Thursday, January 29, 2009

(Partial) Success

DME 6056 leaving Blooming Prairie
Originally uploaded by look4trains

It's funny-living here is west-central Minnesota, with access to one of the busiest rail lines in the state, strangely enough seems to make it harder to get a shot of a train coming through a snowdrift. First, the train frequency and speed tend to keep the right of way clear, and second, even if a drift forms, there will be a train along in a matter of a few hours at the very most to clear the line.

So oddly enough, my travels to the furthest corner of the state gave me the chance to get this shot. I happened to be in Austin last night, and as I headed for home today under beautiful blue skies, I noticed a train on the main just north of Blooming Prairie. Having travelled this way a number of times I knew that trains were scarce, and this one had a FRED on the north end but no locos on the south. I suspected they were in town doing some switching and a quick u-turn revealed that was indeed the case. I found out from the conducter (setting the derail) that they were headed south again in a few mintues, as soon as they were coupled back up and the air pumped up on the train.

I checked out a couple of crossings south of town, and picked one for a first shot. After a wait of about 20 minutes I shot the train at the first crossing. Since they were travelling so slowly (about 15 mph) I was able to run to another crossing and get this shot. The train was still meandering along at the same speed so there wasn't too much excitement but it's a start.

After all, a day when you get to shoot a train in good light is a day worth remembering, whatever color the train was. And this day certainly fit the bill, and goes into the memory banks on the plus side. Here's to trains, and sun, and snow.

Jim, out

Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Venture into the World of Flickr

BNSF 4323 approaches Frazee
Originally uploaded by look4trains

Once upon a time, I had a website running some open source software called coppermine. It worked pretty well, and I enjoyed tinkering with it and creating new galleries and tagging the photos. However, it required attention, which I wasn't always willing to give. My failure to update the software on a regular basis resulted in an attack which basically wrecked the site.

So I wiped it out, went without an internet presence for a time, then started this blog. I've been happy with it, and enjoyed getting it set up like I wanted. However, I missed being able to share photos in an organized way.

Christopher Muller, John Fladung, and a number of other Minnesota Railfans were using flickr to share photos, and I grew to like the features they had. Do I decided the time had come to set up a flickr account and get some photos uploaded. I didn't know at the time that flickr would allow me to blog about any photo that was posted, like the one above.

I have started posting on flickr, and have 100+ railroad photos up now. I always enjoyed this one and thought it would be a good one to use to promote my site. If you're interested, feel free to drop by-you can find me at I'm always very interested in feedback, so let me know what you think by comment or email. Thanks!


Saturday, January 24, 2009

BNSF 4866 near Lincoln

BNSF 4866 near Lincoln
Originally uploaded by look4trains

Usually the most important focus point in a photo is the numberboards or the pilot detail. I went a different direction with this shot.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Chilly, Snowy Sunday

With a cloudy day forecast for Sunday January 11, I had little hope of getting out to exercise the new camera. However, after we got home from church, a check of the satellite photo and the map in motion showed a giant sucker hole settling over western Minnesota. I decided it was worth taking a chance that the sun would hold out by heading west for a few picture taking opportunities.

Mrs. L4T is never one to argue about a road trip and she was soon ready to leave. We made our way west, with little traffic between Wadena and Detroit Lakes. There was a broken rail just east of Frazee that was being repaired, and the westbound stack train was running wrong-main to get around that problem, which meant nothing was moving eastbound. Chatter on the radio seemed to indicate that the rail would soon be fixed. Here is the crew working at that location:

I knew that the stack train was right behind us, and that there was at least one eastbound waiting for him at Richards Spur. I heard him at the MP 225 detector, and predicted that we would soon see a stopped train. Sure enough, he was paused at the crossing just to the west of Richards Spur. I decided to get a shot as the stacker passed by, and here it is.

Just as soon as BNSF 809 west cleared his warrant from Wadena to Richards Spur, the dispatcher got busy handing them out to the waiting eastbound and three more behind him. I scooted for Lake Park, in the hope I could beat 809 to some photo location in that area. I made it to the overpass just west of Hwy 32 where I shot him as he approached. The engineer gave a friendly toot as the train passed.

At this point I wasn't sure what other westbound traffic was out there, but decided to run into Hawley as I always wanted to get a shot of a train entering town in nice light. The wait for my first chance wasn't long, but even before that the next eastbound train passed by. Coal loads with two units up front told me there was the chance of a DPU unit, and there was, but it was facing the wrong way. In just a few minutes an empty coal train showed up, with four EMD's up front. I got him just as he leaned into the curve.

I didn't even make it back to the car before the next eastbound showed-a stack train with ES44DC's. Here is the backlit B&W shot:

The next train was a coal empty behind three MAC's. At the urging of Mrs. L4T I shot him as a crossed the highway overpass in Hawley. I'm not real happy with how this turned out. Need to work on this spot some more to get it right.

With one last westbound before the light went away, I headed back to the curve on the east edge of town. This time I made my way down the bank in some deep snow, and the resulting shots are from a lower angle. Lots of power on this train:

Then once more as he rounds the corner:

We enjoyed our supper at Jimmy's Pizza in Hawley, after being joined by the heir to the L4T throne from Fargo. It was getting mighty cold at this point, and the full moon was doing all it could to light up the night. I tried one artsy shot of the moon on the way home but cold fingers got the best of me.

I am happier with these than the previous batch of photos. I seem to be getting more comfortable with the new camera and hope that my skills continue to improve. I've got a couple of shots from this week that I hope to post soon. I was in the Hibbing and Virginia areas and spent a little time in the Iron Junction area, so they won't be Staples Sub shots.

Still looking for trains,


Monday, January 12, 2009

First Shots with the New K200D

Saturday January 10 was my first chance to get out and put the new camera through its paces. Mrs. L4T and myself decided to drive west in hopes that the sun would hold out long enought to take in the sights in the Lake Park area.

It wasn't long before an eastbound offed the chance for a wedgie near New York Mills. This Z train was behind a nice looking GEVO, not a bad unit for the first railfan trip photo with the new camera.

I knew there was another eastbound coming, most likely a coal train, given the radio chatter with a 5600 series. I intercepted this train just west of Perham, another plain old wedgie shot.

Next stop was Frazee, and I soon heard the detector at MP 203 announce the impending arrival of a train on Main 2. Probably another coal train, given the axle count. Sure enough, here he comes behind a pair of MAC's. I wanted to emphasize the s-curve and get the water tower involved, and I guess I succeeded, at the cost of snow in my boots and up my pant legs at least to knee height. It's getting deep over that way.

Finally, another coal train, this time powered by two ACe's, running elephant style. I decided to try and stay out of the deepest snow this time, resulting in different angle of shot.

Clouds put an end to the trip at this point. The overcast day caused us to decide to head home and save the "big trip" for a sunnier afternoon.

I was fairly happy with these images, although I noticed later that I had shot them at ISO 800 which did nothing to help the image quality. So many things are different with this new camera, and will take a little getting used.

I'm looking forward to learning about the capabilities of this new camera and hopefully learning how to take advantage of them.

Keep on looking,


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Technology Update at

Recently, I've had a growing dissatisfaction with the quality of some of my photos. While I think the Canon S2IS is a tremendous camera, and it has served very well through some 7000 clicks of the shutter, within me has been germinating the seed of a hankering for a DSLR. You just need to accept that tech upgrades are a part of life when you are frolicking in this digital playground known as the internet.

After negotiations with Mrs. L4T, it came to pass that I had the green light to acquire such a device (within reason, of course). The parameters were that it had to be something I would be happy with and not want to replace in a few months, and the cost had to be "reasonable". I had done some prior research, and all the DSLR's seemed to promise a great increase in image quality. There were a couple of features I was interested in. First, image stabilization of some type would be nice to have, and second, the last three cameras I owned had all used AA batteries and I was sold on the cost effectiveness, convenience, and most of all, ability to refuel on the fly at almost any C-store that this power source offered. I wouldn't have to worry about a dead battery spoiling an afternoon of shooting.

While all the manufacturers offer image stabilization in one form or another, the only DSLR's that I found that used AA cells were some of the Pentax line. I had nothing against the other brands (I was very happy with the Canon camera I have been using for the last 2 1/2 years) but was willing to look at all brands when purchasing a DSLR. It was relatively easy to handle various offerings from Canon, Nikon, and Sony, given that Best Buy carries all of these brands, but the Pentax and Olympus offerings were impossible to find in my area. I relied heavily on internet reviews of these cameras when making a decision.

After much reading and turning things over in my head, during which I learned that forums for the various camera models pretty much say only good things about the cameras that the people posting own, I settled on Pentax, due to the AA battery issue, the fact that the camera had in-body image stabilization (Pentax calls this Shake Reduction), and the ability to use pretty much any lens Pentax had ever made. I thought this would give me the opportunity to buy some used lenses down the road and expand my abilities. I know that it's a "no-no" to buy a camera without handling it first, but I was willing to take the risk. I bought my S2 sight unseen and it was a great experience. And, there was just a certain attraction to the Pentax that sold me. I can't explain it.

I started looking for prices on the net and found that an ebay seller going by "prodigital2000" out of Canada was offering various Pentax models for auction, with prices settling around $400 for some K20D, K200D, and K-2000 models. The K200D and K-2000 included a kit lens in most auctions. I initially intended to go after the newly released K-2000 but after some more research I found the K200D was a more robust body, with weather sealing and more AF options, so I decided this was a better fit for me.

Was I ever excited when I won the third or fourth auction I bid on with an offer of $367 plus $45 shipping and insurance. Of course this is the time when you always start to doubt what you have done, and wonder if the product can really be that great.

The wait was on, with me picking through the Pentax message boards and reading all the horror stories of people who had bad experiences with this dealer (which were a small fraction of the total stories), talk about how Pentax was a dead-end decision and the world was about to be taken over by the "Canikon" hordes, and discussions of general DSLR challenges such as sensor cleaning and lens shortcomings. By the time I was done reading this stuff I was regretting my decision.

Well, soon my camera arrived, new in the box, in perfect shape. In no time I had it up and running, taking pictures around the house that failed to impress me. Finally, I decided that a few minutes invested in reading the manual might be a good idea, and sure enough it was.

A couple of days later a Pentax DA 50-200 mm f4-5.6 showed up from Amazon, and I was ready to go. However, a combination of work and clouds conspired to prevent me from giving the camera a good workout right away. The story of the first "real" train photo will have to wait for the next post.

All in all, at this time I am very happy with the camera. I got into a DSLR at 10.2 mp, with pretty good image quality to ASA 800, and focal lengths from about 30 mm to 300 mm (35 mm SLR equivalent), all with image stabilization, for under $600. The photos look very good to me, and I am learning to use the camera controls. It is different enough from the S2 that learning the camera will take some time. But it's time that will be well spent, and I look forward to it. I'm shooting in RAW+high quality JPEG and right now am processing the JPEG's until I get a handle of the RAW software. I have noticed you can crop the 10.2 mp images a lot more aggresively than my old S2 photos, and still have a much better image when you are done.

I've got a couple of outings under my belt so far, and a handful of photos I will be sharing over the next couple of posts, but here is a sneak preview.

Until next time,

Jim, out.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Early '08 Shots

Look4trains came to life in April of 2008, springtime, when thoughts turn again to railfanning and photography. Yet we never totally escape the attraction of the railroads, even when daylight is short and the wind is cold as you stand trackside.

The thought of "Best of 2008" lists led me back into the recesses of my hard drive, with the intention that perhaps L4T needed a recap. But I decided that instead of a recap of the entire year, I would share a couple of photos from early 2008, before this site was created.

Both of these photos remind me of what I was doing when I shot them: travelling to or from one of the towns I work with. In the first case, I had been on my new job only a month, when a westbound BNSF train revealed itself on an overcast January afternoon approaching the Hwy 10 overpass between Perham and New York Mills. I set up at the county road that crosses just east of the overpass and got this:

I really like the way the hoarfrost is clinging to everything, and the way the train recedes into fog. The color shot didn't work at all, but black and white really helps convey the mood at the time this train passed.

The second shot I found from early 2008 was shot in the Staples yard one day when I passed through and decided to swing down to the south side just to see what was parked there. Turns out there was a Grinstien MAC that had been "swooshed" resting alongside an SD75M. The MAC was front coupled to another unit which usually kills the chance to take a decent photo but in this case it seems to work. These cream and green AC units are my favorite on the BNSF, although they have suffered from patching over the years.

So that's my contribution to the end of year celebration. I'm looking forward to 2009with the hope that I will again get to see some new country, as I did this year. Thanks to all of you who read this blog, wherever you are, and good luck with you railfanning adventures over the coming year.