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The Nights of 2009

Now that we’re safely nestled into the new year I normally pick out some of my favorite shots from the previous year (2008 & 2007 for example) as a kind of retrospective look at what I shot over the past 365.25 days.  This year I decided to narrow it down a bit to one subject I’ve been working with a lot more this year – night photos.  So instead of running down my top shots of 2009, I’ll be outlining my favorite night shots from the year talking about the shot itself, and how it came to fruition, as well as talking a bit more about the lighting setup itself for those of you who are a bit more curious about the technical end of how these shots are lit.  Oh, yeah, and I’ll be including both static and action shots, the latter is where the most experimentation has taken place.  And of course there will be both ambient light, as well as flash lit shots.  It’s not going to be a top 10 list – instead it ended up being 23 shots in all…

So I guess we’ll go in chronological order for the 2009 lineup – that’s the easiest for me to gather the information together.

January 6, 2009

New England Central train NERWPA, nearing the end of their shift, heads south out of the Willimantic yard
New England Central train NERWPA, nearing the end of their shift, heads south out of the Willimantic yard
REF#:20090106-_MG_8244-Edit.jpg
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This was one of my first attempts at nighttime action shots.  Here a southbound NECR job was heading out of Willimantic yard ahead of P&W NR-4′s arrival.  This was simply lit with a single 400 watt/second Lumedyne flash, positioned to my right about 6′ off of the ground.  This one was kind of a pain since I hadn’t yet purchased a wireless remote trigger, so I had to stand about 6′ from the flash head – I only had a 6′ long cord.  Not the best shot in the world, but a starting point.


January 11, 2009

A payloader sits near the tied down NECR train in South Windham
A payloader sits near the tied down NECR train in South Windham
REF#:20090111-_MG_8307.jpg
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Here’s a static shot of NECR train NERWNE sitting overnight in South Windham, CT.  This was done in the more “traditional” night shoot method – put the camera in bulb mode, open the shutter and walk around the scene with the Lumedyne, popping flashes as needed.  This one was a little tougher as I had to light the train and payloader, and keep myself out of the shot.  I think this was the second try that worked the best.


February 11, 2009

Former NY Central car #43, the Hickory Creek, rests in Lebanon, NJ
Former NY Central car #43, the Hickory Creek, rests in Lebanon, NJ
REF#:20090211-_MG_9353.jpg
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Not something you see every day – a former NY Central observation car.  This one is based out of Lebanon, New Jersey, and is leased out to folks who want to ride the rails in style.  It used to be the NYC’s Hickory Creek which served on the 20th Century Limited.  Lighting on this one is the standard open the shutter & walk around with the Lumedyne shot.  Well, maybe a bit different to take care to not put any glare on the puddle, which would of course ruin the reflection that I was going for.


March 1, 2009 – Part I

NECR 3849 idles as the snow falls around it
NECR 3849 idles as the snow falls around it
REF#:20090301-_MG_9830.jpg
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Probably one of my all-time favorite night photos I’ve taken – and not because it received an honorable mention in the Center for Railroad Photography & Art 2009 Award (click here).  I just really liked the simplicity of the shot, with the subtle lines of the GP38′s nose lit by the headlight as the snow was falling.  This is the one shot I was aiming to get when I ventured out into the snow that March evening.


March 1, 2009 – Part II

NECR NERWNE idles away in the darkness of South Windham, as the snow begins to fall heavily
NECR NERWNE idles away in the darkness of South Windham, as the snow begins to fall heavily
REF#:20090301-_MG_9847.jpg
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Another shot from that same night – this time lit with the Lumedyne.  This one was a bit of a challenge because the snow was falling, so I was trying to avoid those big white blobs in the shot.  The key to that was to make sure I didn’t pop the light anywhere near the camera, minimizing reflections off of the falling snowflakes.  The headlight beam is what really does it for me on this one…  Oh, yeah, and this and the previous one were taken in South Windham, CT.


March 14, 2009

A set of Providence & Worcester Railroad locomotives sits on the Blackstone River bridge in Valley Falls, RI
A set of Providence & Worcester Railroad locomotives sits on the Blackstone River bridge in Valley Falls, RI
REF#:20090314-_MG_0065.jpg
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More static Lumedyne stuff, but with this shot there was a ton of ambient light to contend with.  This was taken as the locomotives sat over the Blackstone River in Valley Falls, RI.  The way I countered the abundance of ambient light was to stop down a bit more (f/11 in this case), and blast the locomotive with more light than usual.  Also, I set up the camera just above the frog in the switch, using the rails as leading lines…this shot is where the reversible center column on the tripod came in handy.  The lens was only a few inches above the rail head.


March 20, 2009

PanAm's MEC 350 sits in Plainville, CT quietly as a plane makes a turn overhead
PanAm's MEC 350 sits in Plainville, CT quietly as a plane makes a turn overhead
REF#:20090320-_MG_0206.jpg
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Sometimes things just work out – this shot was one of those cases.  With PanAm Railways (formerly Guilford Transportation) repainting their power, I wanted to get one of the newly repainted units shot at night.  As luck had it, one was assigned to Plainville, CT for a week or two.  With that news, three of us (Nick Palazini, Bob LaMay and myself) went out and shot the unit under a clear (and cold) starlit night.  In this one shot I wanted to include the constellation Orion in the shot, but I noticed a little bonus as I was exposing the shot for Orion.  With our somewhat close proximity to Bradley International Airport, I noticed an aircraft making a turn overhead, so I left the shutter open even longer.  This shot resulted – PanAm on the ground, and some other airline sweeping overhead.  And what I usually do to get more stars in the shot is to pop the subject with the Lumedyne first, then leave the shutter open for a bit longer so more stars show up.  This works best in darker areas – otherwise the ambient light would accumulate and overpower the flash lit parts.


May 23, 2009

A HDR composite of two images of the Connecticut River drawbridge opening up for river traffic
A HDR composite of two images of the Connecticut River drawbridge opening up for river traffic
REF#:20090523-_MG_7280-hdr-1024.jpg
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More experimentation here.  This time I played around with a little HDR (High Dynamic Range – click here for more info on the technique).  I took two images of the bridge and gazebo – both using only ambient light.  One as the bridge was raising, and one of the bridge in the up position.  I then merged them using a HDR tool (LR/Enfuse if you’re curious), and came up with this shot.  Pretty cool technique, and quite useful for static night shots.  And this is the Connecticut River drawbridge on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.  The shot was taken at the DEP station in Old Lyme, CT.


May 30, 2009

PanAm train AYMO waits for a fresh crew in East Deerfield
PanAm train AYMO waits for a fresh crew in East Deerfield
REF#:20090530-_MG_7936.jpg
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More PanAm, but this time in East Deerfield, MA.  This one was taken in pure ambient light of train AYMO pausing in the yard for a crew change.  Looking for something different, I stopped down to f/13 to get the starburst effect on the headlights.  Nothing else special about the execution of the shot – just a simple on the tripod and open up the shutter kind of thing.  You can also see this one in the January 2010 issue of TRAINS magazine in the PanAm article by Fred Frailey.


June 4, 2009

Lehigh Valley Rail Management drops a cut of doublestacks for 25V to pick up
Lehigh Valley Rail Management drops a cut of doublestacks for 25V to pick up
REF#:25-20090604-_MG_8400.jpg
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Another ambient shot here.  This was taken in Bethlehem, PA where the Lehigh Valley was dropping cars for NS train 25V to pick up.  I got this one just as the LVRM switchers showed up, and the conductor got off, cut the power away, and had them pull out.  I really liked the dynamic aspect of it – not only the slowly moving EMD switchers contrasted against the still NS job, but also the conductor’s signal as he walked from the rear of the train, and got on the front.  I also got lucky that not much traffic was going over the bridge I was set up on, so camera shake was at a minimum, despite being on a tripod (if you’ve ever stood on a bridge as heavy traffic goes by, you’ll know that it vibrates quite a bit)


June 13, 2009

Museum volunteer Rich Cizik makes some sparks on the Baldwin 0-4-0T
Museum volunteer Rich Cizik makes some sparks on the Baldwin 0-4-0T
REF#:20090613-_MG_8613.jpg
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Now one from one of the two formal night shoots I do with area museums.  This one is from the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum in Willimantic, CT.  In this shot we were going for the classic flying sparks, along with lighting from the Lumedyne.  There were two of us with Lumedynes, so we could get different angles on the lighting.  Basically the process for this was for Rich to grind the metal (for you steam fans out there, we clamped a piece of scrap steel to the pilot for Rich to grind – the 0-4-0T wasn’t hurt), then stand perfectly still while the two Lumedynes were set off – one from the right and one from the left.  Lighting here was done by Fred Jones and myself, BTW.


July 5, 2009

Manchester, CT fireworks display at Manchester Community College
Manchester, CT fireworks display at Manchester Community College
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Yes, I shoot more than trains at night.  And what good night retrospective wouldn’t include fireworks?  This one is from the Manchester, CT Independence Day fireworks display.  I did pop a little flash to give a little definition to the people sitting in front of us, just giving the shot a little more depth (used the Canon 420EX held about arm’s length to the left).  Otherwise it was open the shutter when the fireworks were launched, and close it when they burst.  Pretty straightforward.


July 18, 2009

Nick and Dave getting their shots of LLPX 3003
Nick and Dave getting their shots of LLPX 3003
REF#:20090718-_MG_2463.jpg
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I like to try to include some of the surroundings into my shots – kinda gives things context.  Well on this evening, I decided to include the two other photographers that were out shooting with me into the frame.  Here we have Nick Palazini (L) and Dave Jodoin (R) standing still as I lit up the scene in Plainfield, CT.  Another standard Lumedyne lit bulb shot – nothing special here.  Well, I had to make sure there were no “full moons” in the frame…


August 1, 2009

The signal at Farleys
The signal at Farleys
REF#:20090802-_MG_3099.jpg
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Here’s one without a train in sight.  This shot was at Farleys on PanAm just east of East Deerfield, MA.  I positioned the moon behind the signal, and shot up at it since there was a slight haze in the air.  I managed to get a slight beam of light coming out of the signal head, and also hit it with a little Lumedyne flash to bring the entire head out of the dark sky background.  Another more subtle shot.


August 22, 2009


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And here’s the other night shoot I work with – up at the Berkshire Scenic Railway in Lenox, MA.  This one was actually shot in between the planned shots as the BSRM crew was moving the equipment around.  It just struck me as the conductor was signalling the train’s movement – a shot I had to get.  All ambient light on this one…


September 23, 2009

NR-4 crosses over Merrick Brook in Windham, CT
NR-4 crosses over Merrick Brook in Windham, CT
REF#:20090924-420204365-_MG_1823-Edit.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2009:09:24 00:04:28
Aperturef/5.6
Exposure Time 0.006 s (1/160)
Focal Length (mm)18.00 (1800000/100000)
ISO3200
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The experimentation continues with action night shots on this one.  At this point I got a set of radio remotes off of eBay (some of the cheapies from China) to start out with.  They worked OK up to a range of about 20 feet.  Not exactly “mission critical” but they’re something to experiment with.  So one evening that I found out P&W train NR-4 was running between Plainfield and Willimantic, CT I decided to give it a whirl.  The other factor was I got my new camera – a Canon 50D – which does great with higher ISOs.  This one was shot at ISO 3200, and the Lumedyne was to my left about 15 feet away, and about 7′ in the air on an old microphone stand.  Not bad overall – the most difficult part was focusing on the bridge before the train got there (and afterwards the glare from the flash).  Oh, yeah, the bridge is spanning Merrick Brook in Windham, CT a mile or two east of the Scotland Dam.


October 26, 2009


REF#:39-20091026-420204365-_MG_6238-Edit.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2009:10:26 20:15:12
Aperturef/5.6
Exposure Time 0.006 s (1/160)
Focal Length (mm)18.00 (1800000/100000)
ISO1600
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Still refining my technique for the night action shots.  Here we have New England Central train NERWPA crossing over the Depot Road crossing in Mansfield Depot, CT on a fall evening.  This was again done with the cheapie radio remotes, but to get more altitude on the Lumedyne, I put the mic stand holding it on the roof of my car.  The car was about 15 feet to my left and behind me a bit, with the head about 10′ in the air.  This was shot at ISO 1600 on the 50D, with one shot from the Lumedyne as the train was rolling over the crossing.  If anything, another little bit of light up by the crossbucks would have helped.


November 17, 2009

New England Central train NERWPA heads north across a private crossing in Mansfield Depot, CT
New England Central train NERWPA heads north across a private crossing in Mansfield Depot, CT
REF#:20091117-420204365-_MG_8701-Edit.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2009:11:17 21:15:24
Aperturef/7.1
Exposure Time 0.006 s (1/160)
Focal Length (mm)18.00 (1800000/100000)
ISO1600
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Another incremental move in the night action shot realm.  Here NECR train NERWPA is heading back north to Palmer, MA through Mansfield Depot, CT.  The lighting was just the Lumedyne, this time on an actual 10′ high light stand, and located about 6′ behind and to the left of me.  I really could have used another light across the tracks to light up the old crossbuck that is barely visible in the shadows just ahead of the locomotive.


December 1, 2009

NECR train NERWPA rolls along the Middle River in Stafford Springs, CT
NECR train NERWPA rolls along the Middle River in Stafford Springs, CT
REF#:05-20091201-420204365-_MG_8971-Edit.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2009:12:01 22:09:45
Aperturef/6.3
Exposure Time 0.006 s (1/160)
Focal Length (mm)18.00 (1800000/100000)
ISO3200
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Further refinement of the action shots here.  This time I have a more reliable remote system (CyberSyncs from Paul C. Buff) with a longer range (about 400′).  So I decided to set up two lights – the Lumedyne to my left on a 10′ light stand about midway over the river (on a bridge), and my 420EX hotshoe flash to my right on a tripod.  This was another shot at ISO 3200 with the 50D that turned out rather well.  It also helps that the trains go about 10MPH through here due to the severe curve through town.  Which town you ask?  Stafford Springs, CT would be the location for this evening.


December 10, 2009

NS train 39G heads east past the Macungie pavilion on a windy December night
NS train 39G heads east past the Macungie pavilion on a windy December night
REF#:03-20091210-420204365-_MG_9473-Edit.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2009:12:10 19:57:07
Aperturef/6.3
Exposure Time 0.005 s (1/200)
Focal Length (mm)18.00 (1800000/100000)
ISO3200
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Another action shot with two flashes.  This time it takes place in Macungie, PA, and it’s of an eastbound Nofolk Southern freight (39G if you’re curious).  The challenge here was the winds.  As you can see by the flag, it was quite breezy – it was around a constant 30MPH, with gusts pushing 50.  To top that off, it was about 28-30*F, putting the wind chill quite low (and I left my gloves at home in CT).  For this shoot I had purchased a sand bag (as a result of this fiasco) from B&H the night before, and it came in handy.  It kept the Lumedyne still, despite being 10′ into the stiff wind.  The Lumedyne is about 15′ to my right and behind me, and a smaller flash it to the left and just off the frame to light up the flag.  More shots from this cold evening can be found here.


December 11, 2009

A Norfolk Southern GP40 idles with a Morristown & Erie caboose and boxcar in Morristown
A Norfolk Southern GP40 idles with a Morristown & Erie caboose and boxcar in Morristown
REF#:20091211-420204365-_MG_9501HDR1.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2009:12:11 21:37:54
ISO200
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Here’s another static shot lit by a Lumedyne, but is also an HDR.  What I did here was take a few images using different exposures, then one final image with the train lit by the Lumedyne – this was to open up some rather dark shadows caused by the retaining wall along the right edge of the frame.  I then took all of those and combined them with LR/Enfuse to come up with this final image.  Kinda took the HDR to the next level adding artificial lighting to the mix.  This was taken in Morristown, NJ at the Morristown & Erie Railroad shops, and coupled to the NS Geep is a M&E caboose and boxcar.


December 31, 2009

The final blue moon of 2009 rises above the palm trees of Deerfield Beach, FL
The final blue moon of 2009 rises above the palm trees of Deerfield Beach, FL
REF#:03-20091231-420204365-_MG_1301.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2009:12:31 20:32:27
Aperturef/10.0
Exposure Time18.000 s (18/1)
Focal Length (mm)28.00 (28/1)
ISO200
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And finally on New Year’s Eve 2009, which also was a blue moon.  This was taken outside of my parents’ place in Deerfield Beach, FL while we were visiting.  A very simple ambient light shot of the blue moon rising over the palm trees.  Too bad we left the door open, so to speak, when we left New England, and the temperatures dropped in Florida after the start of the new year.  At least we got one 85*F day to let the kids go swimming.


January 2, 2010

A southbound CSX freight (Q453) blasts through the Deerfield Beach TriRail station.  (this is an HDR blend of 11 exposures, including one flashed with the Lumedyne)
A southbound CSX freight (Q453) blasts through the Deerfield Beach TriRail station. (this is an HDR blend of 11 exposures, including one flashed with the Lumedyne)
REF#:05-20100103-420204365-_MG_2147HDR.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2010:01:03 01:58:24
ISO200
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Yeah, this is from the new year, but hey, it’s my blog, so it’s my rules.  Actually, this shot is the culmination of my using both ambient and Lumedyne flash lit shots in an HDR fashion.  For this one (which was at about 2am, BTW), I took 10 ambient light shots at ISO 200 of varying lengths prior to the train’s arrival.  Then with the train in the frame, I hit it with one single ISO 1600 shot using the Lumedyne to light up the scene.  I did the combination a bit differently for this one.  First I took the 10 ambient shots (sans train) and did a standard HDR with LR/Enfuse.  After that I took that resulting image, and combined it in Photoshop with the flashed image to create the final image you see here.  The other thing that I learned over the year about action shots, and incorporated into the setup and execution of this shot was not to shoot as wide as I can go.  I tightened up a bit to minimize on the motion blur that was occurring at the edge of the frame.  By zooming in a bit (and doing more of a head-on shot), I could freeze the action easier.  This train was cruising through the station at I would guess at least 35-45MPH, and I think this method froze the action rather well, while maintaining some lighting on the platform, and no strong shadows from the flash.

And if you’re curious, here’s a look at the 11 exposures that make up this particular shot.

A look at the 11 exposures that make up the HDR at Deerfield Beach, FL
A look at the 11 exposures that make up the HDR at Deerfield Beach, FL
REF#:HDR-sequence.jpg
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And that about wraps it up.  You can rest assured that you’ll find more night work from me over the upcoming year.  I’ll be continuing to refine my methods, keeping the minimalist approach to lighting train action at night (only 1-3 flash units typically).  I hope you’ve enjoyed what I’ve presented not only here, but in the blog over the past year – I sure enjoyed shooting it and talking about it here.

Thanks for looking and hope you have a healthy & prosperous New Year!
Tom

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