Warm sunny summer mornings are very pleasant. However with the warm weather comes rapid plant growth which can complicate railroad photography.
Take for example these views that I made at Vernon, Vermont at the end of June, 2019.
New England Central’s 611 crew was taking Brattleboro-Palmer turn southbound with locomotive 3476 in the lead (a one upon a time EMD SD45 re-built to a SD40-2/’SD40-3’ configuration.)
To get a bit of elevation, I scaled a mound on the east side of the line, near the grade crossing at the switch for the old power plant.
I liked the cows grazing in the nearby field, so working with my Canon EOS-7D with 200mm lens, I made a distant view. Unfortunately for the, the brush had grown so much that it seems like the freight is emerging from the undergrowth!
I also made a few photos with a FujiFilm XT1 and 27mm pancake lens. Of these, the more distant view seems to work better from a compositional standpoint. SD45 enthusiasts make argue otherwise!
Toward the end of June 2019, I visited New England Central’s yard at Brattleboro, Vermont.
It was the first time in many months that I used my old Canon EOS-7D, which I’d fitted with a 200mm telephoto lens.
As the 611 crew was getting organized to take Brattleboro to Palmer turn south, I made these photos.
I’ve always like the Canon color palate, which I believe is a function of their lenses and sensor. This is decidedly different than the digital photos I make with either my FujiFilm XT1 or Lumix LX7. Playing with a long telephoto is always fun, although in recent years I’ve shied away from very long lenses, as I’ve found that they tend to be overused.
North from White River Junction the former Boston & Maine line runs toward Wells River and Newport, Vermont.
It’s been nearly a century since B&M conveyed the line north of Wells River to Canadian Pacific, but I’m old enough to remember B&M operations White River to Wells River, although I don’t have many photos to show for it.
Last week I followed Vermont Rail System’s freight operating northward from White River Junction. Unfortunately for photos, many of my preferred locations were suffering from excessive vegetation.
Here’s a few photos exposed digitally. More to come.
Several days ago, I posted a view of a dusty diamond in the Bellows Falls, Vermont yard that I exposed way back in 1978. Tracking the Light readers wrote in and wondered if this disused section of track survived, and one suggested that it did still exist.
So, the other day, I stopped over in Bellows Falls while driving northward and searched for the old diamond at the southeast area of Vermont Railway’s former B&M/Rutland yard.
I’ll admit that I drove over the section of track in question before I finally spotted it, well buried in dirt and partially covered by a puddle.
Making matters difficult, was that in my youthful focus on the diamond, I completely cropped the building next to it, which if I had included in my earlier photo, would have made finding the location easier.
Below are several comparison views plus a scan from the original slide.
Last week, Pat Yough and I drove to White River Junction, Vermont, seeking photographs of Buffalo & Pittsburgh 3000, a classic EMD-built GP40 that works the New England Central (NECR) local freight based there.
We found the engine, and shortly after we arrived a snow squall allowed us to exposed some very wintery images.
It had been several years since my last visit to White River Junction, which historically was among the busiest freight locations in Vermont.
Why is a Buffalo & Pittsburgh engine on the New England Central? My short answer: since both B&P and NECR are Genesee & Wyoming railroads it seems logical that engines from one railroad might be loaned or conveyed to another. However, the detailed particulars of the B&P 3000 arrangement are beyond my knowledge at this time.
Finding B&P in White River was only the beginning of our day photographing NECR operations; Stay tuned for more!
I rolled down the passenger-side window of my friend’s Golf, and exposed a series of photos with my Lumix.
I’ve described this technique previously; I adjusted the f-stop (aperture control) manually to its smallest opening (f8), my ISO was at its slowest setting (80), and I put the camera to aperture priority.
I intended this combination of settings to automatically select the appropriate shutter speed for ideal exposure, while using the slowest setting to allow for the effect of motion blur.
I kept the camera aimed at the locomotive while allowing for ample foreground to blur by for the effect of speed.
This works especially well to show the large diesel working long-hood forward, which is not its usual position.
At 8:08 AM on April 27, 2018, New England Central 611 was on the move south from Brattleboro, Vermont.
Bright hazy sunshine made for excellent conditions for photography.
Working with my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm telephoto, I exposed this view looking across the Connecticut River backwater south of Brattleboro yard.
To make the most of this contrasty scene, I imported the Fuji RAW file into Lightroom and made minor adjustments to highlight and shadows to improve the appearance of the image, then slightly boosted saturation to make for a more pleasing photograph.
NECR freight 611 was on the move toward Palmer, Massachusetts and a bright morning on hand, so the chase was on!
Three freight railroads, plus Amtrak share the tracks at Bellows Falls. Yet on the morning of my visit last week not a wheel was turning.
I worked with the cosmic morning light to make a few photos of the old station building and the railway environment.
Not all great railway photos need trains. And Tracking the Light is more about the process of making railway photos than simply the execution of ‘great train pictures’.
For these images I worked with my Lumix LX7 (color digital photos) and a Leica 3a with screw-mount 35mm focal length Nikkor lens (black & white photos exposed on Kodak Tri-X and processed in Ilford Perceptol).
I have my favorites. Can you guess which these are?
High sun in June doesn’t offer the most flattering light. Straight up and down sun, with harsh contrast, and inky shadows conspire to make for difficult photos.
Last week, Paul Goewey and I waited at this rural grade crossing near Cavendish, Vermont for Vermont Rail System’s southward (eastward) freight 263. Slow orders and other delays resulted in a much longer than expected wait.
I had Fomapan 100 black & white film in the Leica 3A. I’ve been experimenting with this Czech-made film since October last year. Among its benefits is its exceptional ability to capture shadow detail.
To intensify this desirable characteristic, I processed the film with two-stage development. First I let the film soak at 68F in a water bath mixed with a drop of HC110 and Kodak Photoflo for about 3 minutes.
For the primary developer I used Ilford Perceptol Stock for 5 minutes 25 seconds at 69F with very gentle agitation every 60 seconds. Then stop bath, two bath fixer, 1st rinse, Permawash, 10 minute second rinse.
I scanned the negatives using an Epson Perfection V750 Pro flatbed scanner, then imported the negatives into Lightroom.
Ideally my chemical processing should yield negatives that don’t require work in post processing. But in this case I found I needed to make minor adjustments to contrast and exposure.
I’ve presented two examples; one is scaled but otherwise unaltered. The other has my exposure and contrast adjustments.
June 7, 2017 was a rare crystal clear day. Paul Goewey and I headed north to Vermont to retrace the path of the old Rutland Railroad, and retrace our own footsteps.
Many years earlier, we had made a similar trip to this railroad to photograph Maine Central RS-11 802 that had been loaned to the Green Mountain Railroad for the run from Bellows Falls to Rutland.
Where our 1983 adventured occurred in November on a gloomy gray day that soon turned snowy, this most recent trip benefitted from very fine conditions.
As we drove toward Rutland on Vermont Highway 103, we recalled the details of the earlier trip
In Rutland we located VRS freight 263 that was getting ready to depart. Positioning ourselves on the grade to Mount Holly we waited. Once the freight passed our first spot we entered in its pursuit, as one does, to make more photographs.
Among the spots we preselected was this view of the Cuttingsville Trestle. I selected an angle similar to that featured by famous photographs made in Rutland Railroad days by accomplished photographer Jim Shaughnessy.
I’ve included the technical details in my caption above.
My Leica was loaded with Kodachrome 64 on December 28, 1985. I was traveling with Brandon Delaney. First we photographed Boston & Maine local freight ED-4, seen here just north of the Brattleboro yard.
Later in the day we caught road freight CPED coming down from it’s interchange with Canadian Pacific. This was a big freight led by 5 or 6 GPs and we followed it all the way to East Deerfield yard.
K64 was an excellent film, but tended to have a magenta bias, as evident in this wintery view. Also, I found that the sky tended to reproduce a bit lighter than other films. By mid-1986, I’d largely switched to K25 for my color work.
It was 30 years ago today that I made this photograph on the platform at White River Junction, Vermont.
The conductor on Central Vermont freight 447 is waiting for his train to pull forward so that he can get on the caboose.
That morning T.S. Hoover and I met Ed Beaudette on the platform. Ed supplied us with a line-up, and we made good use of the information. (Thanks Ed!)
After chasing CV 447 north, we returned to White River Junction and followed a southward Boston & Maine freight toward Bellows Falls.
At the end of the day we met George C. Corey at Springfield Union Station (Massachusetts) on the Boston & Albany and photographed the Conrail Office Car Special that was in town for Superintendent E.C. Cross’s retirement.
Transportation; Railroads; Railways; Railway Photography, that’s what I photograph. Right?
But what’s the actual subject? What should I focus on? More to the point; what is interesting? And, is today’s interesting subject going to be interesting tomorrow?
Looking back is one way to look forward.
Yet, there lies a paradox: When I look back over my older photos, I regret not having better skills to have consistently made more interesting and more varied images. And also, for not being more aware of what was interesting.
The lesson is then is about skill: learn to vary technique, adopt new approaches and continually refine the process of making photos while searching for interesting subjects. (The searching is the fun part!)
A truly successful image is one that transcends the subject and captures the attention of the audience.
So, is railway photography really about the subject?
Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.
Pan Am at North Bennington? Who could have imagined this 20 years ago?
I spent that morning following Vermont Rail System’s ‘B&R Job’ south from Rutland. Yet the photographic highlight was catching its connection, Pan Am’s RJ-1 local, at North Bennington.
Back in the day, Pan Am was an airline with round the world schedules. The name conjures up images of handsome blue Boeing 747s, or pre-World War II ‘Clippers’ (see planes).
Pan Am Railways is a re-branding of the Guilford system which operates former Boston & Maine and Maine Central lines. In 2007, two former Canadian National GP40-2L (sometimes identified as ‘GP40-2W’) locomotives were painted in a livery reminiscent of the old Pan Am Airlines’ scheme.
Yet, this scenario seems just a bit weird to me, like some alternate version of the future. Anyway you look at it, the combination of the restored historic station and a sky blue engine is both fascinating and strange.
New England Central at Montpelier Junction, Vermont.
A freshly scrubbed GP38 led a pair of Pennsy passenger cars in a classic old-school whistle-stop campaign tour of Vermont.
On August 28, 2010, my dad and I drove to the Georgia high bridge (near St. Albans, Vermont) to intercept a New England Central special train hired by gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie.
It was a sunny warm summer’s day, and we made numerous photos of the special as it worked its way south.
This pair of images was exposed at Montpelier Junction, where the train made a stop for the candidate to make a speech to his supporters. Traditionally, this was where Central Vermont met the Montpelier & Barre.
I used a telephoto for these views in order to emphasize the bunting and flags that marked the train’s distinctive qualities. Several of my photographs of the train appeared in Private Varnish.
Twilight, apparently, may strictly defined by the specific position of the sun below the horizon.
‘Civil Twilight’ as defined by the National Weather Service, is ‘the time at which the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon.’ Key to this period is that ‘there is enough light for objects to be clear distinguishable.”
I’ve always used the term in a more general sense to indicate the time of day when there’s a glow in the sky (before sunrise or after sunset). I suppose, the more appropriate title for these evening photographs would ‘Dusk at Bellows Falls.’
Anyway, it was the end of day’s photography in October 2004, when Tim Doherty and I visited Bellows Falls to witness the arrival of Guilford Rail System’s WJED (White River Junction-East Deerfield) freight.
This train worked interchange from Vermont Rail System’s Green Mountain Railroad and I made a series of atmospheric images at the passenger station. In the lead was a former Norfolk Southern high-hood GP35, a rare-bird indeed.
Bellows Falls is one of my favorite places to make railway images. I’ve been visiting as long as I can remember. My family had been taking day trips to Bellows Falls, and some of my earliest memories are of the tracks here. But, I’ve rarely made photos here at this time of day.
Twilight? Dusk? Evening? How about: dark enough to warrant a tripod, but light enough to retain color in the sky?
On October 24, 2013, Amtrak’s southward Vermonter is south of Three Rivers in Palmer, Massachusetts. I’ve often favored this view along the old Central Vermont Railway where the tracks run along the side of the road. The train is approaching Palmer’s yard limits and is trundling along at a casual pace.
Everyday scenes like this one are easy enough to find, yet tend to hold their interest over time. Items such as the trash cans on the left and the car on the road may someday garnish greater interest than the P42 leading the Vermonter.
Yet, someone interested in trains in the future may see this and exclaim, ‘You mean that way back in 2013, they ran the Vermonter via Three Rivers? No way! Why?’
Finding peak autumn color is always a challenge, and finding it with a train moving can be even more difficult. It always seems that the best color isn’t anywhere near the tracks. On this day in 2004, the view at Mt. Holly was an exception to the rule.
In October 1992, Tom Carver advised me to photograph Canadian Pacific’s Lyndonville Subdivision in Northern Vermont. At the time, traffic was down to two or three trains per week. Yet, these always operated with Montreal Locomotive Work’s diesels and despite their infrequency, departed the yard at Newport, Vermont on a predictable schedule.
At the time, I was on one of my extended autumn visits to the Northeast from California, and enjoying the cool air and anticipating the colored foliage characteristic of the season.
I departed Monson, Massachusetts at 4am and drove north on I91 directly to Orleans, Vermont, just a short distance from the yard at Newport. It was a crisp and clear morning. I expected the train to depart at 9 am, and sure enough, by 9:30 it made its appearance. I exposed some very satisfactory slides at Orleans and turned to chase (as per plan).
Although traffic had dwindled, track speed was still pretty quick, and I made a lively pursuit of the train to make more photographs. The single RS-18 was chortling along, belching the occasion puff of exhaust.
At Lyndonville, the train paused to switch, giving me ample opportunity to make photos. This was one of the images I made on Kodachrome 25 with my Nikon F3T.
In July 2012, George Pitarys and I repeated this adventure. This time chasing a Vermont Railway train running from Newport to White River Junction, again making the timed interception at Orleans. Track speeds were slower, and our chase was more relaxed. I’ve not yet made plans for my 2032 chase of the line.
I was at North Bennington, Vermont to photograph Pan Am Railways’ (formerly Guilford Rail System) RJ-1 local freight that was performing freight interchange with Vermont Railway System.
This route had been dormant for many years but reopened in recent times. While I’d been to North Bennington on several occasions, this was the first time I photographed trains there.
The North Bennington Station has been beautifully restored. Out on the platform is a statue of a man gazing impatiently at his watch, as if he were a passenger waiting for a train.
I made a variety of images of Pan Am’s former Canadian National GP40-2L working around the station. I like this one because it’s different. I used a smaller aperture to allow for greater depth of field, while focusing on the statue instead of the locomotive.
I believe that’s the old freight house beyond the locomotive and cars.
Many years ago my dad advised me, ‘photograph everything, because everything changes’. In October 2002, I made this photograph of Green Mountain Railroad’s excursion train passing the wooden covered truss at Bartonsville, Vermont. At the time this was a seasonal daily occurrence. While I was fond of the vintage Alco diesel, there was nothing unusual about the scene, and there was no special urgency in capturing the moment. Today, this image is a prize, but not for the Alco, which remains in excellent condition—I photographed it again last summer at White River Junction where it was positioned to power a Vermont Rail System excursion. The old covered bridge is only a memory today. It stood here since the 1870s, but on August 28, 2011 it was swept away by flood waters caused by Hurricane Irene. Its temporary replacement wasn’t as interesting to photograph; thankfully a replica truss bridge is under construction.
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.