Off the Rails…

A few months ago I was approached about a very unique project from someone who I have worked with in the past but not really on a paid scale (when I review their products I am never paid).  Sigma called, well, they emailed, but that’s beside the point.  Sigma called and ask if I would head to Cass West Virginia to help with a Photo Charter they were sponsoring with Trains Magazine.  What an interesting idea I thought.  I knew nothing about steam trains, and to an extent, I still don’t.  But my job would be to head down to Cass West Virginia, 90 minutes from any modern cell phone reception, and loan out Sigma lenses to folks looking to try them while also helping them to make the best photos they could with the situation at hand.  What was the situation at hand?  The 100-year-old Climax Engine Number 9 had just completed its 18-year restoration having not been operated for 50 years.  That would be our subject for the weekend and whoa what a subject it was!

(Nikon Z7, 250ISO, SIGMA 24-70F2.8Art@24mm with FTZ Adapter.  1/320th@F8)

There she is.  But I’m getting ahead of myself so let me back up a bit.  For those unaware (which I am assuming is everyone) Cass West Virginia has a population of 52 from the 2010 census.  Thanks to the world’s largest radio telescope in Green Bank West Virginia there is no cell reception within 90 minutes of Cass West Virginia.  It was a trip watching the workshop attendees attempting to look up facts they could not recall on their phones only realizing once they recovered them from their numerous layers of clothing that they were ineffective.  I myself did this on one or two occasions because let’s be real, old habits die hard.  Trains Magazine had a heck of an event set up for the participants.  We were set in the early 1900s with a period-correct train and modern cameras to make some pictures.  How cool is that?

(Nikon Z7, 200ISO, SIGMA 24-70F2.8@24mm with FTZ Adapter  1/6th@F22)

The event started out with a presentation from the Sigma Sponsored Keynote speaker William Beecher.  Great guy, really great at photographing everything trains.  He gave a great presentation and was great to pick the brain of regarding trains, which I admittedly still only know a little about.  The event was pretty fantastic if you are crazy about trains though.  The crowd got up to watch the switching of the tracks first thing in the morning and then we loaded onto another antique steam train, a Shay (specifically the number 5) and a 100-year-old period-correct passenger car to head out onto the tracks.  Jim Wrinn of Trains magazine went out on the tracks the day before and found the best most photogenic locations for the group to photograph the Climax Number 9.  So we hopped on the Shay #5 and headed out into the wild.  Unboarded the Shay, and waited for the Climax 9 to “fly-by”.

(Nikon Z7, 160ISO, SIGMA 24-70F2.8@24mmwith FTZ Adapter  1/1000th@F4)

We ended up getting multiple attempts at each location being allowed to change our framing, depth of field, or shutterspeeds.  Helping folks get the best photos at each spot wasn’t too hard which left me time to shoot on my own.  Some folks were very proficient with their cameras and others had plenty of questions.  That part was pretty standard for an event like this.  The most challenging shoot for everyone was the night shot, which I’ll talk about very shortly, but once we all got squared away everybody absolutely loved it.

(Nikon Z7, 31ISO, SIGMA 24-70F2.8ART@48mmwith FTZ Adapter.  1/13th@F22)

Encouraging people to attempt panning was a big thing.  the nice part about so many attempts at shooting the train was that you could definitely get the shot of it frozen on one pass so there was nothing to lose shooting the others like above.  The Trains Magazine people even had a few period surprises in store for the crowd, which really added a bit to the element of fun.

(Nikon Z7, 31ISO, SIGMA 24-70F2.8Art@38mmwith FTZ Adapter.  1/400th@F2.8)

This below is what I came up with for the night shot.  The Trains Magazine folks were using some strobes to really make the Train pop, however, I was more interested in timing my shots between the pops because I was thinking a galaxy bigger. I wanted Stars.  With a little effort, and some loaned out fast primes a few of us were able to get just that.  Unfortunately (for me), the Sigma Fast primes that I had available for the event were all loaned out to participants (which is what they were all for) so on my camera I used the Nikon 24mm that I brought with me.  It looks like I’ll be buying a Sigma 28F1.4 to replace it soon because as much as I do like my Nikon 24F1.4 after multiple back to back uses I can tell you that the Sigma 28F1.4 does significantly better for astrophotography with a very little chromatic aberration or fringing around the edges.  Will I keep my Nikon 24? Undecided;’ it was really expensive when I bought it almost 10 years ago.  I digress.

(Nikon Z7, 200ISO, Nikon 24F1.4. 10 seconds @F1.4.  Camera supported by a Benro TMA48CXL Tripod triggered with a Nikon WR-10)

This was not, however, the first time I had seen the train at night.  I may or may not have snuck down to the depot to see it the night before and to shoot it down there while it was sleeping with its two partners, the Shay #5 and Shay #11.  I’m not sure which shot I like more, so I present both.  Just for fun.

(Nikon Z7, 800ISO, Nikon 24F1.4. 10 seconds @F1.4.  Camera supported by a Benro TMA48CXL Tripod triggered with a Nikon WR-10)

And there we have it.  I’ve not had the opportunity to work an event like this for Sigma before but I’ve already told them I’d do it again at any time.  The event itself was very well run via the Trains Magazine folks, and they were incredibly appreciative of Sigma’s support.  The lenses performed flawlessly as you would expect and people were really impressed by them.  It was a beautiful drive, and the weather was spectacular.  If you are really into trains, especially older steam trains, a Trains Magazine Photo charter is something you should absolutely look into.  Very, Very cool.  More Soon.