The Last Train of the Day

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One in a periodic series of images I made last summer.

Any all-day summer railfan outing ultimately gets down to the last train of the day. If you’ve spent all day trackside you are working toward the golden light hour when a westbound will be running  into that low-angle warm light that photographers crave.

It may be that the most interesting train  you saw all day came through around noon under high sun conditions with its corresponding harsh light. That might have been the train with the double Norfolk Southern heritage unit duo or a rare foreign unit, say a Kansas City Southern Belle or a Ferromex unit on the lead.

Maybe that last train of the day had yet another ho hum dash 9 wide cab of which  you’ve already seen a dozen today. But no matter what its consist might be that last train of the day has the best light.

You are looking at a three-shot sequence of a westbound Norfolk Southern intermodal train at Olmsted Falls that I made last July.

The sequence took advantage of the three general ways that you can capture something with a general purpose walking around zoom lens with a rated focal length range of 18 to 135 millimeters.

The opening shot was made with the zoom all the way out. The image features a quality that of late I’ve come to appreciate in photography, the interplay of shadows and light.

Contrast creates tension and thus interest in a photograph and that is the case here with part of the locomotive in shadow and part of it in sweet light.

The middle image is the obligatory “get the train by the depot shot.” It’s a medium shot at 47 mm.

In this case, though, the station is uniformly lighted. There is still a touch of light and shadows on the train to provide some some contrast.

The wide angle bottom image of the set provides visual evidence that I had not been paying attention to my camera settings. Look at the number board of NS C44-9W No. 9681 and you’ll notice that it is soft.

That’s because I had my camera in aperture priority mode rather than shooting at a high shutter speed, which is my standard procedure when photographing moving trains on a mainline. For the record the aperture setting is f8. You know, “f8 and be there.” Well, there I was.

This image was made at 1/200th of a second, which wasn’t enough to freeze an intermodal train with a clear straight track ahead of it.

But sometimes a little blur doesn’t matter that much. That is my shadow on the right covering the Berea siding while the shadow on the left belongs to Marty Surdyk. I could not make this image the way I wanted to make it without getting our shadows.

This image was made at 8:08 p.m. It was time to head home and for some dinner and to celebrate the good fortune of getting a westbound during the time of day when I really wanted one.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

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