Last month I visited with Jim Shaughnessy, who shared with me his latest book Essential Witness that features some of his finest vintage black & white photographs.
I’ve enjoyed this wonderful book, not only for the exceptionally well composed images of railroading, and its beautiful black & white reproduction but because Jim has photographed in many of the same places that I often make my own images.
This gives me a greater perspective and appreciation for both railroading and railroad photography.
I made these portraits of Jim using my Nikon F3 with 50mm lens. Keeping with tradition, I exposed Kodak Tri-X processed in Ilford Perceptol stock.
Jim is selling signed copies of his book. You may contact Jim via email at: JShaughnessy@nycap.rr.com
Gauzy afternoon light in late autumn is a great time to photograph steam locomotives at work.
The combination of a relatively low sun angle with slightly diffused shadows, provides directional light with moderate contrast that nicely illuminates the locomotive’s boiler components and reciprocating parts while offering excellent color rendition.
Cool atmospheric conditions make for ample effluence of locomotive exhaust allowing for classic portrayal of a steam locomotive at work
This lighting situation is generally superior to harsh midday summer sun that tends to leave locomotive detail in inky shadows and atmospheric conditions that leave steam exhaust largely invisible to the naked eye.
Pat Yough and I re-examined Strasburg Railroad in mid-November and made a variety of classic views of locomotive no. 90 at work.
I avoid shrouding my work in mystery and I’ve happily discussed my technique, tools and materials with anyone who asks. This can lead to some interesting conversations, but also some peculiar observations.
Over the years, various people have offered curious comments on my photography (not including the written comments that appear in response to Tracking the Light). Below are some of the most memorable:
1) Commenter, “I like your slides, what sort of film do you use to make the photos?”
Me, “Kodachrome 25”.
Commenter, “Kodachrome 25! Isn’t that too slow?!”
2) Commenter, “That’s a beautiful scene but I didn’t think it would make a good photograph.”
3) Commenter, “Here’s a tip for you son, your photos are too head on, I couldn’t read the words on the side of the trains.”
4) Commenter, “I like your photo of the sunset, if I want to make a photo like that, which filter should I use?”
Me, “I don’t know, I didn’t use a filter.”
Commenter, “Yes, but if I was to used a filter, which one should I use?”
5) Commenter (via a 3rd party), “I don’t like Brian Solomon’s photography, it shows too many trees!”
6) Commenter, “You shouldn’t be making photos at night, it’s a waste of film!”
7) Commenter, “You still use film?!!”
8) Commenter, “So how are you adjusting from the transition to digital?”
Me, “I still haven’t adjusted from the transition to color.”
9) Commenter in regards to my Lumix LX3, “I can’t believe that YOU use THAT!”
10) Commenter in regards to a photo of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited in the Berkshires, “That’s a beautiful photograph, pity about the train.”
The other morning at Pan Am’s East Deerfield yard I met up with Tim, a fellow photographer.
He asked, ‘Are you going to take that?’—meaning the sunrise over the yard.
‘Yeah, since we’re here. Why not?’
I’ve only made countless photos of this yard in the morning, but that’s never stopped me before.
For this image, I exposed Ilford Pan F black & white film (ISO 50) using a Leica IIIA with Nikkor f3.5 35mm lens. With handheld meter to gauge the lighting, I exposed this frame at f3.5 1/60th of a second.
My aim was to capture detail in the sky and allow the tracks and yard to appear as a silhouette.
I processed my film as follows: Kodak D76 mixed 1 to 1 for 6 min 30 seconds at 68F, followed by stop bath, 1st fix, 2nd fix, 1st rinse, Permawash, 2nd rinse, then 9 min selenium toner mixed 1 to 9 (one part toner to nine parts water), 3rd rinse, permawash, 4th rinse.
After scanning the negative with an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner, I made a few nominal adjustments to contrast using Lightroom, while removing unwanted dust-specs.
Someone once said, ‘never photograph by aiming directly into the midday sun’. And, this advice has been melded into the cardinal rules of good railway photography.
The other day, while photographing along Mass-Central’s former Boston & Albany Ware River Branch at Gilbertville, I opted to violate this basic premise of good photography.
Over the years (35 of them) I’ve exposed a great many images of the Mass-Central on its former B&A branch. (A fair few of these images, I feel are indeed quite good, and perhaps border the category of ‘above average’.) So, if I end up making a bad photo (or two), who cares?
My 12mm Zeiss Touit lens is an unusual piece of equipment. Owing to the nature of its design and exceptional high quality glass, I can make photos that frankly wouldn’t work so well with more conventional equipment.
By selecting a very small aperture (f22), I can create a sunburst effect in a clear polarized sky while continuing to retain shadow detail.
So, are these photos good? Will I be fined by the aesthetics police? That’s up to you to decide!
But, honestly, what else would you have me do with a northward train coming directly out of the midday sun? I could have made no photos, but that wouldn’t make for a very interesting post, now would it?
Railroad photography isn’t necessarily aided by a windswept empty car park, a host lighting poles, catenary masts, fences, not to mention the metal monstrosity posing as a footbridge.
This was the scene at Readville, Massachusetts on Sunday, Morning, December 6, 2015.
An MBTA train heading for Boston was due shortly. Since locomotives operate on the south-end of consists, I set up for a trailing pan photo. I focused on the new engine and allowed the setting to settle into a sea of blur.
This is one means of making the ugliness more interesting.
Siemens-built ACS-64 640 zips along with Amtrak train number 160 at Milford, Connecticut on the former New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.
The other day, I made this image from the far end of the station platform. I set my shutter to 1/1000th of a second, pulled the zoom back to its widest position (18mm), and had the drive set to ‘CH’ (continuous high)—which allows for a rapid burst of images.
This arrangement of settings allowed me to catch the locomotive very close and in sharp focus.