Tag Archives: photography

Norfolk Southern on 19th Street in Erie, Pennsylvania October 1994

Street Trackage
Norfolk Southern on 19th Street in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Norfolk Southern’s former Nickel Plate Road mainline from Buffalo to Cleveland navigated 19th Street in Erie, Pennsylvania. This unusually long section of street trackage offered some great photographic opportunities. In October 1994, I was visiting Erie on my way from West Virginia to Wisconsin, and I made this image of a lone NS GP59 leading a westward double-stack train down 19th Street. The soft light of a dull day works well here by allowing the texture and hues of autumnal foliage to offer the illusion of a long corridor, with effect of haze giving added depth. The train seems endless. I was working with a Nikormat FT3 with Nikkor f4.0 200mm lens on a Bogen tripod and Fujichrome 100 slide film.

This street trackage was sacrificed as a condition of the Conrail split in the late 1990s. To eliminate the slow running and please unsympathetic neighbors of the railroad, NS shifted its operations through Erie to the parallel former New York Central grade-separated line (owned and operated by CSX after the 1998-1999 split.)

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Erie’s Portage Bridge—another view

Erie RR Portage Bridge Letchworth Gorge April 7 2013 Brian Solomon 087487

Here’s an unpublished image from my archive. In the gloom of early morning on April 7, 1989, I made the hour and 15 minute drive from Scottsville to Portage, New York to make time exposures of the old Erie Railroad Portage Viaduct. I featured this pioneering tower-supported viaduct in an earlier post (see: Erie Railroad’s Portage Bridge May 12 2007). Blessed by a stunning setting and significant history, the old Portage Viaduct has been a favorite subject on many occasions over the years. For this image, I used my Leica M2 rangefinder with 50mm Summicron lens to make a long exposure (about 8 seconds) in the pre-dawn twilight. The predominantly blue light combined with Kodachome’s spectral sensitivity to produce a near monochromatic view. The roaring Genesee falls have taken on an otherworldly ethereal quality, while the dark sky lends a nightmarish cast. This image exists only on film; at the time of exposure, it seemed very different to my eye. Later in the morning, an eastward Delaware & Hudson freight eased over the bridge at restricted speed; I followed this for several hours, making numerous images of it, mostly in black & white.

I discuss the history of this bridge in my book North American Railroad Bridges.

For more post on the Erie Railroad route see: Erie October MorningCuriously Seeking Erie Semaphores and Erie Semaphores Revisited.

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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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Photo Tips: Snow Exposure—Part 1

I’m not talking about stripping down and running naked through the snow. That sounds like a recipe for frostbite, hypothermia or worse! Rather, I’m focused on how to best select exposure when working in winter situations. Snow is especially difficult to work with for several reasons. First, it’s abnormally bright and results in high contrast situations that is both difficult on the eyes and the camera sensor. Second, most camera meters aren’t designed to work with fields of white, so tend to recommend the wrong settings. Third, for many photographers, making images in snow is an infrequent experience, and one that tends to lead to uncertainty and higher rates of exposure error.

Conrail at Washington Massachusetts
A blizzard blanketed the Berkshires with 3-4 feet of snow during second week of December 1992. On the morning of Dec 15, 1992, I caught a Conrail C36-7 leading a pair of SD40-2s on TV9 climbing westward through the deep cut at Washington, Massachusetts. While parking was difficult (drifts up to seven feet tall block all the usual spots, so I left the car in the road with its four-way lights flashing) the real challenge was selecting the best possible exposure for this backlit snow scene. The image was exposed using my Nikon F3T and f4.0 200mm lens. My exposure was about f5.6 1/250 second on Kodachrome 25.

My approach to snow photography stems from years of practice. In general, I take the information provided by camera meters as advisory. I rarely rely on automatic settings without some manual adjustment. Why? I’ve learned to carefully gauge exposure and apply settings manually. Furthermore, I’m distrustful of automatic metering, especially for railway photography, because the automation is programmed to deliver adequate imagery other than what I’m trying to achieve. Perhaps no other situation is as difficult for a common-meter to gauge as sunlit snow imaging.

Many years ago, my father lent me a Weston Master III, and instructed me to wander around the house making exposures and write them down. No photos were exposed. I was about nine and I found this exercise confusing and frustrating because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be doing. However, I overcame frustration and learned to use the light meter. A decade later, I had the opportunity to learn Cibachrome printing (used to make vivid prints from color slides). At the time, I was primarily working with Kodachrome 25, which I’d been taught to nominally underexpose to produce more saturated colors.

Translating Kodachrome to Cibachrome was revealing; I’d found that my rich, slightly-underexposed slides, which when projected on a nice bright screen looked fantastic, were in fact rather difficult to print. The biggest issue was contrast. While under-exposure may have enhanced the color saturation, it also made the image more contrasty. So while it turned out that my old theory on underexposure had it flaws, I discovered that slightly overexposed slides printed very well. I needed to determine ideal exposures in order to make optimal slides.

Aiding my efforts was my notebook; I’d been recording my exposures for years, but with the Ciba exercise I began making even more detailed notes, recording slide exposures to the third of a stop. Eventually, I assembled a chart with ideal exposures for Kodachrome 25 in various lighting situations. In general, I’d discovered that to make prints, slides needed to be about 1/3 stop brighter than I’d been making them for projection. All very well, but what does this have to do with making digital images in the snow?

Exposing Kodachrome is history, but the lessons I learned from this material still apply. (The short answer to the question was that snow in bright daylight should be exposed at approximately 1 ½ stops down from the full daylight setting without snow; thus with Kodachrome 25, if my normal daylight setting was f4.5 1/250, my snow exposure was about f8 1/250 +/- 1/3 stop). Many of my slides have appeared in books, magazines, as well as here on Tracking the Light. Take a look at my recent book North American Locomotives for some top-notch printed reproductions of Kodachrome.

Digital photography offers some great advantages over Kodachrome, including the ability to review images on-site—thus removing the uncertainty of exposing slides and having to wait for days (or weeks) to see if your exposures were correct. It’s now easier than ever to make good snow exposures and learn immediately from miscalculation. Related to this is the ability to use a digital camera’s histogram as an on-site exposure tool.

Histogram? Yes! This is perhaps the greatest feature on my digital cameras. It allows me to set my exposure ideally, allowing key images to capture the greatest amount information, thus minimizing detail lost through unwanted under-or over-exposure. Positively invaluable when making images in the snow.

New England Central GP38s in Palmer.
Sunday February 10, 2013, I made this image of New England Central GP38s climbing State Line Hill at the Route 32 crossing South Monson. Nearly 61 years ago, Bob Buck exposed an image of Central Vermont 2-8-0s 462 and 468 leading a southward freight from the same angle at this crossing. There were fewer trees back then! See page 66 of my North American Locomotives for a full page reproduction of Bob’s dramatic B&W photograph.

Today, before a train enters the scene, I’ll make a series of test exposures and judge them by the output of the histogram. This allows me to refine my exposure to a point that exceeds what I could have achieved with my detailed chart and Kodachrome. In my next post, I’ll detail this process with more examples.

On command, my Canon 7D offers a variety of useful information. Here’s the in-camera thumbnail of NECR’s GP38s crossing Rt32 in South Monson with relevant histogram as displayed on camera screen. Learning to interpret the graph is extremely useful in making exposures in difficult situations. While I’ve balanced the exposure to favor detail on the locomotives, I’ve managed to retain satisfactory levels of detail in the piles of snow both side of the tracks. The image was exposed using my Canon 40mm Pancake lens.


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Pan Am Railways Ayer Massachusetts, January 17, 2013


Pan Am 610 leads symbol freight POED west at the Groton-Harvard Road crossing near Flannagan’s in Ayer, Massachusetts on the afternoon of January 17, 2013. Exposed with my Canon 7D with 28-135mm lens, set at 135mm; 200 ISO f8.0 1/500th; in camera Jpg, no adjustments except for scaling.

Yesterday (January 17, 2013), Rich Reed and I spent a productive day photographing along the old Boston & Maine. B&M to Pan Am: a traditional New England road, Boston & Maine was melded in to Guilford Transportation Industries in 1982. Guilford acquired the rights to Pan American Airways in 1998, and during 2005-2006 the railroad became known as Pan Am Railways. In 2008, the railway engaged in a joint venture with Norfolk Southern involving the former Boston & Maine route (now coined the ‘Patriot Corridor’) between greater Albany, New York and suburban Boston. As a result, Norfolk Southern locomotives are usual assigned to intermodal and automotive traffic operating over the old B&M route; in addition Pan Am operates a pair of through freights in conjunction with CSX between Portland, Maine and CSX’s Selkirk, New York yard (Pan-Am’s symbols SEPO/POSE; CSX’s Q426/Q427). These typically operate with CSX locomotives. Other traffic includes, coal trains originating on Providence & Worcester and traveling north via Pan Am rails to Bow, New Hampshire which run with P&W’s locomotives. Pan Am runs a few trains with its own locomotives; however while a number of Pan Am’s locomotives have been painted for the railroad, a good number of older locomotives still serve the railroad in Guilford paint.

The long and short of this essay is that lately, I’ve found it challenging to photograph Pan Am painted locomotives hauling trains on their own line, since the predominance of daylight traffic tends to feature locomotives from other lines. Yesterday, we caught six symbol freights, one of which was the westward POED (Portland, Maine to East Deerfield, Massachusetts), which was led by Pan Railways 610, a former Southern Pacific SD45 rebuilt to SD40-2 specs. Pan Am on Pan Am! Yea!

Pan Am Railways freight.
Pan Am 610 with POED at Shirley, Massachusetts. Canon 7D with 28-135mm lens, set at 33mm; 200 ISO f7.0 1/500th. Photo scaled from in-camera JPG file; compare this image with adjusted RAW file below.
Pan Am 610 with POED at Shirley; this is a camera RAW image, adjusted using Photoshop to compensate for exposure (specifically to better retain detail in the snow, sky, and shadow areas), with nominal adjustments in color balance and edge sharpening.
Pan Am 610 with POED at Shirley; this is a camera RAW image, adjusted using Photoshop to compensate for exposure (specifically to better retain detail in the snow, sky, and shadow areas), with nominal adjustments in color balance and edge sharpening.
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Chicago & North Western Station, Chicago August 1984

In August 1984, I made a ten-day adventure of riding Amtrak. I visited Montreal via the Montrealer, then to Washington D.C., where I boarded the Cardinal for Chicago. It was my first visit to America’s ‘Railroad Capital’; I spent three days wandering around, riding trains and transit, exposing every frame of film I brought with me. At that time, my standard camera was a 1937-built Leica IIIA that my father gave me for my 10th birthday. In addition to this Leica, for this trip, my dad gave me loan of its clone, which he’d bought years before complete with wind-up mechanical drive. Since the drive was weighty, I left it at home. Fitted to this camera was an obsolete collapsible Leitz 50mm Elmar with non-standard f-stops (f3.5, f4.5, f6.3, f9 & etc). While a remarkably sharp piece of glass, this lens suffered from antique coatings that made it inadequate for my color photography and made it susceptible to excessive flare. As a result, I relegated this lens to my B&W work, while using my 50mm f2.0 Summitar for color slides. Among the B&W photos I made was this image of Chicago Regional Transportation Authority F40PH 161 at Chicago & North Western Station.


Chicago, August 19, 1984. Exposed on Kodak Safety Film 5063; bulk loaded Tri-x 400, exposed at ISO 400, processed in Microdol-X.
Chicago, August 19, 1984. Exposed with Lecia IIIA and 50mm Elmar lens using Kodak Safety Film 5063 (bulk loaded Tri-x 400) rated at ISO 400, processed in Microdol-X.


What I remember best from this solo trip was arriving in Evanston, Illinois, where I had a pre-booked and pre-paid hotel room waiting for me, only to be told in a sneering manner by the woman at the desk that I, ‘wasn’t allowed to stay at the hotel, because I was a minor’. She then began to admonish me for traveling alone! I was 17. I was incensed! “Lady, I’ve been traveling for weeks by myself, and you’re the first to cause me a problem because of my age! So! You’d rather have me on the street than in your hotel?” I walked out. Not one to waste time, I resorted to staying in the Evanston YMCA, which was primitive, but adequate, cheap, and didn’t interfere with my travel because of age.

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New England Central January 10, 2013

New England Central GP38 3850
Southward New England Central freight along Plains Road, near Sweetheart Lake, south of Stafford, Connecticut shortly after sunrise on January 13, 2013. Canon 7D with 40mm ‘Pancake’ lens; ISO 200 f4.5 at 1.500th second—intentionally ‘underexposed’ and adjusted in post processing using Photoshop to maintain desired detail and balance in highlight and shadow areas.

One of the benefits of my visits to Monson, Massachusetts, is being within ear-shot of the former Central Vermont Railway, now operated by New England Central (NECR). Yesterday morning (January 10, 2013), I awoke to the sounds of a southward freight clawing its way up Stateline Hill (so-named because it crests near the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line). NECR freights take their time ascending the grade and on a clear day I can hear them climbing from about the time they depart the Palmer Yard. As a kid I’d count the crossings: CV’s GP9s whistling a sequence of mournful blasts for each one. Yesterday morning I dithered for a few minutes. Should I go after this train? Or, should I keep my nose to grindstone, writing? Clear skies forced the answer: GO!

My hesitation caused me to miss the opportunity for a photograph in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. This was blessing in disguise, since I’ve often caught the train here and then broke off the chase before getting deeper into Connecticut. Having missed Stafford Springs, I pursued further south, and caught the train four times at various points between Stafford and Willimantic. This a relatively easy chase, as Route 32 runs roughly parallel to the line.

Three elements made yesterday’s chase a satisfying exercise:

1) The train was operating at a suitable time of the morning for southward daylight photography (lately, NECR’s trains seem to have headed south either way too early or too late in the day for my photographic preferences—I’ve been photographing this line for more than 30 years, first chasing it with my Dad in the early 1980s, so I can be unusually choosy).

2) It was a ‘clear blue dome’—sunny, bright, and cloudless, always a great time to make morning photographs.

3) As it turned out, one of New England Central’s yellow and blue GP38s was leading. As I’ve mentioned previously, while this was once NECR’s standard locomotive, in recent years the type has become comparatively scarce on NECR, with many of the locomotives working the line wearing paint of former operators (Conrail, Union Pacific, Florida East Coast, and others).

I was also eager for a clear day to test some recently acquired equipment, especially my new Canon 40mm Pancake Lens, which arrived on Monday. I’ll make this lens the detailed topic of future posts.

New England Central GP38 3850.
New England Central’s southward freight approaches Mansfield Depot, Connecticut. Canon 7D with f2.8 200mm lens; ISO f5.6 at 1/1000 second, ‘Landscape’ ‘picture style’ (no adjustments except for scaling).

After abandoning NECR at Willimantic, I made a few photographs of the town, which still has some wonderful old mill buildings, then continued south to New London where I focused on Amtrak for a while.

Since New England Central is among properties recently acquired by Genesee & Wyoming, I’m anticipating change and wondering when I’ll photograph the first orange & black locomotives

See my recent published book North American Locomotives for more information on New England Central’s and Genesee & Wyoming locomotives.

Railroad at Willimantic Connecticut
New England Central at Willimantic Yard as viewed from the famous footbridge (must be famous, it has its own plaque). NECR shares this yard with Providence & Worcester with which it interchanges traffic. Canon 7D with f2.8 200mm lens; ISO f8 at 1/640 second, ‘Landscape’ ‘picture style’ (no adjustments except for scaling).
Willimantic, Connecticut.
Old thread mills at Willimantic, Connecticut. Exposed using Canon 7D with 40mm ‘Pancake’ lens; f9.0 at 1/500th second, no adjustments except for scaling.




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DAILY POST: Fascinating American Town in Decline

Random Slide Number 22.


Norfolk Southern SD70 2561 leads the westward empty Mt. Tom coal train at Hoosic Falls, New York on October 13, 2001. Exposed on Fujichrome Sensia 100 with an F3T with 24mm Nikkor lens. Shortly before the train entered the scene, a cloud diffused the sun. . . . Hey Tim, what was that you said just then?


Picking photos for Tracking the Light can be a challenge. Everyday since March 2013 I’ve posted original photos to this site. That means, come rain or shine, I’ve selected photos and put words to them.

For this post, I though I’d try something a bit different. Rather than work from my semi-organized labeled material, I selected a random box of raw and unsorted slides and just plucked out a photo randomly.

While not the best picture in the box, frame 22 isn’t a bad photo.

I made it on the afternoon of October 13, 2001. Mike Gardner, Tim Doherty and I had been following an empty Mt Tom coal train since it left the plant near Northampton, Massachusetts. We caught it a multitude of locations on Guilford Rail System’s former Boston & Maine.

The last place we photographed this train was at Hoosic Falls, New York. My notes from the day read: “Hoosic Falls in a fascinating little American town—once prosperous, but on a decline . . . certainly worth some photography.”

And so there you go! Random Slide Number 22, displayed and explained.

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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.”


Derelict Steam Locomotive Poland, May 2000

I made my first trip to Poland in May 2000; while part of my quest was to experience steam in revenue service, among the most compelling images I made were of derelict engines such as this one in Silesia. I worked with both 35mm slide film and 120 black & white, the latter exposed with my Rolleiflex Model T.

Drive wheel of a disused PKP steam locomotive in Silesia, May 2000. Exposed with a Rolleiflex Model T twin lens reflex with Zeiss f3.5 Tessar.

Classic General Motors Locomotives: Monday December 3, 2012

New England Central’s former Central Vermont line at Stafford Spring, Connecticut at 10:35 am December 3, 2012. Exposed with Lumix LX3.

As I write this I’m eagerly anticipating arrival of an Author’s Copy of my latest book: North American Locomotives published by Voyageur Press.

This morning, while I was polishing off some text and captions for another future Voyageur Press project, tentatively entitled Railroad Family Trees, I thought I heard familiar thunder in the valley.

What’s that? I turned down the volume of Led Zeppelin’s Going to California to listen outside. It was the unmistakable sound of turbocharged 645 diesels at work. I opened the window and turned off the music (sorry Jimmy). Clear blue sky, and a New England Central train was into the grade on State Line Hill — roaring slowly southward.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’d been eyeing some of New England Central’s recent acquisitions: rebuilt GM six-motors wearing Union Pacific’s Armor Yellow. Of special interest to me are those that feature old SD45 bodies and thus characterized by angled radiator intakes (factory built SD45s were powered with 20-cylinder 645-E3 diesels, but during remanufacturing these machines were modified and received a variation of the smaller 16-645-E3). While I’d made static photos of these locomotives in the yard, I’d been waiting for an opportunity to catch one on the road in nice light.

Opening email I hastily attached the remaining documents for my editor, pressed ‘send,’ then grabbed my cameras, scanner and notebook (a real paper one) and made for the car. Soon, I was in downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut, and after about 10 minutes I heard the southward freight whistling for nearby crossings. As the train crawled into view my intuition proved correct: New England Central 2674 was leading on train 603. (I’d probably known this sooner if I’d been listening to my scanner instead of Zeppelin).

New England Central 603 approaches downtown Stafford Springs on December 3, 2012. Exposed with Canon 7D fitted with 28-135mm lens.

On December 3, 2012, New England Central 603 passes Stafford Springs, Connecticut with 23 cars in tow. Lumix LX3 photo.

In Stafford Springs a succession of grade crossings combined with a sharp curve limits speed to 10 mph; and today’s train was taking it handily, giving me ample opportunity to exercise my Lumix LX3 and Canon 7D (didn’t bother with film today). As it crawled through town I opted for pursuit, and continued to the Route 32 overpass on the Stafford-Ellington town line, where I made another set of images.

New England Central 603 rolls south of Stafford on the former Central Vermont Railway. This view was made from Route 32 which runs loosely parallel to the railroad between Palmer and New London. Canon 7D photo.

Later in the afternoon, errands brought me north toward Palmer, Massachusetts, and so I spent the remainder of daylight photographing a variety classic General Motors Electro Motive Division diesels at work. CSX’s local B740 was working the former Boston & Albany yard in Palmer, while Mass-Central’s daily freight arrived on the Ware River Branch with its rare NW5 trailing. This 1947-built antique is among the most unusual locomotives operating in New England today. Later, a New England Central local came on duty using one of its few remaining GP38s to work Palmer. All in all, a day filled with classic GM diesels, and not a modern safety-cab to be seen! (Although GE Genesis units worked Amtrak’s Vermonter.)

Three class GP40-2s work CSX local B740 at Palmer, Massachusetts on December 3, 2012. Lumix LX3 photo.


Typically CSX local B740 requires a pair of GP40-2s, but today (December 3, 2012) it had three. It is seen working the old Boston & Albany yard in Palmer, Massachusetts. Canon 7D photo.
Mass-Central’s Ware River line freight arrives at Palmer about 2:45 pm on Monday December 3, 2012 with locomotives 960 and 2100. Canon 7D photo.
Mass-Central’s Electro-Motive model NW5 number 2100 is a rare treat. Lumix LX3 photo.
Mass Central’s freight and CSX local B740 are both within Palmer yard limits. Soon, Amtrak’s daily Vermonter will be due. Palmer was a busy place on the afternoon of December 3, 2012. Canon 7D photo.
with the panning motion.
At the end of the day, New England Central 3550 works a local freight at Palmer. I made this pan-shot with my Canon 7D set at 1/30th of second at f5.0. This image was made in the evening twilight, and required modest post-processing adjustment using photoshop to improve contrast and color balance. The secret of a good pan is to use a slow shutter speed and keep panning with the front of the locomotive. Another trick; turn off the camera’s image stabilizer because it tends to interfere with the panning action.

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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: Hudson Valley, 20 Years Ago Today

Amtrak on the Hudson
Amtrak FL9 488 leads an Empire Corridor train along the Hudson near Breakneck Ridge, north of Cold Spring, New York on November 20, 1992. Nikon F3T with 35mm PC lens; K25 slide film.

It was exactly 20 years ago today; November 20, 1992, I made this photograph of an Albany-bound Amtrak train along the Hudson Line near Breakneck Ridge north of Cold Spring, New York. Like today, this day in 1992 dawned cold and crisp. I was armed with my Nikon F3T with a 35mm PC (Perspective Control) lens and loaded Kodachrome 25 film. I metered manually with my Sekonic Studio Deluxe hand-held light meter. Amtrak’s classic FL9s were still working the Hudson Line on Empire Corridor trains. Later in the decade these were supplanted by modern General Electric dual-mode Genesis locomotives.  Back then this train was common; today it’s a classic. Likewise, Kodachrome 25 was then my staple film, but its been gone for several years (discontinued well before Kodak stopped making K64). Wait 20 years, and see what changes unfold. Time passes and everything changes. Make your photos as you see them.

Gallery Post 7: Irish Rail in November Light

Railway Preservation Society Ireland steam locomotive 461
Railway Preservation Society Ireland with 461crosses the Curragh, County Kildare 6 November 2012. Exposed with a Lumix LX3; ISO 80 f3.5 1/640 second in ‘A’ (aperture priority) mode.

Low sun, frosty damp weather combined with constantly changing conditions make for a challenging but potentially rewarding setting for railway photographs. Add in a classic steam locomotive and you have all the potential for stunning dramatic images. That was my experience on Irish Rail yesterday (Tuesday 6 November) . I’ve already posted a few images from Monday and Tuesday (5-6 November, see: Gallery Post 5 and Gallery Post 6), I’ve now had time to plow through many of the digital images I exposed yesterday. As previously mentioned, in addition to digital images made with my Lumix LX3 and Canon 7D, I also exposed some Fuji Provia 100F. Deciding to use film or digital is a spot decision; while I use past experience with these materials to gauge when film or digital may be best, when the action is under way, I’m often juggling cameras and exposing as quickly as I can. When working with steam locomotives, wafts of steam and smoke and changing light mean that each moment can product dramatic changes in composition. Not only is the exposure impossible to predict, but the whole scene can change quickly and fantastically. Reaction time is crucial.


Railway Preservation Society Ireland with 461, 2-6-0 built in 1923.
Boiler pressure on 461 is set at 160 lbs psi; safety valves lift at Portlaoise as the locomotive is being serviced in preparation for its return trip to Dublin. Initial reports indicate the locomotive enjoyed a very successful trial. Exposed with a Canon 7D; ISO 400, f8.0 at 1/1000 sec with 200mm f2.8 lens hand-held.
Irish Rail Rotem-built 22000-series Intercity Rail Car (ICR) makes a station stop at Portlaoise on 6 November 2012. RPSI 461 waits for a signal on the down road to complete running around its train. Exposed with a Canon 7D ISO 400, 200mm lens.

Railway Preservation Society Ireland’s locomotive 461 and Irish Rail’s IWT intermodal liners were my primary subjects, but I focused on all elements of the railway, photographing the regularly scheduled trains, stations, and infrastructure, as well as what ever else caught my eye.

Irish Rail locomotive driver Ken Fox. Exposed with Lumix LX3.


Irish Rail class 201 diesel and 22K ICRs.
On the afternoon of 6 November, Irish Rail class 201 (General Motors diesel built in London, Ontario) running light meets an Intercity Rail Car working uproad at milepost 40 east of Portarlington . RPSI 461 was just a few minutes behind the scheduled train on the up main—minutes that dragged like hours as the sun wafted in and out of clouds. Exposed with a Canon 7D with 200mm f2.8 lens.


RPSI 461 at milepost 40
Low sun backlights 461 and Cravens carriages working uproad near milepost 40 east of Portarlington. Dramatic light accentuates railway action. This was one of more than a half dozen exposures made in sequence with a Canon 7D with 200 mm lens.


Steam and smoke at milepost 40; RPSI 461 works toward Dublin on 6 November 2012. Exposed with a Canon 7D and 200 mm lens.


Irish Rail’s Portlaoise Station (formerly Great Southern & Western Railway’s Maryborough Station) catches the light on 6 November 2012). Exposed with Lumix LX3 at ISO 80 f4.0 1/500 second.


Railway Preservation Society Ireland 461.
Locomotive 461 crosses the fill near Cherryville Junction county Kildare on its way to Portlaoise from Inchicore on 6 November 2012. Exposed with a Canon 7D with 28-135mm lens.
Railway Preservation Society Ireland's 461 at Sallins overtaken by Dublin-Cork train.
The Railway Preservation Society Ireland trial train has taken the loop at Sallins as the 1100 Dublin-Cork passenger train (led by a 201 class General Motors diesel) overtakes it on 6 November 2012. Exposed with Canon 7D and 200mm lens.
Railway Preservation Society Ireland steam locomotive 461 at Portlaoise
RPSI 461 passes the station on Portlaoise on its run down from Dublin, 6 November 2012. Exposed with Canon 7D fitted with 28-135mm lens.

These are just a sampling of my results. I’ll be very curious to see my slides, but it will be weeks before these are processed.

Brian Solomon will be giving an illustrated talk titled “Ireland  from an American Perspective 1998-2003” at the Irish Railway Record Society’s Heuston Station premises in Dublin at 7:30pm on Thursday November 8, 2012. Admission free.

 Here’s the Apple iBookstore link to my iPad eBook ‘Dublin Unconquered’: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/dublin-unconquered/id548794442?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

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Railway Photography: Tips to Improve Your Odds—The Basics

(text originally reproduced in Irish Railway Record Society Journal no. 177, February 2012)

Photography is an art, not a science; yet it relies technology and it is necessary to master that technology to consistently produce successful images. Railway photography requires the photographer to make a variety of small decisions at precisely the right moment. Rapid movement combined with the operational uncertainties inherent to railway operations makes railway photography challenging and there is no proven sure-fire method of ensuring perfect railway photographs. There isn’t a single defined set of skills required to make pictures, furthermore efforts to impose absolute photo formulas have typically resulted in stale image making. By contrast there are diverse and myriad approaches toward photography each unique to the individual photographer, and it is this endless variety in approach to the subject that has kept the medium fresh and exciting. Many photo opportunities have been missed or ruined, or simply fall short because of the photographer’s momentary inattention or minor technical error. This is not limited to the novice or occasional photographer, as even the most experienced practitioners make mistakes. While formulas lead to dull repetitive images, here’s some simple philosophy and habits that may help you improve your odds at making successful railway action photos:

1) Always carry a camera: If you don’t have one, you can’t make a photograph.

2) Insure that your camera is ready: if it uses a battery, check to see that it’s fresh; if using a film camera, insure it’s loaded; if using a digital camera, insure the recording card is installed and working properly; double check to see that sufficient exposures remain on the film/card to make all the photos you have planned. If you reach the end of roll or fill your card unexpectedly, you’ll miss the critical image.

3) Always carry an extra battery and at least one spare roll of film/recording card.

4) If your camera has a light meter, check to see that it works; if using an automatic or program mode, be sure that these are set as you intended.

5) When using auto-focus, insure it is switched ‘on’; if you focus manually, check (and double check) your focus point.

6) Don’t fight with your equipment! Select a camera that you feel comfortable using. If you aren’t happy with your camera or it routinely malfunctions, replace it post haste.

7) Many fully automatic cameras are designed for making snapshots of children’s birthday parties and scenic vistas, so by design may greatly limit your ability to make successful railway action photos. Especially troublesome are automatic cameras that impose an unwanted shutter delay. Although these are prolific, the only advantages to them are high availability and low cost.

8) Use a camera that allows you to control the shutter speed. While working a camera manually grants the greatest operator flexibility it also requires a high-level of photographic skill and practice; using a camera in a ‘shutter priority mode’ is easier. Be sure to select a ‘fast’ shutter speed to better freeze the action and avoid motion blur. While the speed of the train, your relative angle to the train, and the focal length of the lens all affect the amount of blur, in most instances a shutter speed of 1/500th second is fast enough to stop the action. Any speed less than about 1/125th of a second is probably too slow for conventional railway action photography.

9) Think ahead and select your locations carefully: select an interesting backdrop or setting—is this a timeless scene or one about to change? Consider obstructions and if these may cast shadows; watch for objectionable wires, line-side rubbish, trees, and other items that may detract from your planned image. Pay close attention to lighting and watch the weather.

10) Study the details of railway operations so you may anticipate what and when trains will run and how they will perform. The more you know, the more likely you’ll anticipate a train’s performance and apply that information to your photography. Is the train on an upgrade or drifting? What is the track speed? Is the train approaching a junction, a station, or a speed restriction? Does it run regularly or is it a special move? Will it take the next passing siding or run through on the main line?

11) Arrive at your desired location well before the train is expected.

12) While waiting use your time wisely: make test photos to insure everything is working as intended. If using a digital camera carefully study test photos and check for: focus, exposure, overall composition, the locations of shadows or undesirable visual elements. If trains or equipment pass before the main attraction, always use these as practice for the main event. Some photographers might dismiss this action as ‘waste of time/film/pixels’, but not only will this exercise hone your skills, but in years to come you may find that the photo of the ordinary train dismissed on the day turns out to be more interesting than what you set out to capture!

13) Repeat number 12.

14) Be patient. If you leave before the train passes, your efforts will have been wasted.

15) Study and edit your results. While you should only display photographs that satisfy your expectations; it’s important to study failures and learn from your mistakes.

16) Share your work; idle photographs sitting on hard drives or stored in closets are wasted.

17) Have fun!

In August 2012, I made a few photos along the old Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line at Berwyn, Pennsylvania. Several weeks earlier, fellow photographer Pat Yough and I inspected this location and decided the open area on the outside of the curve was well suited for a westward train in the evening. Some photographers might have ignored the common SEPTA Silverliner IV multiple units, hundreds of which have worked Philadelphia suburban services for decades. Yet, this train provided me the opportunity to test exposure, composition, and focus, while keeping my photography skills sharp. For this image I used my Canon 7D with a 100mm f2 lens set in manual; ISO200, f5.6 1/1000. As always, I simultaneously exposed both a RAW and JPEG. Except for the scaling of the Jpeg (reduction of file size for internet display), I made no post-production adjustments to this image.

The main attraction for the curve at Berwyn was SEPTA’s AEM7 powered evening suburban trains. While these run every weekday, summer evenings are the best times to catch them in good light on the Main Line, as most sets only work one turn daily, and tend to lay idle during off peak. In the winter, they largely operate in darkness. Having refined my location based on passage of the earlier Silverliner IV, I was prepared for the arrival of the AEM7 and able to make a more pleasing image. High clouds slightly softened the sun so I adjusted my exposure accordingly; ISO200, f6.3 1/640.

Even after all my preparation, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my results. I found the dumpster, fences and other clutter at the left distracting. You might say, ‘but this was part of the scene.’ True, but it doesn’t add anything to the image of the locomotive at work, and in this case I decided to crop the image square to eliminate distractions—photographer’s perogative. Ultimately, if time allows, I’ll return to Berwyn, and try the location again to make for a more dramatic image. I might go a little lower next time too, to allow for a better view of the wheels touching the rails.