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Southern Pacific:

Sacramento Division

A “normal” composition would have the photographer down at trackside for a “clean” image of this Union Pacifi c empty coal train westbound at Rollinsville on Colorado’s “Moffat Line,” since this high viewpoint (from the adjacent road) includes the power line wires across the top of the lead locomotive. But not only do I not fi nd their presence objectionable, I liked this high angle better.

The time from the late-1950s

until the mid-1990s were years of transition and decline of the SP’s influence in the west;

however, the photographs and extended captions presented

here emphasize the railroad in its former, healthy condition. With 223 photographs by

45 photographers, Southern Pacific: Sacramento Division presents a thorough look at

SP’s mainline and branchline operations from Dunsmuir to

Fresno, and from Sacramento to Ogden. The presentation illustrates the dramatic geographic and geologic

conditions through which the Southern Pacific’s various Sacramento Division lines were built, from pastoral

farming land, to deserts, to rugged mountains.


S/H per book: $5 US, $9 Canada, all others, call or email for rates. Order item SPSD

877-787-2467 TOLL-FREE 816-285-6560 NON-US 56 JULY 2015 • RAILFAN.COM

all the negatives of JPEG are generally of no consequence, since your camera’s high- est level JPEG file setting will cause no noticeable loss in image quality. I have had one of my 6 MP JPEG photos (after conver- sion to TIFF) enlarged to 3×5 feet, retaining full sharpness and with no JPEG artifacts present. Conversely, if you like taking the “creative” type of train photo of backlit lo- comotives, RAW might capture some details in the deep shadows, whereas with a JPEG image you get pure inky blacks.

Low vs. High ISO

A long time “good photography rule” followed by many railfans is to always use the lowest ISO possible, to avoid grain with film and noise with digital images to achieve a sharp- er photo, more accurate colors, and a better tonal range. Given that these are all goals of achieving a good railfan photograph, why would you ever want to take the risk of using a high ISO? Back when I was using only ISO 25 film

(b&w Technical Pan and Kodachrome 25), I learned a valuable lesson in Yellowstone one year — the slow ISO requiring equally slow shutter speeds can degrade image sharpness. A photo of a big bull elk standing still while in full bugle looked great as an 8"×10" print. But at 16"×20", a slight blurring in his body was noticeable from the tremble caused by his bugle. The 1

/125 speed I had to use because of

the low ISO was too slow to stop this tremor; the rest of the image was sharp, so I knew it was not a problem with camera shake or focus (and I was using a tripod). With most recent digital cameras, high

ISOs of 400 and even 800 generally have much lower noise levels than the grain of sim- ilar ISO films. But it is better to have a sharp photo with some grain or noise from using a fast shutter speed, than a grainless/noiseless photo that is not critically sharp due to slow shutter speed. An additional benefit of high grain or noise is to add a nostalgic look to a photo of a vintage diesel or steam locomotive.

Auto vs. Manual

Whereas long time railfans may recall the days of yore when manual cameras were stan- dard operating procedure, now automatic ev- erything has become the norm. Yet while au- to-exposure and autofocus are usually great, a good rule of thumb to follow is to not always trust your automatic systems. AE can (1) malfunction and set the wrong exposure; and more likely (2) a train’s headlights in cloudy, dark lighting conditions can fool a metering system causing the camera to close down the exposure to expose for the bright lights, re- sulting in a very dark and maybe unusable image. Bright headlights when picked up by the AF sensors can also cause AF to hunt and search, resulting in a missed photo as the train is past you before you can get an accu- rate focus lock.

Composition vs. Composition

For as long as there has been photography, good composition has always been achieved by using the “rule of thirds,” placing your main subject (usually the lead locomotive in our case) in a 1

/3 section near the left or right,

top or bottom area of the composition rather than smack dab in the middle of the photo. Additional good composition practices include not taking a roster shot with the nose of the locomotive about to “hit” the edge of the photo and avoid having your subject so small in the scene it is overshadowed by other elements. When do you break these traditional rules

of composition? Maybe placing your subject in the middle of the composition can be a good idea depending on the other elements in the scene, or to create a “tension” for a more dra- matic look. While this is something you might not want to do a lot, or with an engine you have never photographed before, an occasion- al photo like this can really grab the viewer’s attention, especially in a slide or digital im- age show when mixed in with normal images. Now, choose which side you prefer in all the

above areas, and go out trackside and have fun doing your own thing!

DO YOU HAVE A RAILROAD PHOTOGRAPHY QUESTION? Send your questions and comments to

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