Posts Tagged ‘Posts about photography’

Oh, How Dark Room Work is Easier Now

August 22, 2016


When I was young, I had access to my Dad’s darkroom, so I began railfanning using black and white film.

For me it was dangerous. Film developing and printing consisted of dangerous chemicals, a sealed room in which I’d breathe their vapors, and the foolishness of youth in not wearing gloves but dipping my hands in the chemicals.

It also was time consuming and hard to get a really good image.

Today, with Lightroom and Photoshop, this is done digitally with much better control over each step.

First the image is scanned into the computer. With the scanner maker’s provided software there are many controls over the outcome simply by using the software for general corrections.

Then comes Lightroom where the image is digitally manipulated with far greater precision than could be done in a darkroom in a similar amount of time.

Not only are there exposure and contrast, there are sliders for highlights, shadows, saturation, cutting down on grain using noise reduction, etc., along with being able to remove chromatic aberration, clone out scratches, etc.

Next comes Photoshop for the finishing tweaks, including cloning out those hard to remove tiny defects and sizing the image for use on different sites.

Here is Canadian Pacific 4074 sitting in the CP roundhouse in Toronto in June 1972. The detail, contrast, exposure were all changed or improved along with other tweaks.

Could I do this in a darkroom? Perhaps, if I had many hours.

Thankfully, I live in 2016. While the late 1960s was a wonderful time to railfan, I’d hate to be limited to only that period’s technology.

After all, only a few could see a railfan’s work this way instead of putting the images on sites like this blog where many can share and enjoy various railfans’ work.

Article and Photograph by Robert Farkas


Maybe It Was All About the Pursuit of Perfection

April 8, 2016

I was killing time at the Lakeland train show a few weeks ago when I picked up an issue of Trains magazine from the 1990s to leaf through.

Catching my attention was a letter to the editor pertaining to an article published in the September 1995 issue about the man who shot perfect photographs.

I dug through the pile of magazines and found the article in question because I was curious who it was and what made his photographs “perfect.”

On Photography Logo-xThe photographer was the late Robert O. Hale and the article author was Richard Steinheimer, who some might say also made “perfect” photographs.

Hale worked in the western United States, particularly California, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Steinheimer wrote that he first encountered Hale’s work in Trains around 1950.

For those who liked Hale’s work, Steinheimer wrote, he was a “superman of rail photography.”

According to Steinheimer, all of Hale’s images were properly filtered and cropped, and he had an “independent personal style.”

However, the article never explained what constitutes a perfect photograph and how and why Hale’s work fit that description.

Terms such as “perfect” and “perfection” might seem to have a definitive meaning, but wind up being rather nebulous because of the casual and careless manner in which they are used.

What constitutes “perfect” has caused me some anguish over the years, particularly when I was grading essay exams written by college students.

I was loath to award the maximum point value for an essay, usually 50 or 100 points, because the maximum score meant that the answer was “perfect.”

“Perfect” meant nothing more could have been done to improve upon the response.

If more could have been said or it what was said could have been presented in a more skillful manner, then the response was not perfect because it was flawed.

That, though, raised the question of how a mere mortal could determine that a performance was without any flaws.

I eventually came around to thinking that “perfection” when it came to college student essays is context-specific.

My standard became that the student did the best that an undergraduate could reasonably be expected to do given how much time he or she had to answer the question.

That is still a tough standard to judge, but I’ve found it easier to deal with than a rule that to be perfect something has to be without any flaws.

The letter to the editor about the Steinheimer article on Hale’s photographs asserted that the latter’s work was very good and some of it was unique, but it was not perfect.

The letter writer also failed to define what is meant by “perfect,” but after looking at some of the photographs that illustrated Steinheimer’s piece, the letter writer probably had in mind the fact that some of Hale’s images of steam locomotives did not show the entire locomotive.

Whether Hale made perfect photographs or not, his story was interesting and quite reflective of the era in which he worked.

He might make just one or two photographs a day and had a rather laid-back attitude toward his work.

He didn’t spend endless hours waiting for a train. Either the train he wanted to photograph came or it didn’t.

Hale’s day did not begin early. He often would visit with railroad block operators, finding out during those chats what was coming.

Then he would make a plan to photograph trains at a specific location. Hale was not one to engage in “death marches” to reach distant and rugged locales, but he did like to get out into the countryside.

Steinheimer wrote that when Hale had a vision for a particular image, he stayed with it until he had captured just the right train in just the right light with just the right clarity.

It probably was that quality that prompted Steinheimer to conclude that Hale made perfect photographs.

Hale honed his photographic skill during his U.S. Navy service. Steinheimer noted that Hale had worked long and hard to perfect his technique of making images of landing aircraft.

That level of development led Steinheimer to observe that not all great talent appears spontaneously. It must be developed, even by those who possess much natural talent.

I still don’t know what constitutes a perfect photograph or whether Hale made such images. What seems clear, though, from Steinheimer’s article is that Hale practiced the pursuit of perfection.

Hale mastered the little things that work together to make images that evoke an emotional response from a viewer by capturing a strong sense of time and place. Today, we call this “nailing it.”

One of his strengths was his ability to visualize an image and then have the patience to try multiple times if necessary to attain it.

He was a student of the craft. That didn’t make him unique, but it did elevate him to the upper echelon of his peers.

We should all feel that we’ve accomplished a great deal if someone can someday say that about any of us whether we did or did not make perfect photographs.

On Photography: What Makes Warm Memories?

March 1, 2016

I can’t think of better title than the one that Marty Surdyk came up with for his program at the February Akron Railroad Club meeting last week.

“Warm Memories for a Cold Night” conjures up images of walking in out of the cold and sitting down in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace while sipping hot chocolate and swapping railfan outing stories with old friends.

On Photography Logo-xThere is something about reminiscing about the past while looking at photographs that can make you feel safe and secure on the coldest day or hold at bay whatever is causing you stress, even if only for a few moments.

In particular, I find myself lingering over images that I associate with my own memorable outings.

But what makes an outing memorable? It is not the same thing as having a memory of the event.

I’ve been to Berea to watch trains scores of times, but few of those outings were memorable. They were enjoyable at the time, but were soon filed away and forgotten as just another day of railfanning.

They thus joined a class of vague recollections that all run together. You remember not specific outings but a series of similar outings.

In the case of Berea that might be, “I remember going out to Berea a lot on Saturdays.”

Maybe you remember a series of rituals associated with those outings, but no specific one stands out above the others.

When I think about specific outings that I find memorable a number of factors come to mind that make them stand out.

Something happened to cause an emotional link to the event whether it was the trip from hell or a day filled with unexpected pleasures.

It might be that the trip featured a first, a last or a one of a kind. It also might be that during the outing a number of special occurrences unfolded.

Such was the case for me on a Saturday in late January 2015 during a trip to Pittsburgh when we spotted six Norfolk Southern heritage locomotives in a single day. That’s right, six of ‘em. We were able to photograph three, including two that were double-headed.

That same day began at Summit Cut on the Fort Wayne Line on a morning with single-digit temperatures when I made one of my most dramatic winter images.  An eastbound train came around an S curve with thick layers of ice on the walls of the cut.

Later, we parked in an active traffic lane on a street in West Park, jumped out of the car and literally ran to a bridge to photograph that train with the double-shot of H units, led by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western and with the Central of New Jersey trailing.

At the same time, five other guys were doing the same thing and you should have seen the reaction of a couple that was cross country skiing at the time in the park as this herd of guys with cameras came running from nearly every direction to descend upon the bridge that they wanted to cross.

Furthermore, we had made a wrong turn and barely got there before the train. I thought for sure we had missed it.

Such is the stuff of memorable outings. You look back and feel good about having done them.

During his program, Marty mentioned outings that featured heavy rain, multiple flat tires and a dead battery.

At the time, having to respond to such situations was unpleasant and stressful, but with the passage of time you realize that the adage “this, too, shall pass” holds a lot of truth. Everything turned out all right in the end and you survived.

As much as I enjoy viewing the photographs of others, there is something about seeing my own images made during memorable outings that creates an emotional connection I’ll never quite have when seeing the work of others.

Not only is it a way to remember and feel good about the future, but it is also motivation to go out and create more memories by doing it again.

On Photography: The Emotional Power of an Average Image Made During a Memorable Outing

February 17, 2016

Ashtabula April 22 2007

For more than 13 years the photograph shown above sat in a plastic sleeve in a binder on a shelf in my home office.

It shows Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited passing the former New York Central passenger station in Ashtabula on April 22, 2007.

No. 48 has never stopped here to receive or discharge passengers.

On Photography Logo-xI’m with Marty Surdyk and this is our first photo opportunity of the day. No. 48 is on time, having left Cleveland on the advertised at 7 a.m.

This image is the third of six that I made of this passage of Amtrak No. 48 on a splendid spring morning through Ashtabula.

I do not consider it the best of the lot, although it might be second best. When I looked at this image initially, I saw flaws. What you are seeing is a cropped version.

I was using an 18 to 200 mm zoom lens with my Canon Rebel G camera and given where we were standing, this was as far in as I could get with that lens.

The best image of the six I made is a wide-angle shot that shows more of the locomotives and train. It was the image we had in mind making when choosing where we stood to make photographs.

Shooting the train with the depot in the frame was almost an afterthought. The slide – probably made on Fuji film – sat in that binder until this week.

I was working on an article for the soon-to-be launched Akron Railroad Club eBulletin about one of my most memorable railfan outings.

I saw image and decided to scan it. It was only when I was processing the image in Photoshop that the meaning of it began to come into focus.

This image captures less than a second of an outing that lasted about 12 hours. Yet that was enough to make what photographers describe as “a moment.”

As moments go, this one is not likely to resonate with many people because they don’t see what I see. You probably see an Amtrak train and an old depot. There is nothing out of the ordinary or dramatic about this scene.

More sophisticated viewers are thinking it would be a better photograph had the photographer waited a millisecond or two before tripping the shutter. That would have put the lead locomotive more to far right side of the frame and helped to cover some of the clutter.

The poles in the foreground are also clutter even if there is nothing that anyone could have done about them short of removing them from the image in Photoshop.

If this image was being judged, it probably would be rated as average. Next!

But as I looked at this photograph again I saw something that is not so obvious to the casual viewer who does not know what I do about this moment and image.

Winters are long and harsh in Northeast Ohio and this photograph was made during one of the first, if not the first, warm and sunny day of the year when I had an opportunity to get out to railfan.

The image was made not long after Amtrak rescheduled No. 48 to depart Cleveland at 7 a.m. That meant opportunities throughout much of the year to photograph an Amtrak train in daylight in Northeast Ohio.

This was the first opportunity that I had to take advantage of that. Amtrak is one of my favorite railroads and I seldom have opportunities to photograph its operations in Ohio in daylight.

Those 7 a.m. departures from Cleveland did not last long. Today, Amtrak is scheduled to leave Cleveland at 5:50 a.m.

I also like the juxtaposition of a passenger train passing a station that has not served that purpose for almost 18 years.

At one time Ashtabula was the northern terminus for NYC passenger trains originating in Pittsburgh and coming up from Youngstown. Sleepers were interchanged here with Chicago-New York trains.

What a busy place this must have been. Passenger trains on the Youngstown Line lasted through the late 1950s.

But aside from all of that, this image reminds me of one of my better railfan outings. Spring is the season of renewal so a good spring day is a promise of good days ahead.

Getting this Amtrak train was a promising start to what turned out to be a special day.

Above all it reminds me that although moments are fleeting they live on in our memories and warm, entertain and even inspire us time and again.

On Photography: Taking a Fresh Look at the Practice of Locomotive Roster Shooting, Part 2

January 7, 2016

Second of two parts

I might as well get this out of the way. I’m not a big fan of roster shots.

At least I thought that way until recently. It is not that I’ve changed my mind about them so much as I’ve begun to look at them in a new light.

The inspiration for that new perspective came from an odd and unexpected place that had nothing to do with locomotives or, for that matter, railroads.

There is nothing wrong with roster shots. We all have made them and I have many in my collection. Some railfans envision themselves as roster shooters as well as action shooters, which is a form of dual citizenship if you will.

Roster shots can be interesting to view, but are not always compelling images.

This, of course, raises the question of your purpose in making railroad photographs. If you want to study the detail of a locomotive, the roster shot is king.

Yet it is difficult to make the type of “pure” roster shot that early photographers in the genre were able to make.

On occasion a photographer might gain access to railroad property where locomotives are idling between runs.

But more often than not the contemporary roster shooter must practice his trade with a moving train. The result is a quasi-roster shot because the photographer lacks the ability to compose images just so.

The photographer captures the lead locomotive on the fly in the three-quarter angle pioneered by the original roster shooters.

Like his older counterpart, the contemporary roster shooter seeks to crop out extraneous subject matter as much as possible. Digital post-processing software enables photographers to remove items from an image and/or crop it out.

Some roster shooters photograph a trailing unit if it is “rare” or “foreign.” But the railfan photography fraternity tends to frown on such photographs (“trail equals fail”).

Some quasi-roster shooters think of their work as action photography even if their intent is to emphasize the lead locomotive.

I was a quasi-roster shot photographer for years without realizing it. A train would be approaching and I’d get it in my sights through the viewfinder.

As the locomotive got closer, I’d zoom in on it and slowly move the camera to the left or right, depending on what side of the track I was standing.

The result was the typical “three-quarter wedgie” in which little, if any of the train’s consist and surrounding environment is shown.

In time I became less satisfied with these images, but breaking the habit of making them proved to be difficult because it seemed natural to follow the lead locomotive with my lens.

You learn the basics of railroad photography early and those lessons are reinforced by what you see in railroad club programs, on railroad photography websites and in publications.

Unless you had a mentor or have taken the time to study photography in-depth it may be that no one has bothered to explain the finer points of making action, environmental or artistic photographs.

Making static roster shots doesn’t require much skill. Find the proper exposure, focus the image and press the shutter release button. The composition is pretty straightforward.

But not everyone can consistently create good roster shots with a moving train. If you spend time online looking at railroad photographs you will find fuzzy and/or poorly exposed images, off kilter images and photos in which a portion of the locomotive is cut off.

For some photographers, railfan websites and club programs are a version of the old grade school show and tell time. The photographer shows what unusual locomotives came down the pike and how “I got it.”

That’s fine. Most photographers want audiences want to see there work.

Yet the photographs that I find most memorable and which evoke the strongest emotional reactions are environmental and artistic images, not documentary ones.

Railroads operate in local environments and the roster shot usually doesn’t convey that as vividly as the environmental photo.

Most roster shots and many quasi-roster shots could have been taken just about anywhere. They show little to none of the environment in which the train operated. There is no strong sense of place. It is all about the train.

I had a fellow Akron Railroad Club member tell me about the latter after one of my programs in which I had emphasized environmental and artistic photographs. He wasn’t being critical, just making an observation. Maybe he was describing himself.

The thought that for some it is all about the train sat filed away in my mind for several months.

More than a year ago I joined Flickr and starting following guys who shoot the equivalent of roster shots of aircraft, primarily commercial transport planes.

I would see images of planes operated by airlines that doesn’t exist anymore and get excited.

After this happened a few times, it dawned on me why some railroad photographers make roster-oriented photographs. If you have a passion about something you enjoy seeing it, whether it be in person or in photographs.

Guys who make roster shots of locomotives are no different than guys who make roster photographs of airplanes. They are photographing something they find pleasing to view.

I enjoy looking at those older aircraft because they bring back pleasant memories of times past. So it can be, too, with roster shots of locomotives.

The roster shot will always have its adherents and as documentary evidence it will always serve a useful purpose. Roster shots can be interesting, particularly when they portray something from a bygone era.

Nonetheless, given a choice I’d rather make and view the environmental shot rather than the roster shot. The environmental or artistic image affords more room for creativity and style not to mention showing something in a new and refreshing way. That is more difficult to achieve with roster shots or quasi-roster shots.

Commentary by Craig Sanders

On Photography: Using Foreground Shadows

November 10, 2015




Foreshadowing is a tactic used by story tellers, writers and film makers to hint at a plot twist or something that is going to happen later in a story.

It is a way to hold the interest of the listener, reader or viewer as well as move the story along.

It can also be used by photographers to add interest to their images by providing contrast and visual tension.

In the case of photography, the term might be better described as foreground shadowing because you are making use of a shadow in the foreground of the image.

Shown above are two techniques that use foreground shadows to enhance an image.

The top image was made at Boston Mill of Nickel Plate Road No. 765 during a photo runby on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

The shadow in the foreground resulted from the sun sinking behind the hills and trees behind me.

In this image, the shadow has the effect of covering what otherwise would be empty space.

The reader’s eye is naturally drawn over the shadow to the locomotive, which gleams brightly in contrast to the foreground shadow.

Many photographers would rather that their trains be pristine, meaning free of bystanders cluttering up the environment.

But the 765 was executing a photo runby and the people watching it are part of the story being told by this photo.

Most of those along the tracks watching are also spotlighted by the late day light.

Another way to use foreground shadowing is to allow clouds to provide it.

That is what is happening in the middle photo above that was made of a Wheeling & Lake Erie train awaiting a new crew west of Norwalk.

When I arrived on the scene, a cloud was covering the train in shadows. But the cloud began moving and the shadow moved with it.

What does this foreground shadow add? Compare the middle image with the bottom one.

In the bottom image there is some cloud shadow in the field about half-way between where I am standing and the train.

The foreground shadow of the middle image softens the harshness of the green of the corn crop. Although this image was made just after 4 p.m., the sunlight is still harsh because it is late June.

The foreground shadow also creates a slight illusion of shortening the distance between where I am standing and the train.

As in the case of the image of NKP 765, the foreground shadow also draws the viewer’s eye toward the train because your eyes pass over the shadow. The foreground shadow creates visual tension, which encourages eye movement.

Foreground shadowing is not necessarily something you can set out to create in your photographs.

In the case of the 765 shot, it was a matter of timing. The photo runby occurred when there was still enough direct sunlight to illuminate the train.

Had it occurred a few minutes later, the shadows would be covering the train. As it was, there are some shadows from the trees on the 765.

In the case of the W&LE train, I had the right cloud conditions. I would not have been able to use foreground shadowing in the W&LE train image had it been a clear day.

As is the case in making any image, shadows can hinder your shot or they can be your friend if used in the right way.

How the shadows fall is something to watch for in the environment next time you are out trackside on a sunny day.

Photographs and Commentary by Craig Sanders

On Photography That ‘National Geographic’ Approach to Photographing the NKP 765

October 3, 2015

September 20 765 05-x

September 20 765 07-x

A couple of years ago a friend sent me a link to a gallery of photographs that documented Amtrak operations in the middle 1970s.

The photographer had received a grant that he used to pay to travel aboard Amtrak to show life on board and to charter a helicopter to make aerial images of Amtrak trains cruising on the Santa Fe through small towns in Kansas and Oklahoma.

The latter were accompanied with a short commentary that explained why he made the images in the manner that he did.

He acknowledged that his approach differed from how a typical railfan would approached photographing the trains. Railfans tend to hone in on the train, particularly, the locomotive.

But in these images of Amtrak SDP40F locomotives on the point of the Chicago-Houston Lone Star and the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Limited, the photographer pulled back to show a wider perspective.

It was a tactic he said is frequently practiced by photographers working for National Geographic. The objective is to  lace the subject of the image in an environment by showing the context in which something was captured.

In this case, the photographer wanted to show Amtrak trains traveling through rural Kansas, a state known for its Great Plains topography and small towns.

I was impressed with the photographer’s compositions and unsuccessfully did a Google search to find out more about the National Geographic approach to photography.

The magazine is world renowned for its photography and articles. If you can get your work published in National Geographic, you are among the elite.

The National Geographic approach was on my mind as I stood atop the Ohio Route 82 bridge over the Cuyahoga River valley in Brecksville recently as I captured the passage of Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive No. 765.

It is not common to be able to get enough elevation in Northeast Ohio to provide a wide perspective. It doesn’t help that our region’s numerous trees tend to reduce the available vistas.

So in photographing the 765 at Brecksville, I made sure to zoom out and get some images such as the ones that you see here.

The top one is my favorite because of the clouds that seem to hover just over the tops of the trees on the horizon.

Both images convey a sense of the railroad and the train being located in a broad valley. We often use the word “valley” when talking about the Cuyahoga. The railroad and the national park even incorporate “valley” in their respective names.

There are many places to make photographs that convey a sense of place in the Cuyahoga Valley.

Yet most of the time the photographs we make of CVSR trains or even of the features of the CVNP fail to convey a sense of this being a wide river valley.

There are a few vistas in the CVNP that enable photographers to get enough elevation combined with enough openness to convey a sense in their images of this being a “valley.”

One of those I need to visit this fall when the foliage is at its peak. But the only place I know of in which you can photograph the CVSR and show that it is in the Cuyahoga Valley is on the Route 82 bridge.

There is nothing wrong with zeroing in on a train or its locomotive to capture its detail. Steam locomotives in particular have much to study and linger over.

Yet there are times when stepping back, even if it feels like you are moving out of the scene, can yield a rich image that helps to tell the story you are seeking to convey.

Commentary and Photographs by Craig Sanders

On Photography: I Made the Long Trip Because Making Photographs is What Photographers Do

August 29, 2015

I was talking with a fellow member of the Akron Railroad Club a while back about my chase of Nickel Plate Road No. 765 as it steamed from Ashtabula to Youngstown.

He noted that I had driven 150 miles and only photographed the 765 in three locations.

In his mind that didn’t make the trip worthwhile. The distance involved was a major reason, he said, for why he had not chased the Berkshire locomotive when it pulled a pair of public excursions in Northeast Ohio in late July.

Distance is a factor when I plan my photo outings, too. There is only so far I am willing to travel.

But in the case of the excursion of the 765 on the Youngstown Line, the distance involved was never an issue. Anywhere within Northeast Ohio is not too far for me to travel.

Steam locomotives don’t operate on mainline railroad tracks all that often in Northeast Ohio or, for that matter, many other places. So I viewed this as a rare opportunity.

Another ARRC member also downplayed chasing the 765, calling the Youngstown Line a “bland” piece of railroad.

He acknowledged the rarity of getting a steam locomotive in action, but he just doesn’t care that much for steam locomotives.

When guys start explaining why they don’t want to do something, there usually is an underlying reason they are not revealing for why they don’t want to so something. We must make our own decisions as to how to spend our time and resources.

I tend to have wide interests in photography subjects. That is not true of everyone. Some guys have narrow interests and all manner of rules for when and what they will or will not photograph.

One of my regular railfan travel friends once refused to go to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad to photograph trains during the winter, telling me to do that on my own.

So I dropped him off at his house and did just that. I came away with some of the best winter images I’ve ever made on the CVSR.

I had a similar experience in chasing the 765 on the Youngstown Line. One of my photo locations was near the summit of Carson hill coming out of Ashtabula.

I made what turned out to be one of my best images of all time of the 765 in action.

There have been times when I, too, stayed at home because I didn’t feel like getting out with my camera. Sometimes circumstances beyond your control keep you at home or elsewhere. You just can’t get away to make pictures.

But that is not always the case. Sometimes staying at home just seems more appealing.

Not every outing yields a memorable image and sometimes things just don’t work out as you had hoped. It happens to all of us.

But worse than an average to mediocre outing is what might have been that wasn’t. I know that feeling all too well and it continues to motivate me to get out with my camera.

Had I viewed chasing the 765 as driving too many miles for too few images, I would have missed out on that dramatic photo on Carson hill that is my second favorite image I’ve ever made of the 765.

Interestingly, a guy saw that image on my Flickr feed and tried to replicate it the next day. Unfortunately for him, the 765 wasn’t putting on quite the smoke and steam show that it did the day before. Having luck on your side remains a significant factor in making striking images.

Yes, it was a long drive to the Youngstown Line and back. It would have been worth it had I gone home after photographing the 765 at my first photo location.

Even if I had not gotten that compelling image of the 765 attacking Carson Hill, I still would have thought that the effort had been worth it.

I am a photographer and getting out to make photographs is what photographers do. It’s that simple.

And that is why I was willing to drive 150 miles for a handful of images of a working steam locomotive that doesn’t come around all that often.

Commentary by Craig Sanders

On Photography: Compromises and Quality

July 21, 2015

Amtrak 48-y

Amtrak 48 going away-x

I like the top photo. I really like the top photo. At the same time, whenever I look at it I see not only triumph, but a significant flaw that prevents it from being a great photo.

This is Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited on the eastern edge of Conneaut last Sunday morning.

Fellow Akron Railroad Club member Peter Bowler and I had left at 5:30 a.m. to be able to get to this location.

Peter had found it searching Google satellite maps. It lies at the end of a narrow dead-end road.

We didn’t know until we arrived that the signals here are mismatched. The westward signals for Track No. 1 at CP 113 are of the modern Safetran variety, but the signals for Track No. 2 are of the old fashioned New York Central type.

Why those ex-NYC signals were not replaced is a mystery to me. Interestingly, the eastbound signals at this interlocking are reversed. The signals on Track No. 1 are modern Safetran signals while those on Track No. 2 are of the NYC variety.

We didn’t have to wait long for No. 48 to show up. I heard it calling clear signals for Track No. 2 several miles away.

Peter observed that the lighting favored the north side of the tracks, but not by much. It was close to being right down the middle.

I had it my mind that I wanted to be on the south side because I had fallen in love with that ex-NYC signal for Track No. 2 and wanted it to be on the left side of the image.

We heard a horn and soon saw a headlight in the distance. Peter had favored going to the north side, but stayed on the south side.

The train was moving track speed and then a cloud obscured the sun. A test shot that I made proved to be rather dark, even after increasing the f stop by two-thirds.

As the train bore down on us, the engineer sounded the horn and I could see early morning sunlight playing on the nose of P42 No. 132.

In a matter of a second or two the lighting changed from cloud-induced shadows to nice early morning light.

I fired away, getting the train in the exact spot I wanted to be as it split the signals.

As soon as he looked at his images on his camera, Peter lamented having decided to stay on the south side.

I looked at my images and concurred. Had we been on the north side of the tracks, the side of the train might have been nicely illuminated.

Instead, the south side of the locomotives and the train are in shadows. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

I’ve seen many great photographs that made effective use of light and shadows. Those create contrast, which gives a photograph the visual tension needed to create visual interest and eye movement.

In this image, the nose of the locomotive, the signals and the tracks are nicely lighted.

I also liked the cloud pattern behind the train, which also offers visual interest.

As I was processing the image the next day, though, I noticed that the image is soft. That might have been OK for the train, but I wanted the signals at least to be razor sharp.

Despite shooting at 1/800th of a second, I must have moved the camera ever so slightly. The slight blur still bothers me.

I made a going away image and had I been on the north side of the tracks, I might have been able to get a glint shot.

But in processing that image I found an unexpected and pleasing consequence. The side of the train was in shadows, but not so dark that the detail of the train is lost.

I can see that No. 48 had six Amfleet II cars, five of them coaches, and five Viewliners. The latter included a new baggage car, three sleepers and a diner.

I was quite pleased to see that the vegetation along the edge of the ballast is well illuminated and I like the contrast of that with the train.

Making photographic images is often a series of compromises and choices.

Sometimes those work out well, sometimes they don’t work out much at all and there are even times when the results exceed your expectations.

The Lake Shore Limited is the only Amtrak train we can count on photographing in daylight and even then you might have to go well east of Cleveland to have good lighting.

There is a great deal of subjectivity in judging the quality of a photography. Yes, much of it is personal taste, yet so many average and mediocre photographers want to pass off criticism of their work as a difference in tastes.

Excellence in any endeavor needs to be rooted in a set of standards that distinguish the good from the great, the average from the good and even the terrible from the average. Otherwise, quality becomes a matter of “it’s good because I said it is” or “it’s good because I did it and I like it.”

I’ve long believed that photography is a craft whose development is never complete. If I can find a flaw in any image that I make, no matter how pleasing that image might be, then I have something to work at improving next time. Such is the case with this photo opportunity.

Yet I’m not going to discard them because something didn’t go right. These images may not be ideal, but they are keepers that I’m happy to show.

Commentary and Photographs by Craig Sanders

On Photography: An Assessment of Photographing Inside Fostoria’s Iron Triangle Railfan Park

June 29, 2015
Novelty and roster shots are about the best you can do of the CSX Willard Subdivision when photographing from the observation platform in Fostoria's railfan park.

Novelty and roster shots are about the best you can do of trains on the CSX Willard Subdivision when photographing from the observation platform in Fostoria’s railfan park.

From a purely train watching perspective, the Iron Triangle Railfan Park in Fostoria, Ohio, is a great place. If you are willing to move around, you can see every train that passes through Fostoria.

Trains moving via the southeastern connection between the CSX Willard and Columbus subdivisions are the most difficult to see because of clutter and obscured views.

Straight moves on all three mainlines – which includes Norfolk Southern’s Fostoria District – can be easily seen as well as moves on the northeastern, northwestern and southwestern connections.

But being able to easily see trains does not always translate into excellent or even good photography vantage points.

The trade off for locating the park inside Fostoria’s “iron triangle” is that it is situated north of the busiest of the three mainlines, the Willard Sub, and hence the lighting is often less than ideal for capturing trains on that route.

I also found myself going outside the park to photograph from public sidewalks on Columbus Avenue to get the best photo angles and lighting.

In fact, most of the images that I made during a 10-hour visit during the Akron Railroad Club’s longest day event were made just outside the park. That annual event coincided this year with the date of the summer solstice.

None of my photographs were made on the park’s viewing platform even though it offers a good view of the NS tracks.

To its credit, the park does have many positives for the photographer. Chief among them are fences that are high enough to establish a boundary, but low enough so that an adult of average height can shoot over them.

A small child might not be able to do that, but he/she could shoot through the wide gaps in the fence with a little coaching from a parent.

The park is expansive enough that photographers can roam about freely and get right next to all three rail lines. Thus far there are no trees or bushes getting in the way of the sight angles.

Be advised that unless you are standing against the fence and/or leaning over it, you are going to have fences in your photos. The fences won’t obscure the trains, but will be noticeable.

Lighting is not a static thing and lighting conditions on all three rail lines will change throughout the day and even throughout the year as the sun angle shifts.

Here is a summary of photography conditions for each of the three mainlines from the perspective of shooting within the park proper.

Willard Subdivision

This busy east-west mainline is the most challenging to photograph. Aside from the lighting conditions, there is also the challenge of making photographs amid a lot of clutter from signal boxes, utility lines, and parked railroad motor vehicles and equipment.

The park’s southern boundary runs along the Williard Sub for a good distance, but it is tough to get good angles because of the clutter, some of which is south of the railroad tracks.

You can stand by the viewing platform and use a telephone or wide angle lens to photograph passing trains, but will be limited in what you can include of the train.

It is tough when standing next to the fence to get angles that include the motive power consist and the rest of the train because of the trackside clutter.

Columbus/Pemberville Subdivisions

This former C&O route changes names and jurisdictions in Fostoria. From a photography perspective, the best photography conditions of this line occur during the afternoon when the sun has shifted further west.

In the morning, you’ll be shooting toward the sun because this line runs along the park’s eastern boundary.

Some of the best images to be made are of trains coming off the northeastern connection to go north because they are facing you as they enter a curve.

The northwestern connection curves along the park’s boundary, but you’ll need a wide angle lens to get anything on it.

The home signals for southbound (railroad eastbound) traffic make good photo props for trains making straight moves northward (railroad westbound).

Yet most of the traffic on this line uses one of the connections rather than running straight through town.

Fostoria District

This line runs along the northern border of the park and features the best photo angles. With a good telephoto lens, you can get straight-on shots of eastbound trains after they cross the diamonds with the CSX Willard Sub and are coming into a curve just east of Poplar Street.

The eastward home signals for the diamonds with the CSX Pemberville Sub are located right in front of the viewing platform, but by moving down to the fence and setting up west of the platform, the photographer can get great, if not ideal, angles for westbound trains splitting those signals.

The park also features a good view of the Fostoria District/Pemberville Sub diamonds.

If you stand at the far eastern boundary of the park, you can get a good angle of eastbound trains splitting those same signals.

Because the sun will behind you, there are good photo angles to be had all day of the Fostoria District.

Going Outside

There is a pedestrian gate leading onto Columbus Avenue. The sidewalks of this street more often than not offer the better photo angles of traffic on the Pemberville/Columbus subs.

That’s because although you can see trains coming southward as they cross the diamonds with NS as you stand inside the park, you can’t see much beyond that.

I wanted to use my zoom lens to get trains passing the C&O signals that still stand north of the NS diamonds. You can’t see those from the railfan park.

Likewise, if you want to get more of a straight-on angle on either the Fostoria District or the CSX Pemberville/Columbus Sudvidisions, then you need to get outside the park.

You don’t have to go far. There is a sidewalk leading out of the park and across the NS tracks. There is a sidewalk on the north side of Columbus Avenue next to a business east of the Pemberville Sub tracks. I found myself standing on that sidewalk a lot in the morning and early afternoon because of lighting and photo angle considerations.

As for more straight-on views of trains on the Willard Sub, you’ll need to go over to Main Street by the old Baltimore & Ohio depot to get those. Another option is the Poplar Street crossing, but on the day that I was there it was closed because CSX is rebuilding it.

There is still a large open area between the Willard Sub and the Fostoria District that is outside the park. Perhaps the city is seeking to buy that property and expand the park. Perhaps there are other reasons why it is not part of the park.

This area used to be industrial property and the ground may be polluted. A large concrete pad in this open area is a reminder of what used to be here.

I mention this because if the park’s boundaries could be extended along the NS tracks all the way to Poplar Street that would open better photo opportunities for shooting eastbound NS trains without the need for a super telephoto or zoom lens.

Photographer can be a picky bunch and even the best possible, practical and affordable park design is sure to leave them wanting something they can’t have. The Iron Triangle Railfan Park is no exception.

Photographers more inclined toward making roster-type shots will find the park more than adequate for their needs.

More artistically-inclined photographs might find themselves exhausting their possibilities rather quickly and setting out for other vantage points and locations.

Nonetheless, the city and park designers deserve a lot of credit for creating a safe and accessible area from which to watch and photograph trains in this busy railroad junction town.

Commentary and Photographs by Craig Sanders

In the morning on a summer's day this might be as good as it gets for photographing eastbounds on the Willard Sub while staying inside the park. On balance, it's a nice photo angle.

In the morning on a summer’s day this might be as good as it gets for photographing eastbounds on the Willard Sub while staying inside the park. On balance, it’s a nice photo angle if you are trying to get the motive power and the consist of the train.

With people hanging around all day, there are going to be opportunities for human interest images. In the background is an eastbound on the Willard Subdivision. If you photograph from back here, you will have live with fences.

With people hanging around all day, there are going to be opportunities for human interest images. In the background is an eastbound on the Willard Subdivision. If you photograph from back here, you will have to live with fences being in your photos.

Heading toward the camera on the northeast connection yields a nice angle, but oh that clutter around F Tower.

Heading toward the camera on the northeast connection yields a nice angle, but oh that clutter around F Tower.

A Toledo-bound train passes beneath the home signals for the diamonds with the Willard and Columbus subdivisions.

A Toledo-bound train passes beneath the home signals for the diamonds with the Willard and Columbus subdivisions located to the right of the lead locomotive of the train.

Even in late day summer sunlight on the longest day of the year there will be shadows on westbound CSX trains on the Willard Sub.

Even in late day summer sunlight on the longest day of the year there will be shadows on the north side of westbound CSX trains on the Willard Sub. In the foreground is the northwestern connection between the Willard and Pemberville subs.