Trains & Modern Photography: Stitching and Panoramas

If you’re a frequent viewer of this site, then the subject of today’s Trains & Modern Photography post is something you’re probably familiar with – panoramas. The most generic definition of a panorama is an wide view of an area, in which you can see in all directions. For my Metro-North Panorama Project, I used the definition loosely, featuring at least one photo per station that used the technique of stitching, thus giving the viewer a photo that provided a far wider view than one could capture in a single photo’s frame. Using modern technology like Photoshop, one can take multiple photos around a central axis point – either on a tripod, or by standing in the same spot and rotating your body, while holding the camera at the same angle for each shot – and combine them. This technique is called stitching, and is one of the most common methods of getting high quality and high resolution panoramas.

If this is a technique you’ve always been interested in trying out, or you’re just curious to see how exactly one makes a panorama (especially one featuring a train) – from camera to computer – read on.
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A Wedding in Grand Central

Over the one-hundred-plus years Grand Central has stood on this Earth, it has played host and been a witness to so many important things. Whether it be a an introduction to the space age, the place from where men march off to war, the place where thousands of eyes watch history unfold, or the spot where we protest injustice, Grand Central has stood at the center of Manhattan in importance and influence. And while the event that took place here last month isn’t much in terms of history, it was most important to me. Grand Central, the venerable cathedral to transportation, was a cathedral of another sort on January 9th, as it hosted my wedding.

Although it could be argued that this site is just as much about me as it is about trains, I do try and avoid discussing too much about my personal life. And rightly so, lest you try to show up to my house unannounced (yep, it happened), or try and convince me that despite you being double my age we should totally be together because you have a big you-know-what (yeah, that happened too. This may also be why the demographic of female railfans is so tiny). Nonetheless, it was too difficult to not share some of the wonderful photos from a wedding in the Terminal. Grand Central is gorgeous, and certainly one hell of a great place to get married. Brilliant photo ops are everywhere, and I finally got to get the shot I had planned for years of someone looking out from the hidden window in the Tiffany glass clock (though I happened to be on the opposite side of the camera lens).

To view the entire gallery, click “read more” below. All of the photos were taken by Johnathon Henninger, with the exception of the final two by Carey Wagner, who was looking up at the clock tower from Park Avenue.

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2014 in Photos – Your favorites from last year

As is customary around this time of year, it is always fun to look back on the previous year and what was popular. For the past few years I’ve counted down your favorite articles and social media posts, and today I bring you 2014 in Instagram. Instagram has quickly become the most popular social network that this site is on. While I’m often out photographing, the good majority of the photos I take never make it onto this site. The good ones, however, show up on Instagram. Here’s the top 10 favorites from 2014:


Two Metro-North diesels meet near the Pleasant Ridge Road crossing in Wingdale, New York.

 
Left: An Alaska Railroad train bound for Fairbanks rounds the bend north of Nenana at sunset. Right: A Genesis pushes southbound on the Danbury Branch, kicking up leaves after departing Cannondale.


The only non-railroad photo to make the top 10, New York’s skyline as seen from the opposite side of the river in New Jersey.

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Sunsets and Long Exposure Photography on the Rails

Over the past few weeks I’ve spent my evenings exploring the rails, photographing at one of my favorite times of the day – sunset. While one generally loses the illumination of the sun’s rays, you gain a multitude of colors in the sky… and to me, there is just something magical about that.

In terms of night photography – or at least, what railfans tend to think about night photography – one usually uses artificial lights to illuminate a posed, unmoving train. Though it seems to be the en vogue thing to do these days, I see little reason to do so other than “because we can.” Most seem to do it for the novelty, or because all the “cool kids” are doing it. Many that take part look to evoke the work of O. Winston Link, arguably the best night railroad photographer ever (though Jack Delano, whose photographs I featured last week, was also an accomplished night photographer – it was never really his “claim to fame,” however). Unfortunately, most fall flat in their endeavor to “be like Link.” While I can see the merits of photographing steam trains at night (the lower light allows one to capture sweeping plumes of smoke from the engine), I see little reason to do it with modern trains. After dark I find it far more fun to capture not the train itself, but the train’s movement, and its environment.

Because of the low ambient light, long exposure photography allows one to record the movement of the train, rendered as blurs of light. In order to get a proper exposure, your camera shutter is open for longer – in some cases for 15 seconds or more (thus a stable resting place, preferably a tripod, is required). Done right, any moving object in the frame shows up as a blur, or a streak. Modern electric trains, like Metro-North’s M7s and M8s, with their shiny and smooth exteriors and LED lights lend themselves to this, becoming graceful blurs. Instead of artificial light, one uses the “natural” (or as natural as the light off a cityscape could be), and the intense colors of a sunset to evoke a completely different mood. Since I don’t really have a post lined up for this week, I figured I’d share some of my recent photographs taken at sunset, or at night… and maybe convince some of you that there is fun to be had after dark, far away from the now all too common “night photo sessions.”

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My date with an M8…

To say my train journeys this past weekend were a bit interesting seems like an understatement. I got to take some cool pictures of Grand Central’s exterior because the road was closed to cars for Summer Streets. I photographed the New Haven Line station Mount Vernon East, which is the 70th Metro-North station I’ve taken pictures of (if anybody is keeping track, lol). Oh, and I also got to ride on an M8. But see, those weren’t really quite as interesting as the nutjobs I found I was sharing the train with. On Friday an absolute genius of a woman decided that it would be a good idea to chase the departing train after forgetting a bag on board. She either jumped off the platform, or weaseled through the fence at Southeast, and ran after the train as it entered the yard. How monumentally stupid. I thought to myself, had she gotten flattened by a train or fried herself by tripping on the third rail, her family most likely would have sued Metro-North. Despite the fact that it would totally have been her fault, her family probably would have been awarded some amount of monetary compensation… and when our fares would go up again, we’d all know why.

On Saturday I again found myself on a northbound train heading to Southeast. It was dark, and near impossible to see anything but blackness out the window. I was in the very rear of the train, the portion that doesn’t platform at Brewster (yes, I totally think it is acceptable to use platform as a verb, thank you). Because it was so dark, I couldn’t really tell whether we were stopped at the station, or at some point before it… but I was certainly wondering what the heck was going on. Turns out a man in the front of the train decided to, how should I say this, basically he thought it would be a good idea to whip it out and begin pleasuring himself – the rest of the passengers present be damned. Girls were screaming, conductors were running, and it didn’t take too long for the train to be stopped until the police arrived. The public masturbator had apparently hidden himself in the train bathroom, but was thankfully apprehended by the police and removed from the train. I’ll call that the Metro-North Harlem Line Pervert Express – I have no desire to ride that train again.

Unfortunately the story of the M8 was slightly overshadowed by the stories of the crazy people. I took a short ride – from Grand Central to Mount Vernon East – though I took quite a few photos of the train before it went into motion. It may not have been the most memorable event of the day, but it was certainly the most positive highlight of the day. The aesthetic of the train is pretty similar to the M7’s found on the Hudson and Harlem Lines, but obviously in red. There is a lot of red. The outside is red, the floor is red, the seats are red. Clearly the decision was based on the New Haven Line’s signature color, but for those who believe that color can effect mood there might be a little bit too much red. A lot of sites have commented on the features of the M8, so I will try to keep this as short as possible, and let the photos speak for themselves. I will say that the lighting, large overhead storage racks, and numerous power outlets are really great additions. Now if we could get more of them in service, and iron out all the remaining glitches we’d be all set…

 
  
   
 
   
 
   
 
   
   
 
  
 
   
 

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Excerpts from the diary of a train rider

When I started this blog, the majority of it was observations about people I saw on the train, or while waiting for trains. I haven’t really done a post about my observations lately, but for the most part the majority of things I see are remembered as short tidbits, and nothing worth writing an entire post about. If I actually kept a diary, tidbits like these would likely be found inside… just quick thoughts about the things and people that surround me on a day-to-day basis. As I don’t really have anything to post today, I figured I’d leave you with a collection of some of my recent thoughts while riding the train. But rest assured, I am currently working on a pretty big project for the site, and when I (hopefully) debut it next week, I think you’ll all be pretty pleased.


People leave things on the train all the time. I was just thinking the other day, if someone was about to forget their phone, or bag, or wallet, I’d ask them if it were theirs, so they don’t get off the train without it. But then I realized what a terrible person I am – if you were about to forget a bag from Junior’s the only thing I’d say is, “that’s mine!” I don’t want your wallet, or your laptop. Just give me your cheesecake.

Sometimes the guy in the ticket booth at White Plains gets rather excited when he announces trains. Once I heard, “Now on trrrrack one is the train going to… nowhere. Never mind. This train only goes to North White Plains,” and, “Nooooooooowww on trrrrrack one is the 5:59 local trrrrrain to Southeast, making all local stops. Yes, this train will be making all the stops you know and love. Trrrrrrrack one.” I haven’t heard him lately, though. I wonder where he is.

When my train passes Mount Kisco in the evening, there is usually this dark-haired woman named Christine on the platform. I know nothing other than her name, and that she likes to laugh. Sometimes when the doors open I poke my head out and say, “Hello Christine.” I gave her my little card that has this website’s address on it once. Maybe she’s reading this right now. Hello, Christine!

Sometimes I see this girl on the platform when I wait for the train in the morning. She looks like she is in her early twenties, and has quite the assortment of Nike shoes and athletic attire. The only time we ever spoke was when she was drinking a bottle of soda and dropped the cap. We both watched, it was like slow motion, the cap hit the platform and rolled precariously close to the edge. I think I said to her, “Wow. I really thought that was going to fall!”

I have an overactive imagination. I also have a bad habit when I observe people, determining who they seem to resemble physically, and calling them that in my mind thence forward. Regular riders of my morning train are an older Sarah Palin, and an Amy Winehouse – minus the drugs.

I like to read books on the train, and I try to read a book per week. After calculating it out, I really only spend about six hours per week on the train – three of which are reading, and three of which are bullshitting with other people. It isn’t a lot of time when I compare it to hours using the computer. I probably am using the computer for ten hours, if not more, each week day. This is probably why I gained twenty pounds after graduating college.

Usually the train I take in the evening uses M3 equipment… though very rarely we have an M7 instead. The M7’s have that nice seat adjacent to the conductor’s cab, it is dark and quiet and away from all the other people. When I got on the train there was an old man sitting there. The next stop the train was going to be making was a short platform, so the conductor told people in the back of the train to move forward. A woman went to do just that, and the old man sitting by the door there just flipped out. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK THAT SIGN IS THERE FOR?!?!” he shouted, while pointing at the sign to not cross through the cars while the train is in motion. The woman looked so afraid, like she was almost going to wet herself. The old man was relentless. Later on, after the old man had gotten off, I asked the conductor if he knew who he was. He told me the man worked for Metro North’s safety department. Too bad that detail was conveniently left out of his diatribe. I always wondered if she complained about the crazy man on her train…


In reality this cat’s name is Henry, and he is awesome

Walking to the train station the other day, this strange animal ran out in front of me. It took me a few moments to realize it was a cat, and not an ordinary cat, a three-legged cat. If I had a three-legged cat, I’d name him Tripod.

Sometimes the bus driver really freaks me out. One of these days he’s really going to flip the bus over. A few days ago he accidentally hit the curb so hard I was slammed into the window… and I have a several inch long bruise on my arm to prove it.

I follow @OWNEYtheDOG on twitter. For those who don’t know, Owney was a real dog that used to ride on mail trains back in the day. Owney was apparently murdered – shot dead, and was later brought to the taxidermist. He’s on display at the Post Office Museum in Washington DC. The thing that freaks me out is that whoever does the twitter posts as if they were that stuffed dog. This disturbs me. Even taxidermied dogs are on twitter! Next thing you know, my mother will be on there.

I’m used to people telling me that they like my hat. It does freak me out when they sneak up behind me and attempt to whisper it in my ear. Most especially if they reek of alcohol. However, the thing I really don’t get is why people during the summer ask me where my hat is. I may like hats, but I’m not an idiot.

My grandmother is wonderful. I think it takes only a little sip of alcohol to make her tipsy. She tells lots of good stories then… stories about the original Penn Station, of taking the train all over the country in the ’40s, being afraid her train was going to fall off the Horseshoe Curve… How she’d take the kids on the train and buy the cheaper child ticket, even though some of the kids were too old. Of course my one uncle would admit such to the conductor… the other just had such a bad temper, my grandmother told me she’d buy him rubber dog toys to take for the ride, he’d break all the regular toys.


When I get a text message, my phone makes the sound the M7 trains make. It baffles people at work meetings. It really baffles them when I’m riding my usual train – an M3. But then someone decides they’ll text me five times in quick succession. Then I just look like an idiot.

Everyone always wants to blame Metro-North, but sometimes it is the passengers’ fault that the train is late… like the time there was a man standing in the doorway that refused to move. Despite the conductor yelling at him, he still stalled the train.

I heard some news about banning smoking on the platform. I like this idea. I’d rather not be subjected to your disgusting and headache-inducing habit. Inevitably someone complains about the thought and says, “Remember when they even had smoking cars?” You know what I remember? The tar-black ceiling of Grand Central when I was a kid… all from cigarette smoke. Ah, yes. Nostalgia.

If I had to pick the station with the most obnoxious people, I’d likely pick White Plains. They are like animals there. They’ll push anybody over to board that train, even a little old lady with a cane. Because it is such a populated station, there are always going to be people running for the train and not quite making it. If the conductor kept the doors open for all of them, the train would never leave. When this happens the person usually shouts profanities at the conductor, and probably writes an angry note to Metro-North (I don’t think I could be a conductor, I don’t have thick enough skin). The most amusing part is that White Plains has the most trains of any station on the Harlem Line. In rush hour, there is another train in just five minutes. Is it really worth all that anger?

It is amusing to me how many people still attempt the old trick of hiding in the bathroom to evade paying the fare. Conductors should have mops available on all trains to give to these people. If they aren’t going to pay, and they are going to be in the bathroom, they might as well clean the damn thing while they are there.

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Harlem-125th Street

If you really want to argue it, you could say that Harlem-125th Street really isn’t a Harlem Line station. Sure, almost every Harlem Line train stops here, but the same goes for Hudson and New Haven Line trains. Thus it is technically a stop on each of those lines. Because of that Harlem-125th is a great train watching locale. Approximately ten minutes from Grand Central, you can watch every Metro-North train heading into and out of the city.

The first station at this site was built in 1874, but was later replaced by a new station elevated on a viaduct in 1897. The station was designed by Morgan O’Brien, architect for the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad. Throughout the years the station deteriorated from leaking water and heavy use. In 1993 renovations began, and were finally completed in 1999, six years later.

Although I photographed one of the Arts for Transit pieces, there are actually two at Harlem-125th Street. Visible from the street is a piece by Terry Adkins, titled Harlem Encore. More visible from the platforms is a work by Alison Saar, titled Hear the Lone Whistle Moan. Saar is a California-based artist and has done public art in various cities, including New York, Sacramento and Chicago. The piece consists of three separate figures, each made of bronze. On the southbound platform is a young woman, heading to the city for work, and on the northbound platform is an older man, leaving the city and heading back to his hometown. Near the stairs there is also a smaller bronze figure of a train conductor. The artist describes the title of the piece as follows:

The title, Hear the Lone Whistle Moan, is from a spiritual that uses the train as a metaphor for the passage to heaven. Trains have often been associated by African Americans with escape and the Underground Railroad in particular.












As I’ve said before, I don’t really know what to expect when heading out to a lot of these stations. My enjoyment is to explore and photograph, and Harlem-125th Street was really great in that respect. With all the trains going by there are great pictures to be had, and I really enjoyed Saar’s artwork. Now having seen all the Arts for Transit works on the Harlem Line, Wassaic, Pleasantville and Harlem-125th are my top favorites. I’ll admit I was a little bit afraid going to the station though, as every time I’ve ever gone by on the train I’ve seen many police on the platform. Usually train photography and lots of cops doesn’t turn out too well, but thankfully I wasn’t approached by any of the police. Someday I’ll have to go back to get some photos of the other Arts for Transit piece, but those will be photos for another day…

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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Wakefield

This week Wakefield has the honor of being the first Harlem Line station south of White Plains I’ve featured. Before starting the Harlem Line Panorama Project, I had never ventured to any of these stations. After this weekend though, I’ve been to most of them. On the current schedule of a station a week, the tour will finally be over at the end of January. And once that is over I think I’ll do a full tour guide for whoever might be interested in seeing the Harlem Line as well… I’m planning to include info about good food, history, art (including Arts For Transit works) and nature along the way, and which stations aren’t to be missed. Anyways, back to the tour…

Traveling south, Wakefield is the first Metro-North station in the Bronx, and is the northernmost neighborhood of the city. It borders Westchester county, specifically the city of Mount Vernon. The two are both linked to the first president of the United States: George Washington. Wakefield was the name of the place where he was born, and Mount Vernon the name of the place he died. The two stations of Wakefield and Mount Vernon West are in fact very close – so close that you can see the station from the platform of the other.

At Wakefield you can make a connection to the subway, Wakefield – 241st Street is located six blocks from the station. The platform is rather small, and can only accommodate four cars. Just south of the station the New Haven Line diverges, and from the station you can see the M2s going by on the other side of the tree line. Historically Wakefield had been a place where passengers changed trains. Electric trains served south into the city, and riders going north transferred to steam trains.







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Tuesday Tour of the Harlem Line: Pleasantville

Evidence that my mind has been entirely corrupted by horrible marketers and their abysmal catch-phrases, I want to say that I was pleasantly surprised with Pleasantville station (this is one notch up from saying “Flip Out!” in an advertisement for a flipbook which I unfortunately created yesterday). Seriously though, the little station in the middle of the Harlem Line has character – a lot of which has to do with the Arts for Transit piece there. The station is easily accessible from the attractive green area in the center of the village. Part of the reason it differs from many of the other area stations is the fact that the platform is lower than the neighboring streets. As opposed to walking up a set of stairs to a vestibule above the tracks, the larger than usual vestibule and waiting area sits at street level, and you instead descend a set of stairs to the platform.











Installed in 2002, Pleasantville’s Arts for Transit piece, titled Almost Home, is the newest located on the Harlem Line. The work was a collaboration between Brooklyn-based artist Jane Greengold, and Vietnamese-born and current New York resident Kane Chanh Do. Both artists work in sculpture and installation art. Almost Home consists of twenty-two bronze chairs, sixteen of which are in the upper waiting area, and six on the lower platform level. A book also rests on a ledge in the upper part of the station, a bronze replica of a copy of the Reader’s Digest… though admittedly I would never have had any clue of what it was supposed to be, had I not researched the piece for this post. Apparently Reader’s Digest was originally printed in Pleasantville, and so the book is representative of that historical link.

Although I can’t say I’ve seen all the Arts for Transit pieces on the Harlem Line, Almost Home really is my favorite so far. Not only is it visually attractive, it is functional part of the station. Conceptually, the almost home theme is intriguing to me. As a commuter, besides my own home and work, I spend a good deal of time on the train or at the train station. At times the train station feels like a second home to me. There are times when I think some artist’s statements are complete BS, but in this case I think Do and Greengold describe their piece quite well:

In this suburb of New York City, we have re-created, in bronze, chairs likely to be found in the homes of the commuters who use the station, bringing some of the comforts of home out to meet the riders, making the station almost like home, and reminding riders that they, too, are almost home. Because the chairs look so life-like, so much like wood and upholstery fabric, they create a humorous, trompe l’oeil effect.

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When I grow up, I want to be…

At work this week a coworker came in and asked us if we could do him a favor. His daughter’s 2nd grade class had each drawn pictures of what they wanted to be when they grew up. He wanted to know if we could scan each drawing for him. Which we did, and had a bit of amusement while doing it. There were the normal jobs that one can imagine gets chosen in these situations: doctors, firemen, police officers. Some kids wanted to be farmers, even a basketball player. My coworker’s daughter wanted to be an artist. One of her friends wanted to be a “flower picker.” But good old Liam here, he wanted to be a Tan Cgotr. Which, thanks to the teacher, translates to Train Conductor.

From the looks of the drawing, this future Metro-North conductor will probably be on that last late-night train out of Grand Central. You know which one I mean, the one that runs local all the way down the Harlem Line, and has plenty of drunks. It looks like Liam here plans on drinking lots of caffeine to keep awake, so much that his eyes are practically popping out of his head. I’m not exactly sure if this is supposed to be a big window on an m7 or something, or the picture is supposed to be the actual train (are those wheels at the bottom?). But apparently Liam imagines serving all the California Raisins and Blueberry people that ride Metro-North.


Drunk or high “artist’s” alternate rendition of Liam’s drawing, starring Salad Fingers.

Anyways, I thank Liam for his wonderful drawing. I would be most happy to purchase Liam’s next child’s fare on Metro North. Perhaps I can introduce him to some cool tan cgotrs.

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