Tag Archives: Turbotrain

Turbo Blasted!

Is this a bad photo? It isn’t what I hoped to get.
On January 9, 1986, I braved arctic conditions at Conrail’s Dewitt Yard in East Syracuse, New York to make photos in the snow.
In addition to Conrail views, I exposed two black & white photos of an Amtrak turbo train running from Niagara Falls to Grand Central Terminal.
The head on view is a bit distant, and my trailing exposure was exposed prematurely.
My only excuse is that my hands were numb with cold.
Worse! I seem to have misplaced my detailed notes from the day, so all I have is abbreviated notes on my negative sleeve and a few print captions to work from.
Poor show, me.
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Sun and Clouds and a Turbo Train Near Rochester, New York.

Last week, I wrote about violating one of the cardinal rules of good railroad photography, that is aiming directly into the sun. In question were some views along the Ware River Railroad, er . . . sorry, rather the Mass-Central, as it is now known.

It may come as a shock to some readers of Tracking the Light, but this was not my first time aiming the camera toward the sun when photographing trains!

What I present here is an unusual image. Not because it is a trailing view of an Amtrak Turbotrain racing through North Chili, New York (rhymes with Dubai rather than Silly Hippie) on its way to Grand Central. (Yes, the Turbos went there back in the day). But, because I’ve opted to make a mid-morning silhouette in an unlikely way.

A thin layer of cloud had softened the morning sun. I was working with a Linhof Karden Color B 4×5 view camera fitted with a 90mm Schneider Super Angulon lens and Tri-X black and white sheet film (manufactured nearby in Rochester, New York).

Photographing moving trains with a view camera is no easy task, and on this day I had the camera firmly set up on a heavy tripod.

However, one advantage to the view camera is the ability to lift the front plane of the camera. This allowed me to keep the camera level while obtaining more sky area without causing unnecessary distortion to the train.

I’d set up the camera well in advance of the Turbotrain’s passing. Back in 1987, when I made this image there were no cell phones nor Julie to provide me with schedule updates.

Behind me was the Union Road grade crossing (long since replaced with an overpass). I had only one shot and I wanted to place the rear nose of the Turbotrain such that it didn’t intersect the trees to the right or the silhouette effect would be lost.

Another advantage of the 4×5 media is the ability to capture much greater amounts of information than possible with smaller film formats. As a result, I was able to capture superb tonality across a wide exposure range.

Unmodified scan of the original 4x5 negative. No adjustments to contrast or exposure.
Unmodified scan of the original 4×5 negative. No adjustments to contrast or exposure.

Admittedly this black & white negative had always vexed me in the darkroom. However, I scanned it the other day, and using Lightroom found that the contrast manipulation I was unable to achieve chemically, was easily accomplished with digital adjustment.

Adjusted photograph, using both localized and global contrast and exposure controls.
Adjusted photograph, using both localized and global contrast and exposure controls.

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