I’ve featured Chicago & North Western 1385 in a number of books, including my American Steam Locomotive (published in 1998 by MBI), and Locomotive (published in 2001 by MBI) and most recently in Alco Locomotives (2009 by Voyageur Press).
The locomotive is preserved at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, Wisconsin, and was operated regularly when I lived in Wisconsin in the mid-1990s. My friend John Gruber had helped save the locomotive in the early 1960s, and it was his son Dick Gruber who introduced me to the engine when we worked for Pentrex Publishing.
Here’s an excerpt of my text from Locomotive on C&NW’s R-1 Class 4-6-0s:
If any one locomotive could be selected to represent Chicago & North Western’s steam power fleet, it would have to be the Class R-1 Ten Wheeler. In its day, the R-1 was the most common, and perhaps the most versatile locomotive on the railroad. A total of 325 R-1 were built, the most numerous type of any C&NW steam locomotive, and they were among the longest lived classes on the railroad as well.
During the last 15 years of the 19th century, C&NW amassed quite a variety of 4-6-0s. Most were products of the Schenectady Locomotive Works, in Schenectady, New York, but some were built by Baldwin.
I’m not talking about stripping down and running naked through the snow. That sounds like a recipe for frostbite, hypothermia or worse! Rather, I’m focused on how to best select exposure when working in winter situations. Snow is especially difficult to work with for several reasons. First, it’s abnormally bright and results in high contrast situations that is both difficult on the eyes and the camera sensor. Second, most camera meters aren’t designed to work with fields of white, so tend to recommend the wrong settings. Third, for many photographers, making images in snow is an infrequent experience, and one that tends to lead to uncertainty and higher rates of exposure error.
My approach to snow photography stems from years of practice. In general, I take the information provided by camera meters as advisory. I rarely rely on automatic settings without some manual adjustment. Why? I’ve learned to carefully gauge exposure and apply settings manually. Furthermore, I’m distrustful of automatic metering, especially for railway photography, because the automation is programmed to deliver adequate imagery other than what I’m trying to achieve. Perhaps no other situation is as difficult for a common-meter to gauge as sunlit snow imaging.
Many years ago, my father lent me a Weston Master III, and instructed me to wander around the house making exposures and write them down. No photos were exposed. I was about nine and I found this exercise confusing and frustrating because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be doing. However, I overcame frustration and learned to use the light meter. A decade later, I had the opportunity to learn Cibachrome printing (used to make vivid prints from color slides). At the time, I was primarily working with Kodachrome 25, which I’d been taught to nominally underexpose to produce more saturated colors.
Translating Kodachrome to Cibachrome was revealing; I’d found that my rich, slightly-underexposed slides, which when projected on a nice bright screen looked fantastic, were in fact rather difficult to print. The biggest issue was contrast. While under-exposure may have enhanced the color saturation, it also made the image more contrasty. So while it turned out that my old theory on underexposure had it flaws, I discovered that slightly overexposed slides printed very well. I needed to determine ideal exposures in order to make optimal slides.
Aiding my efforts was my notebook; I’d been recording my exposures for years, but with the Ciba exercise I began making even more detailed notes, recording slide exposures to the third of a stop. Eventually, I assembled a chart with ideal exposures for Kodachrome 25 in various lighting situations. In general, I’d discovered that to make prints, slides needed to be about 1/3 stop brighter than I’d been making them for projection. All very well, but what does this have to do with making digital images in the snow?
Exposing Kodachrome is history, but the lessons I learned from this material still apply. (The short answer to the question was that snow in bright daylight should be exposed at approximately 1 ½ stops down from the full daylight setting without snow; thus with Kodachrome 25, if my normal daylight setting was f4.5 1/250, my snow exposure was about f8 1/250 +/- 1/3 stop). Many of my slides have appeared in books, magazines, as well as here on Tracking the Light. Take a look at my recent book North American Locomotives for some top-notch printed reproductions of Kodachrome.
Digital photography offers some great advantages over Kodachrome, including the ability to review images on-site—thus removing the uncertainty of exposing slides and having to wait for days (or weeks) to see if your exposures were correct. It’s now easier than ever to make good snow exposures and learn immediately from miscalculation. Related to this is the ability to use a digital camera’s histogram as an on-site exposure tool.
Histogram? Yes! This is perhaps the greatest feature on my digital cameras. It allows me to set my exposure ideally, allowing key images to capture the greatest amount information, thus minimizing detail lost through unwanted under-or over-exposure. Positively invaluable when making images in the snow.
Today, before a train enters the scene, I’ll make a series of test exposures and judge them by the output of the histogram. This allows me to refine my exposure to a point that exceeds what I could have achieved with my detailed chart and Kodachrome. In my next post, I’ll detail this process with more examples.
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.
Vermont Rail System freight 263 led by former Texas Mexican GP60 381 works on Green Mountain Railroad’s former Rutland grade near Mt Holly, Vermont on February 18, 2002. Fresh powder, a clear blue dome combined with red locomotives and tonnage make for an irresistible combination. Cross-lighting the scene adds a bit of contrast and drama. Yet the snow minimizes the effect of deep shadows. Exposing in snow takes a bit of practice. Most metering systems will tend to render the snow too dark resulting in an underexposed image. A good rule of thumb: close down one full stop from normal sunlit daylight exposure. With 100 speed slide film as used here; instead of f6.3 1/500th, I’d recommend about f9 1/500th. An advantage of working with a digital camera in snow is the ability to check exposure on site, and not have to wait until after the action has passed to find out that the photos are exposed incorrectly.
Photographs from my day following Vermont Railway GP60 381 in the snow have appeared in a variety of publications. I used this image on page 35 of my 2003 book TRAINS—A Photographic Tour of American Railways, published by Gramercy. The book’s cover features a broadside view of this locomotive near Chester, Vermont.