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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lights, Locomotive, Action!

Getting the sun, the earth and a train to align for a perfect shot

The sun set at about 4:25 p.m. and the train was due back at 4:35 p.m. Whenever the train comes in, the crew needs to detach the engine, bring it off on a side track to turn it around and add more water, a process that takes about 10 to 15 minutes. At 4:45 p.m., there was no sign of the train. I checked with the stationmaster. They were running late for some reason, how late, he really didn’t know.

This, along with the brutal cold, was throwing a wrench into my well-laid plans. If we couldn’t get this shot off before the end of twilight, I’d have no separation of the building and train from the sky. Of course, Murphy’s Law being the operative law of my universe, the train didn’t pull in till about 5 p.m. And it seemed to take forever to get turned and watered, so by the time it pulled into place, I basically had no light left in the sky. But that wasn’t the worst of my problems!

The wind was coming from behind the train, blowing right toward my camera position. The big beautiful plume of steam that emanates from the engine’s stack was blowing horizontally right at the camera and swathing the entire platform in hot, thick steam. I shot a frame, determined that my exposure was in the ballpark and then tried to shoot as quickly as I could (but not too fast, since the units were firing at full power and I didn’t want to melt them down), hoping for a frame in between gusts of wind.

But basically, I was caught in a cloud of coal steam, and then the train was gone! Rats! I did manage one or two clean frames, and they looked best in black-and-white because, for some reason, the separation of the station roofline from the sky was more noticeable in monochrome.

If At First You Don’t Succeed...
Because of my travel schedule, I’d have only one more crack, the Sunday before Christmas, at getting the train in the station at twilight before the railroad went back on its regular, non-holiday hours. It was less cold, with very little wind, and Josh and I were confident as we set up the three lights again and waited for the train.

This time, it was right on time. The engine repositioned, re-watered and was pulling into place—and kept going! It moved up another 20 yards or so past its usual waiting spot right next to the station before coming to rest, well past my lighting setup. A quick panicked conference with the engineer, and I found out that the holiday trains are so popular they had to add extra cars, and he had to move up a bit to accommodate them.

We managed to reposition the three lights without poking anybody. The platform was so jammed, though, that Josh had to hold the third light (the stand would have been a safety hazard), and with twilight fading faster than the crowds were dissipating, I took a test shot; not good!

With the engine farther from the station, it wasn’t picking up any of the glow from the lighted building. One flash raked across the side wasn’t doing it! Quickly, we cracked open the strobe case and I gave Josh a fourth light to help light the side of the engine. He aimed one light straight on to light the coal car and one raked toward the engine.

I wasn’t as pleased with the composition with the train being farther from the station, but at this point, beggars couldn’t be choosers, so I fired away. The fourth light did the trick, and there was still enough twilight for separation. Finally, as the crowds began to dwindle, there were a few frames with good steam and just the right amount of people in the right places. Still not the composition I had in mind, but as Josh in his young wisdom reminded me, there always would be next year to try it again!

For a schedule of Bob Krist’s workshops and seminars, check his website, www.bobkrist.com, under the “Teach and Talk” heading.


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