My last three posts represent my return to film photography after a short hiatus. Since picking up my SLR again, I’ve been making time to capture the world around me on film. I love the simplicity of my SLR. No fuss, it just works! Find a subject. Meter the light. Dial in the exposure. Click the shutter. The simplicity helps me stay in the moment. Currently, my OM1 SLR is my favorite camera to use. It feels good in the hand and it just begs to be shot. After finally finishing the roll of Portra 160, I was ready to reload.
Prior to shooting the roll of Portra 160, I’ve been shooting a lot black and white. I wanted to continue my run on color film. The only other color film I had setting around was some Fuji Superior X-tra 400. It’s a consumer grade, but it’s a good all-around film. I really like the results. I find it great for landscapes and cityscapes as it accentuates the greens and reds. I’ve even had good results with portraits. Given that this film is easily found in department stores, I often find it in my Christmas Stocking. In fact, the roll I am sharing now had been sitting in the refrigerator since last Christmas.
It was a nice, sunny afternoon after leaving work one day. I had some free time, so I visited an area I had not been in a long time, the Centerville Train Trestle at the Duck River. I’ve always had a fascination with railroad tracks. Growing up next to tracks near my childhood home, I walked them almost everyday. There was always a reason to walk the tracks. It was my shortcut to baseball practice or a fast way to the store to pickup some candy and my favorite soft drink. Sometimes it was a playground. I loved watching the trains come and go. I can remember watching passenger trains come into town. From where did they come and where were they going? What’s around the bend? What’s on the other side of the tunnel? These are just some of the questions I used to fantasize about. We had a railroad museum that I frequented many weekends. We played on the old steam engine and caboose. Inside, we watched the HO scale trains run through the realistic model towns. It was fun reliving these memories when I took my children to the same museum when they were younger. This reminds me of a short blog post I did a while back about trains. It’s titled Rail Romance.
As I approached the Duck River, I knew I wanted a shot from the bridge. There’s something about this scene that I loved since the first time I saw it. I’m not sure what it is. It’s a simple composition. Maybe it’s just the mystique of the train trestle crossing the river. I can see an old steam engine barreling across the trestle with a long cloud of steam pouring out of its stack.
I love this next shot just as much. It has that Amerciana feel. The open field represents the open country from coast to coast while the railroad represents the workhorse that connected and revolutionized a young nation.
My biggest draw to this section of railroad is the old wooden structure. They just don’t make’m like they used to. When I discovered this area years ago, it was the wooden structure that caught my attention. I love finding these jewels.
Here’s an analog shot of my DSLR with the wooden structure composed in the LCD. This shot was taken over 4 years ago. Can you guess what film stock I was using?
If you said Fuji Superior X-tra 400, you are correct. This film stock has an unmistakable look. After my wooden truss shot, I continued my trek around the structure. I wanted to go to the river’s edge, but the foliage was a bit high for my taste, and the ground was soft in spots. I wasn’t exactly outfitted for such an adventure. The last time I made it to the river’s edge underneath the trestle was during a Winter and I believe I was wearing boots. Thus, I settled on a couple of shots from a safe vantage point.
As I scanned the open field, I saw a peculiar sight. In the distance, there was a tire sticking out of the ground. I don’t know if you can tell from the photographs, but the area beneath the tracks is somewhat of a marshland. During periods of heavy rains, the banks of the Duck River bleeds into the fields. The fact that the railroad tracks are elevated above this stretch of land is a clue. I suspect that flood waters carried the tire to its current resting place.
The next series of shots perpetuate the adventurous nature of railroad tracks. It is also probably the most common track shot out there. Of course, I am talking about the leading line shot of the rails vanishing into infinity. Where do the tracks go? What lies ahead? I never really think about this question as much, but what’s coming? These questions can be summed up into two words, “The Unknown.” The unknown creates an anxiety that fuels our desire to seek out what we don’t know. I find it akin to the early expeditions like those of Lewis and Clark. After climbing some rocks to reach the top of the tracks, I shot my first shot with the sun at my back.
Turning 180 degrees, I was staring into the sun. General photography rules tell you not to shoot into the sun, due to potential eye damage, unwanted lens flare and sensor damage. All of these are valid points, but I believe photographers can work around these issues to get the shot they want. After all, photography is an art. If shooting into the sun is what you want to do, go for it! Shooting towards the setting sun can create some dynamic lighting situations with back lit subjects or even silhouettes. Lens flare can literally add some flare to the shot. As you can see from the shots below, the lens flare is definitely apparent. I can’t say the extreme flaring was exactly what I was going for, but I do like the effect. It adds another dynamic to the image. I could remove it in post processing, but I chose to leave it. What I should have done from the beginning is to use my lens hood. I have become lazy when it comes to attaching my lens hood. This may or may not have made a difference given the angle of the sun. Nonetheless, I will be attaching my lens hood as I go forward.
As I mentioned, the intense light can creates dynamic range issues. Either you expose for the sunlight or the subject in the foreground. Are you going to have a dark foreground and a properly exposed sky or are you going to have a properly exposed foreground and a blown out sky? This is really up to the photographer. I personally avoid extreme lighting situations. While I was shooting into the sun this time, I could see that there was enough light that I could expose the landscape and create that late evening mood with the bright sunlight in the distance. This is easy with my DSLR, because I can check the LCD and make adjustments. Using a film camera, my exposure had to be correct. There is no checking the back of the camera. Therefore, I pulled out my spot meter attachment for my light meter. Technically, it’s not a spot attachment as it reads 5 degrees vs the 1 degree of a true spot reading. However, it works just fine with one caveat regarding shooting into the sun. When metering the tracks facing the sun, I had to shield the direct sunlight from entering the meter while I aimed the 5 degree spot area where I wanted to take the reading. Well, I was extremely pleased with the results. Minus the lens flare, the scene looked how I remembered it. This exercise in metering has encourage me to shoot more dynamic light with my film cameras.
This was a nice way to spend the evening. I was talking to a co-worker about this venture and they told me that if I traveled a little further down the road, I would run into another wooden structure from the same railroad. I will definitely be checking this out in the near future. In the meantime, I’ll be plotting more film excursions. I would love to hear your comments and how you approach dynamic lighting. Thanks for reading!