Friday, October 31, 2014

My Photo in the Canadian Rail Travel Guide

I was pleased to see one of my photos in the recently revised Canadian Rail Travel Guide by Daryl Adair, edited by Bill Linley.

This photo of VIA 6410 is from back in the summer of 2011.

I received a copy of the book as a "thank you" for the photo, and I will be reviewing it here after I finish reading it.

It's always good to see onself in print!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Survey Says

Anyone remember Richard Dawson and Family Feud? Anyone? crickets

Hey, thanks for filling out my survey. 44 people responded (wow!) and here are the results.

Question 1: How do you find out about my new blog posts?

This confirms what I had thought - most people just check in now and then.

Question 2: Would you be interested in signing up for an email list, where you would get an email for each new blog post, as well as another email once or twice a week featuring other content that I write?

There was definitely a split response here, and I totally get it. We get a lot of email as it is (you should see how much spam I am getting every day) and not everyone wants more email. Understood.

Question 3: Do you have any comments about my blog, or anything you'd like me to write about?

This was my favourite one to read. I really appreciate the responses you gave.

  • Keep it up :)
  • Love your blog Steve. Its great to see what is happening on the other side of the country in terms of railroading.
  • I like your tips about photography and your articles on railroads.
  • Really enjoy your trips out and about catching such a variety of equipment and especially love your shots of grain elevators. Thanks.
  • Found out about your blog through someone i follow on twitter.. I'm based in the UK so its fantastic to get to see and read about CN, CP, VIA etc...keep up the good work! :)
  • Keep the good stuff coming Steve. Love the trains and grain elevators, camera info etc....
  • I love your blog! I really enjoy the topical posts - your blog is a good news site for casual rail observers, and it's a great window into your own personal railfan interests which I find quite interesting. It's also my main gateway to other rail blogs via your blogroll.
  • Steve, always look forward to checking out your site. Always had a special fondness for the MLW diesel locos. Articles these units would be of interest to me
  • Keep up with more comments pictures and postings about Canadian rail!
  • I'd like more photography tips, otherwise you have a good thing going, keep it up!

Thanks, everyone! Thanks so much for taking the time to fill out this survey.

Expect a posting about an email list shortly!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Return to Kamloops

I was in Kamloops, British Columbia this week for work, so of course I did a little railfanning for a few evenings. Of course, it's October so the daylight hours are less, but you do what you can.

October 20

I landed on Monday morning, after cruising over the lovely Rocky Mountains.
I am loving my iPhone 6's camera... so much better than the old Blackberry Torch.

On Monday evening I went down to CP's yard in Kamloops. There was not much going on but I did spot a snow plow and spreader.

You might remember that photo from a recent post where I was showing the before and after of this photo shot toward the sun.

There was a train waiting with CP 8609 on one end.
CP 3011 was working the yard in the background. I waited for about 20 minutes as the light continued to fail, but it didn't move. I thought this was the head end but there didn't appear to be any crew in it.

I decided to go see the Rocky Mountaineer shop (from afar) while there was still a tiny bit of light. I saw several RMRX locos as well as a couple of NREX leasers.

That was it for Monday night.

October 21

On Tuesday evening my client took me out to the annual Adams River Salmon Run, which was pretty incredible. It's hard to imagine that a million or more salmon make the two year trip from the Pacific Ocean all the way to here to spawn. There were so many fish! Here's a few photos, totally not train-related, but I want to share a glimpse of the event.

Pretty clear, eh? I used my circular polarizer to cut through the surface glare to reveal the fish underneath. It makes a dramatic difference, especially near sunset like these were.

Anyway, on the way there, I spotted a CP coal train heading toward Kamloops and took this photo from the passenger seat of the moving car. Everything was great.. except for the pole line.
Dang it.

On the return trip, we stumbled across a very odd work train. It had CP 3011 in the middle, surrounded by cars and a caboose on each end. I've never seen a configuration like this.
The caboose in the foreground had no number on it.

The crew dropped the foreground portion of the train (hoppers, ballast cars, and unnumbered caboose) into the siding, then backed the other caboose into another siding a bit farther west. Here the conductor is riding the point of the movement.

The conductor dismounted and lined a switch for the siding, and CP 3011 pushed the short train into the siding.

Caboose on the loose
Here I have to confess that I made a total rookie mistake. After taking the above photograph, I readied to video the movement of the train. I was all set. The train started to move, I pressed a button, and the caboose rolled smoothly past, followed by one car, two cars... hey why isn't the red light blinking on the camera? oh no, I pressed the wrong button! So I have a video of a couple of gondolas and CP 3011. Not nearly as exciting as watching the caboose... sigh

October 22

On Wednesday evening, I decided to head back to the CP Shuswap subdivision to try my luck again. I found a quiet crossing just off the highway east of Campbell Creek and parked near there. There was a car sitting there when I arrived, but after a while it drove off. About fifteen minutes later, a CP hi-railer truck came from the road side, used the crossing, turned around, and crossed back again. The passenger gave me the wave as they went by. I was thinking about why they were there and I figured someone called in that someone suspicious was loitering by the tracks. I guess I was considered harmless.

Eventually I spotted a headlight to the east. It turned out to be CP 3011 from the previous day, with a similar consist to the one that they had dropped off the previous day. It was not quite the same, but close. They were motoring at a very good speed.

I tried chasing them toward Kamloops but I think they stopped in Campbell Creek. However, I did catch this grain train heading into Kamloops.

I saw a coal train parked just outside Kamloops, with these two engines on the head end. CP 8728 is an ES44AC, a pretty common engine on CP.

CP 5005 is an SD30C-ECO, a rebuild of an SD40-2 with a new engine, new cab, new alternator and new electronics. CP 5005 used to be CP 6039.

That was the end of my railfanning in Kamloops. On Thursday night we attended the Sarah McLachlan concert. It was awesome!

Thanks for reading!

More posts from Kamloops

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Wee Survey

If you have two minutes, would you mind filling out this brief survey? I'm exploring whether setting up an email list would be useful to my readers, and I'd appreciate your feedback. Thanks so much, and thanks for reading my blog!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Recommended Camera Settings For Railfans

I've been asked to post some of my common camera settings for various situations. I'm happy to share that, and I hope you will look at them in reference to your own settings.


There are really three basic settings that you want to look at when getting ready to take a photo: shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Shutter speed is pretty obvious - it's how long the shutter stays open after you press the shutter release button. It's expressed in fractions of a second (usually) like 1/200s. Most cameras can go faster than 1/1000s and you might need that for very fast trains.

Aperture is the diameter of the interior of the lens while taking the photo. Think of it as the size of the lens' window to the world. It determines two things: how much light comes through to the camera, and how much of the scene is in focus (depth of field). Aperture is expressed as a fraction of focal length, like f/4 or f/5.6 (or F4 or F5.6). For example, if you have a lens that zooms from 18-200mm, if you are have it zoomed to 200mm and are using an aperture of f/5.6, the aperture is 35.7mm wide. Don't worry too much about that math. What you need to know is that low F numbers mean more light, but less depth of field. High F numbers like f/18 mean less light but more depth of field. Also keep in mind that most zoom lenses do not have the same aperture at all zooms (more expensive lenses like my Canon 70-200mm lens do).

ISO in film days was a measure of how light sensitive the film was. Now it is a measure of how much the signal is amplified at the sensor. Higher ISO settings are useful in low light situations. Generally higher ISO means more "noise" (dots) in your photo, so there is a trade-off between light sensitivity and image quality. Modern cameras are getting much better at high ISO but my Canon T1i is noticeably noisy at ISO 800 or higher and I really try to avoid going above ISO 400. Your mileage may vary.

Exposure Triangle

Remember that these three camera settings are all related: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. For a constant exposure, change one and you will affect one or both of the other two. For example, if you are taking a photo on a cloudy day with your camera in automatic mode, it might decide to use a shutter speed of 1/60s, an aperture of f/5.6 and ISO 200. You could manually override this with 1/30s, f/5.6 and ISO 100 and it would be the same exposure/brightness. On sunny days this makes little difference but when the light is low, you have to make sacrifices and you should decide what to do, or your camera will decide for you and you might not like the result.

A Confession

90% of the time, I shoot in Shutter priority mode. That's the "Tv" mode on Canon cameras. That means I decide the shutter speed and let the camera decide the aperture and ISO. I do this because for what I shoot, the shutter speed is paramount. Moving trains demand a decent shutter speed, so I give it priority and the aperture and ISO will follow. Landscape photographers will likely choose Aperture (Av) mode because depth of field is more important to them, and their subjects aren't moving (much).

With that out of the way, here are some recommended settings for photographing moving trains. Please keep in mind that these are starting points and you should adjust based on conditions.

Full Daylight, Sun Behind You

Shutter speed: 1/800s or faster - freeze the action
Aperture: f/8 or higher - good depth of field
ISO: 100

This is the ideal. There's lots of light so you don't have to make any compromises. Shooting in full auto mode will likely work well as long as your shutter speed is fast enough. It's hard not to take a good photo in this light!

Daylight, Backlit

Shutter speed: 1/400s or faster - freeze the action
Aperture: f/8 or higher - good depth of field
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -2/3 to -1 f-stop - make the image darker

When you find yourself on the "wrong" side of the subject... what do you do? Treat it like a normal daylight shot, but use your camera's exposure compensation to tell it to darken the image. Why? Your camera evaluates the scene and decides on a "proper" exposure. If there is a large area of shadow in the frame, it will likely overexpose the bright areas and "blow them out", so they will appear as pure white with no detail. Your camera may show this after you take a shot by blinking areas on the photo that are blown out. You use exposure compensation to override the camera's decision. It may mean that the black area will lose detail, but you sacrifice that to avoid a white sky.

Tip: Shoot RAW if you can, to preserve more detail in those shadow areas!

Here's a real world example from yesterday. I saw a CP spreader and plow in the yard in Kamloops, BC. I could only shoot from this angle because of the fence and some trees off-screen to my right. I used a shutter speed of 1/125s (because it wasn't moving, no need for higher speeds), exposure compensation of -1 stop to avoid blowing out the sky in the top left, and the camera chose an aperture of f/4.5 (best that the lens was capable of) and ISO 200. Some aggressive editing in Adobe Lightroom changed the left image (out of camera) to the right (finished product). Even with -1 stop of compensation, a tiny part of this image is still blown-out. Can you spot it?

More info: How to Fix Backlit Photos in Lightroom

Cloudy / Overcast / Rainy

Shutter speed: 1/200s or faster - do your best to freeze the action
Aperture: f/4 or f/5.6 or higher - as low as your lens permits
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: Possibly required - see above

Cloudy days. Bleah. You don't have enough light, there's not a lot of contrast, so why bother? I say, get out there and shoot. You'd be surprised at what you can find. Many of my photos that I really like feature interesting cloud formations or foul weather.

The challenge is that there isn't a lot of light, so you have to compromise on a lot of things. The settings above sacrifice depth of field and a bit of image quality to try to keep the shutter speed at a reasonable level.

You may have to use exposure compensation if you're shooting toward a bright area of sky. See the "Daylight, backlit" section above.

Tip: photos taken on a cloudy day tend to look "flat" because they lack contrast. Don't be afraid to crank the Contrast slider when editing your cloudy day photos.

Sunrise / Sunset

Shutter speed: As fast as you can.. or accept blurring
Aperture: f/4 or f/5.6 - as low as your lens permits
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: Possibly required - see above

These are the magic hours - get out there and shoot! The light is beautiful, often there are great colours in the sky, it's a great time to photograph. However... accept that the train is going to be dark, like the photo of CEFX 1050 at Meadows above. There's not much you can do to keep a moving train lit while keeping it in focus. You might consider a low shutter speed (1/30s or slower) and a tripod, and accept that the train will be blurred. Think outside the box. Try a pan!

Night / Low Light

Shutter speed: 1/10s or slower
Aperture: f/4 or f/5.6 - as low as your lens permits
ISO: 400

For really low light or night photos, you're going to have very slow shutter speeds. You'll need to have a tripod or rest your camera on something to avoid jitter. Moving trains will be a blur at best. Maybe you can get a nice light trail from the train headlights and/or crossing gates? If you're lucky, you can catch a shunting engine when it stops, like I did in McAdam for the photo above.

Bonus: Snow

You should photograph trains in snow according to the guidelines above, with one caveat. You will need to use exposure compensation to brighten the photo, because your camera will see the bright snow and under-expose the photo, resulting in a dull photo with gray snow. Typically I add 2/3 to 1 stop. Fire off a test shot before the train arrives and see how it looks... always a good practice.

An Exercise For You

I hope these guidelines prove useful for you. I have an exercise for you. Set your camera to shutter priority and try photographing something non-moving at 1/60s while holding your camera and not bracing it against anything. Then 1/50s. Go down to 1/25s. You're doing this to find out how low you can comfortably shoot so you know your limits. I have steady hands so generally I can shoot 1/25s hand-held at 18mm zoom. Keep in mind that as you zoom out you need a faster shutter speed.

Further Reading

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My Railfan Five Challenge

Eric Gagnon over at the excellent Trackside Treasure blog threw down the gauntlet and challenged myself and three other bloggers to share five photos from our railfan journeys.

Unlike Eric, I haven't been a railfan for most of my life. Eric said he started in early 1976. At that time I was living in Moscow, USSR and riding trains but paying no more attention to them than I would to a bus or a car.

It wasn't until late 1998 or early 1999 that I really became a railfan. It started after I visited the Salem and Hillsborough Railroad in New Brunswick. Something clicked and I started paying attention to trains.


The first photo I'm sharing with you was taken in what was then Chatham, NB and is now part of Miramichi. I was driving north to Belledune or Dalhousie when I spotted a pair of red locomotives across the river. I actually turned around and drove back to cross the river to see these engines - you could tell I was a railfan by that action. I was a bit confused because they looked like CP Rail engines to my new railfan eyes but I was 75% sure that CP didn't have any track in New Brunswick any more*.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this "NBEC Rail" thing. It was NBEC 1866 and NBEC 1867 working the Loggieville Subdivision, but I didn't know anything about them. This was the first railfan photo I ever took. I had a Minolta Maxxum 5000i film camera at the time and I'm surprised I actually had it with me.

* actually, CP still had a small section of track near Edmundston.


This one was taken in the fall of 2007. Until that time my railfan photos were usually roster photos, or generally unplanned photos taken whenever I saw a train. To me, this photo marks the start of when I began to intentionally seek out photogenic locations for trains. I credit David Morris for this. I went on a few railfan trips with him and he had a set of locations that he liked to use, and I could see why one would want to step away from the yards and photograph trains in a nice scene.

I took this photo with the intention of photographing the VIA Rail Ocean with fall colours. I went to this location at the west end of one of the Miramichi River bridges, hoping to get some foliage. I had never been to this location before but fortunately it delivered the goods.

(buy this print)


After my Minolta Maxxum broke (the mirror jammed, photographing an Ontario Northland engine in Saint John), I bought a Canon S3 and used it for several productive years. The VIA Rail photo was taken with that. I still have the S3 and use it for video now. It's not HD but it works.

In 2010 I decided it was time to move to an SLR. You may remember on my blog that I talked about my decision. In the end I went with a Canon T1i DSLR. The following photo is the first ralifan photo I took with that camera, unedited.

I was delighted with that camera, and I still am... although I'm hungry to get the Canon 7D Mark II. I'm going to have to save my pennies!


I decided in 2012 that I should try to sell my photos online to make a few $$$ toward more camera purchases. The following, "Bridge Over Tranquil Waters", was my first sale, three packs of postcards for a decent amount of money.

Since then I have sold a few prints here and there, made a few commercial sales, and I look forward to more.


This last one is just a favourite of mine. I like the Rocky Mountaineer and whenever I'm in Banff* I look for it. I first photographed the Rocky in 2010 and I managed to catch it again in 2013. This photograph was taken at Muleshoe between Banff and Lake Louise. I left Banff ahead of the train, intending to shoot it at this location, and got there about 5 minutes ahead of the train. After scrambling down a hill and firing off a few test shots to adjust for exposure, I was ready. The Rocky didn't disappoint.

(buy this print) (see the video)

* I say "whenever I'm in Banff" like I go there a lot. I think I've been there five times in my life, but we're on schedule to go back in 2016!


I'm going to challenge four other bloggers to come forth and share their own Railfan Five.

Go have a look at their blogs! Thanks again to Eric for the challenge. I'll be donating to the Winnipeg Railway Museum.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

5 Reasons Why You Need Lightroom

I'm going to give you five reasons why you need Adobe Lightroom to manage your photos.

First, a brief paragraph about what Adobe Lightroom is. According to Wikipedia, "Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a photo editing and management computer program... designed to assist users in managing large quantities of digital images and doing post-production work." You'll see how it can help you.

1. Organize Your Photo Collection!
I have a system for organizing my photos. Train photos go into a folder structure organized by railway - BNSF, CEMR, CN, CP, and so forth. If it's not a specific railway, it goes under General Railroad and into a subfolder by location. Each photo is named like this: "engine# location yyyymmdd photographer". I put my initials on the end of my photos.

This worked well enough and I still do that. In Lightroom, though, you can tag photos with keywords to really help you organize them better. It's up to you how far you want to go with this but I generally tag photos with two or three keywords. An example:
Lightroom offers suggestions for keywords, apparently based on keywords used in other photos taken around the same time. You can see at the bottom that you can have user-defined keyword sets as well, so you might have an "engine set" with keywords like SD40, SD60, GP38 and so forth.

In the photo above, you can see my naming scheme at the top left and all the other "metadata" that Lightroom has... which leads me to...

2. Find Your Photos

Now that I'm using Lightroom, it's so much easier and faster to find photos. Let me give you an example.

I stumbled across a photo of Napadogan, New Brunswick online and shared it on the RailsNB Facebook group. A discussion started and I wanted to share a few more photos of when I visited Napadogan back in 2007. It was easy to go to Lightroom and search for that.
Two seconds later, I had a list complete with thumbnails.

It's important to realize that all of the metadata is searchable. Some of the photos above were picked up because they were tagged with Napadogan, some because they had Napadogan in the file name, and some because they were in a folder called "Napadogan Sub". If you want, you can limit what metadata it searches. You can also search by date, by camera type, by rating and a number of other criteria in various combinations.

3. Kickass Photo Editing
Adobe Lightroom has great photo editing built in. The Develop mode takes you to a very powerful, integrated photo editor. It's not quite Photoshop, but you can do a lot with the Develop mode. For example, I took this photo:

and tweaked it in Lightroom to this:

just using the Develop module. Lightroom 5 added the "healing brush", long a favourite of Photoshop users. It's handy to fix little problems in the photo or remove things like power lines.

I'm still learning things in the Develop module. My new favourites are the graduated filter and the radial filter, both of which I used in the edit above. Lightroom keeps a history of all your edits (see left column of photo below) and you can roll back to any previous edit at any time. It does not modify the original photo file at all.

4. Publishing Made Easy!
Once you've edited your photo, Lightroom makes it easy to publish your photo.

You can right-click on any photo and export it to a file. The power comes from building presets to publish it just the way you like. For example, I have a preset called Export to Web that does the following:

  • Places the exported file in a known folder
  • Sets JPEG image quality to 68
  • Resizes it so the longest edge is 1600 pixels
  • Sharpens it for screen viewing
  • Adds my watermark to the bottom left corner

Lightroom also has Publish Services. These are for specific web sites such as Flickr, 500px, Facebook and so forth. You can just drag your photo(s) onto one of the services, and when you're ready, right-click and select Publish and Lightroom will take care of publishing your photo(s) there.

5. Mobile Editing
The latest version of Lightroom allows you to rate and edit your photos on your iPad or iPhone (sorry, Android not available.. yet) via Lightroom Mobile. This is a powerful extension of Lightroom so you can take it with you and work on your photos offline. It requires Lightroom CC (see below).

Another way to edit your Lightroom photos is via the Mosaic plugin for Lightroom. It is similar to Lightroom Mobile but does not allow editing the photo itself. However, it works with the regular Lightroom.

I'm Sold! How To Buy
Lightroom is sold in two flavours... Lightroom and Lightroom Creative Cloud (CC). The original Lightroom is like most software - you purchase it once and it's yours forever, at least until the next major revision comes out. Lightroom CC is a subscription service and you pay monthly forever to use the software.

There are pros and cons to both. Buying Lightroom outright is $149 US and you own it forever with no more charges. However, when Lightroom 6 comes out, you have to buy that again; there's no free upgrade between major versions.

Lightroom CC allows you to have the latest version, always, and also enables Lightroom Mobile as discussed above. You can sign up for Creative Cloud / Photography which gives you Lightroom and PhotoShop for $9.99 US/month.

I've purchased Lightroom but I am strongly considering switching to Lightroom CC when version 6 of Lightroom comes out. I really want to start mobile editing!

I hope this helps you decide whether you want to buy Lightroom. Personally I am a huge fan of Lightroom and I think it is the #1 photography tool for me.

DISCLAIMER: If you follow the Lightroom links to Amazon and purchase the software there, I get a small percentage of the sale. If you'd prefer not to, you can go directly to Adobe or purchase via your favourite retailer.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Call of the Northland

Thomas Blampied has released a new book, Call of the Northland. This book talks about the former Ontario Northlander passenger train and the author's journey on it.

The Ontario Northlander was a passenger train that ran from Toronto, ON to Cochrane, ON by the Ontario Northland Railway. The train was cancelled by the provincial government and the last train ran on September 28, 2012.

I personally have no experience with the Ontario Northland Railway, other than seeing ONR 2105 once when it visited Saint John in March 2005.

(video of ONR 2105 going around the wye in Saint John)

I think it's great that Thomas has written this book documenting the Northlander. Events and trains like these need to be documented.

Buy the book