March 4th, 2014
At first glance, you might think a guy who loves to shoot trains might not care when the circus comes to town. Oh, but thatíd be wrong, especially since the circus takes the train to town. For many years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has travelled North America by the rails. Two trains a year cross the country on all the major railroads with a variety of different engines pulling the way.
Since we get a circus every year in Columbia, I keep up with the schedules as often as I can. For example, this year our show is in late March and will come down from New Jersey to get to the state capital of South Carolina. But last night, one train came through on the way to Charleston. As luck would have it, it was already dark, so I took video and not stills. But it will have a return trip next week as it treks to Ohio for another string of shows.
But over the years I have been fairly lucky catching the trains through town in daylight. However, sometimes daylight means clouds and not sun as was the case in January, 2011. Here, the crew that brought the train down from North Carolina is relieved by another crew.
The four cars behind the engines house the elephants. These cars are kept separate from the rest of the train during itís stay in Columbia.
Itís not always easy in Columbia to catch the train where it clearly shows that itís not a typical freight. When the train comes from Charlotte and points north on North Southern, one spot Iím not ashamed to use more than once is on Sumter Street with the backdrop of the city in the background.
On the train below, I was helped by the direction of travel. Itís actually leaving town, but because of the way the train had to face at itís next destination, the crew shoved it onto the NS line from the yard, then pulled forward. Otherwise, it would have been backlit for me this day.
Last year, the train also had to shove out of the yard, but it did so on another track and with an extra engine up front, you almost miss that itís the circus train.
But this is when you hold the camera as the train passes looking for folks standing in the vestibule. This fellow was seen taking a picture (probably video) as the train backed up. Now heís reviewing the image on the back of his camera.
In 2010, I caught two crew members who were watching their train enter Columbia.
And remember when I said it was hard to find spots in Columbia to show that the train is a circus train? Such was the case on this train that was just passing through the area. Sun angles pretty much left me one spot that showed the engines almost entirely. But the consecutive numbers on the lead engine almost made up for it.
One thing that has held me back in the past was my work schedule. Some years I had to hope to catch it on lunch. Other years there was money issues keeping me in town. With the train returning from Charleston next week and then coming back at the end of March, I am already scouting out locations and planning on where I hope to shoot himÖ provided he comes in daylight hours.
Oh, and shooting the elephants?
February 3rd, 2014
To some, photography looks easy. You point a camera at a subject and press the shutter. And, frankly, sometimes it is that easy. Almost. What we need to convey to potential clients is a number of things --
1.) It's not always as easy as one thinks. And even when it is that easy, it's usually because of the years of practice we photographers have put into our craft.
2.) We need to be rewarded for our hard work.
Consider this shot.
I took it a few years ago at a time when I was making a concerted effort to take mroe than railroad photography. I thought it would be good practice for night time shooting and it was also a nice scene in the city I had just moved to, Columbia, South Carolina, albeit I was standing across the river in West Columbia. The shot was a bit more tricky than I had first thought it would be mainly because of the lights on the bridge. They are an orange or yellow color which, I am told, is meant to be a throwback to years past when the lights might actually have been flames to keep old roadways lit in the days or horse and buggy.
And that may well be, but to my eyes, they're ugly and over power the scene. So I made the decision to go black and white which also added a slightly spooky effect. It almost reminds me of a Halloween shot although it was actually made in December. But I was pleased with how it turned out and it has become one of my favorite shots I have taken and seems to be a favorite on my Flickr account as well. The interesting thing is that I have gone back to reshoot the scene as I have upgraded my camera gear. The last time was just a few weeks ago, but it turned out much like all of my other attempts to redo theshot -- it failed miserably.
Potential clients don't always understand this. When they see a shot they like, they might not take into account how difficult it may be to get the same results. It's not always as easy as, "Oh, I'll ask someone else to reshoot it." Because, as I found out, even reshooting a city skyline scene that itself has not changed much can be hard. I can't find the exact spot I stood. The yellow lights on the bridge stand out even more now, it seems. The moon isn't going to be in the same spot. The trees in the bottom of the frame have grown taller now and are in the way of the bridge.
In another blog, I plan to talk about some things I could have done -- and still could do -- to make this shot a little better. In the meantime, when I look at it now, I am still pleased with the results while at the same time knowing I could have done better then.
January 22nd, 2014
In a previous blog, I talked about how just a little bit of inside information goes a long way to help a railroad photographer get his shots. That was the case last week when I heard that the L&C Railroad was taking delivery of their first every unit grain train from CSX to Circle S Feed Mill. Now some of this is a little ďinside baseballĒ and some of it is stuff no one other than railroaders and railfans would possibly care about. But since Circle S opened in the late 1990s, they have received all of their unit train from Norfolk Southern.
So I was interested in shooting this train and tried to keep track of when it may arrive at the interchange in East Chester. At one point, it was rumored to be there either late Friday or early Saturday with an 8:30 am departure from the interchange. Later, I heard it would get there earlier than expected and finally I heard it had left out after dark on Friday evening.
So I woke up on Saturday and checked my messages. There had been nothing new on the train. I looked outside. It was going to be a beautiful day, albeit chilly. In the past, the L&C has doubled their trains up. This means they take half of a grain train down to Circle S and leave the other half at the interchange. Iíve also seen them take the whole train down, too. But I made the assumption they halved the train this time and made the seventy mile drive up I-77. And my hunch was right. I caught the crew leaving Richburg as light power (just engines, no train cars) and heading to pick the rest of the train up in East Chester.
This was a cool series of shots for me to shoot for a few reasons. One was mentioned before. It was the first unit train from CSX to Circle S Feed Mill for the L&C. Second, it was the first time I had seen them use more than three ďbigĒ engines (their newer GP38 models as opposed to the old end cab switchers) that were painted in their corporate scheme. (They have sent some leasers back as well as painted four locomotives over the past year) It was also the first time I had seen them use six of their big engines on one train. All of this may be silly railfan rumblings, but was cool to me nonetheless.
The next spot I shot at was in Richburg. Itís a tried and true area for train photographs, but I was wanting to do something just a little different if possible. There are two basic positions to shoot from here. One is at Main Street and I did that back in October on one of their daily trains.
Since not only did I do that shot in October, but also because all six locomotives would not fit in the frame there, I went to the next block over and took this shot.
I like the lines of the shot and the crispness of the front of the train with the heat waves coming off the locomotives. But I knew this was a ďfreebieĒ shot Ė a shot I took while waiting to get the shot I wanted. The train was going slow after climbing a steep grade, so I had time to change lens and take a step to my right to take this shot through a fence.
Next up was the destination of the train. I passed up a shot or two just so I could get across Morrison Road before the train blocked it. I was hoping for a shot of the train pulling through the feed mill with the old L&C SW900 #91 sitting beside it. But since the crew had already parked part of the train in the facility the night before, they had to move some cars around to make room. I took this shot instead of a crew from the feed mill moving the little engine out of the way.
I was losing the sun angles by the time they finally pulled through, so I set up for this shot of the crew moving some empties cars along the main line with the grain elevator in the background.
After pulling up just shy of the nearest road crossing, the crew called it a day and we, too, went home.
January 13th, 2014
For most of the last fifteen years that I have been shooting trains, I prefer nice, blue skies with lots of sun. It's typically easier to shoot in good light and most people prefer to see crisp, sun at your back shots of trains. Of course, Mother Nature doesn't always play nice. Such was the case this past Saturday when I heard that Norfolk Southern was sending their Savannah & Atlanta heritage unit up through my area. OK, now for those of you who don't know, Norfolk Southern Railway painted twenty of their newest locomotives into old paint schemes of ancestor railroads. It's a nice tribute to the former employees of the old railroads and their family members. And it's a good way for Norfolk Southern to get some advertisement from railfans like myself who like trains.
But back to Saturday, the weather was horrible. But I really wanted to see this engine. The plan was that the train would come into Columbia, leave it's cars and then pick up a new train to head back down into Georgia. When it left Columbia again, the Savannah & Atlanta unit would be leading. But as often happens with the railroad, the train got delayed. The weather got worse. When I first went out, it was grey, but there was some filtered light shining through the clouds. By the time the train came, it was much darker and it even started raining.
So the train came and I decided to shoot it in Cayce with a neighborhood in the background and another set of tracks in the foreground. When I looked at the LCD screen on the back, I wasn't too impressed. But when I got the shot loaded onto my computer and did some basic processing, namely shadows and highlights, I liked the shot a bit more than before.
With the train delayed as much as it was, the engines got held overnight in Columbia meaning they would likely be sent out the next day. And as luck would have it, the weather was set to be great on Sunday. It was just a matter of finding out what train it would go out on and when. We learned which train it was going to be on and planned our shots accordingly. I wanted a shot of it crossing over Columbia's Riverfront Park and set up there.
I knew it was risky because the walk back to the car (note to self: get bicycle fixed) would be more than fifteen minutes which would mean I couldn't catch it for at least another thirty miles. The train took a siding in Slighs, SC and I caught it leaving there next.
But this location was actually meant to be secondary. Aside from Riverfront Park, there were two spots in Newberry I hoped to shoot it at, but as luck would have it, we caught a nail in our tire and had to put the spare on. I missed the next two spots. By the time we did catch it, they had dropped their train off in Silverstreet and was coming back through Newberry with loaded wood chip cars.
But even though the light was better on Sunday, looking back, I actually prefer the shot on Saturday, even with the Savannah & Atlanta trailing the new NS motor. Am I crazy? What say you? Which is the better shot?
December 30th, 2013
As a railroad photographer, the more information I get, the better. While there is something to be said for getting really lucky on a shot, it also helps when someone with more information than you clues you in. Consider this past Friday. I found out I was getting off work early and posted as much on a Facebook page I admin and asked if anyone had any ideas what shortline railroads might be good to go to that day. I got a response that the Greenville & Western was going to run and it would be a somewhat rare move. I'm going to have to go a little "Inside Baseball" on you, but I'll try to be brief. The Greenville & Western runs out of their yard in Belton, SC and typically runs NW to a place called Chaddar, SC and eventually to Pelzer.
About once a month, they leave their yard and run SE to an industry just a few miles from their yard. This was the plan on Friday, but they were also using a new engine that would soon be sent to a sister railroad in Aiken, SC. The south east run would put the new engine on lead in great sun. But I had to be there by one or a little after. Naturally, I didn't get to leave Columbia as soon as I wanted and then there was traffic. So when I got to Belton I was sure the G&W would be gone.
First, I caught another shortline in the G&W yard that I love to shoot. The Pickens was just leaving and I had about ten seconds to set up for this shot --
I wanted to get a shot with both railroads in the frame at the same time. This is as good as I got with the G&W shops across Hwy. 76.
I followed the Pickens SE on 76 and ran into the train I was going to shoot in the first place -- the Greenville & Western with a really neat looking Aiken Railway GP30 on lead in good sun.
I took a few shots from different angles --
They left heading northwest at tis point and after an eventful few hours plus on scene, I headed home.
All in all, it was a good day!
December 6th, 2013
Springs Lancaster Plant
Lancaster, South Carolina
At first glance, it appears this is a working office for a textile mill. Afterall, the grass appears to be freshly cut and the brush around the sign has been trimmed. But at the point this photograph was made in 2009, the mill had been closed for six years and most of it demolished. I tried to hide most of the exterior of the office in the background, but the roof does seem to give it away. When I shot it, I remember thinking the sign was standing up pretty well and I wanted it to be the main emphasis of the photograph.
Folks from Lancaster might react strongly to this image. There is a lot of resentment toward the Springs family. There is a feeling of betrayal that the family (most have the last name Close now, heirs to the original Springs family) "merged" with a Brazilian company, took the money from that company for themselves and then let the new company move all operations overseas. I feel that betrayal as well as a healthy dose of anger, too. But mostly what I feel when I see this image is an infinite sadness.
Hopefully some will see it as a reminder to better times for Lancaster.
December 3rd, 2013
So me, my wife and our two kids were in Staunton, Virginia earlier this year for a wedding. During some down time, we wandered around downtown. We hit the Amtrak Station and the pedestrian bridge (which was just days away from reopening) and then found the Camera heritage Museum, part store, part hallowed hall of old cameras. They had this one really big camera that shot some of the first baseball games ever broadcast on TV. It is said to be the largest privately-owned free camera museum on the East Coast. There are daguerreotypes, wooden cameras, spy cameras and more than a hundred Leicas and Zeiss cameras. Over 2000 cameras and lenses.
And somehow I felt, well, like it was wrong of me to have my Canon 60D strapped around my neck. And then I picked my camera up and trained it on some of the old gear in the place. Surely it was sacrilege. As the sales worker told us about some of the cameras, I half expected her to slap the evil digital camera out of my hand!
I took a moment to reflect on the many photographers who came and went well before we hit the digital age. I had to wonder what they would think of all the folks with DSLRs strapped around their necks or, worse yet, everyone and their mother and children with their own camera inside their phone which they keep in their pockets! Don't get me wrong. I can't say that I'd want to go back to their day and age to relearn photography. Heck, I don't even want to go back to my 1999-era Canon Rebel, but it did give me a moment to pause and reflect on how good we have it in 2013.
I wouldn't change it for the world.
November 26th, 2013
My love for photography started with trains. I bought a decent camera for the first time in 1999 and quickly decided I not only liked photography, but I loved it. That led me to want to get better at it which led me to Teleproduction Technology at York Technical College. It was a year long course, but dealt mainly with videography, not still photography. However, I was pretty good at the video stuff as well and got my first job in the field a few months after finishing York Tech.
I always took my still camera with my TV gear. Sometimes I was able to stop and take a train shot, but other times a real opportunity arose for some more typical photojournalism. Such was the case on June 6, 2006 when an old textile mill in Great Falls, SC did what a lot of old textile mills do: it caught on fire.
This shot still makes me think. It appears that firefighters had put a hose on the ladder and stretched the ladder out so that no one would have to be over the fire. But then the hose stopped working and this guy had to climb up and see what the hell went wrong. So up he goes and I'm standing with a 200 mm lens stretched out (320 mm with the 1.6 crop factor) wondering what could possibly be going through his mind. I cannot imagine. But I think about the firemen and police officers on 9/11. While everyone was running away from the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, these men and women were running toward both disaster areas. And this fire fighter climbed the ladder to help put out a hell of a fire.