The storms have been rolling into Wisconsin all summer long and have been a blast to get out in finding trains to shoot. I have been able to connect a few times with hopes of a few more yet this year. With todays temps all ready in the 50’s I may not get another chance.
The local Union Pacific job enters yard limits in Altoona, WI just as the storm front passes over the city.
Being there is the first step to any photo. Sometimes the photo you want requires you to be there, in horrible conditions, but that is what needs to be done to get the shot you may want. Being there is what I needed to do when the weather service predicted the first big snow storm of the 2009 winter season in Western Wisconsin. The storm started to put down some heavy snow which I knew I needed to shoot in. I stayed out in the early hours of the night before capturing what I could locally knowing tomorrow was going to be the chase.
I ended my day in Red Wing, MN catching this SooLine led local heading back towards St. Paul. The train hustled past the Red Wing depot through the falling snow as the crossing light lit up. What a great end to a great day chasing trains in some tough weather conditions.
All photos can be viewed or purchased atwww.travsirocz.smugmug.com
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.
My interest in railroad photography has been shifting more and more towards low light conditions and having an interesting sky is a must. I feel that there is much more depth of emotion and a deeper feel captured in low light settings. This is one reason I have been drawn to low light photography. Learning how to capture moments in this type of light is by far the easiest part of the photo process. The more difficult part of the photo process is processing. It can be fairly difficult to bring out your image as envisioned when shot is low light. This is especially true if you captured the image while trying to preserve the high lights in a bright sky. This can result in a overall dark image which can reveal a lot of noise when the exposure is increased. If the image can be used, the next challenge is being able to bring out details in the highlights and shadows. This part of processing can take time with the use of a program like Photoshop. With Photoshop, you are able to use layers and masks to edit the image in parts rather then as a whole or globally. One program I have just started using is Photomatix. Photomatix is aHDR (high dynamic range) program that can help save a lot of time and work while achieving close to the same results. HDR is best done with three or more images exposed at higher and lower exposures which can be hard to do with a
moving object, like a train.Photomatix can also work with a single RAW file with good results while saving the work of dealing with an object that has moved during the multiple exposures. Photomatix can also do this 3 different ways with different results from more HDR looking to more realistic, which all can be fine tuned. One of the most important parts of post processing to me, is adding some pop. This pop is what makes the whole image worth all the work you put into it. Now while using Photoshop, Photomatix, and getting some pop in my images is hard enough, making them appear 100% real can and still is a challenge to me. The photo on top is of two Soo Line EMD SD60s running through Dayton’s Bluff with the sun setting behind the St. Paul, MN skyline. This photo was was processed first inPhotoshop with layers and masks. Then to recover some highlight and shadow detail and add the pop was done with Photomatix. I believe this photo came out with a very near real appearance. The other photo of the Union Pacific led coal train in the Powder River Basin was first run through Photomatix. After it was processed by Photomatix I did very little work to it in Photoshop. This photo has a little more of a HDR look. I did not attempt to make this more realistic since I enjoy a moderate HDR look. Many railfan photographers do not like the look of HDR photos, period! This is one issue that I will live with. So, with the use of photo programs and a lot of practice, a lot can be done to make your low light photos end with a pop.
This photo in second place on my favorite photo list behind my Emerging From the Fog shot. I love the mood of this shot. It has a lonely dark mood to it. It also shows another side to railroading. The locomotives and fuel truck draw your eyes to the fuel truck driver to the third of the photo. The night sky has some the interest of the telegraph poles and wires along with the moon since otherwise it would have been pretty bare. Going black and white really stengthened the mood also. The way the light is reflecting off the side of the locomotives adds a nice shine and reflection in the fuel tank. The light also brings out the detail in the locomotives trucks. The detail in the photo is incredible for being taken at night. You can see into the locomotive cab and see the cab detail and locomotive number. You an also look into the back of the fuel truck and see the pumps, plumbing, and gauges. I also like how the hose has a shine and also the way you can follow it around and upto the fuel tank where you can also see the reflection of it. The motion of the truck driver as he stands in the cold waiting for the tank to become full. The only part of the photo that could be better in my eyes would be having a better subject on the right lower side. This train was heading East from St. Paul, MN towards Chicago when they noticed the locomotive was low on fuel. They then had to make an unscheduled fuel fill in Altoona, WI. Since Altoona has no fuel on site anymore, so they had to call in there source that they use for the yard locomotives.
This pacing shot was done by using some advice fromhttp://railpixcritic.blogspot.com/“What Pans Out” May 2008 post. He made a very valid point about how diesel locomotive pacing shots are much less interesting then a steam locomotive pacing shot. I am not a big fan of steam locomotives but they will always look much more majestic in a pacing shot then diesel. I decided to try and make a diesel locomotive pacing shot as interesting as I could. My plan was to pace the train in a spot along the highway where the track grade went above the road. The spot I found for this shot was just North of Lake City, MN. This angle provided much more interest then a side on shot. What make this photo stand out was my luck of having this red truck pass me fast enough to be blurred also. This truck ended up breaking up the all green hillside. I was actually going 50 -55 mph when I was passed so I was surprised to be passed. The blurred background and foreground add a sense of some real speed. The truck also adds speed and motion along with some interest to the photo. The train coming out from behind the tree also adds the sense of it flying down the tracks. The only thing that could have made this photo better would have been white snow instead of the green hillside or maybe a different colored truck. I just love the feel of speed that this photo has.
One of nature’s elements that I have been trying capture on film, is rain. Rain is hard to capture in a photo. If it is raining lightly, it just doen’t show up. If it is a big downpour, you definitely can see the rain but the rest of the picture will look washed out and will have loss of detail. One way I have learned to capture rain better is to show that it is raining other ways. One way is to make sure that you try to capture a wet look. I did that with this photo by having good color saturation. Colors are more saturated looking when wet. I also included the road surface which has pooling water and a sheen that shows that it is wet. The headlamps of the train reflecting off the road also gives the feel of how wet it is out. I also used a slow shutter speed for this shot which helps make the rain drops in the air more visable. The slower shutter speed also added a lot of interest to the photo by showing the motion of the Jeep. I also included the Jeep for some added color but most importantly to catch the feeling of a rain storm and wet roads by capturing the water that it is kicking up. I like photographing railroads in the rain because it shows the other side of the business that you do not see in photographs as often.
Well, this is the start of my first blog. I am very interested in photography and especially railroad photography. This blog will be related just to railroad photography. I enjoy many styles of railroad photography but my favorite photos usually convey a mood or feeling. One way that I feel works well to add mood and feeling is with the use of adverse weather. We all get that feeling when there is a thunderstorm or a dense heavy fog and if composed well the same feeling can come from a photo as well. This is what I like to try and shoot. Photography has a life long learning curve so I am still learning a lot and trying a lot of new things. I really haven’t decided what I am going to write about each photograph or subject yet, so I am sure the blog will be changing from post to post. I am going to start with my own photos and get some type of structure going before I use other photographer’s photographs (with permission).
Now to get to the picture. This is one of my favorite shots that I have taken. This photo was taken at the West end of the Union Pacific’s Chippewa River Bridge in Eau Claire, WI. I choose to go black and white to enhance the mood of the dense fog. I love how the train comes out of the thick fog and how the bridge disappears into it. Also the detail of the old steel bridge adds to the mood of this photo. With the foreground being much clearer, you are able to see the drops of water clinging onto the old wire supports. One improvement would be to have more detail around the headlamps and ditch lights. Overall this photo has a cold, wet, and gloomy feel to it.