Do What the Light Lets You, and ...

Posted by George Hamlin
on Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Yes, that’s a Norfolk Southern ‘heritage’ unit pictured, and this is how I intended to photograph it.  Among other things, there was no need to worry about whether the nose of the lead locomotive would be adequately lit.  And no, It wasn’t the case that I arrived at this spot too late to do anything else; it was with intent aforethought. Furthermore, I don’t think that I’m in need of any sort of rehabilitation process to cure me of taking shots like this.  

TBT (truth be told), I did have other shots of Norfolk Southern SD70Ace 1067, the Reading heritage unit, already.  While it would have been nice to have a coming-at-you shot of it here, at Calverton, Virginia, in dramatic pre-sunset light, the light that was available wasn’t going to permit this to happen.  So, as NS train 228 would be soon appearing, it was time to decide what to do, photographically. 

From previous experience, I was pretty sure that there was the potential for a nice ‘glint’ shot of the remaining sunlight reflecting off the train as it passed.  Even this opportunity wasn’t going to last much longer, however, as the sun was about to descend below the tops of the trees on the horizon.  

So, having established how the light was going to be utilized, it was time to compose the shot; essentially, to decide what was going to be in the frame when the shutter was pressed.  A key parameter in my mind when composing a photograph is to fill the frame, with something.  ‘Something’ can include multiple elements, provided that they work together.  As an extreme example, if you were photographing in the “Big Sky” country of the western U.S., the train itself could be relatively small in the frame, with the great expanse of the sky effectively becoming the main subject, either deep-blue cloudless, or including clouds, particularly if they present interesting patterns. 

The former Warrenton Branch, which now goes only to a rock quarry at Casanova, about three miles west of Calverton, diverges from the double-track main line here.  The branch ends here in a wye, with access to and from it via a short siding off of track two.  Adding this to the right side of the frame provides additional visual interest in the form of the shining rails, which also serve as leading lines in the direction of the setting sun.  

The sun, of course, is going to provide the key lighting as it glints off the passing train.  Yes, there is a modest amount of essentially blank sky in this composition, but this helps, along with the setting sun, to convey information about the time of day to the viewer.  The presence of the relatively light-colored heritage unit provides a bonus, by providing a substantially more reflective surface than that of the NS “Horsehead” unit behind the leader. 

So, in summary, when engaging in photography, whether for fun, profit or virtually any other worthy form of endeavor, it’s helpful to remember to work with the light, and avoid doing something else because convention, friends or other influences insist that there is a ‘right’ way to take photos.  It’s also useful to examine and choose beforehand what visual information you want to be in the finished product.  In short:

Do what the light lets you, and fill the frame, with something.  And then, enjoy the resulting photo.

(Photo by George W. Hamlin)


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