Finding the light

When I have time to photograph, the weather and lighting conditions are not always cooperative. Last weekend was one such occasion where it was mostly cloudy but I was itching to do some shooting. So, I headed out to a local railroad that I knew was running steam and looked for compositions that would emphasize the surrounding environment instead of the sky. A little exploration led me to a nice s-curve that was oriented such that the trees formed a tunnel - light at both ends but fairly dark in the middle. A big black locomotive in the middle of a tunnel of trees is not exactly ideal from a lighting standpoint, but it does minimize the dull, gray sky that other compositions would have emphasized. 

The original image was a bit flat but some small manipulations in Lightroom produced the image seen here. Next time it is cloudy and gray outside, don't let that keep you inside. There are plenty of compositions that can exploit nearly any lighting condition. As a photographer you just have to look a little harder on some days.

A New Perspective

It is easy to get stuck in a rut - visiting the same places, taking photographs in the same style, focusing on the same subject matter. Like all other aspects of our lives, it is easy to just keep doing what we have been doing because it is a comfortable place.

I have spent a lot of time in the past 15 years photographing railroads but recently have been looking for a new perspective on the subject. This year I have been visiting places the I have frequented over the years but with the challenge of finding new ways to interpret those locations. The photograph above is one of those locations - at the Strasburg Rail Road in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In this photograph the locomotive is returning to the East Strasburg Station with a tourist train in Spring 2014. The typical "railfan" shot at this location is from the other side of the tracks with the sun behind the camera so the engine and passenger cars are side lit. I choose to setup behind a switch stand with the camera on a tripod about 12 inches off the ground. I choose an f-stop that would allow for a shallow depth of field so I could control whether elements in the foreground or those further away from the camera would appear in focus. I shot this with the switch stand in sharp focus as well as the version above with the locomotive in sharp focus.

Shallow depth of field is only one technique that can get a photographer out of a rut. I have also been using equipment such as neutral density filters and selective focus lenses to produce other interesting effects. The most productive way to see new opportunities at old locations is to walk around and look at the scene from a new vantage point. It takes some extra time but it wasn't until I walked across the tracks, stood behind the switch stand and kneeled down that I realized that there was a great shot that I wasn't able to see from 75 feet away.

Strasburg Rail Rod, Lancaster, Pennsylvania - April 2014