Thursday, February 18, 2016

Night Train

Hurry up, girl I hear it coming
Got a moon and a billion stars
Sound of steel and old boxcars
The thought of you is driving me insane
Come on baby, let's go listen to the night train
 - "Night Train", Jason Aldean

It's been a long time since I did any night train photography, but I did a bit Tuesday night.

0.8 seconds, f/2.8, 35mm, ISO 200, on tripod
I had just delivered my daughter to Adrenaline Adventures for some night snow tubing fun, and I headed to the nearby CN Rivers subdivision to sit and wait for some trains to roll along. I decided to wait just west of Diamond so I could include the signals in the photographs.

I set up my tripod and attached my camera to it. I used my new lens for its good light sensitivity. It took a while to get the focus set right - cameras have a hard time focusing in the dark and mine is no exception. I used my van's headlights to light up the scene a bit and that helped the focusing too.

While I was waiting there, I spotted headlights to the east. I patiently waited... and waited... and waited... but the headlights didn't seem to be getting closer. I could tell they were between highway 334 and Hall Road but I couldn't figure out why a train would stop there.

The other thing that was puzzling me was that the light was flickering sometimes, like it wasn't actually stopped.

After a good 15-20 minutes of watching this, I sighed and decided to pack up and go see what was up. I put the tripod in the back and put my cold camera in the cold camera bag, zipped up to keep the condensation off the camera, and drove down to see what was going on.

As I approached, it became clear - this wasn't a train at all. It was a "broom".
0.4 seconds, f/2.8, 55mm, ISO 200, handheld
This was CN 613-12 clearing some snow drifts. The reason why it wasn't moving forward very much was because the operator was taking a number of runs at the drift to knock the snow back away from the tracks.

The lights on this broom are very bright and the operator was turning most of them off when he wasn't running, which accounted for the flickering I saw.

I watched him take a few runs, trying some pan shots along the way, then headed back to where I was to wait for a train. Within 10 minutes I could see a set of train headlights in the distance to the east.

I fired off a few test shots and noticed the focus wasn't good, so I was manually focusing while the train approached. I got it locked in reasonably well before the train came into the frame, thankfully. It isn't perfect.

2 seconds, f/4.5, 17mm, ISO 400, on tripod
I had the camera set for a 2 second shutter speed so I could only capture two frames with the locomotives in them.

2 seconds, f/4.5, 17mm, ISO 400, on tripod
You'll notice the signals don't appear red because they only came on when the locomotives passed, so they were on for a fraction of a second during this exposure. In the photo below you'll see them fully on.

Notice something else in the above two photos? I'll come back to it.

After I ran to the van to scrawl the engine numbers down (IC 2726, CN 2020), I was playing with the shutter speed to see how the different speeds blurred the train.
10 seconds, f/4.5, 17mm, ISO 400, on tripod

I pointed my van's headlights at the train and took a few shots. I noticed my shadow was being projected on the train, so I decided to take a shadow selfie.
6 seconds, f/4.5, 17mm, ISO 400, on tripod

You can see that the focus isn't quite right... sigh

This train had a distributed braking boxcar on the end. I liked how it turned out in a long exposure photograph.
6 seconds, f/4.5, 17mm, ISO 400, on tripod
Notice a few things:
  • The line in the sky was probably an airplane with a flashing light
  • The flashing light on the top of CN 15210 is rendered as a series of dashes
  • You can see "through" the boxcar to the far signal because it was not in the picture for the entire exposure
Now I'll come back to something. In the two photos showing the locomotives, there was a green blob in the left of the frame. I'm pretty sure I accidentally captured some aurora borealis aka the Northern Lights.

Initially I thought it was lens flare, but I reviewed a few photos I took just before the train came into view and the green is still there. Also it changes in each photo, like the northern lights do.
3.2 seconds, f/4.5, 17mm, ISO 400, on tripod
I picked my daughter up (she had a lot of fun) and on our way back over the tracks, I spotted another CN westbound. We exited the highway and I did a grab shot of CN 2182 and 2146 from the side of the road.
0.5 seconds, f/4.5, 17mm, ISO 400, handheld
Different but still fun.

I'll leave you with a few tips for night train photography:

  • Use a tripod
  • Pick a spot to focus on and set your focus, then leave it there in manual focus
  • Use a fairly wide aperture to increase your depth of field - I was using f/4.5 when my lens was capable of f/2.8 so I got a bit more DOF.
  • Lock your ISO to what your camera can do without too much noise - for my Canon T1i I don't want to go above ISO 400
  • Experiment with shutter speed
  • Have fun!

Have you done any night train photography?

See also:


David said...

It funny that you got the northern lights and a train by accident. I've been trying to find a night to do this for awhile now, but every time there is either no trains or it is cloudy.

This shot is likely my favourite thus far for night shots I have done.

Canadian Train Geek said...

I'd love to catch them together on purpose! ;) I've tried a couple of times but the railways weren't kind enough to supply a train for me.

I liked that night shot the first time I saw it - the smoke trail really makes the scene.