Parallel lines. On the left is Canadian National’s Wisconsin Central line from Fond du Lac to Chicago; on right is Wisconsin & Southern’s former Milwaukee Road line running from Horicon to Milwaukee.
On this day, Chris Guss and I were aiming to catch Wisconsin & Southern’s T-4 freight on its way to Janesville. This train joins CN’s route at Slinger, just a little ways north from our location in the curve at Ackerville.
My goal was to show the parallel routes, while featuring the freight accelerating through the curve, to demonstrate the power of the locomotives.
Complicating my composition were the rows of trees. When I place the train in the distance, the tops of the locomotives are below the tree-line, and the thus less dramatic. When I let the locomotives get closer, they obscure the freight cars and most of the interesting effects of the parallel curves.
If I move lower, the angle would be more dramatic, but the second set of tracks would be nearly lost altogether. Longer focal length lens? Similar quandary, this minimizes the second set of tracks and features the trees more prominently.
Such are the challenges of perfecting railroad photo composition. Often there’s no one ideal solution.
Here’s a lighting challenge: A freight train crossing a big bridge against an overcast sky.
Expose for the train and the sky gets washed out (loss of detail). Expose for the sky and the train is too dark.
So what do you do?
I expose for the sky and then adjust the file in post processing.
Why? Because it is easy enough to lighten slightly underexposed areas, but once highlight detail is lost through over exposure it cannot be recovered.
To balance the exposure in post processing, I lightened the shadow areas globally. This took all of about 30 seconds to accomplish in Lightroom. I also made minor adjustments to overall color balance and saturation. Afterwards, I played with the file to make some outlandish versions for point of comparison.
Of the four, the second from the top is the only image I’d normally present. The bottom of the four is intended to be a little absurd.
A couple of weeks ago, I traveled with Rich and John Gruber to photograph Wisconsin & Southern’s Reedsburg to Madison freight.
This plies a former Chicago & North Western route that in its heyday a century ago was a double-track mainline running from Chicago to the Twin Cities via Elroy.
Today, it is a ambling branch line with lots of 10 mph running: No directional double track, no signals, no fast passenger trains, and the line is truncated at Reedsburg.
On this day a matched set of back to back SD40-2s was an added attraction. We decided on Hatchery Road in Baraboo as our first photo location. I opted to feature the skewed rural grade crossing.
To balance the exposure, I manipulated the camera RAW files in Lightroom using digitally applied graduated neutral density filter to better hold sky detail, while lightening shadow areas and making slight adjustments to overall contrast and color balance.
I exposed these three photos last week on Wisconsin & Southern at Baraboo, Wisconsin using my old Leica 3A loaded with Ilford Pan F black & white film (ISO 50).
In its heyday, Baraboo was a division point on Chicago & North Western’s Chicago-Madison-Twin Cities main line.
Its glory days are now more than a century past; decline began in the early twentieth century, when this route was augmented by C&NW’s low-grade Adams Line (via Milwaukee), which became a preferred route for through freight and fast passenger expresses.
It was severed as a through line in the 1980s.
As mentioned in an earlier post, on this July 2016 day John Gruber and I were following Wisconsin & Southern’s Madison to Reedsburg freight.
Some photographers might object to the railroad’s choice of motive power: an SD40-2 operating long-hood first. I recall the wisdom of my late-friend Bob Buck who reminded me once many years ago, ‘The railroad isn’t operated for your benefit.’
(In other-words; if a long-hood forward SD40-2 is on offer, that’s what there is and so make the best of it.)
Compare these images:
In one, I’ve adjusted the contrast to compensate for a cloud that momentarily softened the noonday sunlight. In the second, I’ve worked with depth of field and focused on trackside weeds instead of the locomotive. In the last, I’ve included fellow photographer John Gruber to add in a human element.