Last summer, I spent a pleasant afternoon exploring the old Southern Pacific Coast Line between Simi Valley and Moorpark, California.
At CP Madera, I ascended this cutting and made a series of digital photographs of passing passenger trains.
These were exposed using my Fujifilm XT1 with 18-135mm zoom lens. I calculated the light using the camera’s center weighted meter and set aperture and shutter speed settings manually. Although bright, exposures can be tricky, especially when dealing with flat white locomotives.
It was a real pleasure to make photos in the warm California sun. (As recall, while sitting in Dublin on damp evening composing ‘Auto Pilot’ posts for Tracking the Light!)
Perched atop a high hill in a purpose-built building in Simi Valley is Boeing 707 27000 that served for nearly three decades as Air Force One.
Boeing’s 707 is unquestionably one of the most beautiful commercial aircraft.
This 707 was styled by pioneer industrial designer Raymond Loewy for its role as Air Force One.
Loewy is well known in railroad circles for his locomotive and train designs. This included Pennsylvania’s GG1 electric and S1 Duplex steam locomotive, and Northern Pacific’s post-war North Coast Limited streamliner.
Air Force One is a key display at Simi Valley’s Ronald Reagan and Air Force One Museum. I exposed these photographs using my Lumix LX7.
Here’s an exposure quandary. A bright white Metrolink F59PHI in blazing California afternoon sun against a varied background of trees and mountains..
Without careful metering and a bit prior experience It would be easy enough to underexpose a photo like this one. (Producing a result that is too dark)
Why? Because the camera meter doesn’t know the locomotive is white, and if relying on many auto exposure settings, metering tends to over compensate as the white engine reached the center of the frame.
On the flipside, the row of trees at the left could fool also the meter into compensating for the relative darkness and thus producing an image that is too light overall with the front of the engine grossly over exposed.
What’s the solution?
Before the train comes into view, make a series of test meter readings while aiming a sunlit neutral portion of the scene such as the ballast. Then observe the relative difference in exposure between lighter and darker areas, make a test photo or two, and if your camera has a histogram check to ensure that the bulk of the exposure is in the center of the graph. Then set the camera manually based on this information.
In my situation, I made a slight adjustment as the locomotive came into view to compensate for the bright white nose section. This meant I needed to stop down (see the aperture to let less light in) by about 1/3 of a stop.
In both photos, other than scaling for internet presentation, I did not alter the files in regards to exposure, contrast, color or sharpness. These images represent reduced versions of the in camera JPGs (althouth I simultaneously exposed RAW files as well.)