As I got off the down Waterford train from Dublin at Bagenalstown, County Carlow, I immediately began considering photo options. I didn’t have much time, because the train was only in the station for a couple of minutes.
I took a position at the back of the Irish Rail ICR adjacent to the old station building, and made a series of digital photos using my FujiFilm XT1 with 18-135mm Fuji zoom lens.
I’ve selected two of the sequence here: One wide angle, one telephoto; same camera, same location, same vantage point, same railcar, but different focal lengths.
I avoid shrouding my work in mystery and I’ve happily discussed my technique, tools and materials with anyone who asks. This can lead to some interesting conversations, but also some peculiar observations.
Over the years, various people have offered curious comments on my photography (not including the written comments that appear in response to Tracking the Light). Below are some of the most memorable:
1) Commenter, “I like your slides, what sort of film do you use to make the photos?”
Me, “Kodachrome 25”.
Commenter, “Kodachrome 25! Isn’t that too slow?!”
2) Commenter, “That’s a beautiful scene but I didn’t think it would make a good photograph.”
3) Commenter, “Here’s a tip for you son, your photos are too head on, I couldn’t read the words on the side of the trains.”
4) Commenter, “I like your photo of the sunset, if I want to make a photo like that, which filter should I use?”
Me, “I don’t know, I didn’t use a filter.”
Commenter, “Yes, but if I was to used a filter, which one should I use?”
5) Commenter (via a 3rd party), “I don’t like Brian Solomon’s photography, it shows too many trees!”
6) Commenter, “You shouldn’t be making photos at night, it’s a waste of film!”
7) Commenter, “You still use film?!!”
8) Commenter, “So how are you adjusting from the transition to digital?”
Me, “I still haven’t adjusted from the transition to color.”
9) Commenter in regards to my Lumix LX3, “I can’t believe that YOU use THAT!”
10) Commenter in regards to a photo of Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited in the Berkshires, “That’s a beautiful photograph, pity about the train.”
I’m often asked, “How do I find trains to photograph?”
The short (and not especially enlightening answer) is that I pay close attention to the railway. (Whichever railway I’m photographing). Here are some basic tips:
1) Always pay attention.
2) Carefully study the details of the operation you wish to photograph: Learn when crews are called, how far they normally work, and what is expected of them en route. How long does it take to make a brake test? How long to make a station stop? How long to make a set-out or pick-up? Where are passing sidings and what are the distances between them. Learn about train weights, locomotive performance, and rates of acceleration and braking. Learn grade profiles and how these can affect train speeds. Find out about slow orders (both temporary and those in the timetable). Keep in mind, a scanner can only help you when you understand the information it provides.
3) Use these details to find out how they may affect when trains run.
4) Learn to distinguish good information from poor information.
5) Never assume anything without good solid information.
6) Don’t assume that everyday is the same (but always learn from the passage of trains, make careful notes as to the times trains pass and how long it takes for them to get between stations, and why.).
7) When interpreting schedules, find out how a specific schedule is to be used by the railway in question.
8) Know what questions to ask, and find the right people to ask.
9) Don’t assume that because someone works for a railroad that they are up to date on operations. Railroaders are like photographers, if three of them answer a question, you’ll get four answers.
10) Don’t expect railroaders to: ‘tell you when the train is coming.’ (see number 9).
11) Remember: on a railway plans will change, trains may be delayed, and no day is ever exactly the same (except in Switzerland).
12) Never assume there isn’t a train coming; you’ll be surprised.
13) When a train passes take the time to learn about it. Was it a regularly scheduled move? Was it an unscheduled extra? Was it running to schedule or was it hours late? Is it scheduled to run daily, three times a week or once a year? IF it runs daily, is it scheduled for the same time every day? If it doesn’t run at the same time, find out why.
14) When nearby a railway always use your ears. LISTEN! One of the best tip-offs that a train is approaching are the sounds it makes. Listen for whistles, engines working upgrade, as well as the sounds of braking, and cars clattering. Listen for switch points being moved or other tips that something may be about to happen.
15) Learn a railroad’s signaling and how its signals are expected to normally work. No two signaling systems are exactly the same. Learn when ‘red’ means a train is coming and ‘green’ means one is not (and vice versa!) Also, when ‘yellow’ means you just missed the train you were hoping to see.
16) Remember, a train is coming (but so is Christmas).
17) Put all of the pieces to puzzle into play.
18) Be patient.
19) Be persistent.
20) Take notes.
21) Accept that everyday is a learning experience.
More on finding Passenger and Freight trains in future posts.