train

PHOTOGRAPHING DAY ONE ON THE DC STREETCAR

Fujifilm X100S,f8.0 @ 1/800, ISO 400.

Fujifilm X100S,f8.0 @ 1/800, ISO 400.

On Saturday, the DC Streetcar began carrying passengers along H Street, so late in the afternoon, I decided to check it out.

To get the first photo, I positioned myself close to the edge of the platform in order to capture the driver and the waiting passengers as the streetcar approached the platform. I was somewhat limited because on this first day of operation there were plenty of volunteers on hand to keep people from doing exactly what I wanted to do, which was get closer.

I like how the shadows create a criss-cross pattern on the platform, mimicking the design pattern on the side of the streetcar. Additionally, I like that the light illuminates the boys face to the right, which makes a connection to the light on the driver.

Fujifilm X100S,f4.0 @ 1/900, ISO 400.

Fujifilm X100S,f4.0 @ 1/900, ISO 400.

When I boarded the streetcar, I moved to the back of the car hoping to catch some shots as we left the platform, maybe including one of the volunteers out the window. The woman in this scene with the wonderful light on her face immediately caught my eye so I knew I wanted to place her in the foreground. The streetcar was very crowded and I was only able to get a few photos before we pulled out so instead of capturing her with the station in the background as originally intended, I caught the Hopscotch bridge and another photographer. I still like the photo.

Fujifilm X100S,f2.8 @ 1/900, ISO 400.

Fujifilm X100S,f2.8 @ 1/900, ISO 400.

As I returned to the Union Station stop after making a four-mile roundtrip I knew that I wanted to get at least one more shot; one that would connect the crowd to the streetcar while at the same time give a sense of the opening day ridership. I purposely focused on the streetcar and just let passengers walk by doing my best to frame the logo. In this photo, I like the boy on the right holding a hand and while I purposely tried not to show faces in this shot, the man looking down does help to draw attention to that gesture as well.

AS SCENE FROM A TRAIN - FIVE TIPS FOR BETTER PHOTOGRAPHS

Photographing an urban scene like this one as the train left Central Station in Montreal offers a different viewpoint of the city. Fujifilm X100S, 1/200 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

Photographing an urban scene like this one as the train left Central Station in Montreal offers a different viewpoint of the city. Fujifilm X100S, 1/200 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

Traveling by train can be a wonderful experience, sitting comfortably and watching as the world passes by just outside your window. I suppose if you commute daily by train you might not see it as some wonderful experience, however, whether the train you are on is traveling through a beautiful countryside or the forgotten parts of a city, there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to take out your camera and make some amazing photographs.

We have all seen photographs out of airplane windows. Instagram anyone? Perhaps they are a bit cliche, although I actually don't mind them. Less often though do you see photos taken from a train and that's a shame. Maybe it is because more people fly, I don't know, but the opportunities to capture unique views from a train are endless. And many times it is not even possible to tell from the photograph that it was taken through a window while traveling upwards of 60 miles per hour.

Taking advantage of the stopped train while waiting to cross the border from Canada into the United States allowed me some extra time to compose this shot which would have been difficult with the train moving due to the strong back light. Fujifilm X100S,  1/950 @ f5.6, ISO 400.

Taking advantage of the stopped train while waiting to cross the border from Canada into the United States allowed me some extra time to compose this shot which would have been difficult with the train moving due to the strong back light. Fujifilm X100S,  1/950 @ f5.6, ISO 400.

So what do you photograph? Think about the difference between trains and cars, besides the fact that trains are on rails and cars are on the road, but what does that offer you visually. If you think about it, roads generally pass by the front of buildings and houses, whereas trains travel behind, which makes it possible to capture a unique perspective. If you are out west or up north, it can be about beautiful landscapes, but most trains travel through urban and industrial areas as well so you see the back side of the city or urban landscape. Take advantage of both and you will be surprised at what you capture.

Notice how the foreground is a blurred. I still think it adds some interest. Fujifilm X100S, 1/500 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

Notice how the foreground is a blurred. I still think it adds some interest. Fujifilm X100S, 1/500 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

Before you break out your camera on the next trip from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia or beyond, let me offer some tips to help you start making beautiful images from the comfort of you train seat. And you barely have to put down your drink to do it.

Five Tips to make better photographs during your next train journey:

1. Pick a good seat. It might seem obvious, but you really should choose a window seat, otherwise, you better get to know the person you are sitting with very well. Somewhat joking, but there a few ways to ensure you will get a window seat and a good one at that. Use the red cap or a similar service even when you don't need assistance with your luggage because they will get you on the train before everyone else and that is well worth a few dollars. Boarding early also gives you the option to pick a seat with the cleanest, least scratched window. Finally, not all window seats are created equal, so make sure you get one that is more or less centered on a window.

I selected the left side of the Amtrak Adirondack train from New York to Montreal because I knew the Hudson River would be out my window during most of the trip. The ice was a bonus. Fujifilm X100S, 1/1250 @ f2.8, ISO 400.

I selected the left side of the Amtrak Adirondack train from New York to Montreal because I knew the Hudson River would be out my window during most of the trip. The ice was a bonus. Fujifilm X100S, 1/1250 @ f2.8, ISO 400.

2.Select the side of the train that will afford you the best views. If it is not a route you are familiar with, then a little research will go a long way. Google maps do show train tracks. Another consideration when selecting which side to sit will be the direction of light. Shooting into the sun can create some interesting photos, but remember that you are shooting through a window so the sun glare and reflection may not allow for photographs. Compare it to sun glare on a dirty windshield, it is the same thing.

Downtown Albany, New York, as the sun goes down. I like the empty parking lot and elevated shooting position. A view that would be difficult if not for riding on the train. Fujifilm X100S, 1/1250 @ f2.8, ISO 400.

Downtown Albany, New York, as the sun goes down. I like the empty parking lot and elevated shooting position. A view that would be difficult if not for riding on the train. Fujifilm X100S, 1/1250 @ f2.8, ISO 400.

3. Pay attention to your aperture. Selecting a wide aperture, f 2.0 - f 5.6, will limit the effects of shooting through the window, similar to shooting through a fence. If you have the time and can do it safely, clean the window from the outside prior to boarding. Of course, you should check with train personnel before you do this just to be on the safe side. But at a minimum, wipe the inside of the window. You don't have to shoot wide open though because you do want some depth of field, but too much and you will be spending a lot of time cloning out spots caused by dirt on the window.

4. Shutter speed matters. Objects close to the train will blur even at relatively fast shutter speeds. If you are shooting objects in the distance without a foreground then you can get away with a slower shutter speed even on a fast-moving train. If a fast shutter speed is not possible or you are just looking to get more creative, then slow the shutter speed way down and blur the scene as you pass by. Instead of you panning with the camera, let the train do it for you. Think about this technique to photograph trees during the Fall.

Photographing the backside of the city. The slightly burred train structure at the right adds just enough context to let the viewer know that this photo is taken from a train. I like the industrial look and hints of color in this image. It can be hard to frame a shot while the train is traveling at 60 m.p.h. so take plenty of shots.  Fujifilm X100S, 1/160 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

Photographing the backside of the city. The slightly burred train structure at the right adds just enough context to let the viewer know that this photo is taken from a train. I like the industrial look and hints of color in this image. It can be hard to frame a shot while the train is traveling at 60 m.p.h. so take plenty of shots.  Fujifilm X100S, 1/160 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

5. Always be prepared to shoot and when possible try to anticipate what's coming up. Even when you are very familiar with the route, the view outside will pass by quickly so you need to keep your camera ready and as close to the window, without touching it, as possible. This might be a good time to mention that a wide angle lens works best, especially in a changing landscape. Fast moving trains make framing and shooting with long glass difficult. If the train is moving slowly or you are traveling the great plains, then this may not be a problem.

Take the time to shoot lots of pictures on your next rail journey and let the results surprise you and your friends. Besides, there is much more to see from a train window than from a plane window.

Check out Amtrak train routes and start planning your adventure today.

WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS, SHOOT - PHOTOGRAPHING THE SECOND AVENUE SUBWAY

Future 86th Street Station is part of the Second Avenue Subway project.
The future 86th Street Station is part of the Second Avenue Subway project in New York City.
As a photographer for the Office of Naval Research I often have the opportunity to photograph some pretty cool things. Most of the time it comes down to access. If you think about it, as photographers we are often provided access not available to the general public, so when an opportunity arises to photograph something unique, we take advantage of it.

And sometimes opportunities arise because we know the right person. That was the case recently when I had the chance to photograph the Second Avenue Subway Project currently under construction in New York City.

Patrick Cashin, a photographer with the MTA, takes a group photo of neighborhood residents affected by the construction during a tour of the project.
A group photo of neighborhood residents affected by the construction is taken as part of their tour.
My good friend Patrick Cashin, Navy and Air National Guard veteran, is a photographer with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and is responsible for documenting all aspects of the New York transit system. Part of that documentation includes major construction projects and his recent work photographing the Second Avenue Subway Project is amazing. Pat has never been one to brag, so when he sent me an email earlier this year with a link to a feature that Flickr did on him, I was awed by the work and his story behind it.

Major construction and blasting is completed for phase 1 of the project.
While major construction and blasting is completed for phase 1 of the project, scenes like this still serve to offer a glimpse of what it takes to create new stations and subway lines.
The very first thing that caught my eye when I saw Pat's photographs was the shear scale and size of the project and how some of the photographs he captured looked like they could have been taken 100 years ago when the first subway was built from City Hall to the Bronx.*

So last month as I was planning my trip to New York City for Photo Plus Expo, I made plans to meet up with Pat, even if only for a quick lunch or dinner. He responded that he was also attending the expo, but the real surprise was that he asked if I would be interested in joining him on an assignment the next day photographing underground. Better yet, he had secured permission for me to photograph as well.**

Typically only residents of the neighborhood affected by the project are given the chance to tour the project. One restriction, however, is that they are not allowed to take photographs, which is why the MTA provides a photographer to both document the tour and take a group photo.

View of the future 96th St. Station. Mixed light made some color correction during post processing a must.
View of the future 96th Street Station using the train tunnel to help frame the shot.
There were two tours scheduled and I would be able to stay underground with Pat between those tours, giving me a total of about three hours to take photographs.

For gear I was pretty sure of two things. That it was going to be dark and that I wanted to shoot wide, so I brought with me the Nikon D3S along with two lenses, the 14-24mm and 24-70mm. And of course I also had my Fujifilm X100S . I knew that light would probably be the biggest issue. I didn't bring a tripod so I relied on the high ISO capabilities of the Nikon D3S to capture the scene. The trade off of course is noise. I processed the images using Lightroom 4.0 where besides some color correction, I opened up the shadows and ran some noise reduction. But for the most part a little noise in these types of photographs does not bother me. With few exceptions I set my ISO to 3200 and everything was shot RAW.

Including a MTA employee helps to show the scale of the subway tunnel.
Including a MTA employee in the photograph helps to show the scale of the train tunnel located at the south end of the future 86th Street Station.
Once underground I really was struck by the size of the project, but how do you translate that in your photographs? Using a wide angle lens and including people is a great way to give the view that sense of scale. Even though this was Saturday and there was not any work going on, I was able to include a few workers who where on hand mostly for safety reasons.

An opening to street level allows some natural light into the future 96th Street Station.
An opening to street level allows natural light into the future 96th Street Station which created some challenging mixed light situations.
Another challenge was the mixed lighting. It turned out to be a bit of daylight mixed with fluorescent and who knows what else. In situations like this I always shoot both JPEG and RAW which then gives me the option to color balance after the fact. Why both? Most of the time I never open the RAW images from an assignment. I think of the RAW files as my insurance, because in reality JPEGs just fit into my work flow allowing me to quickly download, caption and transmit. And in this case I wanted the JPEGs so I could look at and edit a few images on my iPad during the train ride back to Washington, D.C.

The 14-24mm lens allowed me to emphasize the shear size of the project.
Shooting wide with the Nikon 14-24mm lens allowed me to emphasize the size and scale of the project.
Do you have friends or family that can get you access to interesting places? I bet if you think about it, you do. Also think about what you do for a living or something you have access to and if it might be interesting to a photographer friend. We tend to not think of what we do as interesting, but in many cases if you stepped back, you would realize that there might be unique opportunities all around.

An MTA employee makes the 150' trip to the surface from the 86th Street Station.
An MTA employee makes the 150' trip to the surface from the future 86th Street Station.
MTA on Flickr:
Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York

*This project was originally proposed in 1929 as a major expansion, although work never commenced due to the Great Depression. Digging for the project did begin in 1972, however it only lasted a few years before New York became insolvent. Ground breaking for the current project happened in 2007.

Phase I of the current project begins at 96th Street then runs south where is will join the existing 63rd Street Line. Additionally, three new stations will be located at 96th Street, 86th Street and 72nd Street. I entered the project via 125 foot elevator at the 86th Street location and then walked underground via the rail tunnel to the 96th Street station and back.

**In order to photograph the project I had to sign an agreement with Capitol Construction limiting my use of the photographs and while I do retain copyright, I am unable to license them for commercial use. For all inquiries about photo use, please contact Rosanna Alcala at ralcala@mtacc.info.