; ISO 200 1/30th; ISO 400 1/60th; ISO 800 1/125. Obviously, I needed to go higher than ISO 200 to stop the action. (Or simply pan the train, but that’s a story for another post).
Here are two views of static DART electric trains in low light that I made simply as comparison tests to see how the higher ISO setting compared visually. (Ignore the minor variations in composition).
At the small size displayed for internet viewing there’s only a slight difference. One is at the camera’s minimum ISO setting which is 80; the other is at 800, which three and a third stops faster.
The other evening at the modern Amtrak station in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, Trains Magazine’s Brian Schmidt and I set up to photograph Hiawatha Corridor trains during their station stops.
The southward train arrived first, and featured one of the former F40PH diesels, now a cab-control/baggage car in the lead. These are colloquially known as ‘cabbages’, and this one was painted to honor American veterans.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and 27mm lens, I set the camera to ISO 6400 and panned the train as it arrived to allow for the effect of motion.
It was an arctic evening at East Brookfield when we crossed the bridge over the tracks near CP64.
There it was, making an alien roar: the Loram rail-grinder in the old sidings.
Hard snow on the ground and the moon rising.
‘This will just take a couple of minutes’.
We were on our way to a gig at Dunny’s Tavern, but I wanted to make a few photos of this machine. Interestingly, it was my old friend Dennis LeBeau that both invited us to the gig and alerted me to the Loram grinder.
I tried a few photos using my Lumix LX7 in ‘night mode’. But the extremely low light levels didn’t make for great results.
So then I balanced my LX7 in the chain-link fence, dialed in 2/3s of a stop over exposure, set the self-timer to 2 seconds, pressed the shutter and stood back.
I did this several times until I made an acceptably sharp photo.
I manipulated the RAW files in Lightroom to better balance the information captured during exposure.
I know someone will moan about the tree at left. There’s nothing I can do about that, it’s part of the scene. Sorry 2001-fans, no black slab! So far as I can tell, anyway.