RailRoad Tracks

OK this is how it started. I decided to start a six month project to only shoot black and white. So when walking around with the little Leica MM looking for something to photograph, I saw some railroad tracks. Carefully walking along the tracks I found a spot I liked and put the camera on top of the tracks and shot several frames. When I got home I reviewed the shots on the computer and liked the perspective, of the converging lines going off in the low horizon.

I sent the shots out to see what others, people with better photographic knowledge than me, thought and many commented positively in the main, but with one reoccurring point, they didn’t like the out of focus foreground. This didn’t bother me as much as it did others. Cropping was suggested as a fix, but I’m not sure it works here, as the distance perspective is lost, I think.


Sometime later, I came across another set of railroad tracks, and took a couple of shots, this time on one knee, to get the  tracks curving at the vanishing point, which I thought was sorta interesting, conscious to get the foreground more in focus.

On my walk back home I decided to:

  1. Shoot with the Leica MM with a variety of lenses. With the ultra-wide 12mm, then progressively move up to 21mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and finally with the 75mm.  I would also shoot with a Phase One XT with a 32mm
  2. Focus stack the shots to keep everything sharp using an aperture around f8 on the Leica and F6.3 on the Phase.
  3. Shoot at 3 different heights: on the rail, 18 inches above and four feet high.
  4. Shoot all on tripod with cable release.

Other factors that one would need to be mindful of, that photographing anywhere in Miami in an unshaded area is going to be hot, so need to keep equipment shaded and cool.  Also hydrate!  The other, perhaps more pressing problem, was that these are “live tracks” used daily by South Florida Freight Line, Bright Line Passenger, and Amtrak.  So this is my disclaimer – shooting on “Live Tracks” is not recommended, especially with a heavy bag full of lenses and Tripod and tripod extension.  This could be considered a ‘fool’s errand’, because no way can you get something in focus that is up against the camera!

Anyway, this is what the different heights look like starting from the camera on the tracks (really about 2 inches above, since these were stacked it had to be on a tripod arm). Next, is on a tripod about 18 inches above the railroad track, and finally 4 feet above the track. Remember we are talking about the top of the track, not on the ballast gravel.

Next this was shot with different focal lengths, from a 12mm Voigtlander, through to Leica 21, 28, 35, 50 and also a 75mm. Personally I find myself going wide more often than not. Especially now that we have high megapixel cameras, cropping is a real option. Also the Phase One XT with an achromatic back, and the 32 mm lens which in 35mm format is about a 23mm perspective. Where needed I resized the 32mm to same format as 21mm in 35 mm equivalent.

So what did we learn from all this?  At the very least I became acquainted with focus stacking, using Helicon Focus, and was reacquainted with discipline (in my case, always needed practice).

If I could get permission from higher beings, I would try and go back and shoot with the Cambo and 40mm, which has tilt, but I don’t expect a big change in the framing, as it wouldn’t be possible to use more than one degree of tilt, and even with the possibility of rise and fall there is not going to be a lot of options there.  Maybe using the Arca Swiss field camera and using back and front movements, there could be some improvement, at the least fun and a learning experience. But I would need a couple of things: like Phase One to give us back Capture Pilot, because there is no way I am taking a lap top out on to the track, and oh yes, a train schedule would be very helpful!

Here are three shots I like from the series.

This is a Cropped Infrared shot with the Phase One XT with the achromatic back and the 32mm lens. It is the hook at the vanishing point that is important to me. The Crop gives it the vastness going into infirmity or somewhere close, It is not here.

Straight Stacked Shot from tripod at 4 feet above ground. XT/32mm

Shot with the Leica MM and the 21mm, late in the afternoon I like the 10 or so triangles aiming at the distance.

And the one that started it all

Shot with a Leica MM and a 35mm – Toned

Feel free to comment or ask questions,

Thanks for looking

First Post

As anyone can see, looking at my web site (www.pg-pg.com), there could be a lot of stuff, which is debatable. Anyway, I am going to add a new section, Black and White, While there are quite a few Black and White images there already, the vast majority are converted from color. The new section will contain images shot only with a Phase One Achromatic back and a Leica monochrom. Some off them we can discuss here or in the comments section of pg-pg.com

The difference between converted color and monochome, without getting too technical, is you have much more subtle and smother graduations of tone with a monochrome only sensor. I will still convert when I feel it is appropriate. Color is good; there are so many really good color images out there.

I want to say right now, this is not a zero sum game. While you have a binary choice, B&W or color, and while one genre might tip one way or the other. Images are good, how you arrive there, is not the most important aspect. First you see, and then you feel.

 What appeals to me shooting monochrome, is that you look at things differently, you look for the light. It’s like shooting at night; you are attracted to the light, like a moth. Also I think it’s interesting to set the mood, and timelessness of a B&W image. Much easier to let the mind wander. Like watching an old Hitchcock, The Thin Man, Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire or Orson Wells movie. There is a certain nostalgia and timelessness.  I would assume those of us; of a certain age grew up with B&W TV, B&W magazines, News Reels, and of course our introduction to photography. Also must be said, looking at family photos from our parents.

So without further ado, we are off on a new capture.