Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Photography Around Paris ~ Steamlocomotives!

I recently posted a (growing) list of fun photography things to do in and around Paris and started this series of blog entries by talking about how I like to photograph la traversee de Paris (involving 600+ voitures anciennes).  This entry is dedicated to my French Photography Adventure in Steam.

8x10inch Palladium contact print from original film negative

Years ago I worked for a software start-up.  The offices were in an old building that backed up to Union Pacific's freight tracks.

One day an engineer came running into my office and said "Come with me.  You NEED to see this."  Out the back door we dove as he gestured to the railway an said "There!"

Sure enough, "there" it was.  SP4449 was running hard up the tracks.  It was just the steam locomotive and it's tender.  That was it.  But that was enough to get me interested.

SP4449 steamed up and ready for the first run of the day

It took me a year or two to figure out where the locomotive lived.  Once it found her, I spent the following decade making images in and around the roundhouse, getting to know two other engines that lived in the same shed, and enjoying old railroads around the western US.  That is when my adventures in rail photography led to my work being published in Lenswork Magazine Extended #78, and the Center for Fine Art Photography's volume #4.

Moving to France, I was eager to find European steam to continue my love affair with light chasing as it bounced and wriggled it's way off old iron and early steel.

I started my rail photography by working in 8x10, 7x17, and 4x5inch large format film.  I still have several 8x10 Palladium prints that I made.  To me they are still some of the most beautiful images I ever made.

Running gear details differ from their Anglo/American counterparts

The challenge always was how best to control the extreme contrast ranges typically found when trying to photograph black iron against a brightly light background.  The advent of digital photography helped me solve that problem.

I've written a little about high dynamic range (HDR) photography and it's a technique that has it's good uses, particularly when dealing with trains.

Finding steam in France required a rather diligent search.  A little creative googling revealed a privately held rotonde located somewhere east in the vasty fields of Paris.  It's called AJECTA.  Taking the metro to Gare l'Est and jumping a Translien to Longueville is an easy hour and a quarter spent riding modern rail.  A ten minute walk from the modern station led to the early 1900's roundhouse and it's 14 steamlocomotives.

On the day I visited they were firing up one of the three working steam engines to ready it for un tournage that was to take place the next day.  I was thrilled as it had been a very long two years since I witnessed working steam like this.

In the cabin and ready to stoke the fire

For this photo-adventure, I shot my Canon DSLRs at their lowest ISO settings.  This ensured that I captured the maximum dynamic range in each shot as well as making sure the slightest details were revealed.  Keep in mind that the higher the ISO setting, the lower the dynamic range.  This meant that I needed to use a tripod.  Roundhouses tend to be dark, dank places to visit and it's no use trying to handhold a camera when the shutter speed extends beyond 1/60th of a second.

On one of the last shots of the day my tripod broke one of it's cheesy plastic locks.  I didn't feel too bad as it was the very same tripod that'd seen heavy use in India years ago when I took an ultra light weight Anba 4x5inch film camera and Docter Optics Germinar Zeiss lenses, along with several stacks of Kodak TMax100 readyloads.

 Extreme dynamic ranges can be modulated thru the use of HDR techniques

Those days are long gone.  I no longer shoot film.  But, a sturdy tripod is still a requirement, particularly when working at the edges of extreme detail.

When photographing trains in a museum, here is my preferred approach.
To leave no artistic stone unturned, a quick study of O. Winston Link can be helpful too.

Happy French Steam Rail Fanning!

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