I exposed this image of Pan Am Railways GP40 310 leading MOED on the afternoon of February 17, 2014. By any measure this scene posed a difficult exposure.
The locomotive is a dark blue, while the scene posed a full range of tones from bright white snow to deep shadows. The train was moving, and there was little time for exposure bracketing.
Using the camera’s histogram, I’d made a test exposure before the train came into the scene, and then made a series of images focused on the composition.
Working with my Canon EOS 7D, I always expose simultaneous Jps and Camera RAW files. Most of the time the in Camera hi-res Jpg proves acceptable, and simply archive the RAW files for the future.
However, in this instance when I got home, I found that the in-camera Jpg appears to bright to my eye. I re-checked the camera’s histogram for that file and confirmed that the image was exposed correctly.
In previous posts I’ve explained that with modern digital imaging old-school film-based assessments of ‘under’ (too dark) and ‘over’ (too light) exposure do not allow for the most accurate way of selecting exposure. (see: Snow Exposure—Part 1)
Instead of using the image at the back of the camera, or even the photo on my home computer screen, to judge exposure, I use the histogram. This graph allows me to select an exposure that maximizes the amount of information captured by the camera on-site.
In this case, although the Camera processed Jpeg seemed too bright (over exposed), the camera RAW file was perfect. Since the problem was in the camera’s translation of the RAW to Jpeg, the solution was simple:
I converted the RAW to a Jpeg manually, which produced a result that matched the scene. This retained excellent highlight detail in the snow, produced a pleasing exposure for the side of the locomotive and hills beyond, while retaining good shadow detail in the tree at the left.
I did not manipulate or adjust the file except to scale the image and convert it to a Jpg for presentation. (the RAW file is far too large to up-load effectively).
My father taught me to make railway scenes, and not merely images of equipment. I did just that on this cold, wet, rainy day, when I photographed Maine Central Alco RS-11 crossing Route 12 in North Walpole, New Hampshire.
I’d traveled with Paul Goewey to Bellows Falls on the morning of November 25, 1983, specifically to photograph this locomotive. For reasons I can’t recall (if I ever knew), Green Mountain had borrowed Maine Central 802 to work its daily freight XR-1, that ran to Rutland over the former Rutland Railroad.
Despite the gloomy conditions this was something of an event, and I recall that several photographers had convened at Bellows Falls to document 802’s travels.
Green Mountain’s roundhouse is in North Walpole, just across the Connecticut River from Bellows Falls, and I made this image from the east bank as the engine switched cars.
With this image I was trying to convey that this locomotive was in an unusual place by putting it in a distinctive scene.
Once XR-1 was underway, Paul and I followed it toward Rutland. The weather deteriorated and rain turned to snow. By the time we reached Ludlow, the snow had become heavy; we were cold, wet, and tired, having been up since 4:30 am, and so ended the day’s photography.
Back in the old days, if I went out and forgot to load my camera it was tough luck. No film, no photo. And, yes, there were several occasions where I suffered this humility.
Today, with my Lumix LX3, there’s a feature that gets me out of the occasional jam. The camera has a built-in memory that allows me to make several photographs when there is no memory card inserted (or if the memory card has an error/failure).
This means that in those rare situations where I have the camera, but have forgotten the card, I can still make a few photos.
Case in point. On April 11, 2012, I’d grabbed the camera and walked into the Dublin city center to run some errands. At the time, the LUAS tram network had a specially painted tram advertising Magnum ice cream bars. I’d seen this several times, but not managed to get a photo of it.
In fact, this tram had proved unusually elusive, and previous efforts to find it in sunlight failed. But on this day, as I wandered through Smithfield, the purple Magnum tram glided along side of me and came to a stop at an intersection in full sun. Perfect!
Except, when I went to make a photo, I got an error message telling me there was no card! I’d taken it out to download it and left it at home! OH NO! But the camera gave me the option of saving the file to the camera memory! Yea!
This was among my first Irish Railway photographs. I’d hired a car in Limerick and was exploring. At the time I knew very little about Irish Rail, but I was fascinated by the Ballina branch passenger train.
What caught my interest here was the juxtaposition of the General Motors diesel with the Claremorris station sign. It was the name of the town in Irish that fascinated me. I also liked the old Irish Rail logo, which seemed to represent the double junction at Claremorrris.
I’d never have imagined then, that this would just one of the thousands of Irish railway photographs I’d expose over the next 16 years!
It doesn’t snow in Dublin very often, and when it snows it rarely stays on the ground for long. It had started snowing heavily overnight on November 28, 2010 and when I awoke, there was a fresh blanket of snow all over everything.
I made the most of morning. Among the locations I selected was along the LUAS tram line that follows the Grand Canal.
A man was feeding the birds and these were circling. Using my Canon EOS 7D with 200mm lens, I made a series of photos of an inbound LUAS Citadis tram heading toward the city center from Tallagh.
The birds in flight make an already unusual situation even more interesting. They add depth and life to a cold and frosty scene. The tram itself is almost incidental. Yet we can follow its progress along the canal, its tracks gradually descending in the distance.
Fifty years ago, it would have been pretty neat to see a Burlington GP30 at Pennsylvania Railroad’s Enola Yard. Yet for the context of that photo to be fully appreciated, it would help to have the location of the locomotive implied in the image.
A few weeks ago, Pat Yough and I were driving by Norfolk Southern’s Enola Yard and spotted this SD70ACE. These days, BNSF locomotives on Norfolk Southern and CSX are not unusual occurrences. Not in Pennsylvania anyway.
After a tight image of the locomotive, I stood back and made a few views intended to convey location.
It’s not what you see, but the images made of what you see.
Here’s a view from my summer wanderings with TSH in July 1987. We’d camped along the Water Level Route at Lake City, Pennsylvania and spent the day watching and photographing trains.
The morning weather began heavy and damp, but as the day continued a thunderstorm rolled off Lake Erie and cleared the air.
Conrail was busy and presented an unceasing parade of trains. For this view, showing a pair of SD50s, I used my father’s Rollei Model T. I went low to emphasize the weedy grass, while using the old station to frame the train and provide historical context.
The combination of the grass, the thick white sky, and hazy light says ‘Summer’ to me.
On a recent ride out to Elwyn on a SEPTA suburban train, my brother Sean and I noted several large viaducts on this former Pennsylvania Railroad route.
The Elwyn route is one of several SEPTA lines that has been under threat of closure. The bridges on the route have been reported to be suffering from deferred maintenance which has made them candidates for replacement.
This bridge piqued our curiosity. So on Monday, January 20, 2014 we decided to investigate the Crum Creek Viaduct which is easily accessed via The Scott Arboretum trails (near Swarthmore College).
An impressive viaduct, it spans the heavily wooded Crum Creek valley, looming above the tree tops like an ancient relic of another age. It reminded me of Milwaukee Road’s trestles on St Paul Pass in the Bitteroot Mountains of the Idaho panhandle.
This is a double-track tower-supported plate girder viaduct, of the type of construction common to many late-19th and early 20th century railway bridges. It dates to the mid-1890s.
Photographically, the Crum Creek viaduct presents a challenge. The surrounding trees tend to obscure the bridge. While the most graphic images of the bridge are made near is base, yet working close to the bridge makes it difficult to adequately capture a train crossing the bridge. As we moved further away both train and structure tend to blend with the forest.
Since this bridge is in jeopardy of either replacement or abandonment, I thought it a worthy project to photograph it as functioning infrastructure. I tried panning an outbound train in an effort to show a train on the bridge.
What will become of this bridge? Will it be restored, abandoned or replaced?
Below are some recent links that make references to the viaduct.
Tim Doherty asked me a few weeks back, “Have you ever tried a shot from the north side of the Millers Falls high bridge?” I’d looked a this several times, but was discouraged by the row of trees between the road and the railroad bridge.
So, on January 12, 2014, at the end of the day (light), Tim and I went to this location with the aim of making images of Amtrak’s northward Vermonter crossing the aged Central Vermont span.
As there was only a hint of light left, I upped the ISO sensitivity of my Canon EOS 7D and I switched the color balance to ‘tungsten’ (indoor incandescent lighting which has the same effect as using tungsten balance slide film (such as Fujichrome 64T), and so enhances the blue light of the evening.
A call to Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent) confirmed the train was on-time out of Amherst. Running time was only about 20 minutes (a bit less than I thought) but we were in place, cameras on tripods, several minutes before we heard the Vermonter blasting for crossings in Millers Falls.
The result is interpretive. The train’s blur combined with view through the trees and the deep blue color bias makes for a ghostly image of the train crossing the bridge.
Amherst Railway Society‘s Big Railroad Hobby Show show is pure sensory overload. Everywhere you look there’s something or someone that seizes your interest. An old friend, an F-unit, a trolley buzzing underwire, video of a steam locomotive, the sounds of trains.
I exposed several hundred photos in a few hours, but after a while my mind began to numb. Railways of all kinds in all directions.
This morning dawned with a blood-red sunrise. Something about a red sky in the morning?
What I’d call ‘winter’ has been given all sorts of new fancy names. Probably the most absurd is the ‘polar vortex.’ Next up is the term handed to today’s precipitation: ‘bombogensis.’
Call it what you like. By about 2:30 pm today 6 inches of snow was improving photography all over Philadelphia, and by 5 pm there was 8-10 inches was making for interesting images.
My brother Sean and I spent the afternoon in Philadelphia making photos of SEPTA and snow accumulation while running errands. Falling and drifting snow made for some dramatic photography opportunities.
Snow exposure I always tricky. My basic rule of thumb is to use the camera meter to set a gauging point, then open up (over expose) by 2/3s to a full stop above the camera meter. Using the histogram on the back of the camera, I then fine tune my exposure depending on the setting.
I used my trip on Amtrak 475/175 as an opportunity to make a few photographs. While I had some bigger cameras in my bag, I exposed all of these images with my Lumix LX3.
I boarded shuttle train 475 at Berlin, Connecticut just as the sun was setting. By the time I arrived in New Haven, only a faint blue glow remained of daylight.
I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I used the station signs and other available flat surfaces on the platform to steady the camera. To avoid camera shake, after composing my image, I set the self timer to 2 seconds and press the shutter button.
Also, I overexposed each image by 1/3 to 2/3s of a stop to compensate for the prevailing darkness.
The trip was uneventful. Amtrak is my preferred means for navigating between cities in the Northeastern USA.
Amtrak 449, in sun and rain; one day and the next. Last week, I was over in East Brookfield visiting the LeBeaus to do some videography for a music video. Dennis LeBeau lives a block from the Boston & Albany (CSXT’s Boston Line).
I said to Dennis, “I’m just going to nip down to the bridge to catch 449. It should be getting close.”
“Passes here every day at one-thirty. I’ll join you in a minute.”
I phoned Amtrak’s Julie (the automated agent: 1-800-USA-RAIL) to find out if 449 as on time out of Worcester. As it turns out, it departed Worcester Union Station 4 minutes late.
Worcester is at CP45, East Brookfield is CP64. It takes 449 about 25-30 minutes to run the 19 miles.
Since it was nice bright afternoon, I opted for a broadside view that shows a few of the houses in town. At 1:39, Dennis shouted to me from the road bridge, “He’s around the bend.” I was poised to made my photograph with my Lumix LX3.
This can be tricky since there’s really only a split second to get the train in the right place. If the camera isn’t cued up, all I’ll get is a photo of the baggage car. But I was ready, and put the train precisely where I wanted it.
The train glided through town. I turned to make a few going away views with my Canon, and said to Dennis, “You know that never gets old. I’ve been photographing that train since the 1970s.”
Dennis said to me, “I’ve been watching it since it was the New England States Limited, with New York Central E8s!”
A day later, I was in Palmer (CP83). The word was out that Amtrak 145 (one of the Genesis P42s in heritage paint) was working 449. The weather was foul, but since I was in town anyway, I figured I’d give the train a roll by.
It was stabbed at CP83 by a southward New England Central freight going into the yard, which allowed ample time for photos. Such a contrast in days. Pity the heritage P42 hadn’t worked west a day sooner.
“Let’s get an ice cream,” my pal T.S.H. said as we drove by Conrail’s sprawling former Pennsylvania Railroad yards at Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.
There was a roadside ice cream stand on one side of the highway and the tracks on the other. I made this image showing Conrail SD40 6288, while enjoying the ice cream on the hood of the old Dodge Dart we were using as transport.
This engine had been painted with a slogan promoting the United Way. Second out was a former Erie Lackawanna SD45-2. This was a local that had come down from Altoona with bad-order cars for the car shops.
It was July 27, 1987 and we were on the tail end of a week-long exploration of Pennsylvania. The days had been hot and hazy, but evenings offered some rosy light, (when there wasn’t a thunderstorm). We had started the day on the old Baltimore & Ohio, working our way from Confluence to Sand Patch, then drove north to Hollidaysburg.
The ice cream is just a memory, but I still have the old chromes.
Here, a potpourri of images illuminated the net; covering everything from unit oil trains to obscure eastern European transit. So, looking back, 2013 has been a productive and busy time for Tracking the Light.
My original intention with Tracking the Light was to disseminate detailed information about railway photographic technique. Over time this concept has evolved and I’ve used this as a venue for many of my tens of thousands of images.
Among the themes of the images I post; signaling, EMD 20-cylinder diesels, Irish Railways, photos made in tricky (difficult) lighting, elusive trains, weedy tracks and steam locomotives are my favorites.
Since March, I’ve posted new material daily. I’ve tried to vary the posts while largely sticking to the essential theme of railway images. I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts and will tell your friends about this site! There’s more to come in 2014!
I was visiting Philadelphia for the holiday season. I’d just got my Lumix back from Panasonic following a warranty-repair and I was happy to make some photos with it.
A wander around Center City on December 30, 2010 with my family made for ample opportunities to exercise the shutter. Sometimes the ordinary scenes make for interesting photos, and over time these tend to age well; witness below.
This view was exposed on the platforms of SEPTA’s Market East station (the 1980s replacement for Philadelphia & Reading’s Victorian train-temple, Reading Terminal—today a convention center, sans tracks).
Here I found a pair of 1960s vintage Silverliners working the R3 service. These elegant classics were nearing the end of their working careers. After nearly five decades, the last of these machines were withdrawn in June 2012.
When I was a kid, change puzzled me. I’d look back over my father’s photographs and collection of timetables and books and wonder what had happened to the trains and railroads he’d seen and experienced.
But as a young child, I’d assumed that all change was in the past. Certainly things had been different. New York Central had become Penn-Central, and Penn-Central had become Conrail. But I naively assumed that everything else would remain constant!
Then I began to notice change myself: My favorite GG1 electrics were replaced by modern AEM7s and E60s. Those old Penn-Central black diesels were become ever more scarce. Boston’s PCC cars had become fewer and fewer.
By the late-1980s, I’d witnessed enough changes to recognize that documenting the railroad required careful attention to detail, and it was important to anticipate change before it begins.
Too often, railroad photographers wait until change is already underway before they act to make photographs. Sadly, sometimes they wait too long and miss the best opportunities to photograph.
With this in mind, in the 1990s, annually I drafted lists from which to work. It’s one thing to ponder photographing time-worthy subjects; its better to have a clear and prioritized strategy!
In 1993, I was remarkably organized: I’ve included a portion of that year’s ‘photo projects’ list. If you read through this carefully, you’ll see there’s considerable foresight in my approach. I was doing my best to predict the future and act upon that knowledge.
Below are pages from that list:
I’m really glad I made these lists! We can look back today, 21 years after I wrote this list, and see that many of the subjects I hoped to document have indeed vanished or changed. The pen-marked ‘ticks’ indicated that I’d made an attempt at the item.
How did I draft this list? Did I have a crystal ball? How did I know in 1993 that SP was soon to vanish? Why did I give SP’s Modoc line high priority? What caused me to anticipate changes to Canadian Pacific east of Sherbrooke? Pay special attention to my notes and comments for the clues. In some cased my anticipated dates were premature, but my vision was pretty accurate (I’m sorry to report.)
What is on your list for 2014?
Change is on-going. Think! What can you photograph now that will soon change unrecognizably? Remember, it is the common everyday subjects that are too often ignored until it’s too late to make photographs. Don’t wait until the last minute. Keep an ear to the ground and an eye on the rail. Anticipate, plan and then act.
Railway tracks are the defining infrastructure of this transport system. They are key to the whole technology as well part of the title of this Internet Blog.
Often, tracks are view as secondary to the trains that use them. Photographs tend to focus on the locomotives and cars, rather then the tracks themselves.
With this post, I’ve focused on the tracks. I’ve selected a few photographs from my archives in which the tracks are the subject: tracks leading to the horizon across a desolate desert landscape; tracks curling around a bend in the snow; tracks in the weeds and tracks catching the sunlight.
Tracks capture our imaginations, and the images of tracks can be timeless. Yet not all tracks are the same. The condition of the line and nature of the landscape is telling. I’ve made hundreds of images like these over the years; sometimes from trains, other times from the ground, or overhead bridges. The formula is simple, but the results vary greatly.
Often the thought of what lies beyond is the most intriguing. What lies around the curve or just over the horizon? It are images like these that inspire wanderlust for railway journeys. In days of yore, how many young men left home in pursuit of that the elusive view around the next bend in the tracks.
Dublin is a quiet place on Christmas morning. Almost everything is shut. The roads are relatively empty. The buses aren’t running. There are scant few people on the normally busy streets. And the railways are asleep.
Irish trains don’t run Christmas Day. And Dublin’s terminals are locked up tight. It’s a strange sight to see Heuston Station by daylight with nothing moving around it. This normally busy place is unnaturally quiet.
Yet, what better time to make architectural views of the 1840s-built terminal?
There are no buses or LUAS trams to interfere with the station’s classic design. Cars are relatively few. You can stand in the middle the street to compose photos with little chance of being run over.
Villach is in southern Austria near the Slovenia-border. Here the Tauern and Semmering routes converge; there’s several yards, a handsome old passenger station, some stunning scenery. To the south, lines again divide, with one route heading southwest toward Italy, and another south into Slovenia.
There’s no shortage of trains.
This is a good thing, because while standing out on a freezing January 2006 morning, I was beginning to question the wisdom of making railway photographs.
After several hours in the cold, I noticed the Austrian equivalent of a convenience store near tracks and this seemed inviting. Inside it was immaculately clean, warm, nicely decorated, and (most importantly) it was serving piping hot cups of chocolate and freshly baked pastries. Hooray!
There was plenty of time to witness and photograph the Austrian Federal Railways after a thaw.
Twilight, apparently, may strictly defined by the specific position of the sun below the horizon.
‘Civil Twilight’ as defined by the National Weather Service, is ‘the time at which the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon.’ Key to this period is that ‘there is enough light for objects to be clear distinguishable.”
I’ve always used the term in a more general sense to indicate the time of day when there’s a glow in the sky (before sunrise or after sunset). I suppose, the more appropriate title for these evening photographs would ‘Dusk at Bellows Falls.’
Anyway, it was the end of day’s photography in October 2004, when Tim Doherty and I visited Bellows Falls to witness the arrival of Guilford Rail System’s WJED (White River Junction-East Deerfield) freight.
This train worked interchange from Vermont Rail System’s Green Mountain Railroad and I made a series of atmospheric images at the passenger station. In the lead was a former Norfolk Southern high-hood GP35, a rare-bird indeed.
Bellows Falls is one of my favorite places to make railway images. I’ve been visiting as long as I can remember. My family had been taking day trips to Bellows Falls, and some of my earliest memories are of the tracks here. But, I’ve rarely made photos here at this time of day.
Twilight? Dusk? Evening? How about: dark enough to warrant a tripod, but light enough to retain color in the sky?
I’ve always liked to make macro views of railways. Examining the texture, colors, and shape of the equipment, track and structures allows for better appreciation of the subject.
One of the best times to make close ups and detail photographs is under dramatic lighting; low sun or stormy light, where richer qualities make for more pleasing tones. Even the most mundane and ordinary subjects seem more interesting with great light.
Yet, detailed views can also make use of dull days when by focusing on texture and using extreme focus can compensate for flat lighting.
Irish Rail made for an especially good subject for detailed images, in part because there was so much antique equipment to photograph. Well-worn infrastructure is inherently fascinating. Here out in the open metal has been doing a job for decades and often it shows the scars from years of hard work, like an old weaver’s time weathered hands.
I’ve made hundreds of Irish Rail close-ups over the years. Here a just a few. Look around railways near you and see what you find! Sometimes the most interesting photographs can be made while waiting for trains.
Sunny Morning on Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Metro Rail.
I’d argue that the Buffalo light rail line is one of America’s least photographed railways. It’s certainly not something I’ve often seen pictured.
The system has several peculiarities. One of the strangest is its route, which runs in a subway through the northern Buffalo suburbs but on the street in the historic downtown.
I’ve made several visits to photograph and ride this unusual railway. I had an especially clear morning on May 4, 1989 when I exposed this pan on Kodachrome with my Leica M2. The car is on Main Street and passing St Paul’s Cathedral (located just a few blocks from Buffalo City Hall).
When seeking out railways to document, I’m always on the lookout for those operations that appear to elude other photographers. Admittedly, while the Buffalo light rail isn’t the most exciting railway in western New York, it can be photogenic and is thus worthy of pictures.
I spent several days exploring Prague in Spring 2000. Unlike many cities in Western Europe, Prague escaped widespread damage during World War II and much of the historic city center has retained its classic architecture.
Prague also has an extensive public transport network, including an underground metro, suburban and long distance heavy rail services, and one of Europe’s largest tram systems.
The combination of great architecture in a scenic setting along the Vlatva River and well-maintained Tatra trams allowed for many photographic opportunities. The trams also afforded me convenient transport.
I quickly discovered that although beer in the city center was cheap by western standards, it could be obtained for about a third the price and in greater varieties in the suburbs. I also found the Czech’s very personable and so spent several great days wandering around in good company.
I exposed these images with my Nikon F3T on Fujichrome Sensia. I calculated exposure manually using my Sekonic Studio Deluxe hand-held photo cell.
In the damp evening gloom on July 18, 2003, Irish Rail’s signalman at Clonmel awaits the arrival of the Waterford-Limerick passenger train. He holds the metal staff that will authorize the train to proceed over the line to Tipperary.
Often the most telling railway images don’t emphasize a train. In this photo, the Irish Rail General Motors diesel and Cravens passenger carriages are incidental. Here: the evening light, poised signalman eying the approaching train and quiet rural station tell the story.
I exposed this photo on Fujichrome Sensia 100 using my Contax G2 rangefinder with 28mm Biogon lens on a Bogan tripod. It was part of a series of images I made that evening at Clonmel of the signalman, the station and passing trains.
One of my all-time favorite Irish Rail subjects was the annual weedspraying campaign. Every spring, a Bo-Bo would be allocated to haul the ancient looking contraption that functioned as the weed spraying train. Over the period of several weeks this would gradually make its way across the network.
Highlights of the campaign typically included travel over a variety of lines closed to traffic and this made for high adventure! [scene censored to protect the innocent]. I also made countless images of the train on regularly used lines.
Yet, finding the train could be a challenge, as it often didn’t hold to its program. Equipment difficulties were among the cause for delay.
On this bright morning in the second week of May, several of us had intercepted locomotive 175 with the spray train at Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary and followed the train toward Waterford. I made this image from the Fiddown bypass just east of the old station at Fiddown. The distant signal for Fiddown gates can be seen in the distance.
Three elements of this image interested me when I exposed it on April 7, 1989.
The Union & Switch & Signal Style S upper quadrant former Erie Railroad semaphore; New York, Susquehanna & Western’s former Burlington Northern SD45; and the unusual grade separated mainline, where the eastward track is on a higher level than the westward line.
I could write in detail about anyone of these three things. And someday I will. But not now.
Instead, I’ll examine the composition in a effort to offer a lesson on observing change.
The reason I made this photo in the way I did was specifically to juxtapose the signal with the locomotive. The grade separation not only offered added interest, but facilitated the over all composition because it allowed the locomotive to be relatively higher in the frame while enabling me to include the entire signal (complete with base of mast mechanism and subsidiary boxes/equipment) without producing an unbalanced image.
Today, none of the main elements in the photo are in place. If you were to visit Canaseraga, New York (located about 10 miles railroad-west of Hornell on the former Erie Buffalo mainline) you would find that the semaphore is gone; as is the old eastward main track. If by chance there’s an SD45 in the photo (unlikely, but not inconceivable) it would be on the close track.
In other words, the essential components of the image have changed to such a degree that there is little reason to consider making a photo at this location. And that’s the point!
When photographers (myself included) make railway images, they consciously and unconsciously include (and exclude) line side infrastructure which helps define and structure the photographs.
Changes to railway infrastructure alter the way we see the railroad, and thus the very way we compose and plan photographs. By anticipating change, we can make more interesting images and preserve the way things look for future viewers.
When trackside make careful consideration for those elements you may include or deliberately exclude. Might you be missing a potentially great image by trying to avoid some wires or litter along the line? Is an old fence potentially a graphic element that not only will help located the photo in the future but also key to a dramatic composition?
It is these types of thoughts than can make the difference when trying to compose great (or at least, relevant) railway photos.
A Classic Photograph from A Dozen Years Ago Today.
It was just 12 years ago—December 8, 2001—that I stood in the damp grassy field overlooking Taylorstown Viaduct, Co. Wexford, to make this image of freshly painted General Motors 141s leading an empty sugar beet train toward Wellingtonbridge.
Sugar beet season typically ran from late September until just after Christmas and was a great time to make Irish Rail freight photographs. Operations were focused on loading trains at Wellingtonbridge and tended to result in a series of daylight movements over the scenic South Wexford line.
Between 1999 and 2006, with the help of my Irish friends, I made dozens of trips to photograph, record and experience the sugar beet season. The weather wasn’t always fine; often it was dark and rainy but there were sunny moments like in the scene pictured here.
Unfortunately, sugar beet operations ended in early 2006, and a few years later Irish Rail closed the line between Waterford and Rosslare Strand to regular traffic. The bridge and tracks remain, but movements on the line are now very rare. The locomotives and wagons were scrapped a few years ago.
In early summer 1986, Conrail was weeks away from converting the Boston & Albany route from a traditional directional double track mainline to a single-track line under the control of CTC-style signals with cab-signal. The first section to be cut-over to the new control system was between Palmer to Springfield, Massachusetts.
Among the results of this change was the abandonment and eventual lifting of the old westward main train west of Palmer.
I was well aware of this pending change and had been documenting Conrail’s work in the area over the preceding months.
On the evening of June 17, 1986, I focused on the westward main track at the Quaboag River bridge just west of the Palmer diamond as Conrail’s eastward SEBO-B dropped down the short grade toward the Palmer yard.
While the train adds interest to the scene; my main focus was the track in the foreground that would soon be gone. I made a variety of images in this area on the weeks up to Conrail’s cut-over day.
Photographing directly into the clear summer sun produced a painterly abstraction. I’ve allowed some flare to hit the camera’s lens which obscures shadow detail and makes for a dream-like quality.
Years after I exposed this frame, I moved to California where I met photographers that had perfected this photographic technique. Interestingly, railroad photographers had been using backlighting to good advantage for a long time. In searching through archives I’ve come across fine examples of Fred Jukes’ and Otto Perry’s works with similar backlighting effects.
Digging through my older photographs, occasionally I come across something really interesting.
I’d exposed this black & white photograph using my father’s Rollei Model T at Bernardston, Massachusetts, where the railroad crossed an old mill dam on a classic stone arch bridge.
Brandon Delaney and I had gone up to Brattleboro, Vermont, where we found a pair of Boston & Maine GP9s working local freight ED-4. I made a number of images of engine 1736 working in the snow. Then we followed the train south into Massachusetts.
Brandon had previously explored this location at Bernardston and so we set up and waited.
For me this is a lesson in balance and composition: By placing the locomotive over the first pier of the bridge rather than allowing it to move further onto the bridge, I’ve created both visual tension and compositional balance.
The GP9 plays off the old mill at the bottom of the bridge to the left, while de-emphasizing the locomotive allows the eye to focus more on the bridge but never so long as to ignore the engine altogether. The bridge, after all, is the main subject, while the locomotive and mill are secondary to the scene.
I’ve been back here several times over the years and the scene has changed. The old mill and mill dam are history. I don’t know if they were washed away in a flood or were deliberately demolished. At the time they offered links to New England’s faded small-scale industrial past.
Today, because the dam is gone the bridge appears taller since the full length of the piers can be followed right in to the river-bed. Trees have encroached on both sides of the bridge, and even in winter, it can be difficult to get more than one locomotive on the structure. Yet, it can still be a great place to pose a train.