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Better to be lucky than good?

June 8th, 2018

Better to be lucky than good?

I have been sitting on this shot for a while. I wasn't happy with the original edit, so I never posted it to my FAA/Pixels site. For seven years, I sat it on. I kept saying I'd get back to it but never did until tonight. Not sure why because it was a favorite shot of mine and I always like the "Inside Baseball" of how I even got the shot in the first place.

I was very lucky to have caught made this photograph. I had rode across the bridge in the background and saw the two trains facing us a few moments prior to this. I knew that the one on the right led by CSX ES44AC-H #898 was on the main track and had a red signal. He had come in from Hamlet and was heading toward Atlanta. I knew he was waiting on a freight coming in from South Carolina. Meanwhile, there was a second train (with the SD40-2 #8107) that was further back switching the yard.

I went into the parking lot hoping to get a good shot of the two trains sitting side by side as I waited for the third guy to show up and as I was putting my car into P, I heard the third train coming up behind me. I had about two seconds to get out of the car and snap this one shot. Luckily, my home base settings worked on the camera even with the low sun. It's one of my favorite shots and it was a miracle it worked with the placement of all three trains, two that were moving, the American flag and the gentleman standing outside watching the three train meet.

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So is the adage true? It's better to be lucky than good?

About Joe the Photog

August 11th, 2016

About Joe the Photog

Did you know that is the official online destination for for all things Joe the Photog? I searched for weeks looking for a good online printer to handle the framing and printing of my sales and found it in 2012 with Fine Art America. They offer a money back guarantee but -- knock on wood -- no one who has purchased a print from me has returned it.

Aside from traditional prints matted and framed, they also print on metal and canvas. I've ordered both to see how they look and like both mediums. But the metal prints look absolutely stunning. Ironically, metal prints are also a little less expensive.

It's been exciting to be able to shoot what I want and then post the best shots on a print on demand site and have people buy them! When I sell a railroad print, I want to dance the jig!

Besides the railroad stuff, I have scenes from my hometown, Lancaster, South Carolina, skyline scenes from Columbia, sunset shots and waterfall photographs, more than 1200 photos in all and always increasing.

But my favorite are the railroad shots!

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What I Have Learned Lately

August 4th, 2016

What I Have Learned Lately

Some recently asked me what if anything I had learned in the 18 or so months since I have been going through my medical issues. This is actually something I have thought about over the last year or so and I have wanted to put it into words, but I kept putting it off. It has challenged some of my long held beliefs about myself and the world. And for that I am grateful.

I remembering being in the hospital after my first surgery when they took the two toes off my right foot. The recovering time was going to be at least two months, most of that with a wound vac hooked up to my foot with me out of work. I was real scared because money was already mostly non-existent. I saw myself losing my car which would be bad since I was planning to move to Lancaster as soon as I could to be closer to my kids.

So I created a GoFundMe page and shared the link on my Facebook. I didn't know what to expect. But within an hour, I had my first donation. I was a little surprised. I felt a little bad, too. I felt like I was asking for handouts. I've never liked to ask for help. I prefer to find a way to do things myself. But I knew that wasn't happening this time.

Friends who couldn't help financially reshared the page. One former colleague in TV news shared it on Facebook. Not long after, one of his fans wrote me and I said, “I don't know you, but if he vouches for you, yu must be OK.” And she made a donation. Other folks I hadn't heard from in years chipped in. I was able to keep my car, pay for some prescriptions and finally see my kids when I was able to drive because of this.

I've always been cynical by my nature. I often have a biting sense of humor and at times my world view is dark. But what I have realized is that people are actually generally very nice. They want to see you do well. They worry about you when you're not. I made a post once and a friend saw it, noticed it was a little darker than usual and changed his plans for that day to come see if I was OK. I wasn't, but his visit helped tremendously. Another friend who is going through her own health issues knew of people in Columbia. Since she could not get down herself, she asked one of them to come see me. He and I turned into fast friends and I looked forward to his weekly visits.

It's been really eye opening. We are so quick to think things are much worse than they really are. Maybe we watch too much news. Maybe we follow too many folks on Facebook who share this view. But I don't believe tis is how people really are. I think the vast majority of folks are great people. I hope I remember tis feeling. I hope in time I can start helping people, too. I hope I can pay it forward. I owe it to the folks who have helped me.

Tracking A Train

August 1st, 2016

Tracking A Train

We railfans live in interesting times. With the internet, it is so easy to know when a train is coming to your area that you may want to shoot. Here in the Carolinas, we routinely get reports from all over the east coast about trains that have not even left their home yard yet but already have special engines leading. Consider this train from last year.

We heard there was an Augusta, Georgia-bound ethanol train with Kansas City Southern power leading about to leave Indiana. My first question was what paint scheme was leading. Most railfans prefer the red Southern Belles, but I'm still partial to the old gray engines. I'd be willing to drive out of my way for a grey engines, but might not worry too much about catching a Belle. Since it was a grey KCS locomotive, I decided to try to catch it. For days I kept track of it via various reports on Facebook.

It began timing out that it would pass through Columbia either late on a Saturday or early on a Sunday. I thought of where I'd want to shoot it. I like the photo ops on the line south of Chester in South Carolina. A lot of interesting curves and open scenery. But there are also great shots south of Columbia. For example, the street running in Augusta is very cool. So I kepy my options open and waited.

When I went to bed on Saturday night, it looked like the train might pass through overnight. I decided if it did, I'd have to catch the next one. So when I woke up the next morning and looked for updates, I was very happy to learn it still had not passed through town yet. It was close though so instead of driving north or south, I left my house and drove about three miles to a location I had wanted to shoot a train for years. The weather was a little grey, but that worked in my favor. Otherwise, the sun angles would have been all wrong.

So I got my shot

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After days of planning, it turned out all I had to do was drive five minutes from my huose and take a shot.

Where Have I Been Lately Part II

June 10th, 2016

Where Have I Been Lately Part II

A year ago, I wrote a blog entry trying to answer the question -- Where Have I Been Lately? Well, here is part two of that. The original blog is listed a few entries down. After my big toe and second toe were amputated off my right foot last year, I thought and hoped things were getting back to normal. But normal for me has never been too normal anyway and it ended up a lot of things would keep changing in the year since.

In late October, I was recovering from a second amputation. They had gone back and performed a transmet surgery on my right foot which meant they took the rest of my toes and part of the foot itself. I still wasn't feeling right but money was very tight and I was preparing to go back to work with an insert in my shoe. I was walking pretty good, but when I went back to work, I had been moved off of one post where there was not much walking at all to another post where there would be a lot more walking.

I'll cut with the melodramatics.

I was on the job for less than a week before the cold chills, stomach aches and other symptoms returned. I went to the ER on October 31st knowing full well I would be admitted again. And I was right. I was told they needed to perform a below the knee amputation on my right leg and also an amputation of the big toe on the right foot. At this point, I was like, sure, go ahead. The right leg was taken on November 1 and the left big toe the day after. I was put in a room on the 11th Floor at Palmetto Health Richland where I would stay for six months.

Yes, six months.

The main problem was that the blood infection was back and would not go away. They were worried it was in my bones in my left foot and knew it was attacking my heart valves. I was put on an IV drop of antibiotics during which the second toe on my left foot became infected and was amputated. I was given more antibiotics and when it looked like the infection was gone, my third toe on my left foot became infected and consideration was given to taking it too.

I was actually toying with the idea and saying just take the whole foot and let me heal, but my doctors thought they could save the rest of the toes and foot. And, so far, they were proven right. I got released from the hospital on May 2nd.

And on May 9th, I caught my first moving train since October. It was on my hometown railroad, in good light, passing an area landmark. I was excited.

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I've been battling insurance issues since then and trying to get settled into my new place. I don't know if the future holds more surgeries and less limbs, but I'm trying to enjoy what I have in the meantime.

If I Had It To Do Over Again...

August 12th, 2015

I was just glancing at this shot on my FAA page --

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and some seven years after I shot it, it dawned on me that I missed a chance to mess with your head a little. I could have crouched down closer to the ground to get the railroad tracks out of frame. I believe if I were closer to ground level, the pavement would cover the tracks right up and create the impression that the train was literally driving down the center of the road.

This is in Augusta, Georgia, one of a handful of spots left in America where freight trains and car traffic coexist on roads. I understand the locals loathe the set-up and there have been pleas to move the tracks, but so far, nothing has come of it. Railfans love this stretch of 6th Street for the very reason that locals hate it -- the trains. I've shot here a few times --

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And it's always a question of how to shoot the scene. The very nature of street running tends to make straight on shots the easiest to take. They can tell a lot, too. It creates a nice story with cars parked on the side of the streets and, well, that "No Left Turn" sign in the one with the Union Pacific power is classic. But today, for some reason, as I glanced at the first shot in the blog, I realized I missed a chance to do something just a little out of the norm. I remember my thinking in that shot. Shoot the intersection. I sometimes call 6th and Broad my favorite intersection around because of the railroad tracks through it.

So I remember wanting the traffic lights in the shot and then to get the building in the background in the shot as well. In post, I have to rotate the shot a fair degree. I have a tendency to do that when I shoot handheld; I'm not sure why. But leveling the shot as much as I did caused some of the road sign to have to be cropped off. So even while it is one of my favorite shots, when I look at it, I still see the flaws in it. And now, eight years later, I see what I could have done different in it too.

Such is the mind of a photographer, I suppose.

Another Photographer Killed On Railroad Tracks

August 7th, 2015

I took the liberty of adding to a news story about the latest photographer killed on railroad tracks and writing it more like it could be written to really illustrate the nature of what the guy was doing. Part of this is real, part of it is not. I hope you like it.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFN) -- Friends are remembering a young photographer who was hit and killed by a train in Downtown Fresno as someone who lived life to the fullest, was a risk taker and didn't completely think things through.

“Yeah, he was kinda a hot head and a bonehead all wrapped up into one,” said a friend who did not wish to be identified. “I used to tell him not to be on railroad tracks and he’d just laugh it off and say, ‘What’s the worse that could happen?’”

Police say 25-year-old, Christopher O'Guinn was shooting photographs of a model on the railroad tracks and didn't know the train was coming until it was too late.

“The investigation is still ongoing,” Chief of Police Ray Munnerlyn said. “But it appears he kept taking pictures right up to the minute the train made impact with him and scattered his limp body along the tracks.”

A broken lens is still scattered across the rocks below the Stanislaus overpass in Downtown Fresno. This is where Christopher O'Guinn made a really bad decision and lost his life and where he hit the shutter on his camera for the last time because he was trespassing on private property.

His friend, Kayla Aguayo said, "He was truly an amazing person and photographer. Perhaps in hindsight, he wasn't the brightest guy on Earth for being on the railroad tracks, but indeed a really remarkable person.”

On Thursday, O'Guinn was shooting pictures of a model on active railroad tracks. A train was in the background of one shot, moving south, while another was headed north, directly in the path of O'Guinn, who for some ungodly reason had decided active railroad tracks was a great place to stage a photo shoot.

Lieutenant Joe Garcia said, "That engineer told the one going northbound, 'hey, look at that shit! There are some really dumb a** mutha f**kers on the tracks.' He started throttling down, actually."

Lieutenant Garcia says the northbound train also blew it’s whistle but O'Guinn was apparently so enthralled in what he was doing that didn't hear the train behind him until it was too late. He tried to jump out of the way but it clipped him and killed him instantly.

"It's definitely a hard time right now," Aguayo said, "I think it's a hard time for all of us who knew Chris because we all really loved him, in spite of him being a big dumb jackass.”

Aguayo says O'Guinn was drawn to the tracks. He was 25, still new to Fresno and his photography was just starting to take off.

"Really, just started putting his name on the map here in the valley," said Phil Perez, a photographer who also knew O'Guinn. “He poured his heart and soul into his work. Now, I guess, his blood really is on the tracks.”

Still, O'Guinn left behind memories, pictures of people he knew, his friends and the places he loved.

"Chris is a talented individual," Perez added, "he created beautiful images for everybody to see. But, of course, he won’t be creating anymore unless he’s got a camera in the Afterlife.”

O'Guinn's life was cut short but the images he captured will live forever. Left unspoken are the people whose life he touched in death. “The train crew on both trains, but especially the one that hit him, will have to live with this forever,” Chief Munnerlyn said. “So while his friends will mourn him, this crew will forever see him trying to run off the tracks knowing they were about to him him and knowing there was nothing they could do about it.

“I hope those damn pictures were worth it.” Chief Munnerlyn said, shaking his head and walking away

Shooting the Charlotte Streetcar

August 4th, 2015

Shooting the Charlotte Streetcar

Recently I went up I-77 to Charlotte, North Carolina to get a few shots of the new streetcar line. The CityLYNX Gold Line is the first 1.5-mile segment of a 10-mile streetcar system. It travels from the Charlotte Transportation Center via Trade Street to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center with six stops that allow citizens to connect to CATS bus and LYNX Blue Line light rail services, small businesses, Central Piedmont Community College and Novant Hospital.

We parked near the end of the line and I immediately saw a shot I wanted to take as it rounded the curve off of Hawthorne Street

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We boarded the next car and went to the point where it connects with both the bus system and the light rail line at the Charlotte Transit Center. We got a few shots at street level, then went up to the platform with thelight rail and waited for the next car to come back

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The wires are all over the place, but it's a shot that was calling out to me to be taken. We went back down to street level and used a little cloud cover to get a shot with the city in the background. I want to go back on a clear day and get there earlier as this is a morning shot with good light.

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Then we took a train back down to the end of the line and set up for another shot with the hospital in the background. The sun came out just in time.

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That was going to be it for the photography that day, but as we walked back to the car, we saw that the streetcar that had just passed was lining up for another shot. I decided to get a detail shot of it this time.

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All in all, not a bad outing for an hour or so on the new streetcar line in Charlotte. I imagine I will return again soon.

Photographers Killed While Shooting Trains

July 24th, 2015

Photographers Killed While Shooting Trains

Quick. Do the names Greg Plitts, Sarah Jones and Kathy Carlisle ring a bell with you? Greg Plitts might. He was a well known fitness instructor who made popular videos posted on YouTube as well as a former model and aspiring actor. But that’s not how I know his name. What about Jeff Ray? He was a guitarist and actor in a Las Vegas run of the popular Broadway show “Jersey Boys.” Chances are you have not heard of him either.

What these four folks, as well as others like them, have in common are that they died in ways that garnered a lot of national media exposure. They were hit and killed by trains while taking photographs or having photographs taken of them. Now it might seem a little stupefying to think that someone could be hit by a train. Afterall, trains are easy to avoid, but it happens more than you might expect.

Here are a few examples –

Greg Plitt: The 37 year old fitness guru was killed in June, 2015 while he and a film crew were shooting on tracks in Burbank, California. Witnesses say the engineer of the train was laying on the horn before impact. None of the crew were injured.

Jeffrey Ray: The 43 year old was struck and killed by an Amtrak train near Seattle. While posing for photos on the train tracks. He was a guitarist and cast member of the Off-Broadway show “Jersey Boys.” His girlfriend who was taking the photographs was unhurt

Sarah Jones: The young South Carolina native was a crew member for the biopic “Midnight Rider” who were filming scenes on a railroad bridge in Georgia. She was killed and others were injured when a train came and they could not get off the bridge in enough time. The director was found negligent in her death because the railroad company, CSX, had denied permits for the filming and told them not to be there.

Kathy Carlisle: The 52 year old high school photography teacher was struck in Sacramento, California. She was shooting an oncoming train and did not see the train coming from behind her on the tracks she was standing on.

Johnathan Eade was killed by an Amtrak train on a bridge in Missouri. Officials speculate he did not hear the approaching train due to traffic noise on the road below.

Fenjin He and Zuojun Lin: The Chinese-American photographers were killed when they got too close to the Norfolk Southern train they were shooting in Pennsylvania.

Then there was the high school girl’s volleyball team in Nebraska who chose one of the busiest rail lines around for their team photo. Luckily, this photo shoot did not end in tragedy. An employee with Union Pacific saw what was going on and called it in. Trains were stopped and officials were dispatched to the scene. Helping arrange the shoot with the coach of the team was the owner and editor of the local newspaper. Apparently this was not the first time they had done tis. The tracks in that area see fifty trains a day according to Union Pacific.

The interesting thing I found while doing admittedly non-scientific research was that more photographers are killed on railroad tracks than people posing on them. I say this because there is a big push on Facebook and other social media to get folks to stop doing portrait sessions on railroad tracks. And that’s a good campaign. But most of what I found on Google indicates that photographers there shooting trains are just as likely to be killed as are models in portrait sessions. Sometimes we as railfans think we know when trains will run or assume that we’ll hear them coming, but time and time, people with cameras in their hands prove these notions wrong.

According to Operation Lifesaver, a non profit organization dedicated to safety around railroads, there were 915 trespassing causalities in 2014. Of these, 501 were fatal. At some level, these numbers seem low. But then I looked up the total number of deaths from airline accidents and found that 451 people died in planes crashes. So more people get hit and killed by trains than die in plane crashes. (Source: NTSB)

Interestingly, National Safety Council (NSC) data indicates that train passenger deaths are extremely rare, even more than airline deaths. But you hear about them on the national news every time they happen and they stay etched in your mind for months after. Additionally, shark attack deaths are almost non-existent. There were three reported deaths worldwide in 2014. But the media plays up every time a shark attacks a tourist, which most times are not fatal at all.

But going back to trespassing deaths on the rails, I have to ask myself why. As said, trains are easy to avoid. Just stay off railroad tracks. But then railroad tracks are often a shortcut for folks on foot. They seem safe because you might see a train every few days or weeks depending on when you go out. Forgetting for a minute that all railroad tracks are private property and that just by being on them you are trespassing, there are also a few things about railroad tracks that need to be addressed –

 It can be hard to tell what tracks are used and what tracks are abandoned just by looking at them. Rust can develop within hours or days on tracks that see regular use while some smaller railroad companies may have lax maintenance of way policy allowing tracks to get overgrown with weeds in some cases.
 Against popular belief, trains are not always loud. When folks say this, I want to yell at them that people are getting hit by trains every day, so they must not all be that loud. In the above case of John Eade, investigators think the sound of the highway traffic near by drowned out the approaching train. But also remember that passenger trains such as Amtrak are by their very nature sleeker, faster and not as loud as freight trains.
 Trains also don’t run on schedules. Just because you see a train passing at a certain time one day doesn't mean it will pass at the same time the next. Even passenger trains can be late. A train can come at any time, day or night, or any track.l
 Even tracks that have not seen trains in many years can start seeing trains again. The Carolina Southern Railroad has not run in four years, but a new company has bought the track and expects to run trains again by the end of the year. Even when the Carolina Southern ran, you wouldn't have been able to tell by the condition of their track. In North Carolina, one section of rail was not used since the 70s or 80s but then opened back up for rail traffic within the last five years and sees regular trains now. These are just two examples near where I live. There are many other cases throughout America where rails have been used again after long being dormant.

When I worked in the media, I had to cover several railroad accidents. I remember one on the CSX in Lancaster when I worked for CN2 News. A man had been walking the tracks at night and was hit by a long freight train on the Atlanta to Hamlet, NC main line. My reporter and I covered it the next day and got there just as officials were wrapping up the scene. One showed us the point of impact and we saw there were still little bits of the man left behind. It was a sobering reminder of what can happen when a train hits a person.

So, really, I don’t need to trot out all these nifty statistics and worst case scenarios. All you have to do is use common sense. Don’t be on railroad tracks, ever.

Where Have I Been Lately?

June 11th, 2015

Where Have I Been Lately?

It's been a long, strange few months for me and I thought I'd at least make an attempt at explaining what has been going on. A few months ago, I hurt my toe. Full disclosure. I'm diabetic and one night I worked a 12 hour shift at work and rubbed a bad blister on my right big toe. I call it a blister, but blister doesn't really do it justice. I heard some doctors cll t a cyst. I've had one of these before and it took a while to heal, but I thought I knew how to treat it. Money is tight because I am going through a separation.

About a week or two after the injury, the engine in my car went so while it was getting worked on, I had to take the bus back and forth to work. I'm lucky to live in a town where there is bus service, but the nearest bus stop is 3/4s a mile from where I live, so for two weeks, I walked to and from the bus stop every day. Still, my toe was doing OK. Not getting any better, but not getting any worse. I treated it, wrapped it and did all the things I thought I should do it to it so that I would not miss work with the bill coming in for my car.

I got my car back, but my toe began worsening. In the span of just a few days, it went from what I though was manageable to something that looked really bad. What's more is that I was feeling sick. I had a fever, cold chills, nausea and just plain did not feel good. One Saturday, I had to cut short a visit to see my kids and come home and lay down. The next Sunday, it dawned on me that the sick feeling I had and the toe were related, so I finally went to the doctor. Looking back on it, I see now that I was really stupid not to see a doctor way sooner, but with the separation, the car and needing money, I was just focused on the weekly pay check coming in.

So that Sunday, I went to a nearby urgent care and since then, nothing has been right. They admitted me into the hospital immediately and told me that my toe was infected and that it mad moved to my foot. It doesn't make sense to me now, but one thing i was worried about was losing my foot. That may have played a role in me not going to the doctor sooner, although logically I realize that makes no sense at all. But now there was something else. The infection had actually got into my blood stream and I now had sepsis. So the worst case scenario for me, which had been losing my foot, was now losing my life.

Long story short. They saved my foot, treated the sepsis, but I did lose my big toe and my fourth toe on my right foot. All in all, I'm pretty lucky all things being equal. I was in the hospital for a week and have been on bed rest for almost six weeks at home. I was wearing a wound van until today. A wound vac for those that don't know -- and I had never heard of one until I had to wear one -- is attached to the wound by the dressing with a tube. The van, as my sister so aptly put it, sucks the evil out of my foot and goes into a canister on the van which has to be within five feet of the patient the whole time.

It's been a pain in the ass dealing with it and, as I said, they just decided today I don't need it anymore. The wounds are healing nicely now and the hope is that within a month I can go back to work. So, yeah, it was a bit silly of me to delay the obvious so that I wouldn't miss any work when it just kept me out of work longer in the end.

Call me a cautionary tale.

Since then, I've been keeping my diabetes in check. I haven't had a Coke in seven weeks. Cokes were my downfall. I couldn't just have one, Some people have issues with smoking; some with alcohol. Mine has always been junk food. A Coke and a candy bar a few times a day did me in. I was able to pretend it wasn't as bad for me as it was because I was not gaining weight. Some people said I looked too thin. But my blood sugar would rival the batting average of Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn, f you'll allow me to go old school baseball on you.

But it's put a real damper on not just my day time job, but my photography as well. It's been more than two months since I have taken a photograph with my DSLR. There are still pictures on the camera from March, which is unheard of for me. But there's more. In a blog a few months ago called "In Anticipation of a Steamy Summer," I talked about shooting the Norfolk & Western J Class #611 steam engine. For a year it was two hours away from me getting restored in Spencer, NC at the North Carolina Transportation Museum. I was really stoked to see it, but since I have been home from the hospital, it has made a test run and then went back to Roanoke under it's own power.

And I missed it because I need to keep my foot up. (And, of course, a lack of funds de to not working.) Now it's coming back down to Spencer next week and i will miss it again. Yeah, I'm bummed out, but all in all, it's not that bad. A few weeks ago, the doctors weren't sure I'd survive my blood infection. Times are tough. I learned when I went into the hospital that I have real crapy insurance. It's not paying much at all in the way of medical expenses. I' set up a Go Fund Me site and friends have been very helpful in donating so that I can get through these months without any income coming in. (This is not a sales pitch, but the link is "Joe's Medical Expenses.")

Now I admit I was pretty naive when it came to amputations. I hadn't really thought about the actual process too me, just never wanted one myself. But I thought they took the toe, it took a few weeks to heal and you went on your way. But, of course, it's not that simple. They have t take bone and tendons out too. My foot basically looked like a slab of meat when they were done. It depressed me for weeks realizing it wasn't as simple as I had thought. So in order to help folks understand the process, I took some pictures. Well, really, my sister took the first shots because I really couldn't stand to see my own foot. But lately, I've been using my phone to document the process.

But I didn't want to just have the shots open to anyone who was not expecting to see a deformed foot, so I put them in a password protected gallery jason my site. So if you want to see the for in various before and after situations, go to my Joe the Photog site ( and find the gallery called "Private." The password is


So now it's June and I hope to be able to go back to work next moth. In any event, I'll be back on my feet during my least favorite time of the year not just for photography, but in general. But I'll be back on my feet, both feet, which is certainly a great thing. Hopefully there will be new photographs coming soon!

In Anticipation of a Steamy Summer

January 26th, 2015

I know, I know, a train guy talking about trains again, but I was looking at Robert Lyndall's fantastic shots of the Norfolk & Western steam engines and got excited.

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The interesting thing is that this shot looks like it was taken a long time ago. The two cars on the road below were no doubt placed there to give the shot a vintage feel. And I guess it was a long time ago if you think it was a was a long time ago that Tom Petty's "Full Moon Fever" was released. The 611 is a 4-8-4 J Class locomotive, the only one remaining out of fourteen that were built in the 1940s at the N&W rail shops in Roanoke. The J class series were used daily to pull noted passenger trains such as the Powhatan Arrow, the Pocohantas, and the Cavalier between Cincinnati, OH and Norfolk, VA. Between Monroe, NC and Bristol, TN, the J's also pulled the Tenesseean, the Pelican and the Birmingham Special between Monroe, VA and Bristol TN/VA. When passenger service on the Norfolk & Western was fully diselized, the J's were retired.

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The story goes that the N&W decided to run a steam-powered railfan trip in 1959 after the J Class was retired and it just so happened that the #611 was the first one in the line of stored locomotives, so they chose it. It had been involved in a derailment in the mid-50s and had gone through some repairs already, so it made a natural choice on two counts. The railroad took it out of retirement briefly and did some restoration work for the 1959 fan trip.

By 1982, Norfolk & Western had merged with Southern Railway to become Norfolk Southern. The same year, the NW 611 was brought out of retirement once again to run steam trips. Mr. Lyndall shot this one over the Southern viaduct just outside of Toccoa, Georgia.

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Mr. Lyndall is well known in railroading and railfanning for his fine selection of photography from the hey day of steam excursions on the east coast, most notably the Norfolk & Western's two iconic steam locomotives. In addition to the N&W streamlined J-Class 611, there is also the behemoth 2-6-6-4 N&W #1218.

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A word about steam engine designations. The numbers refer to the wheels. 2-6-6-4 means there are 18 total wheels on the 1218 one of the biggest steam locomotives ever built. The 1218 had a relatively short life as a revenue engine on the N&W. Built in June 1943, she was retired in 1959. Her class of steam engine regularitly pulled troops during World War 2. In 1969, the egnine wound up in Roanoke, Virginia

She was brought out of retirement in 1985 and sent to Alabama for a full restoration. She served Norfolk Southern's 1980s and 90s steam trips along with the #611 until both were retired in 1994 and eventually found their way to their new home, the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke.

I was 19 then and while interested in trains, didn't keep up on them as I do now. So I missed all kinds of steam excursions through the Carolinas back then. Norfolk Southern ended them in 1994... and by the time I caught this steam engine sittingon static display, I thought my chances of seeing her run steam again were on the same line as, I don't know, seeing David Lee Roth sing in Van Halen again.

But what do you know? The 611 is currently in Spencer, NC getting ready to return to steam again this summer! She had just arrived on property in anticipation of the restoration work that has been going on for the last six months. After missing out on the steam trips of the 1980s and 90s, I'm getting a second chance as are many others!

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I've seen steam trains run, but none as big as the #611. NS brought out the former Southern Railway 2-8-0 #630 and ran here and that was cool

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I've seen the former Lancaster and Chester Railway #40 run on her new home in Pennsylvania

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and I've seen the Washington & Lincolnton run on the Knoxville & Holton River

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but seeing the 611 is going to be a different kind of awesome!

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End of the Line for the Carolina Southern Railroad

January 24th, 2015

End of the Line for the Carolina Southern Railroad

The end of the line for the Carolina Southern Railroad should be sometime within the next thirty days. The railroad has been shut down voluntarily (I used air quotes in my mind when I wrote that.) since August 2011 when Federal Railroad Administrations inspectors found a number of bridges in dire need of repair. This didn't come as much of a shock to railfans in the area. They had also had several derailments in recent years and some YouTube videos of Carolina Southern trains made it apparent the tracks were in bad shape, even for ten mile per hour trains.

It's a little hard to believe, but the last time I shot the Carolina Southern Railroad was in July of 2006. It's not that far from me, but just far enough to be a pain to get there and not know if I might catch something running or not. At one time the railroad had an interesting collection of motive power:

2 ex-Canadian National Funits in Carolina Southern red and white
1 ex-Canadian National cabless F unit still in CN paint
1 ex-Southern high hood GP30, in faded and rusting SOU paint
1 ex-Norfolk & Western high hood GP18 in faux Atlantic Coast Line paint
1 grey ex-Mid Atlantic Railroad GP18
1 Pullman Green Carolina Southern GP18
2 red and white Carolina Southern GP18s

One year a few days after Christmas, we went down to catch them running. No such luck. We caught one train sitting in Mullins, SC though with the Pullman Green locomotive up front.

Carolina Southern Railroad by Joe the Photog

A year and a half later, we went back down during the hot, high sun days of summer. We had followed the line down from Chadbourn, NC, which I can spell at least three different ways, all the way to Myrtle Beach before giving up and going to Springmaid Pier. Naturally, on our way home when I was already done cussing about missing the train, we caught it in Conway.

Carolina Southern Railroad by Joe the Photog

We did a U-turn to see how far it may go. Both shots give some indication as to how much time they spent on track maintenance.

Carolina Southern Railroad by Joe the Photog

With the railroad shut down since summer 2011, the local counties and owners of the railroad sparred about getting the trains rolling again. The owner of the Carolina Southern, Ken Pippin, applied for several grants from the federal governments, but received none of them. He said he had no money to build the line back up yet. There were many articles in the local papers and stories on local TV news that hinted at the deep divide between the two parties. A group was formed to try to get the railroad operating again. At some meetings, Pippin was asked not to attend.

People in the area wrote in to the newspaper and suggested the rails be pulled up. One letter to the editor talked about trains in the past tense, as if they were relegated to history. A blog from the area railed at the intrusion of the government into private enterprise. Neither point of view carried much weight. The local leaders understood the importance of railroads in an area where tourism is the biggest industry. Railroads bring industry in which in turns means more jobs to the locals and less big trucks on the highways.

The Carolina Southern sold two of the old F units and scrapped another one, They chopped the nose of the GP18 with the identity crisis, but never ran her again before finally scraping her, too. As for the passenger cars, they got sold to the Iowa Pacific and took a detour through my hometown to undergo some work on the Lancaster and Chester.

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Meanwhile, I was kicking myself for not getting down more often. I lost some high resolution images to a hard drive crash. This was one of them.

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I took it through a painterly program and saved it as best I could. I can go back and reshoot. Oddly enough, other shots from that day survived.

Carolina Southern Railroad by Joe the Photog

And this one I found late last year

Carolina Southern Railroad by Joe the Photog

The latest news is that the RJ Corman Group has filed paperwork with the Surface Transportation Board to purchase the railroad from Ken Pippin. They believe they can wrap up the deal within the next thirty days. When they come in, the Carolina Southern Railroad will cease to exist. Corman will put a lot of money into the tack and bridges. They'll bring in new motive power painted in their own paint scheme. It will be a new day on the railroad.

Carolina Southern is still in many ways a baby among railroads. They are the third shortline operator to ply the rails since CSX spun the lines off in the late 80s. Maybe this one will stick.

Weather Or Not To Shoot Trains

December 23rd, 2014

Saturday was supposed to be a low key day for me. I had planned to stay at home and take care of a few things that needed doing there and then on Sunday, spend a day with my camera and get some trains in the view finder. The weather had set up nicely for this. Saturday was going to be cold and raining while Sunday would be warmer and nothingbut blue skies. Of course, plans are meant to be broken and as soon as I sat down in front of Facebook Saturday morning, my plans changed.

One of my Facebook friends had posted in a group I admin that the Norfolk Southern Office Car Special was in Columbia preparing to head out. So, I asked my son if he wanted to head out with me and in ten minutes, we were in the car going to intercept the train. The OCS is a special train Norfolk Southern sends out for its executives. It had been in south east South Carolina at a resort for a week. I believe they had been holding some meetings and would sometimes use the train. Now the weather was not great, but the rain was holding off, so we ended up in a nice spot I had been wanting to shoot before. The problem is that most trains run on this line either at night or when the sun angle works better in the other direction. No need to worry about sun angles on this day.

So the train comes and right away, I believe I have a workable image in spite of the weather. I've said it before, railroads run in all kinds of weather. So I go home, take care of what I needed to take care of and then sit down to edit the image. I shot maybe ten in all with two lens and chose the ninth frame to use. I had wanted to show the soccer field for the University of South Carolina behind the train as well as the stop sign to the right to better illustrate the train was going through an intersection, a somewhat unusual alignment for the railroad here. The emphasis was on the old streamliner locomotives more than the passenger cars at this spot, but I think it works well. I did something I try not to do too much and posted both a color and a black and white version here. I prefer the B&W shot, but the color shot is nice, too.

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Now on Sunday when I woke up, I could tell something was off. There was no sun shining through my bedroom window. I got up and peered through the curtains. Sure enough, it was cloudy. A check on confirmed my fears. The forecast had changed and now it was to be mostly cloudy in the Carolinas. I had two definite possibilities on where to go that day. I have lost most of the high resolution versions of my shots of the Pee Dee River Railway. They are a nice shortline about ninety miles away from Columbia. They run almost every day and they typically go into the sun in both directions. The other choice was to go up to Charlotte to the public overlook at the airport. I've never been terribly happy with my aviation shots, so this was the first choice to go Sunday when I thought the weather was going to be good.

I struck both of these off the list with the downturn in the weather and ended up taking a lazy Sunday drive with my beautiful wife. We had a nice lunch together and tackled a few stores for some last minute Christmas shopping. Then on a whim, I decided to drive through the little town of Kershaw, South Carolina. My hometown railroad serves an Archers-Daniel-Midlands plant there and while I was not expecting them to be running, they often leave their train there over the weekend.

As we pulled into town, I saw railroad cars slowly moving over one of the main roads in town. At first, I thought I had caught a Sunday train on the Lancaster and Chester, which would have been cool, but it was actually the ADM crew coming out of their plant to get some more cars. And that was really cool. I did a U-turn and had to go about two miles to get back to the other side of the tracks hoping that, one, there would be an L&C train there to include in the shot and, two, that I would beat the ADM crew back.

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As you can see, it was yes on both counts. But there was another surprise. As I happened up on the train, the sun came out for the first time all day. It probably shined all of ten minutes that day, all at the same time that I had randomly come across this train. Then it went back behind the clouds and didn't come out again. So while the day had not gone as I first imagined, it was actually a nice day, two days, really, of train photography, even if it were only two trains!

Have you ever lost a camera?

December 10th, 2014

I was surfing the web and came across this somewhat funny (though not meant to be) post about losing a camera.

It got me to thinking. I used two film Rebels for many years when I shot more than I do today. (Quanity, if not quality, of shots anyway.) I replaced one with an Elan 7 and then decided to sell both Rebels. I later replaced the Elan 7 with the first Digital Rebel, or 300D. I initially let my sister-in-law borrow the Elan 7 since she did not have a camera and had just given birth. I kinda regretted this decision thinking I would loveto still be able to shoot slides, but when she returned the camera after going digital, I literally shot one roll of film before realizing and remembering why I hated shooting film so much.

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(My Elan 7 with an old roll of film I found, unexposed.

The 300D was a good camera and a lot of my images here were taken by it, but it finally died on me and was replacedby a Canon XTi. With the advances of the Canon 60D, I decided to once again have two bodies and this is where the title of the thread comes in. I decided to stop taking both bodies out with me every time I took my gear. I had this fear of having my bag stolen and being left with only one crap lens and the Elan 7 at home. So during a move, the camera was somehow lost. My son was using it some as was my wife, but this was two years ago and the camera is still missing. No one knows where it is. Lost. Gone.

I think about this camera a lot when I'm out shooting frantically trying to repace a lens from long to short as a train approaches. Or when i want to shoot video as well as stills. It irritates me to no end to think that somewhere there is my XTi wondering where I am.

Shooting the Lancaster, South Carolina Santa Train... in the Rain

December 9th, 2014

The Lancaster and Chester Railroad in conjunction with See Lancaster has been providing Santa Train rides since 2006 and this year was no different. On Saturday, in spite of a gloomy forecast, my son, Michael the Photog, and I went up to get some pictures I've shot this train in 2006, 2008, 2012, 2013 and now this year and three of those years featured weather that could only be described as crappy. I had been following the weather forecasts all week and the consensus was that both days of the train rides would be the same.

Both of the shots I have on Joe the Photog Dot Com so far were taken at West Manor Road in Lancaster. The first one shows the train going away from us. They run an engine on both sides so that at the end of the ride, the train crew only has to get off of one engine and walk back to board the other for the return trip. As the train was passing me, I noted the backgrop of the trees in the background and thought that might make a nice shot, in efect, getting rid of all of the sky.

Lancaster Chester Railroad Santa Train Joe the Photog

Getting shots of the entire train proved tricky that day. Since it was raining, the trucks under the train would all but disappear or else the rain would look like frain. I was happy with this shot though and agree with Teressa Nichole who commented that the background gavethe image a nice texture. I didn't need to do a lot in post, but the blue engine was more subdued than I wanted, so I increased the saturation. My cameradidn't give the image the contrast I thought it needed, but I was happy with it from the moment I viewed the shot on the back of my 60D. I like the way the tracks lead you to the train and the wet look addsa nice touch.

The next shot I took was of the same train at the same road. Given the cloudy conditions, I was able to get shots of both ends of the train at each stop where sunlight may have seriously hindered that plan. Here, it's most a head on shot showcasing the new blue paint on what was until recently a grey engine with yellow stripes on the nose. The Christmas wreathe is a nice, festive touch on an industrial piece of rolling stock. The grey mist and fog behind the train, in my opinion, makes the train stand out even more.

See Lancaster Santa Train Joe the Photog

As I mentioned, these engines have been painted within the last few years. Here is a comparison shot on a freight train in the summer of 2012. All three of these engines are now painted in the blue L&C corporate scheme.

Lancaster Chester Freight Train Joe the Photog

Sh-t My Copyright Infringer Says

November 7th, 2014

Sh*t My Copyright Infringer Says

The “No Shit! Really?” Defense – The infringer will claim ignorance of the law.

The “Stupid New Guy” Defense: They will blame a new employee (who apparently was never told not to steal other people’s work).

The “Bad Web Designer” Defense: They will blame someone they themselves hired to do their web site. Most web designers have contracts that read the client is fully responsible for the web site once it goes live.

The “Google Made Me Do It” Defense: They will say they did a Google Image search and the image was one of many that came up.

The “Well, yeah, I was wrong but I took it down” Defense: They will point out that they took the image(s) down as soon as they realized their mistake. (Read: as soon as you contacted them.) Try telling a police officer that, sure, you were speeding but you slowed down as soon as you saw him flip the blue lights on. Let me know how that works for you.

The “You’re Being Mean To Me” Defense: Some will turn around and claim that they are being extorted or bullied by the copyright owner. Some will even claim that copyright holders post images only to try to entice their theft, that they are baiting people to commit a crime and then go after them for a good pay day.

The “Oh, yeah! Well your picture sucks anyway!” Defense: They will try to diminish the value of the image or the artist or their agent. Or even directly slander you. Mind you, they still chose to use it, so at one time they must have thought it had some market value.

The “Short Skirt” Defense: They will say that since you posted it online, you can’t surely expect people not to steal it.

The “Deny Everything” Defense: They will rarely admit to copyright infringement in the face of all evidence otherwise, even denying it to the point of saying “that’s not how we do business.”

The “Dude, I Gave You Credit!” Defense: This only works if they gave you credit and most times, they don’t. But it also doesn’t work because you didn’t give them permission! Besides, repeat after me, “Credit don’t pay bills!”

The “But It Should Be Legal” Defense: Also known as the Todd Gurley Defense, they will blame the copyright laws or the ease of being able to illegal download an image off the web.

The “I Know You Are But What Am I!” Defense: Some will suggest it is the copyright owner’s own fault for putting the image(s) on-line in the first place.

A Brief Encounter With A Police Officer Concerning My Photography

October 27th, 2014

I just got back from shooting a train in Cayce. Cayce is a town just outside the capital city of South Carolina. If you do a search on my 500+ images here, you will find I have 34 images from Cayce for sell here. My hunch is I actually have more, but that maybe I have not tagged them all correctly. I have more shots from Cayce on Flickr and Railpictures. One of my favorite places to shoot in Cayce is off the Hwy. 12 bridge near CMC Steel. I always feel a little uncomfortable there as there is not enough room to stand off the side as I'd like. Why no one thought to add an actual sidewalk to this bridge when they built it ten years ago is beyond me. I see people walking and riding bikes over it all the time.

The CSX line passes under the bridge and, as mentioned, the CMC facility is right there, so it offers some great industrial shots and I often stand on that bridge if I know a train is coming. Today, I knew a Norfolk Southern train had just entered the yard with a transfer from Columbia. I was hoping to get them coming out of the other end of the yard with a fairly long train which would put them beside the steel mill a lot like this shot I took a few years ago --

CSX Cayce South Carolina Joe Hinson

The engines would have been different both on the train and sitting in the background and the building is now a dark brown adding some contrasting details from the last shot. I had just got there and tested a few shots while I waited for the train. There was a second train in the yard and I thought I may be able to get it behind the Norfolk Southern. Now normally I am looking around me to make sure the cars see me and, honestly, to see if a police officer is about to pull up. I have actually been stopped on this bridge before for taking photographs. But with the test shot and the idea I may get two trains in the same shot from competing railroads, I wasn't paying attention.

All of a sudden, I heard someone behind me ask if everything was all right. I turned around and was basically looking in the passenger side window of a black SUV. "Yeah, I'm fine," I reply. At first, it did not computer that the guy was an officer. The interior was all black and he was wearing all black, but then I see the dash cam and the on board computer, not to mention the badge on his shirt. So now I have gone from preparing for the photograph to being in a conversation with an officer. I'm trying to cut the camera over to record video while at the same time I realize I have the long lens on. He asks me why I'm taking pictures. I'm still not in the mindset of being questioned and dryly reply, "It's just what I do." He asks if I'm working for anybody. "No, it's just a hobby." I do mention, for some reason, that I used to work for a TV station in Columbia and give him the initials. He has misunderstood me and says, "Oh, so you work for...?" and names the station. I correct him. "Used to."

So he puts the car in park and gets out. It's bright on the bridge and I can't tell if the camera is recording video or not by looking at the viewfinder. He asks me if I have ID on me. I do and reach for it. I know some folks say we should stand our ground at this point and maybe one day I will. But I don't see the need to at this point. I hand it to him and he calls me in. Giving him my ID doesn't mean I am happy with the process by any stretch. I am upset that photography is seen as suspicious by some folks. He tells me "the only reason I'm doing this is because of the day and age we live in." I let that pass, but hope my camera is shooting video at this point.

In the distance, the CSX train starts moving. I ask him if he minds if I shoot it and he tells me to go ahead. Thinking back on it later, I'm not sure how I would have reacted if he had not said it was OK. By now, I have the camera recording video and audio. I'd like to think I would have tested him by going on and shooting the train. I can say I would have done that, but I guess there is now way to know for sure. The train passes under the bridge and the engineer gives me a toot of the horn. I suspect I may know him or that he at least recognizes me. I think about mentioning this to the LEO, but I don't.

My name must have come through clean. He gives me my ID back, thanks me and then tells me to be safe up here. He pulls off and I walk toward my car. The Norfolk Southern train never came through.

Now here's the thing. The officer was friendly the whole time. I don't have a real problem with him on the basis of our interaction today. I would like to know if I had been called in by someone or if he just saw me and decided to stop. The other time I was on the bridge, the officer told me someone had called me in. As soon as he pulled up behind me and saw what I was doing, he apologized and told me to keep doing what I was doing and he would sit there and make sure I was safe. I've been on that bridge and seen LEOs pass me by and never give me a second thought, it seemed.

Then there was the Darlington County Incident when the railroad called me in on consecutive days. There has been two cases in Spartanburg and even one in my home town of Lancaster. There was another time in Newberry, SC when a group of four of us were called in when we were waiting on a train. I want folks to realize that photographers are not the problem. I've seen people walking on tracks, setting up portrait sessions on the tracks and it seems this is OK to both the public and the police, but when a lone guy with a camera stands on public property to shoot a passing train, this is somehow suspicious and demands to be checked out.

By the way, the Hwy. 12 bridge isn't the only place to shoot trains in Cayce. One of my most popular overall shots was taken a few miles from here in Cayce Riverwalk --

Two Trains Crossing the Congaree River Joe Hinson

No one ever questions me there, people passing by, including park rangers, assumes a guy with a camera is about to take pictures.

Shooting Steam

October 23rd, 2014

This past weekend, I shot the Southern Railway 2-8-0 #630 at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga. It was only the second time I had seen this steam engine at work. The first time had been in April of 2013 when Norfolk Southern brought her over to run steam trips out of Spencer, North Carolina for a weekend. The steam bug is biting me hard now that the old Norfolk & Western #611 is in Spencer getting rady to ride the rails again. The 611 and sister unit #1218 were main stays of railroad excursions in the 80s and 90s as I was first getting into trains and railfanning, but I somehow managed to miss every single trip, including those in my own backyard. (No internet yet. Now I know when someone sneezes in the shop near the 611.) The 630 and fellow Southern` survivor 4501 were also on the main line back then, but by the time I got into serious railfanning, all four were back on display in various museums. I spent a lot of years kicking myself for not shooting steam back then.

The best hope was always for the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum to get the 630 or 4501 bask out. The 630 came first and that was nice. The 4501 just got back on the rails this year, too. I saw and shot her in Chattanooga over the weekend. But the stars of the show were always the N&W engines. Some people liked one better than the other. I believe most folks prefer the streamlined 611. I was always partial to the big 1218, but was very happy when it was announced that one of these were going to be rebuilt. The people who know steam engines said the 611 was closer to being ready. It would take less time and less money to get steaming again. Buzz out of Spencer say she's halfway there and while there are no publicly announced plans, I suspect she will come out of retirement next year.

Shooting steam trains is a bit harder than regular freight trains with diesel power. You generally want rods down, so there's a matter of timing with that. If the engine is really putting out a good plume of smoke, you have to ask if you want the smoke to trail off or can you crop the plume off and still have a good photograph? Do you want contemporary aspects in the shot? There was no way NOT to shoot the parking lot in this shot, so it became a chronicle of an old steam engine in the modern day

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The shot works because of the modern cars and the folks dressed in 2014 garb with their digital cameras. Then there was this shot. I initially was not pleased with the location. I knew it was going to be a straight on shot with no scenery other than trees in the background. I almost left to find another spot, but then there was the train whistle in the background and I had to stay.

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It turned out to be my favorite shot of the day for all the reasons I just listed. It's just a train and some trees. If you get past the fact that it was taken with a modern DSLR, there's nothing to say that it could not have been taken in 1914 instead. And then there was the plume of smoke. Things just worked out really well in this shot. As I was processing it, a question arose: color or black and white? I did both versions, but ultimately chose the color version. The green really pops out against the black of the steam engine and the plume of smoke.

But black and white really goes with steam engines. it makes you think of the days before digital photography when Mr. Link was out and about and others documented a fascinating time in the history of the nation. Such was the case with the shot from tis past weekend as the #630 came back into the station. I processed my 20X30 in color and then switched to B&W. The B&W seemed to fit here better than color initially. You have to get by the Nike swoosh on the guys shoes though as well as the fast food cups. But at a quick glance, it was another shot that could have been taken early last century --

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So this was the version I initially loaded to FAA as well as the train photography site, Railpictures. Then a few nights later, I opened the color version --

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I like it, too. The lighting was a little subdued that day. It wasn't backlit exactly, but it wasn't full on sun either giving it a different look than the shot above it. What will others prefer? There's a case to be made for both shots. This time, I put them both on FAA.

Credit Dont Pay Bills

October 21st, 2014

The other day someone wrote on a Facebook group page which I admin that he was looking for a photograph to use on a flier he was making to advertise a speaker at an event. He said he didn't have "much of a budget" but would give the photographer "credit" for the usage. This always rubs me the wrong way for all the reasons everyone on this site knows -- credit don't pay bills. Besides, I don't need credit for this shot; I already know i took it. . I don’t think he ever understood what I meant by this. Which, I guess, is part of the problem. Someone actually made the suggestion that he do a web search and use what he finds, but the OP was at least clear he was not going to break any copyright laws. There's something to be said for that.

Do me a favor. Next time you’re hungry, find a place to eat. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be a local place or a chain restaurant. It can be fast food like Burger King or expensive like a Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Ask to speak to the manager and when they come out, be nice and pleasant and explain that you don’t “have the budget” for a meal, but if he gives you free food, you’ll be sure to give him credit for the meal.

My first thought was to say you’d get laughed out of the place. But the truth is the manager would probably look at you like you’re a complete moron and then walk away. He’d think you’d already wasted too much of his time and arguing with you wouldn’t be worth it. I made the decision on Facebook to engage the guy. I said that while he would probably find someone willing to give away their work, I reminded him that sometimes a trade could be worked out. The event included a paid admission that "covered only the costs involved." I missed a great chance here to reply, "Well, not all costs, obviously." But sometimes a photographer would be willing to work for a trade, even a free ticket or two to the actual event if he thought it was worth it. The guy got mad and argued that i was being "flippant" which I think to him meant I was being a jerk. I probably did not handle it well and might just should have let it slide. I was posting on Friday literally right before I headed out the door on a weekend trip.

I’m still never sure how to talk to these people. It’s a growing problem. I routinely find my images online being used without permission. One of my most viewed FAA shots has never sold, but I have made more money on it than some that do sell. How? Because when I find the shot being used without my permission, I do a Print Screen of it on their web site along with one from this web site (I do this because as soon as I send my first e-mail, the shot in question will come down off their web site.) and then send an invoice. I have found a church right down the street illegally using the image. When I sent the invoice, it took them less than fifteen minutes to get back to me and pay it. A real estate in town was using the same image. I sent an invoice to them and their web site developer and both paid me.

See, I’m risking some goodwill here by complaining about not getting paid. But this photography bit isn’t cheap. I’m not going to get into a long post about all the costs involved, but it includes gas to get where I’m going, the camera and gear used to create the photographs and the time I have spent over the years perfecting my craft.

The shot that the fellow on Facebook wanted was of a circus train. The last circus train I shot came through Columbia this year, but I missed it. I timed it wrong during rush hour traffic from downtown to the I-77 bridge just outside Columbia. By the time I caught it in good sun, I had chased it 70 miles one way to Chester, SC. That meant I had to drive 140 miles total – and gas up back in town -- get a bite to eat on the way back and then sit down to process the one or two shots I managed to squeeze off as the train passed me at 55 miles an hour.

Sure. Take it. I’ll give it to you. Not.

Tip for Railroad Photographers on FAA

October 16th, 2014

Tip for Railroad Photographers on FAA

This is mostly about keywording, etc. to start with. With my railroading images here, I try to aim toward two kinds of people. It's going to sound silly, but there are 1.) those who know trains and railroads and 2.) those who do not. The first group are typically called railfans and since I got involved in FAA, I realize that not everyone who takes train pictures or buys them are railfans. Now this is not a bad thing by any stretch. Railfans can be a bit, shall we say, overzealous in their train photography. I can say this because, yes, I am a railfan. Railfans know train symbols and types of locomotives and a lot of railroad terminology. So to market toward railfans, photographers who take railroad pictures should do what they can to help railfans find their work.

For example, I see a lot of train images on FAA that is not keyworded to include the name of the railroad. A lot of railfans have a favorite railroad such as Union Pacific or Norfolk Southern. A smaller railroad is even more important to identify. Also put in the location of the shot. Folks in certain towns, railfan or not, may be looking for specific locations that they know well.

Keywording the railroad is important on steam engines as well and a little Googling is usually all you need to do to find the information. For instance, this weekend I am going to Chattanooga, TN. to shoot the Southern Railway 4501. It is operated by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. the Wikipedia page starts off -

"Southern Railway 4501 is a steam locomotive built in 1911 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works for the Southern Railway. The engine is a 2-8-2 Mikado type locomotive, and was the very first of that wheel arrangement the railroad owned."

This gives me a lot of ideas about keywords including Southern Railway 4501, SOU 4501, Baldwin Locomotive Works, Mikado type, 2-8-2, locomotive, steam train, passenger excursion, Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Chattanooga and so on.

I'll put in the caption something along the lines of "The Southern 4501 was the railroad's first 2-8-2 type steam engine." The numbers relate to the wheel arrangement, but might be getting into too much railfan terminology other than knowing the actual numbers.

For non railfans who like trains or knows someone who does, more typical keywording probably works, but the location might be important for them. They might ride the train at the TVMR and then go home and think about buying a print to remember the day. Not knowing what kind of engine it was and maybe forgetting the number, the location would help tremendously.

Another example would be train depots. Recently I sold a shot of Main Street Station in Richmond, Va. I believe they must have done a Google search and my guess is they put the name of the station in and mine was one that came up. In this case, tagging it as "Richmond train station" may have worked, but it's a good idea to find the name and tag them both ways. Depots that are now used as something other than a depot should be tagged with the old name as well as the new name. A shot of the old Union Station in Columbia is tagged as Union Station but also as California Dreaming after the name of the current owners.

Just a few suggestions to help. Please feel free to offer your own advice here or to ask specific questions. Good luck!

Odd the things you can find on a hard drive

October 10th, 2014

Odd the things you can find on a hard drive

I was going through one of my external hard drives last night when I ran up on this shot --

Lancaster Chester Railway in Heath Springs

It's not that I had forgotten about it, but when I saw it, it gave me a shock. I barely remembered it, the taking it part or the having it part. I was immediately on guard because I had a hard drive failure several years ago where a lot of my high resolution stuff was lost forever/ So now when I find an old shot, I have to make sure it's larger than, say 1024 pixels wide. And this one was!

What also makes this find cool is that this is a shot I cannot get any longer. If you read through my blogs, you know how particular I am about this kind of stuff. But the railroad in the shot sold off most of their smaller engines. Railfans call them "end cabs" or "buttheads." I believe the butthead name comes from when they run with the crew cab first or either when they run with the cabs closest. The cabs are on the end of the locomotive, thus that nick name.

From what I can tell, I never shared it online, whether on my Flickr account or on Facebook. And I bet I know why. Those power lines probably drove me crazy. Yes, I could clone them out. But that drives me crazy, too. And I never feel like I have really cloned them out. Even if no one else can tell, I still see the power lines. Then there is, in my mind, the ethical question. Web sites such as Railpictures, as well as leading railfan magazines such as Trains, frown upon cloning anything out. The thought process is that if someone sees my photograph and wants to go to the same location to shoot their own shots, they may be in for a surprise. Also, coming from a journalistic background, cloning anything out is not only frowned upon, but could get you fired.

So there at sit on my hard drive for nine long years until last night when it suddenly jumped out at me. And now it's here on FAA for you to look at, too. I hope you enjoyed the shot... and the story behind the shot.

Famous Last Words -- This Day Can Not Get Any Worse

October 10th, 2014

Famous Last Words -- This Day Can Not Get Any Worse

So over this past weekend, I found myself at home during the first days of truly gorgeous weather this fall. The sky was a fantastic blue and the air was cool -- 75 degrees during the day, jacket weather at night. By Saturday evening, I had serious cabin fever. So I decided to head out, listen to my beloved Gamecocks on the radio and try to find a railroad subject to shoot. By the time I got moving, the game was underway and Carolina was leading 7-0 and driving down to score again. At 14-0, I felt comfortable that they would beat an inferior Kentucky Wildcat team. Even after the offense stumbled and scored a field goal after a Wildcat touchdown, it was still 17-7 and I was close to putting this game in the win column for us.

I had decided to go up to Kershaw, SC where the Lancaster and Chester Railroad serves an Archer-Daniels-Midland grain mill. I thought there might be something laying over the weekend there, but the place was virtually empty. Only the ADM switcher was out and it was parked in a place where even my long lens could not reach it, so I kept driving and kept listening to the game. I can't remember if Kentucky scored a touchdown or a field goal first, but they scored one of each before half to tie it at 17 all.

Luckily I found a train sitting on the main line just as the halftime radio guys began dissecting the game. I didn't need to hear anyone tell me how bad the Gamecocks played after going up 14-0; I had already heard. Besides, the L&C #2866 was on the front of this train. The 2866 is one of seven GP38s they own, but is rare for them in that is has a high short hood from it's days as a Southern Railway motor. The L&C typically runs it in the middle of three engine lash-ups, but there was only two engines on this stopped train, so it had to lead one way.

I wasn't entirely happy with the lighting, even though a full moon was giving some illumination. The nearest street lamp was slightly behind the front of the train throwing a shadow over the door. Light from the nearby Thomas & Bettes steel mill was helping, but I was not hopeful about the outcome. I was also slightly kicking myself as my company has a big flash light I could have borrowed the "paint" the train with light. I figured these would not be usable shots, but took them anyway, but I'm a photographer. That's what I do. I used the car headlights to shine enough light on the engine to be able to focus, then had the camera on a timed delay. I could start the countdown, walk over to my car, watch the shutter close and dim the lights a second or two later so as to not put too much light on one specific area.

So I got a few shots and got in my car. When I'm by myself and I am using a tripod, I leave it extended and just have it in both the passenger seat going between the front seat and the back seat. The game restarted and Carolina scored two quick touchdowns to go up 31-17, but I've seen this before. The defense can't hold a lead, so I'm cynical at this point and upset about the game, the cabin fever and the crummy shots I had just taken of the train at Thomas & Bettes. I took some more night time shots at the railroad station in Lancaster and then gassed up before heading out of town.

The game was 38-24 by this point with 11 minutes to play. And it was all downhill from there. Kentucky scored three straight touchdowns and my mood went from sour to just plain bad. I was nearing Exit 27 on I-77 by this point and about thirty minutes from home when I had the thought. I know almost as soon as I thought it. It actually seemed like I knew it was a bad omen before I even formed the thought. Yep. I said it. "This day can't get any worse!"

Now I live in Columbia, South Carolina, home to some of the worst drivers in a state full of them. And it was a Saturday night. And not only do I live in Columbia, South Carolina, I have to drive through an area known as Malfunction Junction to get home. Yeah, you see where this is going. So I am literally a mile from home when I get rear ended on an exit off the interstate. The impact knocked my glasses off as well as my rear view mirror. It seemed as hard as a previous wreck I was in where they had to replace the front end of a company car. So I'm surprised at first that the car is still rolling. I pull off the road and survey the damage. It's really dark out, but it appears to be only paint damage.

While I am the phone with 911, the driver of the car walks up to me and says, "Why were you braking? Didn't you see me?" My first thought is usually to go snarky, but it's midnight on a Saturday. He looked young. The kid might have been drinking. Not to mention I am literally on the phone with 911! So he says, "I saw your brake lights!" I'm dumbfounded we were standing on the exit I was having to slow down for. He should have seen brake lights! He should have used his own brakes!

he goes back to his car and when I get off with dispatch, I note that he is pacing around with his head in his hands. Then he stops and kicks out a light on his car. I get in my car and lock the doors. A trooper comes by and writes up a report. He puts full blame on the kid, then looks at my car and says I came out lucky. I was going to drive my 2005 Chevolet Malibu home, but the kid was going to have t have a wrecker tow his Saturn away.

So I go home and am now sure I won't be able to sleep. My neck and head hurt. My Facebook feed is full of Gamecock status updates from fans of both schools as well as the in-state rival, Clemson. I open my shots of the train. Not impressed! I do some minor editing on them before I go to bed. The next day, I open the edit up again and, well, my first thought is: "Not so bad." Maybe viewing images right after a car wreck isn't such a good idea!

In fact, it's one of my favorite shots I've taken lately!

Lancaster Chester Railroad GP38AC #2866

Conjuring Up A Christmas Spirit

October 3rd, 2014

Conjuring Up A Christmas Spirit

Admittedly, I am not one to get into the holiday spirit around Christmas. I used to love Thanksgiving just because it was about food and fellowship, but lately, I mainly get to the last part of November and begin mentally imagining myself in a calmer, less stressful time -- say January 2nd of the next year. But in past years I have tried to get out of my holiday grumpiness and this year, that has led me to begin creating Christmas cards to sell on FAA and Pixels. One thing I realized pretty quicky was that I had not taken many Christmas pictures over the years. None that didn't include a train anyway.

Sell Art Online

For a few years (I'm not sure about this year) the railroad in my hometown has run Santa Trains out of Lancaster, SC. So those have been easy to make into cards. For this series, I used blue font to match the train locomotive on some and red font to match the season on others.

Art Prints

Both of these versions are done with "Merry Christmas" or "Hapy Holidays" written across the top with "from Lancaster, SC" at the bottom. Naturally, this may limit who would want to buy and send them out, so I also made one without the town's name written across the card --

Photography Prints

Another series of holiday greeting cards I did was a snow scene of the South Carolina State House. Again, I did two version --

Photography Prints

Art Prints

Then I remembered a shot I took on Main Street in Lancaster when city leaders haddecorated it for Christmas. I had shot one of the iconic landmarks in town for the Landmark Hunter Dot Com web site and realized I could use that scene for anotehr hometown-centric Christmas card.

Art Prints\

I also created two cards using both the building on Main Street as well as the Santa Train. To finish out the card and give it more of a Christmasy feel, I used some free clip art.

Art Prints

The second version uses a Happy New Years greeting to replace the name of my hometown.

Photography Prints

I'm not sure any of this is helping me get ready for the coling holidays, but it has been cool to create something with my photographs like this. The last two examples are my favorites. All of these cards are priced to sell for the holiday season. The inside of the card is blank and ready for a personalized message from you. Leave time after you order to get these shipped to your home or office so you can personalize them. You can also choose to enter a message on the inside of a card using at check out.

Buying in packs of 10 or 25 will greatly reduce the price of each card.

My Favorite Spot

August 28th, 2014

My Favorite Spot

I had a chance to get up to my hometown today to shoot the Lancaster and Chester Railroad. The sun was not my friend today. Or maybe the railroad's timing was not my friend as they were heading east in the afternoon where had they been heading the other direction, it would have been much more aesthetically pleasing. So as the train worked it's way toward Lancaster, I began running down the list of spots where I might stand a chance to get a good shot of it.

There is one spot I always want to shot at, but it's a bit tricky. The lighting isn't optimal, I don't believe, most of the times a train might pass there, but it's a wonderful spot on a grade and a steep curve. But there's another obstacle. The shot is on the access road to a small industry, Bowers Fibers, and they shut the fence when they are closed. So in the past I have tried to time the train so I'm not on property too long testing the "ask forgiveness instead of permission" theory.

So I almost did not go down today and then when I did, it looked like the spot had grown up with weeds and bushes. It occurred to me that it had been a long time since I shot there, but I got my shot and was pretty happy with it all things being equal --

Art Prints

Sell Art Online

I'm typically not one to load both a color and B&W version of the same shot to my site, but I could not decide about this one. I believe I like the B&W one better, but I was pleased enough with them to share both with you.

Later, I remembered the exact date I shot my last train there. I am a numbers guy, so remembering a date is pretty easy for me, but this one was horribly unforgettable for most of us -- September 11, 2011. Without going into a detailed story, I was a student at York Tech at the time and we still had class. At lunch, I went to the mall to watch the events play out on TV. These were the first images I had seen. I had listened to the radio on my way into school that morning, but the coverage on radio could not do justice to the scenes on TV.

So I left the mall and began heading for home in Great Falls, some thirty miles away. I remember being numb, wondering how I was even driving, wondering how the other folks on the road were remembering to use turn signals and stop at red lights. It felt like there should be mass chaos in the streets. At some point, I got off I-77 at Exit 65. I would usually take Hwy. 9 to Hwy. 99 to go home. I must have caught a train on the L&C or maybe I went down to Grace to see if one was there because next thing I recall I was at Bowers Fibers shooting a train in this spot. I remember waving at the conductor and almost shrugging to say, "I'm not sure what I'm doing shooting trains today." And he waved and almost shrugged too as if to say, "I'm not sure what we're doing still working today."

That's how I remembered it anyway lmost thirteen years to the day, when I finally went back to the same spot to shoot a train.

PICKen On A Railroad

July 16th, 2014

In other blogs on my page, I talk about shooting what is no longer there. What I mean is that you shot it when it was there so now that it is gone, you have photographs of a time that is now gone. In railroading circles, my main two Shot It & Now It's Gone pieces are the Extension Cord Line out of Blacksburg, SC and the now dormant Carolina Southern Railroad. Two of my failures in that regard are the now demolished Springs Mills plant in Lancaster, SC and the original Pickens Railroad that ran from the namkesake town of the railroad to a connection with the Southern Railway (later Norfolk Southern) in Easley. I only got one series of shots of that line before they abandoned it and began taking the rails up.

Photography Prints

I can say that I have done better with the "other" Pickens Railroad, the one that's not actually in Pickens, SC, but rather Anderson, SC. The former owns of the Pickens bought this line from NS and CSX and ran it as a second division of the original railroad. They also bought what were even then rare locomotives from CSX to run the line, old General Electric U18Bs. I can say that I have shot the heck out of this little line including a trip up there this past Friday with my son where I caught two trains running.

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It's about an hour and a half drive to their line from where we live and naturally, we were not making nearly the time I wanted to make, but luck was on our side as we first caught them going through Belton, SC. By the time the first train got to Anderson, I realized something was up. Both crews normally meet downtown, but the train from Belton got there way earlier than I was expecting. So it was not a great surprise when they got on the line to Anderson instead of waiting around. Here, the train passes an old textile mill that is mostly torn down --

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The first train got down to an area called Gluck on the map where they met the Anderson Train and basically exchanged cars with them --

Sell Art Online

Photography Prints

Photography Prints

You never know when a railroad will suddenly get sold or a decision is made to sell off a line of locomotives. The Georgia Central's U23Bs are on borrowed time

Photography Prints

and maybe we will hear word that the Pickens smaller units are asll. But if so, at least I will have the pictures from when they roamed Carolina Rails.

Cannot Get This Shot Anymore

May 27th, 2014

I was just going through the contests and came across another "Show Us Your Favorite Pet" contest. I have one shot on my FAA site of a pet, our cat, Tyla, who passed away two years ago. So I always enter these pet contests and never win.

Art Prints

Then I had a wild thought that I could be snarky and upload another cat photo of sorts, Chessie --

Photography Prints

Chessie adorned many locomotives and rolling stock in the 1900s for the Chesapeak & Ohio Railroad. She was apparently a real cat at one time. But the C&O has become a fallen flag and Chessie is getting harder and harder to find. The locomotive in the photograph above has been repainted and the cat no longer adorns it. I remember when I took this shot. The three engines were sitting in Social Circle, Georgia and were not running. I had wanted to see the Chessie System one, but the orange engine beside it was pretty cool too. It was a former South Carolina Central unit from not too far from where I lived.

But it wasn't to be, so I reluctantly snapped this shot from a nearby road crossing and wondered when I may be able to get back to Social Circle. In the meantime, they not only painted the cat, but they also painted the South Carolina Central unit. It reminds me of several other posts about shooting things that are no longer there. In another time and place, I might not have even got the camera out for this shot. I'm glad I did that day.

Photographer Joe Hinson Meet And Greet In Lancaster

May 16th, 2014

Photographer Joe Hinson Meet And Greet In Lancaster

(Also posted as a press release)

May 16th, 2014 - Columbia, SC

Contact: Joe Hinson
Tel: (803) 577-0891


WHAT: Photography Showing
WHEN: Saturday May 17, 2014 2 pm to 4 pm
Where: Gallery 102 at 104 Williams Street Lancaster, South Carolina 29720

Photographer Joseph C. Hinson is pleased to announce a “Meet and Greet” at Gallery 102 in Lancaster, SC on Saturday May, 17 from 2 pm to 4 pm. The event coincides with Lancaster’s Red Rose Festival taking place that weekend in historic downtown Lancaster. Two of the works were shot just blocks from Gallery 102’s location just off of Main Street. One is a photograph of the old Lancaster County Court House shortly before the recent renovation was complete. “The old court house is close to the heart of all Lancaster residents,” Hinson said, “and I’m glad the decision was made to renovate it after the fire.”

The “Lancaster Court House” photographs is a professionally printed photograph framed in a black rainbow metal frame and matted with a quality white matte. “I’ve been doing my online sales with Fine Art America,” Hinson said, “and I’ve been extremely pleased with their service and quality. “Sharing a photograph is much more than taking a good picture, as I’ve learned over the years, and the frame and matte helps make the photograph stand out better than I could have imagined.”

Another Lancaster-area print was taken in 2006 as the Lancaster and Chester Railway crossed over Main Street in Lancaster. The photograph, called simply “Main Street Train,” was made from Market Street with the historic L&C Business Office in the background. “What makes this shot so special is that it was one of the last times I personally saw them using a lot of their smaller engines on one train. As their business has increased over the years, they sold of a lot of these end cab switchers and got bigger power which makes this shot impossible to get these days.”

“Main Street Train” is also Hinson’s first metal print. The image is printed directly onto a sheet of 1/16” thick aluminum which is offset from the wall by 3/4” wooden frame. “Metal prints are extremely durable,” Hinson said. “They’re light weight; they won’t bend and they’re water resistant. But, more important, the metal really makes the colors stand out and the detail is impressive. It’s really a neat way to showcase my photography.” Hinson will also have other metal prints for sell as well as a print made on canvas including the "Columbia Skyline" shot which is attached to this e-mail. “The canvas print, like the metal prints, really needs to be seen to understand how cool it looks.”

Gallery 102 recently celebrated their one year anniversary in Lancaster. “We really want you to go to the Gallery 102 location and look around at all the great art work by all the folks from in and around Lancaster. These are very artistic folks and we hope to shine a light on them as well as my own work. So when you go to the gallery, and hopefully by a few things from one of the artists, if you don’t find what you’re looking for from me, you can ask for one of my business cards. Use the discount code in the bottom right hand corner when you visit my Fine Art America site.”

You can find the Joseph C. Hinson Fine Art America web site at

Gallery 102 is located at 104 Williams Street in Lancaster, SC. For local residents who know the area, it’s just off of Main Street on the block between Arch Street and Elm Street. It is owned and operated by Kevin Lilly and Carla Bryant.

Joseph C. Hinson has been a still photographer since picking up his first SLR camera in the 1990s. He now shoots digital photography using a Canon 60D DSLR. His main interests so far in photography are city skylines, interesting buildings, railroads, model portfolios and anything else that captures his eye. A Lancaster, SC native, Mr. Hinson is currently an award winning photographer living in Columbia, SC

I Cannot Control The Weather... But

April 20th, 2014

I Cannot Control The Weather... But

As a railroad photographer, I used to hate cloudy and rainy days. I considered it a personal affront to me to have to go out and shoot on days where the weather was not pristine. And, what do you know, railroads run in all kinds of weather. As I get older, I realize the sheer lunacy in worrying too much about the weather. Afterall, we cannot control the weather, unless you believe Art Bell. So instead of bitching and moaning about it, I still go out and shoot in it and sometimes get some stellar shots.

This past weekend, two railroads took a really big load from the port in Charleston, SC up to the General Electric plant in Greenville. The first day had the train going from Charleston to the CSX Railroad yard in Cayce, not far from where I live. So on Friday, I got up early and caught it going up the old Columbia, Newberry & Laurens Railroad. The shots weren't great, but I was really looking more forward to the Saturday leg of the trip anyway. So I got a few shots of it in Irmo, SC, then came home.

So as any good photographer, I kept checking the weather forecast for Saturday. Instead of getting better, the forecast actually got worse. Rain on and off all day. So on the day of the final leg of the move, I woke up with a horrendous headache. I took this as a sign not to go. A quick check of various Facebook groups told me the train had not left yet. So I took a hot bath in a dark bathroom after downing some headache meds and finally decided to make the trip.

There was one shot I had been wanting to get for some time and the weather would actually work to my advantage as I would not have to worry about sun angles and shadows. So when we pulled into town and saw the train crossing the first road, I was happy and shocked by our good timing. The railroad crew was actually having to put the train together, so it was not leaving yet which gave me plenty of time to set up my shot and shoot the breeze with some of the other railfans who were also braving the weather that day.

So with the rain, I tried to be very careful with my camera. I kept it in the bag for as long as I thought I should and then kept it under my shirt until the last possible minute. I did not want it to get wet. But then I had to put the camera up to my eye to compose the shot. Remember this was the one shot I wanted above all others that day! And as I made some last second changes to the settings and framed it as I wanted, I never noticed the one thing that was going to make me cuss that night as I processed the shots.....

Rain spots. Above the train on the right side of the frame is a big blob of rain. Dust spots can be cloned out, but a rain spot on a tree would take way more time and effort than I'd care to invest. I got some decent shots that day considering the weather, most of them without any rain spots.....

But on the one shot I wanted to turn out better than any of the rest, rain spots.


So at some point during the chase yesterday, my son and I saw a little store near the tracks and decided to take a bathroom break and get a drink. While I waited for my son, another customer came in that knew the clerk and they were talking to each other about the crowd of folks standing beside the track. Neither knew what was going on. So I told them there was a really big rail car with a big load on it for GE.

The clerk expected something really cool and got her smart phone and said she was going to take a picture. By now, I butted in and told them what it was and that my son and I had come up from Columbia. She looked excited as she waited for the train to come into view.

And finally the train came into view... first the GWI=painted unit, then the red and grey. The clerk just stood there waiting.... then the flat car. Finally the GE load came into view... and her shoulders slumped. She never took the picture.

I said, "It's a really big ass rail car," She came back around the counter and rang up our drinks. I thought about making a snarky comment, maybe even mentioning that they should probably clean their bathrooms more than once every ten years, but didn't.

It seemed like the railfans and railroaders following the train were joined by people who just happened to see it passing and fell in with the caravan. At one point, a mini van with a family in it joined and the mother was heard to say, "I never thought this is how I'd spend my Saturday morning." Since she was out at multiple stops, I assume she was enjoying it.

Just thought it was fun and funny to watch the caravan. And I couldn't help but think, "If it's this crazy today chasing a freight train in the rain, how is going to be next year when the 611 is out?"

Trains in the Rain

March 17th, 2014

Trains in the Rain

In my last blog, I mentioned how my day job has become my night job. Aside from the switch in shifts, I also am working more weekends, too. But working more weekends means I get more days off during the week. And as a photographer who likes to shoot trains, this isn't a bad thing as some of the smaller and more interesting rail lines tend to work mostly Monday through Friday. So imagine my disappointment when I looked at and noted that all of my off days this week would be rainy and cold. In the past, this might lead me to stay home and keep my camera in my bag. But not today. Trains run in all kinds of weather and I might as well go out and shoot them in the rain.

Admittedly, you can shoot trains from a dry and warm car in some cases such as this one. I was actually hoping for more rain as I saw the train creep up to the highway thinking it may add interest to the shot.

Art Prints

An industrial setting with the rain clearly hitting the highway added interest to this one for me. It was the first series of shots of the afternoon and by far my favorite. So I left East Chester in hopes of catching the other train running on the L&C and did not have to go far. I caught it in Richburg, SC then turned around and followed it back to East Chester where I went for a side view to show the high short hood of the second engine.

L&C 3/17/20014 6

They stopped to meet the other train at the wye and I set up for a shot that would include both trains. But it was raining and in my haste to get the shot, I forgot to dry the lens.

L&C 3/17/20014 7

Both crews had to work in tandem to clear the main line so the second train could pass. Here, two crew members have to ride the front of the train as they move the cars off the track.

L&C 3/17/20014 2

The second man is now on the ground. As the train stops, he will cut the engines apart so the crews can work on separate trains again.

L&C 3/17/20014 5

Then the crews split their trains up again. Two units are on the other end of the train on the far track and are clearing the switch to allow the train in the siding to come out. That train will then take the cars to the east end of the wye and leave them there.

L&C 3/17/20014 8

The crew will then run light to downtown Chester to meet a Norfolk Southern grain train.

Norfolk Southern Grain Train

L&C 3/17/20014 4

The L&C crew then coupled onto the train that the NS crew had just left.

L&C 3/17/20014 3

And I called it a day.

Got To Catch That Train

March 16th, 2014

Got To Catch That Train

People refer to their "day job" to mean the job they work at while they do photography on the side. In the past two weeks, my day job has actually turned into a night job. I've been working third shift. I was initially looking forward to the move. I had been on an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift and missed a lot of trains that would come through town. With multiple runs on the Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus train set to run through Columbia, the move came just in time.

Circus Train Over I-77

But as an eleven day, err, night, straight shift wore through, I found myself going straight home in the mornings and not chasing many trains at all. Then I heard that an old Southern Pacific unit had come down from Hamlet, NC the day before leading a BNSF engine. Now the train would be running the other direction for the return trip out of nearby Cayce, SC and that would put the BNSF engine on lead, but it was still enough of a rare move to get me wanting to be trackside.

I knew the one location I wanted to shoot at and when I got there, I found a fellow Fine Art America photographer already waiting on it, Reginald McDowell. (See, some people think I'm the only one who chases trains!) He said it was on the way. A quick look at the bridge told me one thing: we needed the train to hold out a little later because too much of it was still in shadows and the sun rose higher in the sky. He also told me some other news -- the railroad had to turn the engine on a wye to get them facing the right direction for the trip north. This would put the old Southern Pacific engine on lead.

Soon we heard the train struggling to get up a nearby hill. I made sure the camera was on the right settings and then put it up to my face. Looking through the viewfinder, the train slowly came into view as I went to press the shutter...

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Shooting the Elephants

March 4th, 2014

Shooting the Elephants

At first glance, you might think a guy who loves to shoot trains might not care when the circus comes to town. Oh, but that’d 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.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train (1)

The four cars behind the engines house the elephants. These cars are kept separate from the rest of the train during it’s stay in Columbia.
It’s not always easy in Columbia to catch the train where it clearly shows that it’s not a typical freight. When the train comes from Charlotte and points north on North Southern, one spot I’m not ashamed to use more than once is on Sumter Street with the backdrop of the city in the background.

Art Prints

On the train below, I was helped by the direction of travel. It’s actually leaving town, but because of the way the train had to face at it’s 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.

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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 it’s the circus train.

This railroad is turning into a circus (2)

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 he’s reviewing the image on the back of his camera.

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In 2010, I caught two crew members who were watching their train enter Columbia.

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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.

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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 him… provided he comes in daylight hours.

Oh, and shooting the elephants?

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Train (3)

An easy shot to redo, right?

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.

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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.

Chasing a grain train in South Carolina

January 22nd, 2014

Chasing a grain train in South Carolina

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 “inside baseball” 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. I’ve 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.

L&C Six Pack 3

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 “big” 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. It’s 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.

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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.

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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 “freebie” shot – 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.

L&C Six Pack

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.

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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.

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After pulling up just shy of the nearest road crossing, the crew called it a day and we, too, went home.

Dark, grey and dreary I love it

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.

NS 192

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.

Savannah & Atlanta

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.

Savannah & Atlanta

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.

NS Wood Chip Train

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?

Right Time Right Place

December 30th, 2013

Right Time Right Place

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 --

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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.

Pickens Railroad U18B #9507

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.

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I took a few shots from different angles --

AIKR GP30 #4201

Greenville & Western Railway

Greenville & Western Railway

They left heading northwest at tis point and after an eventful few hours plus on scene, I headed home.

Greenville & Western Railway

All in all, it was a good day!

This Image Makes Me Feel Mad... and Sad.

December 6th, 2013

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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.

Shooting Vintage Cameras.... with a DSLR

December 3rd, 2013

Shooting Vintage Cameras.... with a DSLR

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!

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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.

Camera Heritage Museum (2)
Camera Heritage Museum (3)

I wouldn't change it for the world.

Shooting the Lancaster Santa Train

December 2nd, 2013

I always mark the first full weekend in December on my calendar because the Lancaster and Chester Railroad runs their Santa Trains in conjunction with the See Lancaster folks. The first run was in 2006. We had just moved from Lancaster to Columbia, but I had to get back up to shoot something that in railroading circles was fairly significant. It was the first time since the late 1940s that a passenger train had stopped at the small depot in Heath Springs, SC.

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Heath Springs was on the old Southern Railway SB Line that ran from Marion, NC to Kingville, SC. Southern ancestor line Norfolk Southern eventually sold the rail line to the L&C. The depot had been sold to the town of Heath Springs sometime before and had been restored for use as a town center and meeting hall.

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And when the Santa Trains began running in 2006, it seemed like a logical place to run to out of Lancaster. On that first Santa Train run in 2006, I got a shot of it passing the Elgin Fire Department.

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In later years, the decision was made to stop in Elgin, in effect cutting about a third of the trip off.

L&C Santa Train 2012 8

The Santa Trains are a great oppurtunity to shoot the train in great sun as they put an engine on either side.

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In anticipation of the annual Santa Train runs this weekend, I have reduced my mark-up on these shots as much as 33%. The sale will go on until Sunday night. Keep looking back for more uploads from past trains as well.

Photojournalism Great Falls Mill Fire

November 26th, 2013

Photojournalism Great Falls Mill Fire

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.

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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.

The Anticipation of the Shoot That Never Happened

November 24th, 2013

The Anticipation of the Shoot That Never Happened

So all of this week, I have been monitoring e-mail lists and Facebook posts regarding the CSX Santa Train. It ran yesterday on the former Clinchfield Railroad. It came through my neck of the woods on Tuesday from Jacksonville, but I was expecting it not to time out with my day job. And, sure enough, it came through at a time when I had to make a decision -- shoot the Santa train or use my one hour break to have lunch with my lovely wife. Not a hard decision, really, and lunch was great that day.

What I was really hoping for was a daylight return to Florida on Sunday the 24th. I hoped for two location, one being the Cayce Riverwalk over the Congaree where I have shot more than a few trains

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Another location I hoped to shoot it from was from a highway bridge about thirty five northwest of where I live. I had shot a CSX Office Car Special here many years ago in my print film days and needed a digital version of it


The above shot is from 2001 and I have since lost the negative, which could be another blog itself.

The Anticipation of the Shoot Part One

November 22nd, 2013

The Anticipation of the Shoot Part One

So I got off from my day job at 12:30 this afternoon and wanted to spend my time with a train or two in my viewfinder. There were three shortlines I thought about going to. The Lancaster and Chester is my hometown railroad. They usually run two trains a day, but it's only been six weeks since I went up and spent a day and a half shooting that line. Then there is the South Carolina Central Railroad. They recently repainted an engine that had needed repainting for years. But I have been a little gun shy to g back there since "the incident" from this summer. That left the Aiken Railway.

The Aiken Railway is South Carolina's newest shortline railroad. It was formed a little over a year ago to take over a Norfolk Southern branch line about sixty miles down I-20 from me. They had just got a new engine recently painted for their line and I had been itching to go down. I've been told they normally go on service at around noon every day, so I hope if I got there at 1:30 this afternoon, I'd catch them in the heart of the busy part of their day.

All the way down I wondered where I would catch them and if the sun would stay out long enough for a decent shot. I thought about a few spots I hope to catch them at... but then I had a horrible thought. It was Friday. What if they weren't working? Well, I figured if I ran by the spot they kept their engines first, I would spend an hour of wasted time... And, sure enough, two engines were parked there. They only have two engines right now. Worse yet, there were no cars parked at the yard office. They weren't working.

I was disappointed, but at least the new engine lettered for their railroad was parked out in the open. I got my first good shots of the old engine and settled for that. It had still been a good day and one day, I will catch them running.

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Get Steamed Exclamation Point

November 19th, 2013

Get Steamed Exclamation Point

When I say "get steamed," many people will think of someone getting mad. When you "get steamed," maybe someone cut you off in traffic or your boss gave a co-worker credit form something you did. Sometimes when you get steamed, you might need to let off some steam. The Free Dictionary defines letting off steam this way: (American & Australian)

"to do or say something that helps you to get rid of strong feelings or energy Meetings give people the chance to let off steam if something has been bothering them for a long time. After a long journey, the kids need to run around a bit and let off steam."

In my 20s, letting off steam might include two or ten adult beverages. But in this case, getting steamed is a little more mechnical, even literal. Again, from The Free Dictionary:

"1. Lit. [for a steam engine] to build up steam pressure and become more powerful. As the engine got up steam, it began to move faster."

Or maybe you need something more visual --

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As a railfan, someone who likes train, I was a bit older than most before I saw my first steam train in action. In fact, I was 36. Now I had gone to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC and saw their Shay #1925 in action. But it didn't exactly hold much sway over me. In fact, not to get too "Inside baseball" with you over trains, I saw a Norfolk Southern train pass led by a grey Conrail "Ballast Express" unit and chased that train to Charlotte.

Then I saw a picture of a steam engine online. It was actually a very specific engine, one that used to belong to my hometown railroad, the Lancaster and Chester. I had known for years that it was still operating on the New Hope & Ivyland in Pennsylvania, but in the picture I saw online, it was lettered for the L&C. And not some old black and white picture from the 1940s, but a digital photograph taken just a few weeks before. Turns out the New Hope & Ivyland had been enticed to reletter her for the L&C for a photoshoot by Pete Lerro.

So this was a chance to revisit history to me. But not a mothballed exhibit in a museum somewhere. Rather, this was a living, breathing machine. I knew I had to go. At the time, I was an award winning photojournalist with CN2 News, an outfit based in Rock Hill, SC that also covered Lancaster and Chester. I convinced my boss to sen me up to the new Hope & Ivyland for a weekend to do a story on the L&C 2-8-0 #40. And it was awesome!

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Words alone can not do justice to the sites, sounds and smells of a working locomotive. The whistle was like a call back to a time I never lived through. I know I'm not doing too well waxing nostalgic, so here is the story I shot while in Pennsylvania:

In the meantime, I try to shoot steam whenever I can. The Southern Railway 2-8-0 #630 has spent a few months over the last two years on Norfolk Southern Rails. Here she is in Spenver, NC getting ready to duck under the pedestrian bridge on the grounds of the North Carolina Transportation Museum to haul another train on former Southern rails earlier in 2013:

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Meanwhile, a smaller steam engine also travels the south east and was in South Carolina earlier in November, 2013:

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Smaller? Sure, but she still sounds sweet plodding the rails. That's the Flagg Coal 0-4-0 &5 and she came down to the South Carolina Railroad Museum in Winnsboro. Back in the day when that rail line was still the Rockton & Rion and was still carrying rocks out of the Martin Marietta quarry, another set of steam engines pulled freight on the same rails. In 2007, i was able to shoot one of the old steam engines in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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But there is one steam engine in the south that is attracting the most attention lately. She hasn't run under her own power since the 1990s, but the Virginia Museum of Transportation hopes to get the Norfolk & Western #611 out on the rails soon.


Shoot It While You Can

November 17th, 2013

Shoot It While You Can

In a previous blog, I mentioned shooting what is no longer there. I mentioned not shooting an old textile mill while it was still standing and could have mentioned not shooting the old high school I went to. Both of these were structures in my hometown that meant a lot to me, in their own ways, but I personally have few photographic memories of them. In railroading, I have tried to remember this and specifically mentioned the "Extension Cord Line" that ran out of Blacksburg, South Carolina. I got some shots of this railroad line through the years and the one day, Norfolk Southern closed part of the line and leased the rest out. Now there are no trains at all on this line. At least I have my shots.

Another case of this is the Carolina Southern Railroad that runs (ran, actually) two connected lines out of Chadbourn, North Carolina into South Carolina. I "found" in it 1999 and shot it last in 2006. It was just far enough from where I lived that it was almost too far away for a day trip and lack of finances meant I couldn't get over often enough on an overnighter. That last time I caught it was almost by luck, too. I was leaving the beach and decided to follow the tracks northwest to Chadbourn, then back down into South Carolina. A casual glance at a map would tell you this wasn't exactly a direct shot from Myrtle Beach to Lancaster, SC.

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In the years that followed, I wanted to get back over there, but never caught a train running again. Later, the federal government come down to inspect a few bridges on line. They found the bridges to be in dire shape and the railroad "voluntarily" shut down. Now the local governments are involved and it's probably going to go to court to get trains running again on decent track. It might not happen and if it does, the railroad likely won't look the same. It might not even be the same railroad. The middle engine in the shot above is gone and that was one that everyone needed to shoot.

So this was another case of me shooting a railroad scene that is no longer there now. By luck or design, I did right. There have been other cases where I didn't get a scene I wanted. And those are the ones that haunt me.

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Documenting An Ever Changing Railroad

November 7th, 2013

Documenting An Ever Changing Railroad

We railfans, those of us that like trains and the such, can take the railroads we shoot a bit personal. Consider me and my hometown railroad, the Lancaster and Chester Railway. I was a young boy when I first got introduced to it. My grandmother at the time living directly across from the Springs Mills Lancaster Complex, which itself has been mentioned in one of my previous blogs. The L&C was owned by the Springs family at the time and most of it's business in the 1970s was moving cars between the textile mills on it's line.

L&C @ Springs Mills

Then the Springs family "merged" the textile mills with an overseas company. Not long after, they closed all of the American mills after more than a hundred years and moved the operations to Brazil. The mill in the picture above was torn down. The railroad was still doing good on it's own. The family had diversified the route customers in the 70s and 80s to where textiles were a small percentage of the business in the new century. But it was a matter of time before the family sold the railroad, too.

Changes were already coming. The railroad sold off most of their little EMD end cab switchers. Instead of lashing up four or more of the switchers such as this

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they bought several bigger GP38-type locomotives.

Before They Were L&C...

Now the L&C has had blue paint on their engines for more than fifty years, so when the news came down that the railroad had been sold to the Gulf & Ohio, railfans were worried. The G&O had been painting their own fleet of locomotives a basic black for years. There were rumors that the owners of the G&O had promised to keep the L&C in their historic blue with the Springmaid emblem, but then they started sending new power to South Carolina in either grey or black. I took this shot in June, 2012 and titled it "A Grey Day on the L&C." Two of the engines had the G&O logo.

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It was the first time I had shot a train on my hometown railroad with any blue engines. I was a little blue about it, to by honest. But I shot is for documenting the ever changing railroad. And then something happened. The G&O sent the L&C an engine that was in primer. In other words, it was not painted.

LC 2829

The hope that it would be painted into L&C blue was well founded. The next time I saw L&C 2829, it looked like this

L@C #2829 @ ADM in Kershaw.

What's more, they started repainting the power that had come from the Gulf & Ohio. I waited for a chance to catch the same three engines from above in the "Grey Day" photograph together again. The last time I was up, I got two of the three on the same train which will have to do for a before and after for now.

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And all is right with the world again. No matter what changes this shortline railroad goes through, they come out the other side with their own ever-changing identity as seen through the viewfinder of cameras throughout the years.

Spur of the Moment Photography

November 5th, 2013

This past weekend, my wife and I were going on a day trip to the mountains of the Carolinas in hopes of seeing and shooting some fall foliage and waterfall scenes. As it tends to happen, we were running late leaving and for a few brief moments, it looked like she might have to go into work. So finally were leaving and as we were on 385, I thought to myself, "I bet when I get home tonight, I'm going to find out that the Carolina Piedmont ran one of their high and wide trains."

I am a railroad photographer as a quick glance at my FAA site can attest, but I do enjoy photography of all kinds. But I especially like shooting rare or seldom seen aspects of railroading. The high and wide loads might be all that rare. On a Saturday last winter, there must have been a dzen people chasing one train out of Greeneville, South Carolina. But it's still cool enough that I would like to see it as much as possible.

So five minutes after I had that thought, we pass Carolina Piedmont tracks near Gray Court and what do I see? A high and wide train going toward Laurens. It was a nice surprise. So, naturally, we turned around and chased it for a few miles. they go slow, ten miles and hour in some sections so the weight doesn't shift, so the chase was easy. My second shot was the keeper of the day.

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We may have chased the train for about thirty minutes before letting it pass and making the trip toward Walhalla, SC and our first waterfall, Issaqueena Falls.

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The late start, the train detour and the shorter period of light meant we had to strike Whitewater Falls off our list and the shots at Dry Falls were a little tricky due to lack of lighting. But the day was worth it. It was nice to be surprised by a train I wanted to see. When I first started shooting trains, there wasn't Facebook and smart phones. We might hear of a special train coming through various e-mail groups, but there was still a lot of chance involved in catching trains. Back then, I didn't even have a cell phone.

Now, we have the Carolina Rails YahooGroup, plus a sister group on Facebook. Folks in the field with smart phones or tablets can update real time information on where the trains are and what engines are up front. It's really cool on one level. But I almost miss the happenstance sightings of rare passenger trains or specially-painted locomotives that I caught in the 1990s. I remember the first time I saw Santa Fe power in the Carolinas. I just ran up on it while out looking for trains in Marshville, NC and ended up chasing back to Chester, SC.

Another time a railroad crew invited me up in the cab of their lead engine, a Cotton Belt GP60, while they waited for another train to pass. That is not as likely to happen these days. They'd be afraid someone else would see it and tweet out a picture, which could possibly cost them their job. Don't get me wrong. The real time train sightings come in very handy. Just the next day, another railroad photographer was keeping track of the train coming down from Laurens, SC to Columbia and was posting it to the railroad group on Facebook. Because of that, I was able to sit at home and have lunch with the family, before heading out and catching the same train as the day before on another railroad, adding a bookend to a neat weekend.

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Shooting What Is No Longer There

November 4th, 2013

Shooting What Is No Longer There

As a serious railroad photographer for fifteen years, I am starting to think in terms of remembering those railroad elements that are no longer with us... or rather shooting them before they are gone. I got into documenting railroading about five years after the City of Columbia took down a mile long viaduct over what was then a warehouse district. I was around it back then. I have a few memories of it, but I was not out shooting much of anything. Now I've seen some good photographs of it, but none of them are my own.

Another case is the former Million Dollar Mill in my hometown of Lancaster, South Carolina. This was the old Springs Mills that I grew up watching the Lancaster and Chester Railway work. I remember wanting to shoot it more, but I kept putting it off. Sun angles were typically bad for the 'front" side of the mill anyway. Even after they announced it was closing, I never got out there to shoot it. And while I did get some photographs of the deconstruction of the mill, well, it's just not the same.

Meanwhile, just recently I was going through some of my shots from 2005 and realized that I had shot a railroad scene that is no longer there.

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It was called the Extension Cord Line and it ran between Shelby, North Carolina and Kings Creek, South Carolina. The first time I heard of the line called this was a Trains (railroad magazine) article by Jim Wrinn in the 90s. I'm not sure he coined the phrase, but he may have. The name comes from the fact that the railroad had to (note the verb tense) use an old box car in between the engines. This was to offset the weight of the locomotives due to a bridge with a weight restriction north of Shelby. The box car housed cables connecting the engines to one another so they could run as one unit, an extension cord, basically.

A lot of changes have been made to the line since I made the photograph linked above. First, the state of South Carolina came through and four-laned the near by highway. As a result, this industry was torn down and the tracks came out. (Another shot shows the two lane road and railroad crossing in the frame.) Just that alone makes this shot a little bittersweet for me. But then a few years later, the railroad, Norfolk Southern, leased the remaining part of the line to a shortline operator who used just one locomotive at a time. No more box car and no more extension cord.

Recently, I have heard that the last remaining industry on line has stopped using rail altogether putting the future of the track in peril. So a day of chasing trains on tis line eight years ago was for documenting a line which was about to undergo many changes and may soon cease to exist entirely.

Getting My Name Out There

May 23rd, 2012

Getting My Name Out There

So now that I am actively trying to sell my photography, I decided I needed to do more advertising than sharing a link here and there on my Facebook pages. So I decided to brainstorm interesting ways to get my name out there. Of course, that takes money and I don't have any of that. So I pretty much just started thinking of outlandish fake TV spots. Think what ESPN does for "Sports Center."


Wide shot of Joe standing at State Street Crossing in Cayce w/camera around his neck craning to get a good look down the track

Close up of Joe looking agitated with hand covering his eyes from sun looking in a particular direction

Wide shot of Joe starting to pace with train in background

Medium shot of train crew on board lead engine

Interior shot of lead engine, conductor is gesturing to Joe pacing, asks egineer, "What's with that guy?"

Egineer chews on toooth pick, says, "That's Joe. He knows he's got five minutes of good sun to shoot this train."

Conductor says, "Oh," watches Joe pace, then asks, "Dispatch says we leave. What are you waiting on?"

"About four minutes."

CG over closing seconds of ad, "Joseph C. Hinson Photography: Always There."

Newbie Photographers

May 21st, 2012

Newbie Photographers

I hope I'm not one of those guys who make comments like, Everyone is a photographer now. Or someone who sarcastically comments that if you have a DSLR, sure, you''re a pro. Because I look back on how I started in photography and realize that in some ways the only difference between me and the newbies is that when I started, I had to load film in the back of my camera.

I became serious about my photography in 1999 when I bought a Canon Rebel. Before that, I used an old 110 camera or disposables I'd buy in grocery stores. I went out into the world not knowing much about photography. Admittedly, I kept the camera on Auto for way too long. I was afraid of messing up. I went to some online forums and it seemed a lot of photographers were talking about how hard shooting was. They scared me away from slide film with their talk about aperture and shutter speeds and something they called ASA.

But one thing I had going for me was a knack for composition. So for a while I was content with shooting on Auto and getting decent results more time than not. I shot mostly trains then. And I had fun with it. I went to small Carolina and Georgia towns that I would normally not even know about if it weren't for searching online for railroads. Places like Laurinburg, NC, Laurens, SC, Lavonia, Georgia. Then there was Hamlet, NC which aside from being the birth place of John Coltrane is a large rail yard for CSX. I drove to Memphis and Colorado and took a lot of pictures.

But I knew there was more to photography than pointing the camera and pushing the shutter. This was apparent when the camera chose unwisely and I'd have trains blurred or out of focus. So finely I began wading into shooting on something other than full auto. I waded slowly. I'd choose the aperture and let the camera set the shutter speed. I bought books. I asked online forums for help. It still seemed daunting though. It seemed everything I read and everyone I talked to told me how hard photography was.

Now fast forward to 2012 and photography is fun. It's not hard. Not really. But it seems like some people want you to think it is. So they tell you how hard it is in forums or they make sarcastic comments about wannabes buying DSLRs. That's why I try to be helpful on the Railpictures forums. Because I didn't get a lot of that.

So my advice to photographers just starting out is this --

-- Have fun with it.
-- Enjoy your mistakes. You will make a lot of them. But learn from the mistakes, too.
-- Quickly turn off the full auto. Learn what aperture means. Read your manual. Buy a photography book. (Not one called ¡§Photography for dummies.¨) Browse the internet for good photography and photographers.
-- And practice patience. Don¡¦t expect to be great the first year.
-- But most importantly, have fun!