Posts Tagged ‘Thoughts on photography’

Changing Course During the Pandemic and What That Means During Normal Times

March 15, 2021

If your passion is photographing railroad operations, chances are the COVID-19 pandemic that intensified a year ago this month and changed life as we had known it hasn’t stopped you from photographing trains.

It did likely change what trains you photographed and where, whether slightly or greatly.

Such was the case with Dave Beach, who showed during a program presented virtually to the Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts last week how he spent 2020.

The program title said it all in that it was a different type of year. That didn’t mean it had to be a less rewarding year.

Beach has traveled throughout the United States for decades to capture trains in action. He was aided in that quest in part because his job sometimes required him to travel.

But in 2020, Beach, like millions of other Americans, was forced to work from home and work-related travel halted as did the vacation oriented travel he had expected to do.

He quickly realized he could use the situation to his advantage to focus on railroad operations that he had seldom paid attention to over the years.

Most of these were in his backyard in Northeast Ohio.

How Beach reacted to the pandemic offers object lessons on being nimble and creative in shifting your photo strategy when an unexpected adverse situation arises that forces you to drop your original plans.

It is a matter of making the best of the opportunities you have, some of which might not be obvious. This could require a change in thinking.

For example, rather than taking a week of vacation here and there, Beach took a day off here and there and used that time to make day trips.

One of those involved spending all day traveling around Cleveland to photograph locals and transfer runs of Norfolk Southern.

These were trains that Beach had seldom been able to photograph because they often operated on weekdays when he would otherwise be in the office.

He also kept a watch on social media sites and would get away for a couple hours if he saw, for example, that something was running on the Wheeling & Lake Erie.

Beach’s parents live in an assisted living facility in Massillon and he would keep his scanner on when going to visit them and/or running errands on their behalf.

Some of the trains he photographed he learned were on the road by listening to his scanner while, say, going to the drug store.

You might remember his father, John Beach, who was an accomplished photographer in his own right and a longtime member of the Akron Railroad Club.

Dave Beach also worked on photo projects throughout the year, notably making repeat visits to two regional rail operations he had paid scant attention to until 2020: The Ashland Railway and the former Bessemer & Lake Erie.

One day he drove down to Marietta and spent the day chasing the Belpre Industrial Parkersburg Railroad, a relatively new operation that took over some CSX trackage in far southern Ohio.

In the case of the Ashland, he learned its operating patterns, but sometimes that meant finding a place to sit for awhile until one of its trains came out of the yard in Mansfield and headed for either Ashland or Willard.

Although he scored several hits, the year also brought some misses because there can be a certain unpredictability to railroad operations.

What struck me about Beach’s program is how deft you can be even during adverse circumstances that seem to be limiting if not preventing you from doing that you would have done otherwise.

There can be rewards in that, particularly in focusing on nearby operations that you’ve ignored if not taken for granted over the years.

But it takes commitment, some creativity and patience. The approach that Beach took during the pandemic can be applied to more normal times when you get tired of the doing the same old, same old.

There will always be something out there to go get that you’ve overlooked or ignored in the past. It’s just a matter of doing it.

Film Processing Another Victim of the Pandemic

January 31, 2021

One year ago, life resembled all of the characteristics of a “normal” society.

One could still sit, or stand, along a railroad track with camera in hand to photograph a passing train.

For those of us who still insist upon using the legacy technology of a film-based camera system, all was good.

Travel to a location, scope out the scenery, wait for a train, expose film, return home, then visit the local camera store to process film. Wait one to three weeks to receive processed film, inspect film, and then file film.

That was how it was in January 2020. The film I used that month was processed and received in February with the usual immaculate results.

The world suddenly changed in March 2020 with school closings, business closings, toilet paper shortages, and anti-social distancing.

But through it all, the railroads were still running freight trains. The days of spring were upon us, and what better way to maintain sanity than by being along a railroad track with camera in hand.

Photography provided for limited travel and relaxation. However, between March and June, film processing became non-existent.

With the local camera store being in lockdown mode, I was forced to accumulate four exposed rolls of FujiChrome 120 ASA100 film.

The local camera store finally reopened and the four rolls were dropped off for E-6 processing on June 16.  

For several years, the local camera store has outsourced all slide film requiring E-6 processing to a major photo lab in Parsons, Kansas

The four processed uncut film strips along with four photo CDs were retrieved on July 2.

I returned home to inspect the results. My heart almost stopped beating.

The four strips were severely over-exposed. Was it caused from the fact that the film processed was 10 years past its expiration date?

Was there a malfunction in my 26-year old Bronica GS-1 medium format camera? “Nay,” I say.

Upon further inspection of the film strips, I concluded that the black frame masking between images did not have sufficient density.

The film had exhibited evidence of being under developed. The photo CDs were also burned with all images being reversed.

The film was from the same lot that I had previously shot in January, which had been flawless. 

Never before had I encountered such a problem with commercially processed film.

So, it was back to the local camera store to inquire about what might have happened.

After a few phone calls, it was confirmed, that with COVID-19 lockdowns in place, the Kansas lab was scrambling to find and maintain those people with the knowledge to process 120 roll film. I felt vindicated.

All of my film since them has been processed to pre-pandemic quality.

Unfortunately, I was left with what I considered four rolls of garbage.

Would I be able to recover any detail upon scanning the images?

Thanks to digital technology, I could. The image above shows the raw scan with no enhancements.

The next image is the same image with increases in the yellow and red channels, and reductions in midtone brightness and overall contrast. The results are quite acceptable.

The image made during the Forest City Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts trip to Bellevue, Ohio June 13, 2020.

The joys of still shooting film.

Article and Photographs by David Kachinko

This Time I Got it Right. Or Did I?

July 29, 2020

Back in mid June I stopped in Arcola, Illinois, to photograph Amtrak’s northbound Saluki passing a massive grain elevator complex.

My objective was to recreate an image I had made here of that train in August 2012.

Since then the P42DC locomotives used to pull the Saluki have been replaced with Siemens SC-44 Charger locomotives.

My June photograph was not bad but not quite what I had wanted.

I had not spent enough time checking out the photo angles and the arrival of the train caught me by surprise and out of position.

I had to scramble to get across the street and into position and ended up photographing the train a little too soon. It was more grab shot than planned image.

Last Sunday I was again in Illinois hunting trains to photograph. I timed my trip so I could get Amtrak’s northbound City of New Orleans shortly after sunrise in Rantoul and then catch the northbound Saluki three hours later.

This time, I did it right. I checked out various photo angles well before the train arrived.

As is typical, Train No. 390 was running a few minutes late when it left Mattoon, its previous station stop.

Having ridden this train numerous times when I used to take Amtrak from Cleveland to Mattoon to visit my Dad, I knew about how long it took the train to reach Arcola.

Soon there was an LED headlight in the distance and I got into the position I wanted to be in. No. 390 was not going to catch me off guard this time.

The grain complex in Arcola that I wanted to feature is laid out in three rows.

There is a row of silos, some of then concrete, next to the former Illinois Central tracks. There is another row of metal silos to the west of those and a third row on the other side of U.S. Route 45.

Without having a drone you can’t get all three rows of the complex in a photograph with an Amtrak or Canadian National freight train.

The top photograph above is the best of the images I made as the northbound Saluki rushed past last Sunday.

Pleased with what I’d captured, I declared it “mission accomplished” and moved on to find something else.

But a funny thing happened as I was writing this post and started comparing the 2012 image with the photographs I made this year.

That June image is far more similar to the 2012 photograph than is the July image.

You can see for yourself. The middle image above was made in June and the bottom image is the August 2012 photograph I was trying to duplicate.

My opinion of an image can change as I work with it. What looked good on the screen on the back of the camera doesn’t look so good when the image is downloaded onto my computer and projected onto the large screen that I use.

Of course I’ve seen it happen the other way, too. I’ve also begun to warm to a photograph as I processed it in Photoshop and eliminated some of its “imperfections” through cropping and adjusting such things as color, tone and shadows.

In a direct comparison of the August 2012 and June 2020 images, I still give a decided edge to the 2012 photograph in terms of quality.

The 2012 rendition does better at encompassing the enormity of the grain elevator complex and the light is a little less harsh. The latter is probably the difference between photographing in June versus photographing in August at approximately the same time of day.

You may notice that in 2012 the service building to the right had white siding whereas six years later it is tan.

There is another footnote to the comparison of the June and July photographs. In June, No. 390 was carrying a Heritage baggage car in order to meet a host railroad imposed minimum axle count for Amtrak trains using single-level equipment.

But by late July the Heritage baggage car had been replaced by a Viewliner baggage car. In neither case was checked luggage being carried in that car.

All three of the images create a sense of place and do a nice job of contrasting the size of the grain complex with that of the train.

We tend to think of trains as large objects, which they are, but it is all relative to what you compare their size with.

The way that grain complexes loom over trains adds to the drama of the photograph by creating contrast.

My original theme for this post was that last Sunday I got the photo right in a way I had not done it in June.

But once I started comparing the June and July images I began seeing that really wasn’t true. That June photo was more like the August 2012 image than I had remembered.

Ultimately, it wasn’t so much about getting it right versus getting it wrong, but how I felt about what I had just created when walking away from the scene.

Upon further review, there are reasons to feel good about all three images. Although they may be similar all three have their own character that I found pleasing. Each comes with its own set of memories of the trip on which it was created.

A Fleeting Wisp of Ohio Central Glory

April 18, 2020

I’ve been going through my slide collection in recent weeks and scanning images to post online.

It’s been a diversion from the COVID-19 pandemic and brought back pleasant memories of what seemed to have been happier and less threatening times.

The photograph above of an Ohio Central passenger excursion train, though, is not one of those recent scans.

I scanned this image several months ago but have thus far refrained from posting it because of its lackluster quality.

Yet it’s the type of image in which I find myself taking solace these days and the fact that it’s less than ideal doesn’t matter.

I made this image on July 31, 2004, on a wood bridge at the west edge of West Lafayette, Ohio. The excursion originated in Columbus and was bound for Train Festival 2004 in Dennison.

It was one of several excursion trains I photographed that day during an event like few others I experienced in Ohio.

It was not an ideal day for train photography due to overcast skies and rain and drizzle. The slide is dark suggesting an under exposed image.

This photo has been sitting in a folder on my computer awaiting a decision to post it or delete it.

Sometimes a photograph has to wait for the right moment to be displayed, a moment when the content outweighs whatever technical flaws it has.

I was always a fan of the Pennsylvania Railroad inspired livery that Ohio Central FP9A units 6313 and 6307 had.

I once sat at a table with the late Jerry Jacobson at an Akron Railroad Club event and heard him say how much it cost to get those locomotives custom painted. I don’t recall the figure, but it wasn’t cheap.

Jerry talked about that expense in the same causal way that most people speak of how much they spent for dinner at a Bob Evans restaurant. In the scheme of things it isn’t that much.

I don’t have too many photographs of the Ohio Central FP9As in this livery and I didn’t see them operate very often.

Sure, I wish I had more photographs, but having regrets is as much a part of being a railfan photographer as bragging about what you did capture.

Everyone has missed out on something and everyone has something they wish that had more of than they do.

Everyone also can speak about days when they wished the weather and lighting had been better.

Having something is better than having nothing so although this isn’t one of my best images it reminds me of a day when I was there for something special.

There never was another train festival in Dennison or anywhere else on the Ohio Central like the 2004 event that was attended by 27,000 people.

Although the two steam locomotives that operated that day are at the Age of Steam Roundhouse, Jerry sold the FP9A locomotives and they can’t be seen in their PRR lookalike livery.

During the pandemic it is easy to think about what we can’t do.

It remains to be seen what end game the pandemic will bring, but for now we can look forward to some day resuming doing things we used to do without giving them a second thought.

Yet some things are not coming back. The steam excursions and other special movements that Jerry made possible may have lasted several years but in looking back on them now their time seems to have been rather fleeting.

Fortunately, our memories and photographs of those moments are not.

Learning Yet Again From A Mistake Made in Willoughby

March 16, 2020

A recent issue of the weekly newsletter sent by email to subscribers of Classic Trains magazine contained an essay written by J.W. Swanberg about a rookie mistake he made in Willoughby back in 1954.

At the time, Swanberg was 15 and traveling with his parents from their home in Connecticut to visit his grandparents in Minnesota.

They stayed overnight at a tourist home in Willoughby, which Swanberg knew had mainlines of the New York Central and Nickel Plate Road.

The NKP still ran a lot of steam in 1954 but the Central did not. Early the next morning, Swanberg ventured out with his camera in hopes of catching NKP steam.

He found a crossing with “NYC&StL” stenciled on the crossbucks and thought that was the Central so he continued walking to another set of tracks.

An NYC passenger train led by an Alco PA locomotive came along. At the same time Swanberg heard the whistle of a steam locomotive on the NKP but there was not enough time to go get it.

Swanberg had only an hour before his parents would be ready to leave and he left Willoughby without getting any NKP steam that morning.

Nearly six decades later he wrote that he is thankful for his youthful mistake.

He was able to photograph NKP steam two years later during another family trip to Minnesota but that 1954 image would be the only action photograph he would ever make of an NYC Alco PA leading a train.

Reading Swanberg’s story reminded me of a mistake I made in Willoughby in May 2017.

I was there with Peter Bowler and our objective was to photograph an NS train on the former NKP line as it passed the venerable Willoughby Coal & Supply building.

We were standing by the Erie Street crossing of NS when Peter heard a locomotive horn to the west.

It was Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited which we had not known was running late that day.

I managed to get a grab shot of the lead P42DC unit crossing Erie Street but it was far from a good image because it had a lot of clutter.

If you think you might have seen this image before, you have.

I posted it on this site more than two years ago along with the story behind it headlined “Railfan Incompetence 101.”

I described how we had failed to check if No. 48 might be running late. I had locked out the CSX road channel on my scanner so I hadn’t heard No. 48 calling signals.

Had neither of those things happened we could have gotten into position to catch No. 48 coming around a curve in nice morning light.

Peter and I had a list of objectives but struck out on all of them except getting an eastbound NS train coming past the Willoughby Coal Company building.

As I got ready to write this article I went looking for that photograph of Amtrak 48 and found I had already applied the copyright line I typically place on my images posted on this blog.

I had not only forgotten that post but forgotten what I had written in it.

I thought my idea for a “one day at Willoughby” article had fallen though.

Then I read the original post and was chagrined to learn I had forgotten its most significant theme.

The day after that ill fated Lake County railfan outing I had read a column by a former restaurant critic for The Plain Dealer who had undergone treatment for cancer.

His experience made him realize when you have a condition that could take your life away even a bad day seems like a gift.

The food writer, Joe Crea, urged his readers not just to enjoy every day’s moments but to understand that what might seem like a disappointment or setback could be something else.

Swanberg wrote in his essay, which was initially published by Classic Trains in summer 2012, that the PA locomotive was not well regarded by the Central and those units spent many years trailing  in motive power consists rather than leading.

Swanberg considered himself lucky to have been able to capture an elusive NYC PA on a day when he really wanted NKP steam.

It would turn out that Joe Crea did not live much longer after writing his essay for The Plain Dealer.

I would discover later the curve image in early morning light in Willoughby would not have been the outstanding photograph I had envisioned it would be because of clutter along the right of way.

Given a choice I’d rather have the curve shot then a so-so down the street composition that shows little more than a locomotive nose.

Yet as I wrote in that 2017 essay the image I wound up with had its own story to tell and I’ve grown to appreciate that.

I have yet to again photograph Amtrak coming through Willoughby and it seems unlikely I ever will.

In the scheme of things that doesn’t matter. I’ve made hundreds of Amtrak photographs expect to make more down the road.

Yet I hope to be better prepared next time for an unexpected opportunity yet what I really want is to not forget again the wisdom of Joe Crea’s column about every opportunity being a gift.

Nice Spots, But There are Better Places to Get the CVSR

October 30, 2019

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad recently posted on its website an article headlined “four of the best locations to photograph the CVSR.”

Three of the four were among the usual suspects of places to photograph the CVSR: Peninsula, Indigo Lake and Station Road Bridge in Brecksville.

The fourth location, Canal Exploration Center, was a surprise.

The article recommended photographing the latter from the bridge connecting the parking area to the CEC station.

“Looking southwest from the bridge you can get great shots of the train as it passes by the river. It’s one of the best places to see the Cuyahoga River winding through the area,” the article said.

I’ve been to that bridge and found it lacking as a photography location. It’s OK, but would be well down my list of recommended places of “best locations” to capture the CVSR.

The article illustrated each location with an image, some of which were taken from social media site Instagram.

Frankly, the creator of the article could have found better images to illustrate the article.

In fact there are better photographs of the CVSR in action elsewhere on the railroad’s website.

Weaved in among the images of CVSR trains with the four best article were photographs of features that are part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Each location was accompanied by a tip and it wasn’t always clear if the tip was for making a photograph of a train or the non-railroad related park feature.

All four locations described in the article are located in the CVNP and have parking lots. This suggests that the article was written for casual park visitors and not so much professional photographers or serious amateurs.

The “four of the best locations” are safe locations that do not involve walking on or along the tracks or a roadway to get to a photo spot.

Take Brecksville, for example. You can walk from the parking lot to Station Road bridge without even crossing the tracks.

Yet if you walk along the right of way north of the station and past the Ohio Route 82 bridge you’ll find an S curve that makes a nice photo spot. There is also a swamp that can be worked into the background.

Likewise there is a hillside overlooking the Brecksville station complex that can be reached by wading through Chippewa Creek or walking on the walkway on the railroad bridge over the creek.

I can understand why the CVSR doesn’t want to encourage people to do the latter.

And yet there are many good locations along the railroad that do not involve having to walk on or across the tracks to get good photos.

But some of those places are not located in the CVNP. Deep Lock Quarry and Sand Run metro parks come to mind.

Both have winding trails with medium-height wood fences adjacent to the tracks that will yield more interesting images of CVSR trains than Station Road Bridge.

Sure, Station Road Bridge will yield the iconic image of the Route 82 bridge reflecting in the Cuyahoga River as a train passes by. But said train will be obscured in part by brush growing along the river.

There are better angles in Brecksville to capture the Route 82 bridge and a train than from Station Road Bridge including at the Brecksville station.

The park and its railroad are worthy subjects for photography and have much to offer, which is why I found the CVSR’s article disappointing even if I understand why it was written as it was.

Consider, for example, the image the website used on its page promoting the Fall Flyer trips that have concluded for the season.

It featured a dramatic image of a train passing beneath a golden canopy of trees. Leaves carpet the track. The face of the locomotive coming at you is well illuminated by natural light.

Not only does the image say fall foliage it also shows something about the essence of the park. It’s an excellent image that made me wish I had made it.

You can get good images and sometimes even great ones at the four locations recommended in the CVSR article.

Yet as someone who has made hundreds of photographs of the CVSR over the years, only Indigo Lake might be in my top five “best” places list from a photography perspective.

Creating dramatic images of the CVSR that have a story to tell about a region, a park and its railroad often requires getting away from the usual and popular spots. It also means getting to know the park and its railroad.

The beauty of the the park is that its essence changes with the seasons and even throughout the day as the light shifts. There is much to see and capture if you are willing to work to find it.

The Art of Black and White Photography

October 19, 2019

Digital photograph has many advantages but one of most underused one is the ability to transform an image from color to black and white.

I seldom see this done and I’m just as guilty as anyone else in not thinking about doing it.

What I have learned, though, is that recognizing when to convert an image from color to black and white is an art in itself.

It works well in situations in which the colors are subdued, often to the point of the image virtually being black and white anyway.

When I was processing this image of Amtrak’s westbound Blue Water at Durand, Michigan, it all but called out for conversion to black and white.

There is strong back lighting from the sun that washed out the color.

Making the image black and white helped to draw out the contrast and enhance the mood.

Train No. 365 is waiting for time. It arrived in Durand a little early and all of the passengers have boarded.

A few onlookers are gathered along the fence waiting to see of a Boy Scout troop that boarded.

The conductor is standing by a vestibule waiting to give a highball and accommodate any late arriving passengers.

Note also the contrast in shapes of the Amfleet and Horizon coaches in the train’s consist, a testament to competing philosophies of passenger car design.

A Matter of Scale

November 7, 2017

Would you have made this photograph let alone posted it? Some railfan photographers would answer “no” on both counts. Some might even say they don’t like this image.

They wouldn say the the lead locomotive is too small. You can’t read the roster number or see any of the detail.

And that, of course, is the point of this image of Amtrak’s eastbound Pennsylvanian.

We’ve all stood next to a locomotive and noticed how big they are. Most of us have stood next to an Amtrak P42DC and had the same feeling.

Yes, the locomotive seems small because of it distance from my camera, but I also like how the mountains in the background dwarf the train and remind of us that no matter how large a locomotive it, there is always something bigger.

Aside from that, I made this image because of its sense of place. It screams eastern mountains and is, in fact, a location in the Allegheny Mountains at Summerhill, Pennsylvania.

I am far from being the first photograph to make such an image. I’ve seen photographs made in the west and the east in which the mountains are swallowing the train.

I wouldn’t want to make all of my images look like that, but this view is just one of many that can be used to tell a story with photographs.

Reflections on a Reflection

October 28, 2017

Many of my favorite photographs have been created by happenstance. Such was the case with this image of a reflection of the former Erie Railroad passenger station in Kent in a pool of the decorative dam on the Cuyahoga River.

The story behind this image begins with a walk down to the observation platform that can be seen toward the right middle of the image.

My intent was to get a close-up view of the late day sun hitting the station, which is now an Italian restaurant named Treno, which is Italian for train.

The dam used to be functional, but several years ago the river was channeled away from it and into the remnants of the Pennsylvania & Ohio Canal. What had been the river became dry land that was transformed into a park while the dam was renovated to become, in essence, a giant water fountain.

The top of the dam is quite high, about at the level of my eyes. I happened to notice the station reflecting in the pool at the top of the dam and thought it would make a nice photograph.

I made it but all you could see was the reflection in the water. I then lifted my camera above my head and held it over the railing in the foreground.

A Canon 60D has a foldout screen that can be angled up or down. That came in handy in being able to see what the lens was seeing. I then used the live view feature of the camera to make the image.

The result was, perhaps, my best image of the day. What appears to be a reflection from a flash toward the right end of the station is actually the sun reflecting off a window.

Better Than I Initially Recognized

September 9, 2017

There have been times when I’ve given a second or even third look to an image I made and concluded that it had something going for it that I failed to see the first or second time.

Such was the case with this eastbound Norfolk Southern manifest freight cruising through Marion.

I had been walking back to Marion Union Station with fellow Akron Railroad Club member Richard Antibus during the dinner hour of Summerail.

I had a little bit of time before the evening shows were to begin.

This is not the location from which I would have preferred to have captured this train.

Given the position of the sun, I would have liked to have been on the west side of the tracks.

But just as we got near the tracks, the gates started going down. My practice is to not to dash across tracks if the crossing warning devices have activated.

I zoomed in on the train to get it crossing the CSX Mt. Victory Subdivision by AC Tower.

I then zoomed back to get a wider perspective, which was what I initially though to be the best image that I made. That image was the one that I posted online shortly after I got home.

Yet while thinning out images from that day and moving them into storage on an external hard drive, I took another look at the image above.

What I saw that time that I had missed earlier was the nice contrast between the light playing on the nose of SD70M No. 2587 and the shadows on both sides of the tracks.

Light and shadows adds tension to an image as well as visual interest.

The contrast extends to the rails that No. 2587 and its train are about to traverse. Ditto for the rest of the train, which can be seen enveloped in shadows in the distance.

The light is also illuminating the heads of the railfans along the fence watching the train pass.

I wouldn’t categorize this as the best railroad photograph I’ll make this year and many might see it as just another train picture.

Maybe so, yet it reminds me that sometimes you have to look at an image multiple times to really see it.