Of all the railway groups I’m a member of on Flickr, none has been more helpful and inspiring than the Progressive & Artistic Railway Photography group run by Martyn Fordham. Now, the members of the group, with Martyn and Ian Cowley taking the lead, have created a blurb photo book showcasing the work of many of the photographers who contribute to the group. It was decided to call the book “Along Different Lines”, which I think reflects the group’s focus on, for want of a better cliché, thinking differently about railway photography.
I was flattered to be asked to contribute five shots to the book, as well an introductory paragraph, and explanatory captions. You can buy the book from the Blurb website, but, since it’s a hard-back book, it’s not cheap. Since the book was not created to make money, and is being sold at cost price, I have no compunction against including my contributions (text and images) below.
Having drifted away from photography in my teens, I took up railway photography again in 2007 when I bought my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D40. Although I now have a D5100 as well, the D40 still gets a lot of use, and the five shots I’ve chosen for this book were all taken with it. I shoot most of my railway photography with the f/3.5-5.6 18-55mm kit lens that came with the D40, but also sometimes use an f/3.5-5.6 55-200mm zoom, and an f/1.4 30mm prime. My post processing work-flow is centred around Apple’s Aperture 3, with quite a few of my images getting round-tripped through Photomatix Pro and the Topaz suite of plugins, particularly Topaz Adjust. Most of my shots are taken along a short stretch of the Irish Rail Dublin to Sligo main line centred on the picturesque university town of Maynooth. I like to let the landscape around the railway play as important a role in my shots as the trains themselves.
Photo 1 – Evening at Louisa Bridge
Irish Rail class 29000 four-car DMU number 29025 rounds the sharp corners at Louisa Bridge in Leixlip as it makes it’s way towards Maynooth with an evening Commuter service out of Dublin. The roof of Leixlip-Louisa-Bridge station can be see over the top of the bridge, the train has just departed from this station. The Royal Canal is a very important amenity in the area, and you can see a jogger making use of it on the left of the shot.
Some people describe photography as painting with light, when the light is perfect, even the most ordinary place can look wonderful. Louisa Bridge is not particularly photogenic with that ugly water pipe bolted on to the front of the old bridge, and the horrible graffiti covered concrete wall running next to the track, and yet, bathed in warm soft evening light, it looks idilic!
Photo 2 – Santa Special Steaming Home
An RPSI (Railway Preservation Society of Ireland) Santa Special rounds the turns at Matt Goff Bridge near Leixlip on a glorious December afternoon in 2009. The train is made up of the RPSI heritage set of coaches (now no longer permitted to run on the main line because of new regulations), and worked by 2-6-4T steam locomotive No.4. This locomotive started life on the NCC (Northern Counties Committee) railway in Norther Ireland, and was the last working steam engine on the island, going straight from it’s working life into preservation. The class were nick-named “Jeeps” because they were exceptionally versatile, and designed to run equally efficiently and comfortably in both directions.
I often hear photographers say “she’ll be running ‘bunker first’, so why even bother going out to shoot”. If you follow advice like that, you miss shots like this! The lighting and composition are much more important to me than whether or not the loco has it’s prettiest side forward.
Photo 3 – Speeding to Dublin
Irish Rail Class 22000 six-car DMU number 22042 racing towards Maynooth on a snowy March morning in 2010 with a Sligo to Dublin InterCity service. Here we see the train running down the hill towards an accommodation bridge between Kilcock and Maynooth. Don’t be confused by the numbering on the back of the train, the number 22342 refers to the individual carriage in the set, and not the set as a whole. The six carriages in the set 22042 carry the numbers 22141, 22142 … 22146.
As a general rule, westerners prefer shots where things move in the direction we read, from left to right, and as a general rule, we prefer to see things coming towards us rather than away from us, and, as a general rule, I prefer to avoid telephoto lenses for railway photography. This shot breaks all those ‘rules’, shot at 200mm with the train running away from us from right to left. It’s one of my very favourite shots, and I have it set as my desktop wallpaper to remind me that rules are made to be broken. I believe guidelines are a good thing, they generally push us towards better photos, but, we shouldn’t let ourselves be bound by them.
Photo 4 – Summer at the 15th Lock
An Irish Rail Class 22000 DMU speeds past the 15th lock on the Royal Canal as fishermen make the most of a glorious summer day below. The boat moored at the jetty is a Waterways Ireland maintenance boat. The moon is visible overhead.
In my mind, the biggest challenge in photography is capturing a 3D world on a 2D medium without it feeling flat. Vanishing points are one way of tackling this problem, and this is one of my favourite examples of that, the parallel lines of the railway line, canal, and towpath all converge at the horizon, giving a pleasing sense of depth to the shot.
Photo 5 – Into the Night
An Irish Rail Commuter train races along the banks of the Royal Canal with a service to Maynooth on a clear Winter evening as the Moon and the planet Venus stand in the sky. The last vestiges of the dusk can be seen on the horizon, as can the lights of Maynooth Station. The headlights of the train, a Class 29000 four-car DMU, are lighting up a 40mph speed limit sign.
This photo has a especial place in my heart because it combines my three passions in one shot, astronomy, photography, and railways!