As a teenager living in rural Monson, Massachusetts, I thought Jersey City was a fascinating urban wonderland.
It was gritty, dirty, decayed and very urban with lots of history.
A virtual playground!
I made this photo at Exchange Place station on the Port Authority Trans-Hudson former Pennsylvania Railroad controlled Hudson & Manhattan rapid transit route between New York City and New Jersey terminals.
As a photograph it isn’t my finest, but I feel I captured my sense of wonder about PATH.
The other day I posted a photo of the Los Angeles Metro Rail Blue Line and noted that I’d photographed many rail transit systems but ‘lost track’ after 50.
A regular Tracking the Light reader wrote in that he was close to 90 light- rail/streetcar systems, which made me wonder how many systems I’ve photographed over the years. So the other day, while the rain fell outside the window in North Conway, I made a list of every city/rail transit system that I’d photographed.
For this exercise I included both light-rail/streetcar and heavy-rail metro rail transit systems. I excluded purely interurban lines where the frequency and service pattern doesn’t fit ‘rail transit’.
All of the systems are electric, rail-based transit, although I included rubber-tire/tyre metros such as Montreal, since rails and electricity are involved.
Fine print: I’ve excluded trolley bus operations (in most cases cities that I’ve photographed trolley buses also have some form of rail transit. However, this qualification excluded Chernivtsi, Ukraine—and yes I have a photo of an electric bus there). I’ve also excluded cities where I may have seen rail-transit but not photographed it. As may be inferred, cities with more than one mode (light rail and heavy rail metro for example) get counted only once. However, in situations where disconnected systems serve adjacent cities get counted individually. So I’ve counted the Newark City Subway and Jersey City-Hoboken light rail as two systems. Non-electric systems are not on my list. German cities with interurban interconnections, such as Bonn and Köln get counted twice. Systems with long extensions into adjacent communities such as Charleroi in Belgium and the Belgium coastal tram get counted once. (I realize that some viewers my take exception to my counting the Belgian coastal tram, and not including some Swiss interurban electric lines.) Systems that I photographed under construction or out of service without vehicles, will not be included (that leaves out Florence, Italy, and San Juan, Puerto Rico from my total).
So as of January 2020, my list of photographed subway, metros, light-rail, streetcars, monorail, and rail-based cable car (aka San Francisco) systems total 100.
My challenge now will be locating original images from each and every of these systems. Mexico City was recently covered, so we’ll leave that one out.
Also, I may remember another system, presently off my list, and if so I’ll make note of that later.
Since North Conway doesn’t have electric rail transit, I can only wistfully look back on my photos.
Incidentally, while I have extensive photographic coverage of some cities such as Dublin, Boston and San Francisco, in others I may only have a handful of images. Kansas City, being one recent example, which I photographed from the dutch-door window of Budd dome Silver Splendor (now Rhonda Lee) while traveling East on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in 2018.
This might take a while! (And no, I won’t be limiting my daily posts to rail transit, but will be including archive photos in the mix of other subjects).
A short, curious, and heavily traveled part of the New York City subway system, is the two-stop Grand Central—Times Square Shuttle that runs solely between its namesake points.
Last week, Honer Travers and I made the journey on this relic.
Historically, two of my big challenges for color subway photography were exposure and color balance/color temperature.
Today, the Grand Central—Times Square Shuttle stations are brightly lit. I set my Lumix LX7 color temperature control to ‘auto white balance,’ which obviates most unwanted color temperature spikes caused by artificial light.
Other than scaling for internet presentation, I didn’t modify these images post processing for color temperature/color balance, contrast or exposure.
I made this view of an Arborway-bound PCC car about 1980. I’d exposed the photo using my old Leica 3A with 50mm Summitar, probably on Tri-X processed in Microdol-X.
I scanned this from a print I made back in the day. During that period (1978-1982) I often traveled with my father to Boston and I made a lot of photos of MBTA transit operations. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep precise notes on this print.
Here’s one of the photos displayed yesterday for comparison.
I exposed this black & white negative in the New York City Subway about 1978.
My understanding of photographic technique was minimal, as I was only eleven or so at the time and I had just begun to learn how the process worked.
In this case, not only did I underexpose the film, but when I processed it my developer was either nearing exhaustion and/or was heavily oxidized owing to poor storage.
Underexposure and underdevelopment is just about the worse of conditions with film.
This image is from one of about 100 rolls of my early efforts that had been stored in box for decades—unprinted, but not forgotten.
Unfortunately, sometime during my travels decades ago, this box of old negs was stored away.
I’d been looking for my lost early negatives for along time, and often frustrated by my inability to find them.
Believe it or not, I dreampt where to look for the missing box, and so upon my return from Dublin last week, I was finally able to locate them.
A hundred or so rolls!
I’ll begin with this one because it has special significance for me; the man at the right is my grandfather. He had brought my brother and me to the Natural History Museum at 81st street. I made a sequence of images of the subway train arriving to bring us back to the Bronx.
Since the original negative was impossibly thin, I wasn’t capable of making a print. However, I know now how to rescue difficult images:
First scan the photo, as a precaution in case chemical treatment fails (but also to show the effects of my process in a ‘before & after’ sequence.)
Soak the negative for an hour in distilled water with a hint of Kodak Photoflo.
Re-fixed negatives for 3-4 minutes in Ilford Rapid fix (mixed 1:4).
Rinse in water.
3 minutes in a Perma Wash bath.
10 minutes wash in continuous running water.
Treat for 9-10 minutes in selenium toner mixed 1 : 9 at 68F, agitating every 30 in a well-ventilated space.
Rinse in water.
3 minutes in a Perma Wash bath.
10 minutes wash in continuous running water.
The selenium toner is the key step; this helps build density in highlight areas without changing the grain structure.
After chemical treatment, I rescanned the negs and worked with this image in Lightroom to adjust exposure, contrast and sharpness.
Below are my results: not perfect, but not bad all things considered.
Not long ago the old IRT Flushing line was extended west and a new terminal station called 34th Street-Hudson Yards was opened. This is located near the Javits Center and just a few blocks west of Penn-Station.
My digital guru Eric Rosenthal recommended this to me as a photo subject. The station is unusually deep and features very long escalators.
I exposed these images with my Lumix LX7. The underground views were made at ISO200. One of the advantages of the LX7 is that it has a very fast lens. In other words the lens has the ability to let in lots of light.
The advantage of this feature is that I can use a relatively slow ISO setting in the subway and still get excellent results hand held.
I hadn’t explored Boston’s Blue since 1999, so the other day while waiting for a flight at Logan airport I took a spin over the length of the line.
The Blue Line has its origins with one of America’s most unusual suburban railways, the narrow gauge Boston, Revere Beach & Lynn. At one time, beyond living memory, this was operated using a fleet of Mason Bogie engines, a peculiar type derived from the English Fairlie.
Later the route was electrified.
Historic views posted in MBTA’s modern station and architectural details hint at this once wonderful railway.
It remains a peculiar operation because of its blend of third rail and electric overhead. At the airport station you can witness the transition between electrical systems.
I found train frequency excellent, with cars passing in both directions about every four minutes.
These photos exposed with my ever versatile Panasonic Lumic LX7.
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Tracking the Light normally posts original content on a daily basis!
The far-end of this well-known Subway route was among the lines we explored on our epic June 25, 2015 tour of New York City rail-transit.Jack May, Walter Zullig, my father and I, walked from the Long Island Rail Road station at Far Rockaway to the nearby New York City Subway station (located on an elevated structure).
At one time this had all been part of the same route, but now there’s several blocks between rail-heads.
Elaborately decorated glass bricks are a feature of the stations on the A Train route.
As we rolled westward, my father recalled visiting Rockaway Beach decades earlier when there were rows of beach-side bungalows and city streets.
Once west of the Far Rockaway the scene changes.We got off at 44th Street and took a look around.
Much of Rockaway beach seems devoid of structures, with old streets vanishing into the encroaching sand. The Bungalows are just a memory. Yet, massive multistory apartments loom in the distance above the railway structure, like something out of a doomsday film.
It’s a strange place to be. And a stranger place to make photos. This is not the New York City visited by most tourists! Yet the A train continues to JFK Airport and beyond to lower Manhattan and ultimately up-town.
How long, I wonder, would it take to ride from one end to the other?
A large portion of the New York City ‘Subway’ is elevated above street level. On June 25, 2015, my dad, Jack May, Walter Zullig and I took a whirlwind tour of New York City rail transit, during which I made dozens of photos from myriad locations.
New York City’s rail transit, including the subway, is undoubtedly one of the most visually complex transportation systems in North America, and presents endlesspossibilities for photography.
I’ll plan a series of posts featuring photos from this trip over the coming weeks.
My Lumix LX7 with its f1.4 Leica Vario Summicron lens is another fun tool for making photos in the subway. It sure beats my ancient old Leica 3A hands down.
Park Street Station was bright enough so that even back in film days I could get passable photos of paused PCCs in black & white. But these days with the LX7 I can make very publishable handheld views in color.
Using the digital camera in the subway allows me virtually instantaneous feedback. I can check color balance, sharpness, exposure and composition on site. No longer do I need to unfurl wet negatives from stainless steel tanks to find out that I missed my exposure by half a stop.
Of course while instant feedback allows me to make adjustments to the exposure on-site, it does take away some of the thrill of anticipation.
I’ve found that subway images, like most night photos, require a manual exposure override of about a 1/3 to 2/3rds of a stop to compensate for specular highlights (caused by overhead lights and the reflections of same off shiny surfaces such as metal encased columns and enameled station signs).
In other words, I’ll set the Lumix to the ‘A’ (aperture) mode, then dial in + 2/3 overexposure with the toggle wheel. When I don’t make this correction the images appear too dark coming out of the camera. While I can adjust for this in post processing, I’d rather optimize my exposure to allow for the most amount of detail in the RAW file.
Does all that sound too complicated? By making this nominal exposure compensation to lighten my photos in camera, the resulting images will ultimately require less work on the computer and should be easier to use on the printed page.
The photos display in this post have not received post-processing, except for scaling necessary for internet presentation. Here: I have not modified exposure, color balance, contrasts or sharpness.
The Underground cleverly blends transport and style. In my experience it is one of the world’s most popular public transportation systems. Phrases like ‘Mind the Gap’ appear on mugs and T-shirts, while many shops sell stylized maps of the Underground network.
London is among the world’s great cities. Last week I made my second visit to the British capital this year. While exploring the city and meeting with friends I traveled using London Transport, including the famous Underground.
This year London’s Underground celebrates its 150th anniversary. It is not only the world’s oldest ‘subway,’ but also certainly one of the most interesting and most photogenic.
Using my Lumix LX3 I made a variety of images of the Underground. The camera’s compact size and relative ease of use makes it an ideal tool for photographing in a subway.
For outdoor images I set the camera’s ISO at 80. When underground, I set the ISO at 200, and use the aperture priority (‘A’ on the top dial) while dialing in 1/3 stop overexposure. I generally use the auto white balance, which seems to work reasonably well.
I’ve found that the digital camera is vastly superior to my old film cameras for making photos of London’s Underground. However, I have plenty of color slides of the Tube and Underground lines from earlier trips.
Check upcoming posts for more views of London Transport.
This photo dates me. I found it looking through some scans for another project and it struck a chord, so I thought I’d put it up. In the 1970s and early 1980s, my grandparents lived at Co-op City in the Bronx, and every summer my brother Séan & I would travel to New York for a week-long visit. These trips provided me with great photo opportunities; their apartment overlooked Amtrak’s former New Haven line connecting New Rochelle with Penn Station (Hell Gate Bridge route), and we would regularly explore the city. My grandfather had spent most of his life in New York and he enjoyed showing us around. This day we took a bus from Co-op city to the old IRT station at Gun Hill Road. Back then I always carried my antique Leica IIIA with Summitar lens. New York’s subway was a favorite subject and I made many photos of it, most of them not so good. I inherited this habit of photographing the subway from my father, who had been making photos of the subway system since the mid-1950s. I was only 13 when I made this image. I processed it in the sink using Kodak Microdol-X developer. I admit that my processing technique was about as raw as my imaging skills. Despite these flaws, I think I did a pretty good job of capturing the scene. That was 32 years ago! Seems like forever. I scanned it on my Epson V600 and cleaned up the scan in Photoshop. This is full frame, although I adjusted the contrast slightly to make up for what I lost in processing.