Posts Tagged ‘railfanning and photography’

Maple Grove Park on the NS Cleveland Line

November 14, 2017

A couple of weeks ago, I had a few minutes to kill before leaving for work. I checked out former Akron Railroad Club member Richard Thompson’s Flickr page. A couple of photos on Rich’s page intrigued me.

The captions said they were in a park between Hudson and Macedonia. I quickly visited Google Maps to see if I could find the spot.

Indeed I did. Railroad west of Hudson on the Cleveland Line of Norfolk Southern between the Hines Hill and Twinsburg Road crossing is a hiking trail that comes up next to the tracks for about a quarter of a mile. The identifier on the park said “Maple Grove Park.”

I had to leave for work, so when I got home I googled “Maple Grove Park” and found it listed in the Hudson Park District’s site.

It features a hiking trail of just over a mile in a triangular shaped piece of land and not much else.

Since the trail is west of the tracks, I figured afternoon light would be best. On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, I headed to the park to see what it was all about.

Maple Grove Park is located at the end of a dead end street called Farnham Way. I parked at the cul-de-sac at the end of the street and walked into the park.

The hiking trail is a loop and the shortest distance back to the tracks is to take the trail going to your left. It is about a quarter of a mile from your car to the tracks.

When I got to the tracks, I found the spot to be just as Rich had it in his photos.

A split-rail fence separates the trail from the tracks for a short distance then the trail dips down into a low area and rises back to track level before turning back into the woods.

Within 10 minutes of my arrival, NS ran two trains. The 24M went east and the 21Q went west.

It was now about 2:45 in the afternoon. The lighting was great for these trains, but the tall trees that surround the area combined with the low sun of October meant it wouldn’t last very much longer.

I was right and by 4 p.m. I gave up my vigil at the park because shadows now enveloped the area. Summertime may offer a longer window to shoot here. It didn’t help matters that NS did not have any more trains to run from 21Q’s passage until I left.

If you check out the park, eastbound trains can be heard calling the signal at CP 102. They do not blow for Twinsburg Road crossing; it is a quiet zone. Westbounds blow for Hines Hill Road, so you get some warning that they are coming.

The parking area for the park is on a cul-de-sac, with houses on both sides. Respect the residents’ property and we should be able to railfan at Maple Grove Park for many years to come.

Article by Marty Surdyk

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: 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: The Legacy of Dave McKay

April 3, 2015

Dave McKay and I didn’t railfan together all that much.

We both liked to hang out in Berea on weekends and during the final year of his life we got in some train watching on CSX at Voris Street in Akron before Akron Railroad Club meetings. But that was it.

I never discussed photography techniques with Dave. That’s unfortunate because he knew a lot about making photographs of railroad operations.

Yet I learned from Dave two important lessons about photography even if we never discussed them: What it means to have a photographer’s mentality and the value of sharing your photographs with others.

One thing that distinguished Dave from others was his diversity of interests. If it was a steel wheel on a steel rail, Dave photographed it. He would photograph any railroad operation anywhere, anytime.

His camera never collected dust and slide film never expired sitting in his camera bag, closet or refrigerator.

Dave was always thinking photograph. Many railfans dabble in photography but not Dave. He seldom, if ever, went trackside without his camera.

It was seeing Dave constantly making photographs that got me to thinking that you can’t be a serious photographer and you can’t develop and hone your craft if you don’t get out regularly with your camera and use it.

When I met Dave I was a sometimes photographer. Observing Dave, even if for a short period of time, showed me what it was like to have a photographer’s mindset.

My last memory of Dave is leaving his house after the 2004 ARRC December banquet. We agreed to get together again in January to look at slides at his home.

We had done that a few times when I was working on my Indiana passenger train book and, later, my Amtrak book.

During one of those evening slide shows, Dave commented that his photos didn’t do anyone any good sitting in boxes. He wanted to share with others what he had made because he knew that they would enjoy them.

Not all photographers feel that way. Some never show their stuff in programs, let alone volunteer to allow authors to use it in books or articles.

Indeed some of my most pleasant memories of Dave were the hours that we spent in his living room looking at slides.

But that January slide bash that we talked about in December never came to be because Dave died about three weeks after the ARRC banquet.

Perhaps it was easier for Dave to commit to photography because he was single, didn’t have a family and didn’t have the type of responsibilities that keep so many fans away from the tracks. Life can get incredibly complicated sometimes.

Dave had few other interests in life, so he could afford to be “all in” on photography. Nonetheless, making photographs was in his blood and had been from an early age.

There is nothing wrong with being a sometimes photographer. It is for most of us, after all, a hobby and not a job.

For many fans, it is still about watching trains and you can’t enjoy them quite the same through a viewfinder.

The beauty of this hobby is that it can be experienced and enjoyed in so many different ways.

Dave died just as the conversion to digital photography among railfan photographers had begun to take hold.

Were he still alive, Dave would be approaching his mid 70s. Perhaps health concerns might have kept him away from the tracks more than he would have liked.

If he were alive today and physically able to do so that Dave would still be out nearly every weekend in Berea photographing whatever rolled past on Norfolk Southern or CSX.

Dave was an old school type of guy so I don’t know that he would have made the switch from film to digital. When he died he still didn’t have a personal computer.

My guess is that he would still be using slide film and I doubt that he would be posting his work at such sites as Flickr or Train

He enjoyed the fellowship of sitting in a darkened room and looking at photographs projected on a screen while having the give and take with other fans that comes with it.

He once lamented that guys didn’t get together anymore as they once did to look at each other’s photographic work.

Some photographers are going to stick with creating slides so long as slide film is still made. It is what they are used to and they like what slide film has to offer.

But chances are Dave would appreciate digital photography and see its advantages even if he had stuck with slides. He was not one to dismiss or be judgmental about a new technology just because it was different from what had been used for years.

Whether he made images with megapixels or film, Dave would still be creating photographic images and would still be pleased to share them with others because, well, he was a photographer.

On Photography: Seeing ‘Grab Shots’ in New Light

March 19, 2015

Grab shot. Every railfan photographer has made them and many of us like to use that term to describe them.

I am no exception but until I read Bob Farkas’ recent story about his grab shot of an early Conrail era locomotive with his former Ford Pinto, I had not thought much about what the term means beyond its plain meaning.

At face value, the term “grab shot” suggests something made in haste, probably because a window of opportunity was about to slam shut.

Bob’s photo was a classic case of a grab shot. A train is bearing down on you and there isn’t time to work for the composition that you’d ideally like to have.

As I thought about the term “grab shot,” I recognized that there is a defensive element to it. It is as though the photographer is apologizing for the lesser quality of the image because he had to grab it and go.

It is as though the photographer is being apologetic for not having had the time to create a more deliberate and, presumably, carefully composed image.

It is a way of saying, “I can do better than this but I didn’t have the time.” Or it might be a way of saying “I can do better than this, but the conditions weren’t right.”

That probably means that something was in the way that couldn’t be moved or worked around in the time available to make the image.

The term “grab shot” also might imply that the photographer didn’t have time to plan an image because something that was being photographed was about to change. The train was about to pass by, the sun was just about to vanish, or the people at the focal point of the image were about to go away.

I sometimes tell students that when you are in the heat of deadline pressure you find out how much you know or don’t know, how skilled that you really are.

That’s because you don’t have time to think. You act on instinct. All of the practice and work that you’ve done to learn and master a skill comes to the fore when you have to just do it without thinking through the process of doing it.

It is why athletics spending hours practicing. When the outcome of the game, the match or the competition is hanging in the balance, your instincts will win or lose it. Your instincts will drive you to make the play or plays needed to prevail.

The same can be said for photography and I thought about that when I looked at an image I recently made west of New London of a westbound CSX train with a beautiful red Canadian Pacific locomotive on the lead.

I had about five seconds to get the shot and that included the time needed to stop my car, jump out, get into position, compose the image and trip the shutter.

When I later looked at the image, I realized that all of my practice in photographing and all of the thought that I’ve devoted to thinking through what makes a good image had served me well.

Yes, luck still plays a role. I had to hope that my camera settings were OK and that I didn’t wind up with an image that was too dark or too overexposed. It was a lucky break that I got to the scene just in time.

Photographers like to talk about the “decisive moment” that freezes action at its peak and tells the story in one well-composed image. Preparation is key to capturing such images, but so is knowing what to do with the moment. Do you grab hold of it or do you miss it? You will do more of the former if you’ve worked at developing your craft.

Not every grab shot will yield a decisive moment or even a better than average image. But if you know what you are doing, your grab shots will have more value than the term might suggest.

Commentary by Craig Sanders

On Photography: Those ‘Lesser’ Photographs

January 24, 2015

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

I was posting photographs to my Flickr account when I came across the image shown above.

It was made in Fostoria during the Akron Railroad Club’s longest day outing on June 29, 2008.

I looked at this image and cringed. “It’s not very good,” I thought. “Do I want to be posting mediocre stuff? What might that say about me?”

Every railfan photographer has images like this one stashed away somewhere in his collection. They are your lesser photographs that you probably don’t like to show because they are, well, not your best work.

Chances are you made these images when you were starting out as a photographer. I used to make lots of images like this one.

Yet, as I pondered whether to post this image I recognized a number of ways in which these lesser images still have value.

  • Your lesser images show where you once stood.

They are reminders of how far you have come as a photographer, how much better you are now.

No one begins making images like a master even if they have natural talent for photography. Skills must be developed.

Like so many photographers, I often pressed the shutter release button too soon and/or wasn’t as cognizant of the overall scene as I needed to be.

How mediocre is this photo? It is not even a good roster shot because it doesn’t show the entire locomotive.

  • Your lesser images still convey a message.

You made that photograph to show something and it still does. If the image is old enough, it shows what can’t be seen now at trackside. Locomotives once owned by Conrail and painted in Conrail colors are scarce today.

  • Your lesser images also are likely to bring back pleasant memories.

In this image I see not just a former Conrail locomotive but a day of fun and fellowship. That’s why I joined the Akron Railroad Club.

  • Your lesser images were a product of what you used back then.

Aside from inexperience and lack of knowledge and understanding of what makes an outstanding photograph you also probably had less quality equipment.

When I got into railfan photography, I used print film that I dropped off at a local drug store to be processed. The Canon Rebel G film camera that I used to make this image could only fire at one frame per second. If I didn’t shoot at just the right time, I missed the sweet spot.

  • If you look hard enough, you’ll find some good in your lesser images.

This photo has good exposure and focus, and incorporates lines into the composition. Railroad tracks are linear and that creates a sense of movement because a viewer’s eyes naturally follow those lines.

Of course a so-so photograph is still a so-so photograph despite the worth of the subject matter. There are thousands of images of Conrail locomotives out there and the strengths of this image are not enough to put it into the upper tiers of photos that viewers want to see and will remember.

There is a difference between mediocre work and terrible work. What is the point of showing images that are out of focus, poorly composed, and greatly over or under exposed?

Those images should have been deleted from the memory card or thrown into the trash can. Terrible images are best left in the drawer or on the shelf.

I ended up posting this image to my Fostoria album on Flickr. It’s not a great image. At best it is borderline good, depending on how rigorous you apply the standards.

It is still a part of me and my Flickr account is about presenting a portfolio of my body of work. Still, I wouldn’t want to make a habit of posting many images such as this one. I’d still rather show audiences my best and better stuff.

Nonetheless, there is still something to be said about taking ownership of your work by portraying a complete picture of who you are as a photographer, including where you have been. It shows the complete person that you are.

On Photography: Welcome to a New Series

January 17, 2015

Photographs are the cornerstone of the railfanning hobby. Whether you like to get out every weekend and photograph rail operations or are merely an armchair fan, you will spend much of your time in the hobby looking at photographs.

Virtually every Akron Railroad Club program that I’ve seen since joining in 2003 has featured photographs as its focal point. The only exceptions have been a small handful of Christmas banquet programs.

Yet the craft of photography seldom gets discussed during club events. Someone might say that they liked such and such a program or a particular image. Maybe they didn’t like something and they’ll say that, too. Those comments tend to be made in passing and rarely trigger much thoughtful discussion.

I’ve suggested at times having programs at ARRC meetings devoted to providing tutorials in photography, but that idea has been met with resistance.

With that background in mind, welcome to a 2015 project that I have created for the ARRC blog. I plan to write over the year a series of commentaries devoted to photography. I do not envision this as solely a series in how to make better images.

No, my focus will be broader than that. I plan to talk about such things as how to evaluate a photograph. What separates an excellent program from an average one? What makes for a memorable photograph? Anything related to photography will be fair game for exploration.

There are, to my knowledge, no professional photographers in the club. Some members have made a few bucks from selling their work and some have done “for hire” photography on the side. But you don’t have to be a professional to have a passion for photography. For that matter, you don’t have to be a photographer to have a passion for photographs.

I would guess that most ARRC members photography infrequently or maybe not at all. But they still enjoy viewing photographs of railroad operations.

As in any endeavor, there is widespread room for honest difference of opinions about the craft of photography. But not all views are the same or should carry the same weight. In fact, that is a topic I plan to tackle in more than one essay in this series. There may be a vast difference between informed analysis and reactionary criticism.

Although I strive to see and understand varying points of view, I don’t come into this without some well-formed viewpoints. For example, I’m not a big proponent of roster shots. I’ll explain why in one of my essays. At the same time, I’ve enjoyed seeing some roster shots and I’ve taken my fair share of them over the years.

Photography is about more than pointing a camera at a subject and pressing the shutter release button. Evaluating photography is about more than saying that you liked or didn’t like a particular image or even types of images.

The craft of photography like other practices in life is a complex thing with many facets and nuances. In writing this series, I’m seeking to explore and get a handle on those. Indeed I’ll be engaging in another passion of mine – writing – to which I often resort to seek to make meaning of life issues.

As always I am open to comments and suggestions. If you’d like to try your hand at writing a guest column, by all means contact me and we’ll talk about it.

In the meantime, I hope that you enjoy reading these essays and that they get you to thinking about photography. Thanks for reading.

Commentary by Craig Sanders