As New England Central 608 approached downtown Stafford Springs on January 14, 2019, I set my Nikon F3 to expose a textured image.
The old buildings adjacent to the tracks are as much of a visual attraction as the train itself.
Working with an f1.8 105mm lens, I exposed three frames of Kodak Tri-X.
To process the film, I used my custom tailored split process, that uses two developers, followed by selenium toning of the fixed negatives. This maximizes the tonality of the film, while giving me glossy highlights. A secondary effect of the toner is the slight lavender hue.
After processing, I scanned the negatives in color using an Epson V750 scanner.
Although Brian is traveling, Tracking the Light still Posts Daily.
In recent months, New England Central’s Willimantic-Palmer freight, job 608, has been largely nocturnal while the railroad undertook a major rehabilitation program.
New rail, ties and crossing protection have been installed. The switches at State Line are improved. And the railroad is in the best shape it’s been in decades.
Monday morning, December 10, 2018, I heard 608 working north through Monson.
That afternoon, I heard the train on its return run. So Pop (Richard J. Solomon) and I headed out to intercept it.
We caught it at both ends of the siding at State Line, then proceeded to Stafford Springs, where I made these views using my FujiFilm XT1 fitted with 12mm Zeiss Touit lens.
High contrast low December sun proved challenging. To make the most of the light, I applied an external graduated neutral density filter tapered and positioned to hold the sky exposure.
Compare the camera produced JPG file with adjusted RAW images. (There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The JPG reflects a ‘pre-profiled’ camera setting based on Fuji’s Velvia color setting. The RAW’s were adjusted by me to reflect conditions at Stafford Springs.)
In post processing, I worked with camera RAW files by lightened shadows, darkened highlights, and reduced overall contrast while warming color temperature and slightly boosting saturation.
As we departed Stafford, I noticed a better angle to catch the train. Stay tuned!
I made these views of New England Central job 608 working timetable northward at Stafford Spring, Connecticut.
It was about 7:30am, and the sun was just tinting the eastern sky.
Rather than set my camera with ‘auto white balance’ (a typical default setting), I opted to fix the white balance with the ‘daylight’ setting.
Auto white balance arbitrarily selects a neutral color balance and adjusts the balance based on the conditions at hand. This is a useful feature in some situations, such as photography under incandescent lighting, or in situations with mixed lighting, such as in a museum or subway.
However, auto white balance settings have the unfortunate effect of minimizing the colorful effects of sunset and sunrise and so using the ‘daylight’ setting is in my opinion a better alternative.
But there’s really much a more complex problem; the way that digital cameras capture images is completely different to the ways the human eye and brain work in fixing visual stimuli. You could write a book on that!
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A side-benefit for me of transatlantic jet lag is that I’m wide awake for sunrise.
The other day, I drove to Stafford Springs, Connecticut as the sun was rising.
Typically New England Central 608 passes the village between 7 and 730 am. On this day it appeared about 724 am.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 12mm Zeiss Tuoit lens, I made a series of images of the freight passing.
I carefully exposed my RAW files to retain some sky detail, intending to adjust exposure, contrast and color in post processing.
It would be fallacious to suggest that the RAW file represents reality. It doesn’t.
It is important to understand that the camera RAW file is an equivalent of a ‘negative’ in film photography. The RAW file simply represents the raw data as captured by the camera sensor. This data requires interpretation to produce an image that resembled what the human brain perceives.
I made a series of small adjustments to highlights, shadows, color temperature, and color balance, while working with masks in the sky to control detail and color.
My only regret is that my graduated neutral density filters were still packed away in my luggage, as these would have been useful in this situation by allowing for improved sky detail by effectively selective expanding the dynamic capture of the sensor.
I’ve included both the RAW file (scaled for internet) and my interpreted post-processed JPG. To give hints as to what I’ve done, I’ve also included screen shots of the Lightroom work windows.
Earlier in the month I’ve highlighted various photographic adventures with New England Central 608 (freight that works from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer and back). Today’s post focuses on the southward journey.
Over the years, I’ve photographed many trains climbing the former Central Vermont Railway grade over State Line Hill, and beyond into Connecticut, so this chase is old hat for me.
Yet, I’m always looking for a new angle, or to place today’s train in a classic setting that I may have captured years ago.
These views are all from the morning of May 17, 2017 and exposed with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Lately, New England Central’s (NECR) Willimantic-Palmer freight 608 has been running on favorable schedule for photography.
If you’ve been following Tracking the Light lately, you might have gleaned the mistaken impression that New England Central’s northward freight can only be photographed hard out of the sun at Stafford Springs, Connecticut.
In fact on its present schedule there are many nicely lit photographs of the northward run between Willington, Connecticut and Palmer, Massachusetts, this time of year.
And, when the crew turns quickly at Palmer, there can be a host of very nicely lit locations in the southward direction.
It helps to know where and when to go. I’ve been at this a while. Back in Central Vermont Railway days (precursor to New England Central) and before I could drive, I’d chase this line on my bicycle. By the time I was 15 I knew all the best angles.
These views are from one productive morning a few weeks ago. More to come!
This time, I processed it using Ilford Perceptol developer diluted 1:1 with water; after fixing and rinsing, negatives were toned in a 1:9 selenium solution for eight minutes, rewashed and scanned.
One small change; in this instance, I gave the film a little more toning than previously, which should make for slightly more silvery highlights. This is a subtle change, and probably barely perceptible on internet presentation.
Compositionally, I’ve made an effort to include the village and not just focus on the locomotives.
I’m by no means done with this project, and I’ll continue to post with more photos and insights over the coming weeks. (Including some color views to please Dave and others morally opposed to black & white).
A few days ago, I displayed black & white photos I made at Stafford Springs, Connecticut in hard morning sunlight. See: Going Against the Grain.
Where the earlier images used an unusual film type (Foma Retropan), today’s image was made on Ilford HP-5, but with some special processing.
In both posts, black & white photos feature New England Central 608 (a freight that runs between Willimantic, Connecticut and Palmer, Massachusetts) passing downtown Stafford Springs shortly after sunrise.
Today’s image was exposed from Main Street in Stafford on the opposite side of the tracks from the earlier photos, which provides a different perspective on the train and village.
Part of this exercise is aimed at demonstrating black & white photographic technique, however I’m also hoping to show how different angles at the same location can result in significantly different photos.
Also, that it’s possible to make interesting photos in difficult lighting situations, if you apply a creative approach to your photography.
I’m done here yet! To be continued on another day.
The other morning in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, I exposed this view of New England Central’s northward freight that runs daily from Willimantic, Ct., to Palmer, Massachusetts.
The train was coming hard out of a clear morning sun. Using a Leica IIIA fitted with a Nikkor 35mm screw-mount lens, I exposed this view on Foma Retropan 320.
Retropan is a comparatively coarse grain emulsion that offers a distinctly different range of tones than expected with Ilford HP5, Kodak Tri-X, or other black & white films in the same sensitivity range.
It also produces a characteristic halo-effect in bright highlight areas.
I processed the film more or less as recommended using Foma’s specially formulated Retro Special Developer, and then scanned it with an Epson V750 Pro flatbed scanner. I made minor adjustments to contrast in Lightroom.
As I anticipated, my results from this experiment are more pictorial than literal.
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The familiar sound of 645 thunder down in the valley spurred me into action.
A southward New England Central freight was climbing Stateline Hill in Monson, Massachusetts. This is an old routine (and yes, I’ve written about this before.)
When I hear a train coming through Monson, I have a few minutes to get organized. In this instance, a brilliant clear blue dome with nice morning light was the deciding consideration.
En route, I heard the southward train get its ‘paper’ (radio–issued track authority) to proceed toward Willimantic, Connecticut. In this instance, I was alerted to the location of the train; south of milepost 55 (near the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line).
I headed for my preferred spot in downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut south of milepost 49.
One advantage of Stafford Springs is that the railroad makes an east-west twist through the village on its otherwise north-south run. This favors the morning light for a southward train.
The other advantage is Stafford’s quaint and distinctive New England setting.
Fluffy snow had been falling all morning. Central Vermont’s freight arrived in Palmer and quickly organized to continue south.
I followed the train’s steady progress over State Line Hill, then set up in downtown Stafford Springs, Connecticut where I made these photos on Ilford FP4 black & white negative film using my Leica 3A with 50mm lens.
For me this pair of images does a great job of exemplifying my experience with Central Vermont in the mid-1980s when three, four, five, six, and sometimes seven vintage GP9s would work tonnage freights. The sounds of those old diesels still resonates in my memory.
Would these images have be improved by modern color digital photography? Would they survive for 31 years with virtually no attention from me? For that matter, where will these old negatives or the scans be in another 31 years?
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While several locomotives have been painted in the new corporate colors (or rather, G&W’s traditional paint scheme), many of New England Central’s locomotives remain in various former liveries, including the railroad’s original blue and yellow.
On Monday October 28, 2013, New England Central job 610 (a turn that runs from Willimantic, Connecticut to Palmer, Massachusetts) sported a pair of nicely painted G&W locomotives.
My dad and I made chase of this train on its southward run. I exposed digital still photographs, while Pop made some video clips with his Lumix LX7.
The sun was playing tag with us, but the locomotives were so bright and clean it hardly mattered if the sun was out or not.
I rarely post photos the same day I make them. Today is an exception. Why? Because, I feel like sharing this image now rather than waiting. It’s a photo I made a little more than an hour ago of New England Central’s southward freight running from Palmer to Willimantic, Connecticut.
I exposed this using my Canon EOS 7D and 28-135mm zoom lens. The flexibility of the zoom allowed me to more easily frame the locomotives with grade crossing signals at the right. The train was still en route to Willimantic by the time I was home and downloaded the images.
The media loves storms; and they always have. New England’s first big snowfall of the on February 8th and 9th, seems to have made news everywhere. Friends from London called to say that the New England storm was a lead-in story on BBC.
On the morning the snow began, I made a few photos at Washington Street in Monson with my Lumix LX-3 (for later comparison). Historically this was the site of Monson’s railway station, gone nearly 60 years now. Blankets of snow fell on Monson, Massachusetts through the day on Friday and into Saturday. I spent Saturday clearing off cars and whatnot, as you do after a heavy snowfall. The railroads were quiet, and a general ban on highway travel, plus dire road conditions discouraged me from going anywhere to make photos.
This morning (February 10, 2013) I aimed for Palmer, where it was clear and bright, but all of 1 degree Fahrenheit. Between 18 inches and 2 feet of snow covered the ground, with drifts several feet deep in places. Yes, it was a good dump, but not a record by my estimation. I’ve seen more snow.
Clearing New England Central’s yard was a bucket loader fitted with a snow blower. This made for a few impressive scenes, which I’ve tried to capture here. However, in general, traffic on the railways was quiet. CSX sent a set of light engines east. These stopped about a mile west of Palmer (milepost 84.5) because what I understood to be an axle problem with one of the General Electric locomotives. After a few minutes, these were on the move, and I made some views of CSX passing the old Palmer Union Station at CP83—now occupied by the Steaming Tender restaurant—a favorite eating place of mine.
About noon, New England Central dispatched a pair of GP38s south as ‘Extra 608’. Although once standard, today finding a pair of New England Central’s yellow and blue GP38s together is a rare treat. These ambled southward through Monson over Stateline Hill (so named because it crests near the Massachusetts-Connecticut border), which allowed ample opportunities for photographs. Extra 608 was destined for Willimantic to help clear the line and collect interchange left by the Providence & Worcester. All in all, this was a productive day for photography. I worked with my Lumix LX-3, Canon 7D, and Canon EOS-3. The Velvia 50 I exposed won’t be processed for a while; I’m on the big green bird tomorrow afternoon! Perhaps while traveling, I’ll write a detailed post on my experience exposing railway images in the snow.