The sinuous alignment of the old Southern Pacific in the Tehachapis is ideally suited to lining up sunrise photographs.
A blanket of airborne particulates filtered the rising sun, softening the light and giving it a luminous golden tint.
In the 1990s, I made many glint photos on Kodachrome. This one I exposed digitally and adjusted contrast in post processing to make for a more pleasing image.
Where K25 slide film would have retained the ring of the sun, now I have to settle for a golden blob of light.
A key to making an image such as this one is manually setting the aperture to control the amount of light reaching the sensor. I metered manually and ignored the camera’s recommended exposure, which wouldn’t have given me the desired effect.
Since I was preparing a classic silhouette, I wasn’t interested in retaining detail in the shadows, but instead aimed to hold tonality in the sky.
Where my ‘normal’ daylight exposure with ISO 200 is about f8 1/500th of second, for this photo, I closed down the aperture to f20, which made for two and half stops less exposure.
Combine agricultural dust from the San Joaquin Valley with Los Angeles-area air pollution and you get some wonderful golden light. Throw in a few wild fires and it gets even better!
All that pollution acts as a huge red-orange filter.
On this evening in late July 2016, fellow photographer David Hegarty and I were fortunate to be in place in the California Tehachapis to make good use of the golden light.
As previously featured on Tracking the Light, the railroad was a bit backed up. This enabled us to find a train at the moment of sunset.
These images have not been altered digitally in post processing, except for scaling necessary for digital presentation. To maintain the rich rosy glow, I selected a daylight white balance, and was very careful with my exposure, which I selected manually to maintain texture in the sky.
And yes, I also exposed a slide using Fujichrome Provia 100F.
Having been stuck in a few Los Angeles area-tailbacks lately, I’ll say, it’s no fun. However, when the railroad gets jammed, it can make for some bountiful photographic opportunities.
Union Pacific owns and dispatches the old Southern Pacific route over the Tehachapis, yet BNSF (operating on a trackage rights arrangement inherited from the Santa Fe ) runs the lion’s share of the traffic. The mix of UP and BNSF plus outstanding scenery and blazing sun have the stage set.
To adapt a hackneyed Hollywood phrase; ‘Light, cameras, action . . .’
On this late July afternoon UP wasn’t having a good day. One of its northward trains developed braking problems descending near Cable and northward trains began to stack up behind it, including the BNSF ‘Earthworm’ unit grain train that we’d photographed earlier in the day (see: The Earthworm and a Joshua Tree)
UP’s southward trains hadn’t faired much better; as a very heavy manifest had struggled upgrade at a walking pace adding to more congestion.
By evening, UP’s northward train had reached Caliente, where it held the mainline short of the first intermediate signal (as instructed by the dispatcher),while a BNSF southward manifest was in the siding.
More southward trains were coming behind this train, as the loaded northward earthworm crawled downgrade and stopped at the pit of the Caliente horseshoe, short of the grade crossing.
Three trains at Caliente and nothing moving. Furthermore, a pair of UP Z-trains were making a meet at Cliff.
At this point it was like shooting fish in a barrel, to use another handy cliché, and the evening light was only getting better.
In the early 1990s, I made several productive trips to the California Tehachapis. Southern Pacific owned and operated the line over the mountain, while Santa Fe operated by virtue of trackage rights.
Yet at that time, Santa Fe ran about three times the number of trains as SP. On this morning, T.S. Hoover and I were set-up on the east slope of the mountain. While catching a Santa Fe FP45 in the ‘Super Fleet-Warbonnet’ livery leading was certainly a coup, it wasn’t especially unusual.
Dry desert air and clear skies were nearly ideal conditions for Kodachrome 25 film. This was one of many choice chromes exposed that day. I wish I could turn back the clock!
The locomotive survives at the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris, California. I made some more recent photographs of it on visit in June 2008.