I got up early on my birthday to do some trackside night photography. I wanted to take some long exposures and maybe include a train or two in them. My alarm went off at 04:30 and I was out the door shortly after 5 AM.
I had decided to visit the CN Rivers subdivision, as it is the busiest section of track around and therefore most likely to have trains. I passed by Diamond and continued west to mile 17.9, where there are signals facing both directions that are always lit. The majority of train signals are “approach lit”, meaning they only light up when a train is nearby to save power.
Here’s the east-facing signals, with the south track signal showing green and the north showing red.
You’ll note the red power pole on the left, showing that the west facing signal on the other side is red! (settings: 8 seconds, f/4.0, ISO 3200)
I shot basically the same scene again a few minutes later, but this time I took three different exposures and used Adobe Lightroom to merge them into a High Dynamic Range (HDR) photo. This allowed me to use a much lower ISO setting and therefore less noise.
The nice thing about HDR is you get more range, so things that were too dark or light to be captured get included. Here you can see the red signal streaming into the distance on the back / west side of the signal on the right of the photo. (settings: 3.2, 13.0, and 30 seconds, f/4.0, ISO 800)
For focusing, I used the technique I described in How To Focus Your Camera At Night. Basically you put the camera into manual mode, use Live View or whatever it’s called on your camera to show the live “through the lens” view on the back of your camera, and zoom into that view to fine tune the focus manually.
After a bit, I picked up the tripod and moved it a bit to get a different angle… still looking at the east facing signals.
Time to pick up the tripod again to line the signals up.
By this time (6:24) the sky to the east was definitely getting lighter.
I continued around to the west-facing side to capture the signals and the lighter sky.
Note that the north signal is showing yellow over red – CLEAR TO STOP. (4, 15, 30 seconds; f/8.0; ISO 800)
Still no trains!
By 7:13 I had switched back to the east-facing signals and the camera was recording a cotton candy sky (1/160s, f/3.5, ISO 800). This was basically right about at sunrise.
Shortly after this, I did get a train – a late VIA 692, described in this post. I had my drone up to record it too, and after the train passed, I used the drone to record one more shot of the east facing signals.
On my way out of the area, I stopped to take a few photos with the rising sun.
There is train content – that’s the mile 16 milepost at the left of the frame.
After that, I went on to photograph the Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway…
Just One More Thing
I just finished reading Canadian Railway Scenes No. 3 (by Adolf & Okan Hungry Wolf) featuring the Steam Expo at Expo ’86 in Vancouver. It was interesting to read the in-person descriptions of the “goings on”. You can almost feel the excitement from all of the “foamers” / steam aficionados that flocked to this once-in-a-lifetime event. I’m not a steam fan but I can imagine how exciting it would have been.
The book also features the move of the Trans-Canada Limited consist (from the Cranbrook museum) to Expo 86 behind diesel CP 3085. It’s clear the authors chased that one!
This series of books (Canadian Railway Scenes) is similar to the BRMNA books, which are basically photo books with extensive captions. They are quick reads but are quite entertaining. You can sometimes find them in museum gift shops or used book stores. The first four volumes are currently available on AbeBooks (I earn a commission if you buy using that link).