Tag Archives: Nikon

Photo Tips: Snow Exposure–Part 2 Histograms


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For years, friends have asked my advice on camera exposure, typically on-site with a train bearing down on us. Politely, I’ll offer suggestions—based on conditions, but such advice can be deceiving since conditions change quickly. For my photography, I often refine exposure as the scene unfolds. A train entering a scene may alter my anticipated exposure, which requires subtle adjustments at the last moment.

Ideal histogram.

Using the camera’s histogram to judge exposure is part of my latest technique for refining exposure and making optimum use of the digital camera sensor. A histogram reflects exposure information collected by the sensor. This is displayed as a graph that offers exposure quantification: it shows the range of data recorded by the sensor and alludes to data lost. The histogram allows me to gauge when the scene is over- or under-exposed. It solves much of the guesswork previously necessary when shooting film, while providing real information by which to adjust future exposures. What it doesn’t tell me, is as important to what is displayed on the graph.

Using film, ‘over-exposure’ inferred that too much light reached the emulsion and resulted in an image that appears too bright, while ‘under exposure’ inferred that too little light, thus and a dark image. It was never as simple as that, but that’s good enough for the moment.

The advent of digital imaging combined with the ease of post-processing using digital technology has changed the definitions of exposure, so far as I’m concerned. I can now use information from camera sensor on-site to help capture the greatest amount of information.

Histogram Underexposed Snow1_1

This is not much different than my traditional approach to black & white photography. The new tools offered by modern digital cameras have altered my means for calculating exposure.  More to the point; the need for obtaining desired visual balance between light and dark in-camera isn’t part of my exposure technique because the appearance of the exposed image in the thumbnail on the camera display doesn’t accurately reflect data collected, while the final image may be best refined after exposure.

Here’s a difference between film and digital: Film sensitivity is less definitive than with digital sensors; simply, the data accumulated during a digital exposure fits between definite parameters, while with film significantly more information may be retained than is readily visible to the naked eye. Beyond these limits with digital, data isn’t recorded (to the best of my understanding). Thus to obtain the greatest amount of visual information a digital exposure must be calculated to be carefully placed between the image’s deepest shadows and brightest highlights. The tool needed to gauge this decision is the camera’s histogram.

Histogram_Overexposed1A histogram displays a series of lines progressing from dark to light. These lines reflect the number of pixels exposed in the various gradations. How this data is collected isn’t important for this exercise. Crucial, is the assessment of the histogram in order to make future exposures that don’t lose critical information in extreme highlight or shadow areas.

Real life situation; Palmer, Massachusetts February 10, 2012.
Palmer, Massachusetts February 10, 2013.

When I make snow photos, I expose in a manner to place the bulk of information toward the center of the graph. I pay close attention to highlight falloff. Losing detail in the brightest parts of distant clouds, or at the center of locomotive headlights isn’t a problem, but losing detail in snowy foreground is undesirable. Ideally, the graph will taper gently into the extremes, indicating the smallest degree of loss in the deepest shadows and brightest highlights.

The histogram is extremely useful when exposing bright snow scenes, because most camera automatic settings are not tuned to expose for large fields of white and tend to grossly misjudge a brightly lit and largely white scene. This typically results in under exposure which renders snow gray rather than white and, risks opaque shadows (a substantial loss of information). It renders many elements too dark (such as the train passing through the scene). However, a few modern digital cameras have ‘snow settings’ that should overcome these difficulties.


Stopped down by one 1/3 stop seem to have made the difference between 'art' and garbage.

Before making my desired image sequence, I’ll make a series of test exposures to check the effect of camera settings. Based on information displayed by these graphs I’ll make exposure adjustments to place highlights and shadows appropriately. As my subject approaches, I’ll further refine my exposure by making adjustments in 1/3-stop increments. I’ll continue to compensate for exposure changes caused by the train entering the scene (including variations caused by locomotive headlights and ditch lights).

Displayed here are both hypothetical graphs to show how I read histograms, and images of the real graphs from my Canon 7D exposed in snowy scenes last Sunday, February 10, 2013. Both types of images are intended to illustrate how I’ve selected exposures.

I use the histogram feature all the time, but find it most useful in extreme situations. It has proved its value by eliminating uncertainties previously caused by the extremes of snow photography.

Some advice for the graph-adverse photographer working in snow: use the camera meter to gauge base exposure then override the meter by opening up by 2/3 of a stop (for example open  from f11 to f9).


CSX light engines roll through CP83 at Palmer, Massachusetts on February 10, 2013.
CSX light engines roll through CP83 at Palmer, Massachusetts on February 10, 2013.

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Kodachrome with Montana’s Big Sky

Big Sky on the old Great Northern
Changing skies on Montana’s Marias Pass. On July 6, 1994, an eastward intermodal train approaches Grizzly on the former Great Northern mainline. I exposed this image less than a week after announcement of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe merger. Nikon F3T with f1.8 105mm lens; exposed on Kodachrome 25.
Montana Rail Link light helpers on Mullen Pass, July 9, 1994. Kodachrome 25 film exposed with a Nikon F3T with 35mm PC lens.
Montana Rail Link light helpers on the former Northern Pacific grade over Mullen Pass, west of Helena, Montana on July 9, 1994. Kodachrome 25 film exposed with a Nikon F3T with 35mm PC lens.

Look up, take in the heavens and transform a railway scene in to a cosmic image. That’s a theory anyway. During my 1994 visit to Montana, I was awed by the amazing skies for which the state is famous. Big sky and wide-open vistas can make for impressive railway images, yet getting the balance between right between atmosphere and railway is no easy chore. Here, I’m offering two of my most successful attempts. Both were exposed on Kodachrome 25 using my Nikon F3T. The peculiarities of Kodachrome’s spectral sensitivity made it a great medium for working with textural skies and dramatic lighting. Not only did Kodachrome 25 benefit from exceptional dynamic range, but also the way it translated blue light I found conducive to dramatic images featuring impressive skies.

While these slides look great when projected on a screen, and both were successfully reproduced in my 2005 book Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, I found they required a bit of adjustment using Adobe Photoshop to make them look good on the computer screen.

Different tools yield different results and I wonder how I might I use my Canon 7D or Lumix LX-3 in similar lighting situations.

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Snake on the Tracks

Watch out for rattlesnakes! It seems like a clichéd railfan warning. Although, I’ve encountered rattlers on several occasions, I’d not allowed fear of snakes (or heights) interfere with my photography. In July 1994, I was on a prolonged trip working my way east from San Francisco to Waukesha, Wisconsin. Part of this excursion, was a ten-day exploration of Montana. Working on a tip from Blair Kooistra regarding a interesting photo location, I’d driven down the long rocky road to the old station at Lombard, deep within the canyon of the same name. Back in the day, it was here that Milwaukee Road’s Pacific Extension crossed Northern Pacific’s mainline. In 1994, as today, only vestiges survive of Milwaukee Road, while Montana Rail Link’s former NP line is the main attraction (if one hopes to see trains moving; the industrial archeologist is likely more interested in the old Milwaukee electrified line). The point of interest, which I’m told featured some GRS upper quadrant semaphores, required a several mile walk west into the canyon.

A large snake (of the non-rattling variety) suns itself on Montana Rail Link in Lombard Canyon, Montana. Nikon F3T with 105mm lens; Kodachrom 25 exposed at f4.5 1/250th second
A large snake (of the non-rattling variety) suns itself on Montana Rail Link in Lombard Canyon, Montana. Nikon F3T with 105mm lens; Kodachrom 25 exposed at f4.5 1/250th second

I’d made it about a mile or two from the car when I had an unsettling feeling of being watched. Looking around I realized that several impressively large snakes were sunning themselves on the tracks and eyeing my progress. I determined, that while large, these snakes didn’t have rattles on them, and so probably wouldn’t harm me. I made a few photos of this one coiled in the gauge. Then I continued my westward hike when the bone chilling rattle of the dreaded serpent stopped me dead in the tracks. I looked cautiously to my left, and there coiled in a heap, between the tracks and the river, was by far the largest rattlesnake I’d ever seen. It didn’t look nice. Worse, it seemed poised as about to spring and gazing at me with its tongue listing back and forth. Thus ended my westward progress. There I was, a two mile walk from my car in an unpopulated barren canyon, with probably 20-30 mile drive to anyplace with a phone, and me not having a soul on the planet knowing where I stood! Not good.

Without making sudden moves, I reversed direction and carefully retreated on foot back toward the old Lombard station location where my car sat waiting for me. Thankfully, that was the last time I’ve encountered such a beast trackside. Unfortunately, the semaphore I’d hoped to photograph is now long gone. Where’s the photo of the momma rattler? I didn’t make one, primarily because it was lying in deep shadow and I was in bright sun. (Which is as good an excuse as any).

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Track Patterns: Frankfurt versus Orbisonia

Railway tracks; classic converging lines aimed toward distant horizons, a symbol of progress and travel, and often the primary subject of for my camera’s lens. Here I’ve presented just two images of railway tracks. One is of the throat to DB‘s Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (Frankfurt am Main, Germany) the other is yard trackage on Pennsylvania’s narrow gauge East Broad Top Railroad at Orbisonia. The German photograph portrays well-maintained, heavily used infrastructure with ladders of double slip switches designed to maximize route flexibility. This was made on a sunny summer evening and exposed to retain detail in ballast and avoiding a harsh silhouette (although that can be an effective imaging technique). By contrast, the East Broad Top image shows a preserved three-way stub switch, representing a vestige of lightly built 19th century-style infrastructure, and exposed in the soft light of a foggy autumn morning. In both images railway tracks lead the viewer’s eye out of the frame to unseen horizons. To allow for a level of intrigue. I’ve deliberately masked where the tracks lead.

Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, June 13, 2001.
Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, June 13, 2001.
Stub switch.
East Broad Top Rock Hill Furnace Oct 12 1997.

Both images were exposed on Fujichrome slide film with my Nikon N90S.

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Trains of Yesteryear: Stateline Tower, January 7, 1996

On this day in 1996, I was on a whirlwind tour of Chicagoland with the late Mike Abalos. We began our photography at Santa Fe’s Willow Springs yard and worked our way east through the industrial areas south of the Loop. My primary interest was photographing the myriad varieties of signaling active in the Chicago area, and Mike was just the man to get me to all the right places. This image was made near the end of daylight at State Line Tower. Throughout the day I was primarily using Kodachrome 25,working with my Nikon F3T, so this hastily composed photo was no exception. I was more interested in capturing the old Baltimore & Ohio Color Position Light signal than the CP Rail train about to pass it.

Color Position Light Signal
A Canadian Pacific SD40 (former Soo Line) receives a ‘Medium Clear’ on CSX’s old Baltimore & Ohio Chicago Terminal line at State Line Tower on the evening of January 7, 1996. Nikon F3T with a Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens; K25 slide film.

B&O’s unusual Color Position Light signals use a single-head to display all aspects. Key to interpreting the signal is the position of the white light that modifies the basic aspect. A ‘clear’ aspect is represented with two green lights in a vertical pattern (mimicking an upper quadrant semaphore) with a white light directly above them; when the white light is directly below the two greens, the aspect is ‘medium clear.’ With conventional color light signals a ‘medium clear’ may be represented with a three-head signal by red-over-green-over-red, or on a high two-head signal as red-over-green. The essential difference between ‘clear’ and ‘medium clear’ is the maximum speed allowed through an interlocking. A ‘clear’ aspect permits maximum track speed while a ‘medium clear’ limits speed typically to 30 mph. While fading light isn’t the best time to photograph moving trains, it is however a great time to photograph signals (because the signal lights appear brighter in comparison with ambient conditions). Thank you Mike!

Interested in railroad signals? See my book Railroad Signaling available from Voyageur Press/Quayside Publishing

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Burlington Northern at Sunset, Whitefish, Montana July 5, 1994

Sunset at Whitefish, Montana
This is a favorite photo: it appeared in Rails West 1995 (a Pacific RailNews Annual published by Pentrex Publishing), and ten years later in my book Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway published by MBI.

Happy New Years from Tracking the Light!

July 5, 1994, was a very productive day for me; I’d been photographing from dawn to dusk in western Montana and the Idaho Panhandle. I concluded my efforts with this image at Burlington Northern’s yard along the old Great Northern main line at Whitefish. This was my first visit to the town and I arrived about an hour before sunset. I made this image in the final moments of sunlight—just after 10pm. I used my Nikon F3T fitted with an f4.0 200mm lens loaded with Kodachrome 25. I opted to silhouette the engine. This caught the sunlight through the cab, and illuminated the engineer—who appears anonymously with a halo flare around him. Although not readily visible to the naked eye, the sky was laden with particulate matter (possibly smoke from forest fires?) that made for an especially reddish effect on Kodachrome. I’m partial to the monochromatic effect of low red sun, so Kodachrome was a choice material to work with in this regard. While the film made for a deep black, it had an ability to retain detail in extreme areas of the image. Both highlight and shadows retain a high level of detail and sharpness. I find this type of image difficult to make with digital cameras. This scan was made directly from the original slide and is unmodified except for scaling. The locomotive is prominent but not overbearing. Reflective rails—shining in the light—emphasize this as a railway image while providing a natural frame; they add interest while keeping the eye from getting lost in the inky foreground. The silhouette in the cab provides a human element. The subtle detail of the trees and hills beyond the locomotive give a sense of place without offering specifics. The ability of the film to maintain a sharp edge in an extremely contrasty situation help identify the locomotive—for those who are interested—as an Electro-Motive end-cab switcher (model SW1500). The locomotive’s wheels touch the rails tie the scene together while maintaining an abstract quality. We can enjoy this image as a frame in time, although in reality it existed only for an instant.

Diagrammed BN photo©Brian Solomon


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Santa Fe at Christie, California, March 18, 1993.

Santa Fe Railway in Franklin Canyon
: In the 1990s, Santa Fe’s line through California’s Franklin Canyon featured jointed rail, searchlight block signals, and traditional code lines strung from poles along the right-of-way. The sun sets on the track at the west switch at Christie. Exposed with Nikormat FT3 and 105mm f1.8 lens on Fujichrome 100 slide film.

In the mid-1990s, I often photographed Santa Fe in the bucolic splendor of Franklin Canyon. While I made many images of Santa Fe’s trains, for me this atmospheric image captures the wonderful quality of the place and I featured it in my big book on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway published by MBI Publishing in 2005. (Out of print)

Locomotive Geometry Part 2; Wisconsin & Southern’s Electro-Motive diesels

Locomotive study.
Detailed study of an EMD’s rear hood shows radiator air-intakes, engine compartment doors, handrails, and the engine water level sight-glass that helps distinguish Dash-2 models from their earlier counterparts. Fuji Velvia 100F slide film.

Finding static locomotives in nice light offers an opportunity to make studies of the equipment. Wisconsin & Southern operated a fleet of clean, well-maintained second-hand General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) diesels. These were representative of the classic models built at La Grange, Illinois, during the mid-20th century and dressed in a handsome red and silver livery. For me they were prime examples of GM’s finest American diesels, yet at the time I was photographing them, these locomotives were past their prime and harked back to an earlier era. General Motors locomotives, even their more utilitarian models, were characterized by well-balanced aesthetic designs, while their classic postwar streamlined locomotives are icons of American railroading. These images are a small selection focused on the locomotives.

GP9 from rail level
Wisconsin & Southern GP9 4491 was leading a train on the line to Prairie du Chein; the crew had tied down the locomotive, so the lights are on but there’s nobody home. This low view at a grade crossing captures the long hood with ditch-lights and headlights blaring. Exposed with a Nikon F3T and f1.8 105mm lens on Kodachrome 25 slide film. Key to making this image was ability to detach the F3T’s viewing prism, thus allowing a view ‘from the hip’ (or in this case from ‘the rail’).
Wisconsin & Southern GP9 study.
Detail of Wisconsin & Southern GP9 4491 showing the battery box door and company logo. Nikon F3T and f1.8 105mm lens on Kodachrome 25 slide film
WSOR_SD40-2_Janesville_WI_Jul2005_©Brian Solomon
Wisconsin & Southern SD40-2s are ‘blue flagged’ at the Janesville, Wisconsin roundhouse. The SD40-2 was the most common locomotive of the 1970s, a powerful, reliable 3,000 hp six-motor freight hauler, and in their day, one of the best-liked engines by crews. Although in their prime they were so common as to be barely worth a second glance, today they are American classics. Exposed with a Nikon F3T and Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens on Fuji Velvia 100F slide film.


Locomotives at rest.
SD40-2s in light and shade. Clean balanced design was among the admirable external characteristics of EMD diesels. Fuji Velvia 100F slide film
Locomotive truck detail
The initials ‘EMD’ was General Motors’ signature on its locomotives.
HT-C truck detail
Detailed view of EMD’s very successful HT-C truck ‘High-Traction’ with ‘C’ for three-motors that was standard equipment on its SD40-2.
WSOR_E9_detail_Jul2005_Brian_Solomon_444120©Brian Solomon
Wisconsin & Southern operated former Milwaukee Road streamlined E9s on its business train.
Model E9 was EMD’s last E-unit. This nose detail of Wisconsin & Southern E9 10C shows the engine’s dual headlight arrangement, the top headlight is an oscilating light, the bottom light is fixed. While oscillating lights are commonly known as ‘Mars light’, in this situation both headlights are Mars products. Among the classic EMD equipment on this locomotive are the grab irons and nose-door handle. Fuji Velvia 100F slide film.
Model E9 was EMD’s last E-unit. This nose detail of Wisconsin & Southern E9 10C shows the engine’s dual headlight arrangement, the top headlight is an oscillating light, the bottom light is fixed. While oscillating lights are commonly known as ‘Mars light’, in this situation both headlights are Mars products. Among the classic EMD equipment on this locomotive are the grab irons and nose-door handle. Fuji Velvia 100F slide film.
SD40-2s at work.
Wisconsin & Southern SD40-2s at work: a freight growls over a highway crossing at Avalon, Wisconsin on August 20, 2011. Canon EOS-3 with f2.8 24mm lens on Fuji Provia 100F slide film.
Not a 'pure' EMD creation; Wisconsin & Southerns' 'SD20s' were a hybrid model built by Illinois Central Gulf at Paducah, Kentucky using the core of a former Union Pacific cab-less SD24. Wisconsin & Southern 2051 displays a patriotic sticker in 2002.
Not a ‘pure’ EMD creation; Wisconsin & Southern ‘SD20s’ were a hybrid models built by Illinois Central Gulf at Paducah, Kentucky. This one was originally a Union Pacific cab-less SD24. Wisconsin & Southern 2051 displays a patriotic sticker in 2002.

See: Locomotive Geometry Part 1

Also, for more information on EMD’s see my book EMD Locomotives.

Locomotive Geometry: Part 1

Alco diesel detail
This image appears on page 49 of my book Vintage Diesel Power published by Voyageur Press in 2010. I exposed it on October 13, 2008, courtesy of Genesee Valley Transportation. GVT was operating the locomotive on its Falls Road Railroad between Lockport and Brockport, New York. This is a relatively rare Alco RS-32 built for New York Central. It often operated on the Falls Road for New York Central and later Penn Central. The photo was exposed with a Canon EOS-3 and 20mm f2.8 lens on Fujichrome film.

Locomotives have long been the subjects of photographic study. The earliest images are believed to be Daguerreotypes from the early 1850s. As early as the 1860s, locomotive manufacturers routinely photographed locomotives to document their construction and to help interest prospective buyers. The nature of the steam locomotive meant that a great deal about the machine could be gleaned by studying it from the outside. Railway enthusiasts were enamored with locomotives from the very beginning; sketches and drawings of engines date to the earliest days of railroading, while railway enthusiast photography certainly dates to at least the 1890s, if not earlier. While I’ve always been fascinated by railways, I didn’t routinely examine locomotives on film until I was about ten. My earliest railway photography tended to feature signals. If there were any locomotives in my pictures, these seemed to appear on the horizon in the form of a looming headlight. Later, I made a great many images of locomotives, sometime picturing them at work, other times resting between jobs, and often I examined them on a macro level; in other words, up-close and in detail. I’ve written a number of books on locomotives, and these chronicle their evolution and development, intended application and service, and performance. My body of locomotive photography has aided in illustration of these efforts. This selection of images is intended as the first installment in Tracking the Light of my exploration of locomotive geometry: the shapes of the machines. Later installments will focus on specific railway fleets, individual types, and perhaps some individual machines.

Rare Electro-Motive model NW5 at Palmer, Massachusetts.
Mass-Central NW5 2100 is an old favorite. Built for Southern Railway in 1947 to work the New Orleans Union Station, it found its way to Massachusetts when I was in junior high school. On the afternoon of October 18, 1983, my late friend Bob Buck of Tucker’s Hobbies in Warren phoned to say that Mass-Central was on its way to Palmer to collect interchange from Conrail. I caught the antique Electro-Motive engine by the old Boston & Albany freight house. Exposed with Leica IIIA with Summitar f2.0 50mm lens on Kodachrome 64 slide film
Central Vermont GP9s.
I grew up to the sounds of Central Vermont GP9s roaring away in run-8 as they clawed their way up State Line Hill in Monson, Massachusetts. I often photographed these locomotives in my youth. By the time I made this photo on December 23, 1986, I had begun my photographic studies at Rochester Institute of Technology, and was back for Christmas Break. Old 4442 was a favorite machine. It is climbing State Line as it had countless times before. Leica IIIA fitted with a Leica Visoflex II and 65mm Elmar Lens, Kodachrome 25 slide film.


New England Central GP38s.
In February, 1995, New England Central Railroad (NECR) assumed operations of the former Central Vermont Railway. By that time, CV’s GP9s had been gone a few years. NECR’s first locomotives (and the only ones painted for the line) were a fleet of handsome GP38s. By the late 1990s, these were an equivalent age as had been CV’s GPs when I knew them a decade earlier, yet somehow they didn’t seem so ancient. After all, age is largely perception. NECR GP38s rest in the afternoon sun at Palmer Yard in March, 1997. Nikon F3T with Nikon 24mm f2.8 Lens, Kodachrome 25 slide film.
Former Boston & Maine Alco S4 1271 was on a siding at Middleborough, Massachusetts, on July 10, 1987. Warm afternoon sun was ideal for a study with Kodachrome, so I put my recently purchased Leica M2 and 50mm Leitz Summicron to work.
Former Boston & Maine Alco S4 1271 was on a siding at Middleborough, Massachusetts, on July 10, 1987. Warm afternoon sun was ideal for a study with Kodachrome, so I put my recently purchased Leica M2 and 50mm Leitz Summicron to work.
Baltimore & Ohio GP9 battery box door detail.
Baltimore & Ohio GP9 6145 worked on Rochester & Southern’s former B&O Brooks Avenue Yard in Rochester while I was studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I made many photographs of this Electro-Motive diesel; this image exposed on October 22, 1987. with my Leica M2, 50mm Summicron and Kodachrome 25 slide film. If I knew why it was called “The Mighty Jumbo”, I’ve forgotten now.


See: Vintage Diesel Power by Brian Solomon at Voyageur Press.

Preserved Western Pacific diesels
Preserved Western Pacific diesels at Portola, California, on May 10, 2008 capture the spirit of another era. This image appeared in my 2009 title Railroads of California published by Voyageur Press. The photo was exposed on Fuji Velvia 100 slide film using a Canon EOS-3 and 100mm f2.0 lens. WP 608 is an Electro-Motive Corporation model NW2 built in 1940 for Union Pacific, and later acquired by WP. While WP 707 is a GP7 bought new by the railroad.
I’ve always enjoyed intense sound produced by Electro-Motive’s 20-cylinder 645 diesel engine. That doesn’t translate to photography, except that I have a disproportionate number of images of diesels powered by that engine. On May 4, 1996, I made this photo inside Wisconsin Central F45 6656 to feature the big prime mover. Exposed using a Nikormat FT3 with Nikon 28mm AF lens, Fujichrome Provia 100 slide film, exposed manually.

See: EMD Locomotives by Brian Solomon at Voyageur Press.

Amtrak P42 Number 1 Panned at Speed

P42 number 1 at speed.
Amtrak’s westward Lake Shore Limited crosses a stone arch bridge over the Quaboag River near West Warren, Massachusetts in October 2000.

This image was part of a sequence aimed to fulfill a commission by Mark Hemphill when he was Editor of TRAINS Magazine. While one of the other images in the sequence eventually appeared in the magazine, a tightly cropped version of this photo appeared on page 160 of my book Modern Locomotives—High-Horsepower Diesels 1966-2000, published by MBI in 2002. My MBI caption reads: “Amtrak road No. 1 is a P42 GENESIS™ built by General Electric at Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1996. In October, 2000, it led Amtrak No. 449, the westbound Boston section of the Lakeshore Limited, at West Warren, Massachusetts. The locomotive wears Amtrak’s short-lived Northeast Direct livery that was discontinued with the introduction of the Acela livery in 2000.” It was exposed with Nikon N90S fitted with 80-200mm f2.8 zoom lens. I selected a relatively slow shutter speed, probably 1/60th second, and panned the front of the locomotive as it rolled by. Track speed is 60mph for passenger trains, so there was plenty of movement to allow for background blurring.

Visit Voyageur Press/Quayside Publishing for my latest railway books.


Sunset at Bonn, Germany, August 1998

Deutche Bahn InterCity train 522 Berchtesgadener Land (Berchtesgaden—Hamburg) catches the glint of the setting sun at Bonn, Germany. Compare this view with that of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited catches the glint at Palmer, May 28, 1986 (posted December 7, 2012). Exposed on Fuji Sensia II (ISO 100) slide film using a Nikon F3T fitted with f2.8 135mm lens. Exposure calculated manually with a handheld Sekonic Studio deluxe light meter (approximately f8 1/500 sec).

In August 1998, I was visiting a friend in Bonn, Germany. I’d wandered down the Rhein by train with a promise to return by dinner at 8 in the evening. At Mainz, I bought a ticket for an IC (Intercity) train that scheduled to arrive in Bonn that would have just barely got me back in time. However, EC (Euro City) train 8 Tiziano (Milano Centrale—Hannover) arrived on the platform six minutes ahead of the IC train. I boarded this instead (and was required to pay a 7 DM supplement for the privilege) and after being whisked up the Rhein’s left bank arrived at Bonn with a few minutes spare. I was immediately distracted by the amazing red sunset that illuminated trains heading out of the station toward Köln. I decided to wait on the IC train that I would have taken.  Working with my Nikon F3T and Fuji Sensia II (100 ISO) I made a sequence of glint photos from the platforms and I over stayed my time at the railway station and so arrived a few minutes late. Not a problem: Understanding too well my predilection for low-light photography my host had anticipated my delay; she smiled, “Oh, when I saw the nice light, I assumed you’d be late.”


Southern Pacific, Camphora, California September 1992

A September 1992 evening at Camphora, California finds sugar beet being loaded.

I’m at Camphora in California’s Salinas Valley along Southern Pacific’s Coast Line, where some venerable ‘beet racks’ are being loaded; it’s near the end of the day, the sun is diffused by a fog-bank drifting in from the Pacific. These ancient old freight cars are the attraction. They’re on borrowed time. Although these still cary Southern Pacific lettering on their wooden sides, SP had sold them to Union Sugar, thus the USGX reporting marks at the ends of the cars. Not only are these among the last freight cars in revenue service that still feature wooden sides, but they are some of the last revenue cars still equipped with traditional friction bearings—virtually all other rolling stock rode on roller bearings.

Fade forward: within just a few years, not only were these old cars retired, but the sugar beet traffic dried up, and in 1996, SP itself was merged into Union Pacific. For me,  looking at this image elicits synesthesia: the agricultural smells that accompanied beet growing fill my nose, and I recall the drive I had to make back to the Bay Area when I finished making my exposures.

In September 1992, I was working exclusively with a Nikon F3T, which was fitted with a ‘fast’ 105mm lens (f1.8) for this exposure. The fast lens allows me to work with slow film and my choice of wide aperture allows for narrow depth of field which sets off the end of the beet rack and loading equipment from the background. The wires help frame the image. As with many of my SP color photos, this one was exposed on Kodachrome 25 slide film, and even that has gone the way of the SP and the wooden-sided beet racks. Everything changes.

A detailed view of Union Sugar wooden sided beet racks at Camphora exposed on K25 in September 1992.

Locomotive Boscastle, February 1998

In February 1998, Colin Nash brought me for a productive visit  to Britain’s preserved Great Central Railway. It was typical winter’s day in Leicestershire; the dawn brought crisp cold sun, yet the ground was damp. In other words, excellent conditions for photographing steam locomotives at work. To attract visitors, many railway museums and preserved railways focus operations on summer months, with trains tending to run during the middle part of the day. While this obviously suits casual visitors, it isn’t the optimum time for photography. Harsh high light, and warm dry days offer precious little to enhance the drama of a steam locomotive. I’d much prefer rich low sun of winter with high-dew point and frosty temperatures, that result voluminous effluence from steam locomotives and dramatic contrasts that portray the machinery in dramatic light.

Thankfully, Britain is blessed with a variety of top notch preserved railways, many of which operate during the colder months. During the past 15 years, I’ve made numerous trips to the United Kingdom in search of steam, as well as to make images of revenue mainline railways. This exposure was made with my Nikon F3T and an f2.8 135mm lens on Fuji Astia 100.

Steam locomotive at work.
Locomotive 34039 Boscastle works toward Leicester North in February 1998. This engine is one of Oliver Bulleid’s famed West Country 4-6-2 Pacifics built for Southern Railway. The image was exposed with Nikon fitted with f2.8 135mm lens on Fuji Astia 100 slide film.

American Gallery: Southern Pacific Siskiyou Memories

Between 1990 and 1992, I made a series of trips to Southern Pacific’s Siskiyou Line in northern California and south-central Oregon. This fantastic stretch of railroad was characterized by exceptionally steep grades, sinuous alignments, stunning scenery and ancient lower-quadrant semaphore signaling. As a signal enthusiast, I was fascinated by the large numbers of active Union Switch & Signal two-position semaphores used in automatic block service. While these vintage signals could be found elsewhere on SP’s system, there was no greater concentration than on the Siskiyou in Oregon. Another attraction were SP’s collection of classic Electro-Motive diesels, including 1950s-era SD9s (technically SD9E after overhaul) and my favorite 1960s/1970s-era SD45/SD45T-2s famed for their powerful 20 cylinder 645 engine.

Afternoon sun backlights classic Union Switch & Signal lower quadrant semaphores on Southern Pacific’s Siskiyou Line in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley, in May 1990. Photo exposed with a Nikon F3, 35mm PC (‘shift’) lens on K25 slide film. Photo by Brian Solomon

At the time I was in a photographic transition: I had just discovered the virtues of the Nikon F3, while still working with my old staple tool, a classic Leica M2 range-finder. This moment of transition and discovery of Nikon’s single lens reflex (SLR) system made my early Siskiyou trips especially exciting. There’s nothing better than have a new tool in a new place! The flexibility, functionality, and ease of use of the F3 SLR was a revelation. Everywhere I turned I saw new photo possibilities! Among the lenses I played with was a Nikkor 35mm PC ‘shift’ lens that allowed adjustments with the front element to correct for linear distortion often associated with wide angle lenses—a tool valuable for keeping semaphore masts parallel to the film plane, and thus avoiding the effect of them visually ‘falling away’ when photographed relatively close. And fun for making skies more dramatic.

More than twenty years later, I still work with my F3T occasionally, as I find it’s strengths are not afforded in any other system. With more than 2,000 rolls through its body, and working on shutter number 3, this old work horse owes me nothing. Like SP’s SD9s, the F3 is tool that has its place, long after more modern and more powerful machines have been acquired to supplant it!

Southern Pacific SD9Es lead a local freight near Phoenix, Oregon in April, 1990. Photo exposed with a Nikon F3, 35mm PC (‘shift’) lens on K25 slide film Photo by Brian Solomon

My visits were well-timed too! SP’s operations of the Siskiyou route were about to wind down. I caught the last gasp of big-time railroading on what had once been SP’s primary route to Oregon, but which had been supplanted more than 60-years earlier by the Cascade route’s Natron Cutoff via Klamath Falls and Cascade Summit. All of my images were exposed with Kodachrome film, primarily K25 (ISO 25). I’ve scanned my images using a Epson V600 flatbed and scaled and optimized the scans for digital display using Adobe Photoshop.

Feel the ground shake! Southern Pacific’s ‘West Ashland’ (symbol MERV-M; Medford to Rosevile) led by SD45 7481 on the ascent of Siskiyou Summit in May 1990; Nikkor 105mm lens on K25 slide film. Photo by Brian Solomon