Nevada Northern Railway 2021 – Day 3

After two days of class room and shooting around the East Ely Yard, on Day 3 we climbed aboard the train and headed out for Grand Landscape Day. It was chilly, but it wasn’t snowing so that was a big plus. We boarded the train and headed out to the Hy-Line. This section of track leaves the East Ely Yard and heads toward McGill, where the smelter was located.

For the workshop, I carried two camera bodies with different focal length zoom lenses. On the tripod, I had my Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 24-240mm lens. My Canon EOS 6D Mk II hung from my body with a Tamron 28-300 lens. When making images of trains, I love having my camera on a tripod. I set the tripod to a low height for the vantage point I want, and I have a stable platform for exposure bracketing and focus stacking. Sometimes the action is fast and a tripod-mounted camera is not ideal, so I carried my 6D II for those quick handheld shots. In addition, the second camera body provided redundancy in case I had a problem with my primary camera.

Workshop Instructor Mike Massee captured me a couple times during the workshop. Big thanks to Mike for letting me include these images.

Nevada Northern Railway Winter Photography Workshop on February 12 through February 14, 2021. Photo by Mike Massee while acting as the workshop instructor. This image was made on Friday – no snow on the ground!
Nevada Northern Railway Winter Photography Workshop on February 12 through February 14, 2021. Photo by Mike Massee while acting as the workshop instructor. Sunday in Robinson Canyon. Note the height of the camera on the tripod, typical for my railroad photography.

And so, on to my images from the day.

A somewhat unique shot – the black smoke is from the boiler, while the white smoke is from the whistle.
The train crew makes several runs at each location so we can change position for different views. I liked this one in black and white.
A little different interpretation. Great sky in the background. Some participants rode in the Caboose (the yellow car) and the rest rode in the Outfit Car, just ahead of the Caboose. The view from the cupola of the Caboose is amazing.
Since I’m in a line of photographers, I keep my eyes open for other perspectives. For this shot, I crossed the tracks and crouched down in a ditch (to stay out of the other photographers shots). I was by myself, so I was the only one to get this shot.

After several runs on the Hy-Line, we headed up to the Tunnel.

I love the east side of the Tunnel. Great background for the locomotive.

We returned to the East Ely Yard for lunch and prepared for the afternoon shoot at the Tunnel and Robinson Canyon. The crew reconfigured the train for a different look.

In that ‘road less traveled’ theme, I climbed the side of the Tunnel to shoot down on the train. Again, I was by myself.
When a locomotive exits the Tunnel, the smoke does amazing things. Since the 93 is pulling uphill in this shot, it’s working hard and making a lot of smoke. This view from just behind the guardrail on U.S. 50.
Robinson Canyon is a marvelous venue for shooting. For this shot, I went high on the slope. I had my Canon EOS R5 camera and tried some new techniques on this portion of the shoot. One of the great things I learned about this amazing camera is the AutoFocus system is wonderful. When used in combination with the Touch Sensor Shutter Release (touching the LCD screen on the back of the camera to release the shutter, the AF system focuses on the point that I touched), I adjusted the position of the camera body with the tripod head, recomposed for focal length and composition, and touched the screen to focus on my desired focal point and release the shutter. I need to perfect my technique, but I liked the process for slow action such as this moving train. The resulting image files were easier to process.
On the way back from Robinson Canyon, we stopped at the grade crossing at County Road 19 for some shots. In this shot, I am looking east, with the East Ely Yard in the background. I processed this image using a different filter than I usually use, providing a softer look for the locomotive.

That ends three days of fun but challenging photography. I learned more about using flash, but also learned how to take pictures in driving snow and cold. A trip to the Nevada Northern Railway is always great, but also wonderful when one’s photographic skills are pushed to the limit.

On the drive home, I stopped by Eastgate Canyon. This canyon is located 5 miles from U.S. 50 on State Highway 722., and is the home to a band of Desert Bighorn Sheep. My lovely bride and I found them last October when we drove by, so I checked to see if I could find them. Sure enough, they were grazing on a hillside within range of my camera.

A young Ram, making sure I wasn’t getting too close.
The view looking west towards U.S. 50 through the entrance to Eastgate Canyon.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this series from the Nevada Northern Railway. Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

Nevada Northern Railway – Day 2 continued…

Due to the extreme weather conditions all morning (described in my previous post), our workshop facilitators did a wonderful job of getting the shots but also caring about the comfort of the participants. We split the outside shooting into a couple of sessions, allowing us to get inside more frequently and stay warm.

One of the great elements of this particular workshop is the lighting. Steve Crise has been a photographer for many years (no, I won’t tell you how many so you don’t guess how old he is!), and is a master of setting up a lighting system. His classroom sessions on lighting are wonderful, but then we got to put that information into practice. Because of the weather, he devised some lighting schemes inside the Machine Shop and Engine House to teach us more. For these sessions, he has each participant put the light controller on their hot shoe and control the shot.

We had a couple of scenes to shoot. This is one of the NNRY employees in the Blacksmith Shop. There were two strobe lights on him, and one strobe inside the furnace. The furnace strobe had a gel to create the yellow color.

Of course, once I got my turn at the strobe lights, my attention turned to other areas.

In the Machine Shop, a fun composition of one of the walls.
This is the NNRY’s Rotary Snow Plow. The machinery is probably 10 feet in diameter. I bracketed exposures and then had some fun playing with different filters in post processing. This is a yellowed filter in Nik Silver Efex.

When the light begins to fade, we settle in for the evening session. Our facilitators got very creative for this year’s evening session. I call it, “Fun With Fire!”

We’re all in the Machine Shop, in total darkness. We hear Steve say, “3…2…1…open shutters!” We open our shutters and several strobes fire, lighting up NNRY worker Ben who is standing on the front of Locomotive 81 making lots of sparks. After a few seconds, the shutters close and we repeat the process.

With the number of participants, space was a little tight in the Machine Shop so I looked for different places to stand. For this shot, I stood on the stairs to mechanical equipment in the ceiling and got this shot looking down.
We stopped and allowed everyone to change their view every few minutes. For this shot, I went low and perpendicular to the locomotive.
From the front of the locomotive, and I mistimed my shutter and missed the strobe light. In some ways, I think it’s better than other images I made. Note the wet floor – not for safety, but for lighting effect.
In automotive photography, this is called a 3/4 view because the front of the vehicle is about a quarter of the total image. I timed the strobe well, as I got great light in the scene. For these shots, I tried several different settings. I settled in at ISO 250, f/7.1, 2.5 – 4 seconds of shutter speed.
For this shot, I stood at the top of the landing for the exterior door. One of the early shots on the night, I overexposed and clipped the center of the spark shower. Not fatal, as this is still a nice composition.

And so, a day of challenging conditions and much learning for me. Shooting in a driving snow storm, followed by strobes and fun with fire – new experiences all day.

A quick note about post processing. I always shoot in RAW format, which requires that all image files are processed on a computer before being able to share them. For the snow images, I still had to tone down highlights and bring out the shadows. The interiors just needed some tone adjustments and filters. The FWF images were lots of fun. Due to the strobe lighting in some (but not all) combined with the bright sparks, each image file had to be processed independently to bring out the strengths of every image. I also use filters from the DxO Nik Collection or Topaz Studio, and I used both – sometimes together – to make the image really pop.

One more cold day in Ely, but it wasn’t snowing! Until next time – enjoy! PHOTOROGR

Nevada Northern Railway 2021 – Day 1

Friday morning dawned cool but otherwise nice. The workshop participants gathered in the East Ely Depot to begin the day. We all brought some pictures of our work so we could get to know one another and the instructors could assess our photography skills, then we headed into the East Ely Yard for some pictures.

One of my favorite images from the weekend. I was able to process the image file in Adobe Camera Raw and cleanup some clutter in Photoshop. No need to use other software for a filter.

This is the NNRY’s 1956 Pontiac Hy-Rail car, used by the NNRY for track inspection. Look close and you can see the wheels that keep the car on the tracks just behind the bumper in front of the tire.

I took advantage of the open door at the RIP Building. Just inside, I found this line of wheels and axles, so I did a little focus stacking. There are four different focal planes and five exposures of each focal plane to create the image. I blended the RAW image files in Helicon Focus 7, then applied a black and white filter in Nik Silver Efex.

This is the interior of the Outfit Car, used by the crews to travel to work locations. This was our base of operations for our shoot on Sunday. For this image, I used three image files with different exposures blended in Adobe Camera Raw, some clean up in Photoshop, then a filter from Topaz Studio.

This is the interior of a Caboose, taken from the door.

This is the scene when you walk through the cupola and into the back of the Caboose from the previous image. I paused before taking the picture…thinking about the men who spent their working lives in this space. Do you think they had to sneak a little coal from the Tender to keep the Caboose warm?

After the morning in the Yard, we returned to the Depot for some lunch and the lighting class. Then we headed back into the Yard to finish the day.

This is the Photo Line. And this one was easy because of the low number of photographers.

We’re all going for shots like this…

…and this!

Keep your eyes open and camera ready. Every now and then you turn and see something like this.

As the light began to fade, we set up in the Freight Depot and the 93 made several runs by us. Shutter speed is key here, depending on what you want your image to show. I used a fast shutter speed to freeze the action in this shot. I also made some shots with the 93 ‘blurring’ by.

That’s not everything from the day, but it’s a nice representation. Lots to see and lots of images to make. But wait ’til the next post – cuz the weather went bonkers on us!

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

Nevada Northern Railway Part 2…

The morning was chilly, but enthusiasm was high as we gathered for Day 1 of the Nevada Northern Railway Photography Workshop. I ate breakfast in the hotel, so I passed on the selection of donuts provided by the staff (my body was very happy with this choice). We got to know each other a little more as we shared images from past shoots. The group included accomplished photographers. Some had been to Ely before and had great images to share. One participant was from Nebraska, and was a regular contributor to the Union Pacific Railroad with his images of the steam locomotive 4014, the legendary Big Boy, recently restored and touring the country.

After our morning classroom session, we headed out into the rail yard. First stop was the Engine house, where I grabbed a few shots.

One of several images inside the Engine House. I used a softening filter to give this a more abstract look.

We spent much of the morning in the yard watching the locomotives move around the yard as they gave us photo opportunities and set up for tomorrow’s action.

The 40 powering through the yard. RIP Building behind and Coaling Tower on the left.

The 40 was our primary subject in the yard today. I tried this sepia-style filter and like the result.

The 40 approaching the ‘service station’ – the legs of the Water Tower and the dump chute of the Coaling Tower.

A popular shot among the instructors, this view of the 40 under full steam on the east side of the yard . In our final session, I was told this would make a great magazine cover.

A fun picture of the 40 framed by the base of the Coaling Tower. Great sky and the mountains in the background.

After lunch, we all enjoyed a class in lighting. I’ve never taken a lighting class before, so I really enjoyed the learning opportunity. The instructor pulled me out of the crowd and had me sit in the subject chair while he moved lights around and showed us different techniques. He gave me all the pictures he took. No, I won’t be sharing them.

A few more shots around the yard and some dinner, then we moved inside the Engine House for some strobe lighting shots. The staff set various scenes for us, we set our cameras and opened the shutters, the strobes popped and we had images. Here’s a sample of the evening’s activities.

The 40 in the foreground and the 93 in the back, with a sepia filter. Most of my night shots are black and white, since the black of the locomotives and lack of background lends itself to monochrome shooting.

Lots of steam and smoke, giving these images a surreal feel. Another participant shared his secret for enhancing the smoke and steam during processing – and it works!

The trick for enhancing the steam also works on the lights. In this image, it helped disguise that I had removed the ugly modern sodium vapor lights in the ceiling, maintaining the old time feel of the image.

I never imagined I could make images like this.

I returned to the hotel very satisfied with the day and almost 500 image files to process. Working around the coal fired locomotives is interesting. Safety First – as it says everywhere in the yard and on the front of the locomotives. I emptied a few cinders from my shoes and out of the hood on my jacket, and detected a slight odor of train in my clothes, but it was all worth it. Two more days of shooting and learning. Stay tuned and enjoy – PHOTOROGR

…suddenly, the screen went totally black…

…and the mouse and keyboard didn’t work. I had been editing some butterfly images (see below) and going from that wonderful creative process into problem resolution mode was difficult. I tried every set of keystrokes and other tricks that I have learned over many years of using a personal computer. I finally turned the machine off and tried to restart it, to no avail. I called the Geek Squad, my technology support team, and told them what happened. I described to the Agent the computer’s behavior over the past few months and what it was doing in the moments before the crash. I related my efforts to revive my machine but when I told the Agent the message I had on my screen when I tried to turn it on again, I simply heard a big sigh followed by those fateful words – sounds like a hard drive crash. At least she wasn’t suppressing a laugh.

Oh my! I disconnected everything and headed to Best Buy to visit the Geek Squad in person. Agent Trevor put my machine on the test bench, plugged it in and tried to make it work. Nothing. Agent Trevor disconnected everything and took it into the back room. Minutes passed. Agent Nate came out, mopped his brow, and told me that it just wouldn’t turn on for them either. We discussed my options. I bought a new hard drive and Agent Nate went to work.

After a few days, I got an email that my computer was ready. I was off to Best Buy. When I got there, Agent Nate showed me that the new hard drive was working. When I tried to get into my photo drive, however, nothing happened. My machine went back into the workshop with Agent Nate. After a while he came out and said that everything was dead again. We discussed my options now. The more we talked, the more I realized that my 4 and a half year old computer would not be revived.

Our discussion turned to a new computer. I decided on a new HP with an i5 processor and a great video card. I added a couple internal hard drives to facilitate my photo editing workflow, left everything with the Geeks to install the new hard drives and recover what they could from the old computer, and headed home.

On the way home, I reflected on the past couple days. First, that I had fortunately completed my monthly backup the week before the crash. I might lose the butterfly image edits, but nothing else. The RAW butterfly images were still on the SD card in the camera and I could re-edit the couple pictures I had worked on. Then the sticker shock associated with a new computer hit, quickly replaced by the excitement of having a better system that would accomplish tasks more efficiently with data storage that was better technology than the old.

In the next few days, I got out and took some pictures. I hiked up to the Kings Canyon Waterfall west of Carson City, got some shots of the steam powered locomotives at the Nevada State Railroad Museum, drove up Ebbetts Pass to see how far it was open, and recorded some of the flowers in our back yard. Without the computer, the mages sat in the cameras calling to me – we want to be edited! I had to ignore them, but it was difficult.

As time went by without a computer, I thought about when we bought our first computer in 1982 – an Apple IIe. My lovely bride was a junior high teacher and Apple had wisely put their systems into classrooms, then offered teachers a discount for buying a computer for home use. It only made sense to have the same computer at home as she had at school. As I recall, we paid more for that IIe than I did for my new machine. Of course, in 1982 dollars that was a lot of money. I gotta tell you, though, that that Apple was awesome. It had a huge (12″, I think) monitor with pixelated text. The keyboard was built into the computer case. Data storage was accomplished using bulky drives wired to the back of the computer case, and we had a case of 5-1/4 Inch floppy disks next to the computer.

We subscribed to an Apple magazine to help learn how to use a computer. The magazine contained programs for exciting things to do on your computer. I spent many hours typing in the code so I could have a digital fire on the monitor. Since keyboarding was a little different than typing, Apple included programs to teach us how to use a keyboard. Our oldest son, who was just a year old when we bought the computer, loved to use the cursor control program. There were two themes – a gnome and a bunny – each traveling in a two dimensional maze. The gnome was looking for gold and the bunny for carrots. When the gnome or bunny ran into a wall or ceiling (controlled by our son), the gnome or bunny would face you and stomp his foot. It was very entertaining to a one year old.

We used this computer for many years. While I was finishing my college degree, we added a second drive so I could move data without having to change floppy disks. We were really in heaven when I got a copy of AppleWorks, an integrated software with a word processor and spreadsheet. I wrote most of my college papers using the AppleWorks word processor. I had to take a technical writing class, so I took it in a summer session. The instructor required that all papers be written, graded, then rewritten as needed. Since I was married to an English teacher, I would write my papers on the Apple computer, have my lovely bride review them, and then print them (on our very impressive dot matrix printer). One day, I got a paper from the instructor with the only comment that I needed a comma in a sentence. Using AppleWorks, I inserted the comma and printed the paper. My lovely bride disagreed with the instructor and I agreed with my bride (of course), but I turned in the corrected paper anyway. At the end of the semester (when I had my A), I admitted to the instructor that I was married to an English teacher but I never mentioned the disagreement over the comma.

This rather long trip down memory lane shows just how much technology has grown and overtaken our lives. When I think of how simple that Apple IIe was to use, but how limited in what it would do compared to the computers of today. The same applies to telephones, automobiles and, of course, photography. I shoot digital cameras – no film at all. My cameras are simply a computer attached to a lens with a shutter that controls light hitting a sensor. My phone is a data management device that takes pictures and makes phone calls.

I was surprised at how distraught I was over not having access to a computer to edit my images. I determined that my creative process only begins when I compose in camera and release the shutter, and without the digital darkroom the process is not completed. I have also determined that I’m okay with that. Long ago, I figured out that the digital darkroom was critical to my photographic process. Many photographers like to do everything in camera and minimize their computer time but I prefer to have the camera record the light and then make my images happen on the computer. Personal preference rules – all processes are valid.

With that in mind, I need to wrap this up and get back to work configuring my new computer to my digital darkroom workflow. I’m amazed at the number of little things that I do, but have been reminded when I’ve tried to use them and they’re not there. In good news, however, the new computer makes quick work of editing. Where I waited several minutes for the old computer to move between PhotoShop and the various filters that I use, the new computer takes seconds. It’s wonderful.

The biggest lesson here is that good data storage protocols – including regular backup – are critical. And not just for your images, take care of your critical documents, too!

As for those butterflies, Agent Nate was able to recover all the images from the hard drive on my old computer and put them on my new computer’s drives, so all I had to do was re-install my editing software and apply some filters. Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

Double D and PSC…interpretations on the Sierra Nevada Range!

In my last post, I talked about the Digital Darkroom (or Double D) and the fun I was having while exploring the application of creative filters. For today’s post, I used an image made with my PowerShot G9X Mk II point and shoot camera (hence the PS Challenge piece of the title).

I don’t remember where I was going last week, but I remember that the light on the Sierra Nevadas was gorgeous. I pulled over and got out of the truck, grabbing my trusty PowerShot, and began clicking. I always bracket exposures for my landscape shots to decide during post processing what I am going to do. I bracket up and down one stop with this camera. I used all 3 exposures to merge them into an HDR in Adobe Camera Raw, then applied filters using Topaz Studio.

Just for fun, I processed this using three different filters.

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

 

The Digital Darkroom – How Much is Too Much?

“Owing to an inherently mechanical nature, a camera (be it film or digital) essentially produces raw images that, on their own, are rarely able to adequately communicate the enigmatic complexities and expressive nuances of a subsequently crafted fine art photograph. Post-camera image manipulation has always been a basic tenant of the photography process.”

That’s how Huntington Witherill started his article ‘Beyond the Camera’ in the November 2018 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine. It caught my attention immediately! I enjoy reading Outdoor Photographer and have used information from its wonderful articles in previous posts. In the article, Witherill describes the time he got to visually inspect an original 8 x 10 inch negative produced by Edward Weston circa 1930. The negative had “…what appeared to be a considerable amount of pencil scrawling on the emulsion side …” Kim Weston, Edward’s grandson, explained that “…Edward had often used very soft pencils (and a small light-table…) in order to build density in chosen areas of his negatives…” After this experience, Witherill realized that what he refers to as ‘post-camera image management techniques’ “…comprise not only a significant part of the overall photographic process but also, in many respects, the very essence of photography technique.” He continued, “…post-camera image management techniques are a necessary and integral part of the overall photography process.”

Witherill talks about having a strong foundation in “…photography technique and craft…” to take what one sees, combined with knowledge of what a camera can record, and create a finished visual record. His process begins with knowing your equipment so you can start with a strong foundation (what I would call the best exposure) to build on using post-camera tools and techniques. The article talks about artistic expression and making the image say what the photographer wants it to say.

In the several years since I’ve been pursuing photography seriously, I’ve had similar discussions with my friends and mentors. Many of my friends have backgrounds in photojournalism which doesn’t allow for manipulation, save for minor dodging and burning (darkening or lightening) areas of an image. Other friends document events for clients, where the volume of images made does not allow time for post processing.

I consider myself an artist. I am not documenting, rather I am recording for artistic purposes. I have always favored manipulating my images, and have worked to make the subjects closely resemble the moment as I remembered it. After reading this article, however, I decided to pursue more artistic interpretations, depending on the subject.

I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun! And so, how much is too much? Only time – and future images – will tell.

With this new creative process, I have been playing with some images. The images below show a ‘straight’ version compared to¬† what I call a ‘more radical’ interpretation. As always, feedback is appreciated.

Enjoy – PHOTOROGR

This is an American Kestrel, processed to highlight the details of the raptor.

Same image, a little softer.

The beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. I used a Topaz filter to make the composition a little bit abstract. I think this filter minimizes the foreground, accentuates the sky, and maintains the integrity of the beauty of the mountains.

The same image with a Nik filter to maintain the details but give more depth to the colors.