I made these views from the station platform at Grindelwald, where the Bernese Oberland Bahn (BOB) meets the Wengernalpbahn. The Wengernalpbahn drops into the valley toward Grindelwald Grund, where the line reverses for the steep rack-aided ascent toward Kleine Scheidegg.
This was among the many lines Denis McCabe and I photographed in Switzerland that week.
In my book, I offer a variety of useful and practical advice for traveling European railways, while highlighting scenic journeys, interesting routes, and some of Europe’s most interesting cities and towns. The book compiles more than 20 years of European travel in to just over 400 pages.
At the end of April, Denis McCabe and I were on our way to the Basel Airport on the airport bus (image omitted). On the way, we spotted an over bridge on the double-track line that connects Basel with France.
Arriving at the airport, we concluded that we were too early to check in for our flight, so rather than waste time milling around the airport, we doubled back to the bridge, a mere 10 minutes away.
Among the photos I made in the interval at the bridge was this trailing view of an SNCF freight heading to France from Switzerland.
It was a clear blue dome and working with my Lumix LX7, I made these photos of trams working the streets of Zürich, Switzerland.
Zürich continues to paint its trams in its classic sky-blue and creamy white livery. This photographs well when the sun is out, but can be challenging on dull days.
The Lumix LX7 when used with the add-on external viewfinder is an excellent tool for urban street photography. I like the LX7 because it allows me to make both Jpg and RAW digital files simultaneously. The RAWs were especially useful here as I could more easily adjust contrast in post processing.
Last month I made this photo of a tram near its terminus in Basel, Switzerland.
Working with my Nikon N90S with f2.0 35mm lens, I exposed a roll of Ilford HP5, rating it at 320 ISO. I processed the film in Agfa (formula) Rodinal Special (mixed 1-30 with water) for 3 minutes 25 seconds at 68 degrees F.
By design, this resulted in acceptable negatives, slightly on thin (light) side. Then, after fixing (two stage) and a thorough 10 minute rinse, I toned the negatives in selenium (using a 1-9 mix) for nine minutes with regular agitation.
Selenium toner is poisonous, so I wear latex gloves and perform the toning outside to avoid breathing the fumes, and pre-rinse the film prior to bringing it back inside.
Toning the negatives in this way boosts the highlights, giving the images a slightly silvery glow, while improving archival stability.
For this photo, I made some additional changes in post processing.
After scanning, I imported the file to Lightroom, and digitally lowered the contrast and highlight density of the sky-area in the top 1/3 of the frame.
My intent was to produce an image with a darker moody tonality and glistening highlights. I wonder if this will translate to the internet well?
Extra trains are always a bonus; but an unexpected extra using antique equipment is a real treat!
Three weeks ago on our exploration of Swiss railways, Denis McCabe and I were photographing the steeply graded rack railway on the Wengernalbahn near Grindlewald-Grund where the scheduled passenger trains operate on half hour intervals.
In between the regular scheduled trains, we caught a wire train-extra and this passenger extra with heritage equipment.
All in the metaphoric shadow of the Eiger and the Jungfrau, two of the most famous Swiss mountain in the Swiss Bernese Alps.
Swiss railways tend to be known by three letter abbreviations of their names.
The initials ‘BLS’ represent the Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon Bahn, a standard-gauge mainline trunk-line with several branches in central western Switzerland.
It was a pleasant evening three weeks ago, when Denis McCabe and I photographed a procession of BLS freight and passenger trains at Spiez. What I found remarkable was the great variety of equipment operated by this colourful Swiss line.
I exposed these photos over the course of an hour using my FujiFilm X-T1.
I was standing on the shore of Switzerland’s Lake Geneva near the historic Chillon Castle on an afternoon in late April 2017. Above me a clear blue dome provided wonderful polarized light, while SBB sent along a steady parade of scheduled trains, with something passing by every five to ten minutes.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1, I’d expose a burst of images whenever a train reached near the optimum gap in the foliage, then pick out the best of the lot later.
It really was like, ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ to quote a cliché.
I’m not talking about surreptitiously documenting nefarious underworld dealings of Sicilian criminals, but rather the trains and operations of Switzerland’s Montreux-Oberland-Bernois railway line.
This narrow gauge line famously operates via the Golden Pass route offering hourly long distance trains as well as local services to communities along its lines.
In April, it was among the routes that Denis McCabe and I explored.
We were fortunate to have clear blue skies, which when combined with stunning Alpine scenery makes for great photographic possibilities.
I’d researched a variety of potential locations, and opted to photograph around Gstaad and Gruben, where open Alpine meadows, tall bridges, and distant mountain peaks made for great settings.
Traveling to Gstaad, we hoped off a train that had 14-minute pause in its schedule, and on the recommendation of photographer Barry Carse, immediately set out to find the high viaduct beyond the station.
We found it easily enough, and went charging up a steep slope to position ourselves above the bridge, only to find there was a well-established trail already there! This made getting back to the station much easier.
Here’s a small sample of my digital efforts at Gstaad. My primary focus was exposing color slide film with my Nikon; and those images are en route to the lab now.
Tracking the Light aims to publishing new material each and every day.
Among the most attractive modern trains I experienced traveling in Switzerland at the end of April were Transports Publics du Chablais’s (TPC) modern narrow gauge trains on its AOMC route that connects Aigle and Champéry.
TPC’s new Stadler railcars were clean, comfortable and nicely styled. These compact articulated narrow gauge vehicles are designed to work both adhesion and rack sections of TPC’s line.
Inside they are spacious, bright, and offer magnificent views of the Alpine scenery through large windows.
The ability for passengers to look out forward and trailing windows is an excellent feature.
I especially liked the styling treatment, which embraces TPC’s bright green livery and works with the curves of Stadler’s standardized modern railcar pattern. This is a pleasant contrast to many modern Swiss trains that wear dull, garish, or otherwise visually challenged liveries.
Denis McCabe and I traveled the length of TPC’s AOMC route. The most impressive section is the climb from Monthey to Champéry, where long sections of the line climb sharply into the mountains.
I exposed these photos of TPC’s new trains using my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera.
Here’s one solution to a difficult lighting problem: A few days ago when I was photographing along the shore of Lake Geneve at St. Saphorin, Switzerland I had a nice clean over-the-shoulder sun lit view for eastward trains, but was looking directly into the blazing morning sun for westward trains.
The scenery was too good to let the photographic opportunity pass.
So what did I do? I changed lenses. Specifically, I opted to use my Zeiss 12mm Touit on FujiFilm X-T1, and then stop all the way down.
What do I mean by ‘stop down’? This is a traditional photographic term that means to close the aperture by a full-stop increment. Say from f4 to f5.6. (Each one-stop change doubles or halves the amount of light reaching the film/sensor. Opening up a stop doubles the light, closing down halves it.) To ‘stop all the way down’ is to close the lens to its smallest aperture. In the case of my Zeiss lens, this is f22.
With the 12mm Tuoit, at f22 the tiny hole with the very wide-angle focal length combine to allow for a sun-burst effect. To take advantage of this sun-effect with a moving train, I had to increase the ISO to 1250, (because f22 lets in much less light to the sensor than I normally would during daylight.)
The secondary difficulty with this image is the narrow exposure latitude of the digital media. By exposing for the sun, I’ve had to seriously underexpose for the front of the locomotive.
To compensate for this, I manipulated the RAW camera file in post-processing (after exposure) using Lightroom, which allowed me to brighten the shadow areas and control the highlights.
I’ve included a screenshot of the Lightroom work panel that reveals how I’ve adjusted the slider controls on this specific file.
Significantly, Lightroom makes a working overlay file and DOES NOT alter the original RAW image. Working on the RAW directly would damage the original file. I advise against working directly with the original. Always make a copy.
There’s something inherently attractive about a railway along water, be it a river, pond, lake or the sea.
SBB’s line along Lake Geneva is a fine example of waterside running. Not only does the lake exhibit wonderful aqua hues, but is surrounded by vineyards, snow capped Alpine peaks and other beautiful scenery.
The trick is finding locations where you can place a train with the water in a pleasing composition.
Easier said than done.
I’d found this location at St. Saphorin by searching the internet and studying Google maps. Last week, Denis McCabe and I arrived by train and made the short walk from St. Saphorin station to a foot bridge designed to grant access to the lakefront for bathers.
Not only did SBB provide transport, but fielded a nice variety of trains. About every five to ten minutes something came rolling along. Below is a sample.
Below are two versions of an image I made of a Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn narrow-gauge train engaging the Abt rack system on its steep ascent from Göschenen to Andermatt.
These were made with my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera on my visit to the Alps with Stephen Hirsch, Gerry Conmy and Denis McCabe in mid April 2016.
The first is the unadjusted (except for scaling) Jpg produced in camera. Notice that the sky is washed out and lacking in detail.
The second image is a Jpg that I produced from the camera RAW file by making nominal contrast and saturation adjustments in Lightroom.
The aim of the second image was to hold the sky and highlight detail that was lost by the camera Jpg. This demonstrates the ability of the RAW file to retain greater detail than the Jpg.
Instead of using an external graduated neutral density filter, as I had with some previous images displayed on Tracking the Light, I used the equivalent graduated neutral density filter in the Lightroom program.
Why not use the external filter in this situation? Two reasons:
The external filter is cumbersome and takes time to set up.
I wanted to improve the appearance of the sky without darkening the mountains. Using the electronic filter gives me the ability to selectively control highlights and shadows in the graduated area selected by the filter, while the external graduated filter would have covered the top of the image and darkened the mountains as well as the sky.
Both are valuable tools for improving a photograph.
The technique for both photos is essentially the same, however with the photo below of the Swiss ICN passenger train I used a slight telephoto and opted to crop the sky, rather than use a graduated neutral density filter to balance the contrast/retain detail.
Below is another view from the same location near Erstfeld. Same camera, same lens, but I’ve set the zoom to a wide-angle view and I’m not as low to the ground.
The result is that the flowers remain in relative focus to the train and distant scenery. (Also I’m using the graduated neutral density filter to retain highlight detail at the top of the image).
The train is a bit small, but this photograph is more about the whole scene rather than being focused on the train.