Thursday, July 17, 2008

Train Spotting

I mentioned in a previous posting that I like to photograph steam trains…….sometimes…………when I get the chance…….I’m not an anorak you understand. Well, last Saturday my wife decided to have a day out in London with our youngest son. As we have a dog at home and no one to look after it and as we need to save money at the moment (just bought another car), I decided to stay at home. Except that I didn’t.

A few days previous, as I was sat at my desk in my office at work, a head suddenly appeared around the door and it turned out to be a friend who is particularly keen on steam trains. Being an ex-photographer, like myself, he also likes photographing them. He gave me the details of a train which would be passing through Whittlesea on its way to Peterborough the same Saturday. This, I decided was my mission for the day. My wife would go to London, and I would go to Whittlesea.

I arrived at a level crossing just on the southern outskirts of Whittlesea in plenty of time to see the train which was due at around eight minutes past nine in the morning. I was thinking of going to the station, but seeing other people with cameras loitering with intent at the crossing, I decided this must be a good vantage point, so I swung the car into the “siding” and joined the gaggle. The first thing that hit me was they were all pretty old, or at least middle aged. Actually, from what I have seen of train enthusiasts, most seem to be like that. I then realised that I must have fitted in pretty well, as I am pretty old myself.

I got talking as you do. I went to great pains to let them know that I wasn’t an anorak (because I’m not), but did like to photograph the odd train – when I had the chance. I was careful not to actually use the word “anorak” while explaining myself, in case I ended up with my camera shoved down my throat, or rammed firmly where the sun doesn’t shine! I explained that there was a time – many years ago – when I could be found sat on the railway bank marking off the numbers of passing trains in my Ian Allan book. They seemed really impressed – not! Also, I noticed that they had better photo equipment than me. The guy with the long beard and hair tied back next to me (high train-spotter fashion!) had two single lens reflex digital cameras, both with long telephoto lenses on, and both a higher spec than my timid Canon EOS 350D. His cameras were black. Mine was silver. I asked him if he marketed his photographs. He seemed a little disdainful of the question, rather as if I had asked him if he farted regularly! “No” - he replied, but he does have a web site and proceeded to show me some of his prints from the day before. Nice clear photos. His web site is:

Other middle aged men gathered – women don’t seem to be interested in trains; it’s a very masculine pursuit! A couple had quite expensive looking video cameras. I wondered what they did with all the footage. Did they edit them all together? Was it an on going process with an ever increasing series of trains, one after the other, going on for hours…..and hours…..and hours……and…..? But then, probably not! As I really hate video, I showed my distaste by not entering into conversation with them. They obliged, by not entering into conversation with me.

As I stood, contemplating the track lines, stretching off into the distance ahead of me, I heard one of my companions saying that the train was running 37 minutes late. He had just got the info after phoning his mate further up the line. Damn and blast I thought, but decided not to be discouraged but to wait it out come what may. I had timed things so that I could get out, take the photograph, and get home without the need for the loo. Unfortunately, the cup of tea I had earlier before setting out was having a disproportionate effect on the inner walls of my bladder, and the pressure was steadily building. Well, a mans gotta do what a mans gotta do – only on this occasion it was an open –air pee. Fortunately, we were next to a bit of a woodland nature reserve, so I was able hide myself away and relieve the pressure. I always find I can concentrate a lot better on things when I’m not busting for a pee…….don’t know about you.

I stood, continuing to monitor the conversations. Talk of engine sheds. Talk of shunting yards. Talk of fabled engines in fabled railways. This was all completely out of my league of course, because I am not an anorak. I continued to stand, stare and listen. The barriers at the crossing kept going down, trains passing, then the barriers rising again. Every time the barriers went down, I switched on my camera in case it was the steam train. Lots of trains passed. All diesels. This was not an electric line, so there were no pylons and no overhead power lines. This was good because without these elements, it would add a touch of authenticity to my photos – when the train finally came.

One of my fellow train spotters phoned his mate again. It was clear that the train was now nearly upon us – at the very gates! I quickly checked my camera settings, not wanting to arse it up after going to so much effort. The brightness had changed. The morning had begun dank and gloomy. However, the weather had now definitely brightened and I settled on 200 ISO at F8 aperture priority mode. This gave me a shutter speed of around one six hundredth of a second. As I wanted the train to be nice and sharp in the picture, I knew that with careful panning, this was well fast enough to stop the motion.

A puff of white smoke appeared on the horizon. Then I saw the engine and carriages appear in the distance. I focussed on it through the viewfinder, and proceeded to fire off shots for as long as I could until the train went past me. It came racing towards me, around the bend, though not racing particularly fast (it was late, after all) – more a steady canter than a fast gallop. Right up until this point I didn’t actually know what the name of the engine was, nor had I bothered to ask. Just the fact that it was steam was good enough for me. When the train had gone, I zoomed in on the camera preview screen to look at the name plate on the engine. It read: Union of South Africa.

No comments: