Wednesday, August 31, 2011

January 2004: New River Gorge, West Virginia

CSX westbound empty hopper train in the New River Gorge.
My first big trip with a digital SLR camera was a weekend in West Virginia's New River Gorge at the end of January 2004. Even though I had taken several train rides through the gorge as a child, I didn't "discover" its photographic potential until I started looking at Kevin Scanlon's photographs of the region. I was intrigued by the high-angle possibilities, a rarity in the dense forests of the eastern U.S., but at first I thought the trains appeared too small and too far away. Something about Kevin's work kept me coming back to those images, though, and eventually I realized that the trains were just the right size. These are photos about the land, and the railroad's relationship to it.

The New River Gorge can be a difficult place to photograph. In the short days of winter, the tracks only see sunlight for a few hours. It's 9:55 a.m. in the above view from Kaymoor, and shadows still cover part of the river and the entire southwestern wall. The two main tracks of CSX's New River Subdivision run on opposite banks of the river here, built to serve coal mines on both sides. (You can see the extant conveyor of the Nuttalburg tipple at far left.) Most vantages require a hike and only afford a view of one track. There's little advance warning on the trains, so usually I just pick a spot and wait. Sometimes everything runs on the track that I can't see, or nothing runs at all. But the river speaks to me, the hawks and buzzards keep me company, and sometimes it all comes together.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

January 2004: Berea, Ohio

Norfolk Southern eastbound freight train on the Rocky River Bridge in Berea, Ohio.
On a snowy Saturday in January, I took ventured southwest of Cleveland to Berea, Ohio, in search of a wintry scene on the Rocky River Bridge. There I found a Norfolk Southern eastbound mixed freight train stopped in a perfect position to try several angles. I'm looking at the north side of the bridge here, which never catches sunlight in the winter, making an overcast day favorable.

Monday, August 29, 2011

December 2003: Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad "Polar Express" passenger train with Alco C420 no. 365 stopping at the depot in Peninsula, Ohio, on the evening of December 18, 2003.
Digital photography for me began in earnest on December 18, 2003. That was the day that I came home from work and found the box that contained the grand prize from the 2003 Trains Magazine and Canon Photography Contest: a Canon EOS 10D and 24-85 lens. One of the first things I wanted to test was the camera's low-light capabilities, having heard good reviews of its performance at high ISOs. After shooting some Christmas decorations in downtown Cleveland, I headed south into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to photograph the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad's Polar Express train at the "North Pole" (Peninsula, Ohio).

Editing and Organizing Photographs

I think that editing your own photography collection is one of the most difficult, and important, activities for a photographer to undertake. We can have so much emotional connection to our photographs, so well aware of all the situational details that went into each and every image. I can look at one of my photos from a decade ago, and so clearly recall the crispness in the fall air and the elation I felt when composition, light, and subject matter coincided just the way I had hoped they would. The temptation is to save everything, and ever-larger hard drives make this technologically feasible. Some day, to some one, each and every one of those photos might prove interesting or valuable.

A long-term, practical view might suggest otherwise, especially if you want your photography collection to outlive you. I started dabbling in digital photography in 2002, and I have photographed almost exclusively with digital cameras since mid-2004, a period of over seven years. In that time, I have amassed nearly a terabyte of digital images in tens of thousands of files. To make matters worse, I have not been diligent in assigning metadata to my photos. My "organizational system" consists of dumping all the photos from each outing into a file folder named for the general location and date. If something happens to me before I go back and change that, the reality is that very, very few (if any) of my photos will ever be used again, by anyone.

In 2008, at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art's annual conference (which I help organize), photographer and writer Jeff Brouws made a presentation on organizing your archive. The most salient point of his presentation, to me, was this (and I'm paraphrasing here, but it's close): as amateur or semi-professional photographers, the vast majority of us are only going to create a very limited number of photographs (perhaps 10, or maybe 50) that have real lasting value. With that point in my mind, I want to go back through my own archive, whittle away at its size, and begin to identify my very best images and describe them as carefully and as accurately as possible.

My plan for tackling this project is to get up early on most mornings and go through one file folder each day, and blog about it here.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Shut Up & Love the Rain

Former Souther Pacific wood chip car on the Portland & Western's Toledo Hauler near Eddyville, Oregon.

'Nuf said.