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Rails of Light & Smoke

Posted by
Stephen Phillips (San Francisco, United States) on 3 July 2008 in Business & Industry and Portfolio.

Image from late in the afternoon of 24 June 2008 - a time when the many fires in northern California were bringing much dense smoke to the area. The air quality through here would normally be pristine. Here is an eastbound Amtrak train rolling past the C & H Sugar Factory in Crockett, California - along the Carquinez Strait. I was on the tracks - focusing on the rail spikes in the foreground when the train came into view. My thought (of, course) was 'just what the image needs'!

The engineer was blowing the horn rather insistently - perhaps having something to do with the idiot photographer's tripod - low across the rail up ahead.

This posting is dedicated to Sherri Schaefer Bagby - noted American photographer & rail daredevil.

© copyright 2018 by Stephen Phillips Photography / Oakland, California /
please respect these rights - do not copy or use these images without permission.

dj.tigersprout from San Bruno, United States

excellent local scene Stephen! love the light on the railways and the reddish grey tint of the air from the week long fires! the factory shapes in the background make for marvelous eye candy. :) i am off for a long weekend so won't post again until saturday night for sunday -- hope your long weekend is great! happy 4rth to you! :)

3 Jul 2008 5:46am

@dj.tigersprout: DJ - I just crossed you with Mirko - sorry - I caught it right after I hit send...

Still, have a great Fourth! Enjoy!

Shun from Mühlheim am Main, Germany

Stephen! i am a huge fan of railroad inspired photos. Yours is just great. So much detail and brilliant play with focus. The coming towards you is really an eyecatcher. I should have a look at my harddisk for train pics... Until today I only posted this one here at the blog. Not nearly as nice as yours... but still :-)

3 Jul 2008 6:29am

@Shun: Mirko - that link simply took me to your blog home page - so I poked around and I'm guessing you are talking about the image 'Cargo'. I really like that image. It is quite different from this one - but the sky, the curve, the repetition of the tracks and cars have it a compelling photograph.

Thomas Griffioen from Bocas del Toro, Panama

The lighted rails are dragging me into the picture like a guideline, the lights of the train, the soft colors because of the smoke...great!

3 Jul 2008 6:44am

@Thomas Griffioen: Thanks, Thomas

Marie Le Corre from France

Excellent ! I like guideline, lights of train and composition with deep.

3 Jul 2008 7:04am

Michael Skorulski from Cigel, Slovakia

I like the perspective and the excellent composition, Stephen. Miss Bagby, the rail daredevil, sounds fascinating!

3 Jul 2008 7:31am

@Michael Skorulski: Michael - thank you. The Sherri Bagby reference is a bit of an inside joke. Sherri is one of my favorite photographers. She and her husband work together in Little Rock and she was instrumental in my blogging over at VFXY. Her posts most always contain some considered narrative - along with a well-chosen literary quote.

On Monday, Sherri had a photo she took while on railroad tracks - being interrupted by the sudden approach of a train. Hence, inspiring this post.

Find her at:

See The Light from Newcastle, United States

Fantastic image, got to be a dare devil to get the good stuff.

3 Jul 2008 8:59am

@See The Light: Not to much dare or devil left in this shooter. One of the benefits of telephoto lenses, is we get to bail - before being baleful.

Betty from New Jersey, United States

Excellent, Stephen! I love railroad photos! Your narrative adds to it! The lights of the train coming toward you... I can hear the whistle blowing! Great shot!

3 Jul 2008 9:20am

@Betty: Hey, Betty - thanks - this was a fun excursion. It was hot and very smokey, but worth every minute. If you are interested - here is a link to the first of four images of the smoky sunset - taken in the same area later that day:

eddy from tehran, Iran

amazing perspective

3 Jul 2008 9:30am

Evelyne Dubos from Le Mans, France

Perspective, composition & soft colors of background make a beautiful picture. Well done.

3 Jul 2008 9:37am

@Evelyne Dubos: Evelyne - thanks.

Anthony Lambert from Germany

The risks a photographer takes for a great photo.Well done.

3 Jul 2008 11:42am

@Anthony Lambert: Thanks, Anthony.

hugo poon from hong kong, Hong Kong

Love the tone, colours, shallow DOF... and yes, it's wonderful to have the train approaching!!!
(PS. Wondering if the atmosphere can be further heightened with bridge at the top cropped... of course, it's very nice as it is!)

3 Jul 2008 11:44am

@hugo poon: Thanks, Hugo - your question is one that I pondered. This image presents a number of composition challenges and I agree your suggestion would produce a tighter feel to the composition - and perhaps more drama. My decision was based on keeping a larger 'industrial' feel to the composition. I'll play with your suggestion. Perhaps - another post for another day...

Sylvain from Trois Rivieres, Canada

Excellent shoot ! I just love it !

3 Jul 2008 2:51pm

Eleftheria! from Athens, Greece


3 Jul 2008 3:00pm

alex centrella from California, United States

cool shot, like the lines leading your eyes into the image...

3 Jul 2008 3:41pm

@alex centrella: Thank you, Alex.

sherri from Little Rock, Arkansas, United States

I was going to say the engineer was no doubt blowing his whistle at you. Very illegal to be on their property. Although I still take pics of trains coming there's one small town where I never go because the Sheriff, Barney Fife threatened me with reckless endangerment. Yep, I know, the wrong It's in my archives....Incredible capture.

3 Jul 2008 4:06pm

@sherri: I can just see ol' Barney - shaking and fumbling to get that lone bullet in his gun - going off to track down that loony lady with the camera, and Andy telling him to just calm down.

Life's good - so long as we take our own responsibility to stay on the right track...

Baz from Teglia, United Kingdom

I really like it, great work!

3 Jul 2008 8:05pm

Ron from Saint Louis, United States

Terrific perspective ... I like the way the light is illuminating the top of the rails drawing us in.

3 Jul 2008 11:23pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

superb composition - love the focus on the tracks that lead one into the trains in the distance... classic railway photo and i love it!

4 Jul 2008 7:41am

Vink from Magagnosc, France

Amazing shot ! Whaouh !!!!

5 Jul 2008 8:15am

Ted from South Wales, United Kingdom

Really, really like this one. I can hear the drama of the horn trying to clear you off the tracks. Great perspective. (I too would've cropped out the bridge span)

6 Jul 2008 8:07am

@Ted: Thanks, Ted - I'll have to admit - shooting this did provide a bit of an adrenaline rush. As to the crop - I'll play with this later in the week (busy period, just now) - I'll let you know if I post a different composition on my website.

m a r t a from Spain

Beautiful beautiful picture! I don't know if I would've been so daring to use a tripod though ;)

15 Jul 2008 9:42pm

Claus Petersen from herfølge, Denmark

I love the leading lines in this one, it's really well composed!

4 Mar 2009 9:06am

Pravin Patade from Fremont, United States

excellent.. Do you have one where the train is in clear focus too? I know must be difficult to capture it when the train is honking at you :)

18 Nov 2011 10:15pm