Duluth Diagonals

Posted by George Hamlin
on Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Sometimes, pictures almost beg you to take them.  Such was the case here, at an overlook on Duluth, Minnesota’s Skyline Parkway, on September 29, 2016.  This elevated location provided a wonderful venue for looking down on the BNSF’s Rice’s Point yard, as you can see here.

Along with friends Brian and Matt, we had driven up here to see the sights along the Duluth waterfront, and hopefully, to be able to work some railroad viewing and/or photography into the picture, so to speak.

It’s easy to see that our mission was accomplished, and yes, multiple views of this area were taken, utilizing different framing, viewpoints and interpretations of this railroad facility, and truth-be-told, other non-railroad locations that were being presented to the camera’s viewfinder, as well.  Overall, I was happy with what I was able to shoot here, and ended up using a different photo of the yard on my 2016 Christmas Card.

I’d like to think that I could have imagined all of the different possibilities on offer here, as well as any back stories that might have resulted, but that would represent hubris at its finest.  Sometimes, you’ve got to simply take the picture(s) in the moment, and then later review and examine what you’ve been able to capture.

So, what did we see?  First and foremost, geometry, in the form of the trackage, most of which was occupied by freight cars that indicated what the BNSF’s presence in this region was designed to accomplish.  Needless to say, there were numerous covered hoppers present, as well as empty ore cars on their way back to the mines for another load. High-cube boxcars were also visible, catering to a paper mill then in operation.

What wasn’t there were types of cars often seen elsewhere.  The most noticeable was intermodal, a staple of North American railroading virtually everywhere else.  Tank cars were absent, as well as general-use boxcars, and also, open-top ‘conventional’ hoppers.

How best to depict the scene, then?  Since the tracks were at an angle to our viewpoint, a good choice was to use this feature that was presenting itself.  This was emphasized further by the significant amount of “telephoto compression” used; roughly nine times that of a “normal” view.  A tall light tower not visible in the composition was used as a vertical reference.

With these selections made, and an exposure level chosen, it was time to rely on the captured scene to carry the day.  And in the event, it didn’t disappoint.  The combinations of parallel lines, forms, color, light, shadow, and repeating patterns, along with the contrast created by the sunlight raking across the equipment couldn’t have been much better, in my opinion.

And now, finally, it can be revealed, if you haven’t noticed it already: I’m shooting from the “dark” side of the equipment.  Given the high vantage point, the tops of the cars, in particular the string of boxcars, and the light/shadow pattern on the ends of the ore cars, provided more than enough contrast to make the scene interesting, however.

Do what the light lets you, and fill the frame with something; in many cases, a good photo will result.  Of course, we’d started out at this location by doing the right thing in the first place: stopping the car, and getting out of it.  After that, it’s up to you and your imagination.  Do remember to press the shutter, also.

Photo by George W. Hamlin

To leave a comment you must be a member of our community.
Login to your account now, or register for an account to start participating.
No one has commented yet.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy