March 21, 2011 Travis Dewitz

Capturing the Storm

I think storms and trains are a natural fit for railroad photography. Trains have many of the same qualities as storms do as they both can be powerful, loud, graceful, impressive, large, and the list goes on. An image of the two together can have many different moods and feelings ranging from peaceful to scary. I have grown to enjoy the beauty and power of storms and enjoy being able to capture them. My passion to merge storms and trains together was started with some of these early photos. These are some of my first shots where I was able to merge trains and storms together and have eventually become addicted to it and theexperience. This is definitely a challenge. Getting a photogenic storm is the first piece. Then you need an active rail line near the moving storm. If this wasn’t enough of a challenge, you need a train with good timing to travel through your scene while the moving storm is also in position. Just getting the pieces of the puzzle together can be a nightmare with many missed opportunities. When the pieces fall into place your next challenges begins. These challenges start with keeping your gear and lenses dry. I keep my lens pointed down and away and even under my shirt or jacket just milliseconds before I shoot. If needed, I also keep large ziplock bags handy to place my camera into. Having a dry cloth is also a must. Now that my lens and camera have been kept clean and dry, I turn to shoot off several exposures capturing as much light as possible in an usually low lightenvironment. I usually always expose my photos for the brightest part of the the sky to keep highlight detail. By doing this I am able to keep much of the cloud detail which is crucial to me. This is a fine line as you also need to be able to bring out as much detail of the darker train as possible to avoid noise issues in post processing. Knowing what your camera can do and what it can’t do is a big help in situations like this. Can you go over iso 1000, or do you need to stay below iso 400? The reason you need to understand your camera’s limits, is so that you can maximize it. Shooting in low light is a big enough challenge to begin with let alone adding speed to the equation. Trying to stop the action of a 50mph train, in low light can be tough if not impossible. Knowing that you can push your camera to 800 iso with low noise can be an opportunity saver. Once you have overcome getting a photogenic storm and train together and having captured it even though it was moving at 50mph in low light, without soaking the camera and having too many rain drops on the front of the lens causing a blurry image; you can consider that a success. 

The image at the top was taken in Hillsdale, WY on August 31, 2008. There were two large and powerful storm cells moving together, with a lot of lightning. The sun was fading fast, so I made a bee line to the busy Union Pacific mainline. I really didn’t think this was going to come together as no trains could be seen with the sun about to fade to dark. At the lastminuets of daylight, a Westbound freight came into sight. This image is dramatic but yet peaceful even though the bottom image taken seconds later is much more dark and eerie. Post processing can shape your image greatly in the direction that you want to present. Composition also plays a big part in how your image is perceived. The top image includes some flowers and is in a color tone that adds to the peacefulness.

The second image was taken May 25, 2008 just as the storm was overhead which allowed the setting sun’s light to color the sky orange to the West. The rain soaked surfaces shimmer from the last rays of light as three points of lights can be seen. I can feel and hear the train as it is blowing it’s horn through the many crossings of Owen, WI as the excitementbuilds for the charging forward freight.

The third photo was captured along the shore of Lake Wissotaoutside of Chippewa Falls, WI. This is a detoured Canadian Pacific train running on Canadian National trackage through a huge downpour. Keeping my gear dry and lens clear was the biggest concern while shooting on this late afternoon. The clearing skies can just be seen in the photo.

These are my first tastes of railroad storm photography and there will hopefully be many more to come. To see others photographer’s photos of trains in storms, be sure to visit myXtreme Weather Railroad Photography Flickr Group.

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I look forward to collaborating with you on any of your questions or comments. Don’t hesitate to reach out, I am detail oriented and would gladly answer any questions.