When the “first” really was the best

I thought I had a decent photo of the Saratoga and North Creek Railroad. But could I do better – either with a new photo, or an enhancement of the old one?

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“It’s just a picture, Chuck.  You don’t have to obsess over it.”

“Just a picture,” you say.  Probably also thinks that the Human League is just a synth-pop band.  Pfft.

Here’s what I’m going through now.  I’ve been trying to challenge myself, to take pictures outside of my normal comfort zone, and to actually figure out what this Photoshop CS6 is and how to make it work for me.

My goal for 2016 is to have a winning entry based on a photo in the Adirondacks.  Last year I had a few that earned some “honorable mention” love, but I know I can achieve more.  And I knew there was a concept in my mind… something that would look like a vintage postcard, something that would show the beauty and grace of the Adirondacks in autumn.

A few weeks ago, I captured this image of the Saratoga and North Creek Railroad as it crossed the railroad bridge over the Sacandaga River in the Adirondacks.

Saratoga and North Creek Railroad
Saratoga and North Creek Railroad. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

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It’s a great shot.  Trust me, I love this shot.  But I thought I could do better.

So I drove back up to the Adirondacks.  Maybe I could get something facing up the river.

And I achieved this shot.

Saratoga and North Creek Railroad 2.  Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Saratoga and North Creek Railroad 2. Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

And I liked this photo.  I really did.  But the shadows underneath the bridge didn’t look right.  And the sky was a weird shade of blue.

And I stopped liking the photo.

Had to drive back up there.  Foliage isn’t going to stay those beautiful colors all winter.

Last Saturday, I went back to the spot.  Patiently waited for the train…

And here it comes.

And I got this shot.

Saratoga and North Creek Railroad.  Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f3/.8 lens.  Photo by Chuck MIller.
Saratoga and North Creek Railroad. Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f3/.8 lens. Photo by Chuck MIller.

And I liked this photo.  I really did.  Even with the big puffy clouds and that blue splotch in the sky.

But then I tried to “fix” this photo.

See, from this angle there are telephone lines that stretch across the river, and go right through the frame.  And no amount of Photoshop’s “Content Aware” function will remove them.

By the way, have you ever experienced the Photoshop feature known as “Content Aware”?  You can make offending items disappear in your photograph, as if they never existed.  It’s that same concept used by the Russians generations ago to “unperson” comrades from photographs.

I could make the wires disappear from the clouds, but any wire that went right through the train was still visible.  It couldn’t be removed without its remnants looking like ugly smears.

And I stopped liking this photo.

So last Sunday, I went back up to the spot.

And I took this photo.

saratoga 2b
Hadley Railroad Bridge. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

And I liked this photo.  I really did.  Sort of looks like an old-time Norman Rockwell painting.

But there’s one thing missing from the photo.  One item that would have been perfect in the photo’s composition.

You guessed it – there’s a railroad bridge with no train upon its tracks.

Apparently I did not realize that Sunday that the train was on a special route that day, and thus did not cross over the bridge at its normal sunset run on the schedule.  Yep.  Chuck missed the train.

Any references to “Chuck’s missed the train for 52 years” will be ignored.  I’ve heard them before.

Damn it, the foliage is disappearing.  And I don’t want to wait until October 2016 to take this picture and hope I can get it entered for Competition Season 2017.

Damn it, I whispered as I fell asleep on the couch.  Damn it… God hates me… everybody hates me… even my cameras hate me zzzzz….

And somewhere in that autumn evening, as my mind drifted into slumber, I pondered whether I would ever capture the image from my dreams and make it a reality.

Yes.  I dream in blue italics.  Don’t you?

If only I could get a picture that would enhance my dreams.  An idealized view of the “Forever Wild” Adirondack Mountains, with autumn foliage that would put the Berkshires to shame.  And to have a heritage railroad chugging through the mountains.  If not a locomotive, then maybe a photo where the clouds are equal to the steam from an engine…

Dreaming… my mind drifts backwards… remembering my family’s railroad heritage.  Remembering my childhood in the Adirondacks.  Only the good moments.  There weren’t many, but they did exist.  Channel away all the bad.  Focus on the good… It’s there, Chuck.  It’s been there all the time.  You have the bow.  You have the arrow.  Pull back – let go.  And cleave the apple.

I woke up.  And there was something about my first photograph that I remembered… barely… maybe I’m still sleeping.

Nope.  Black straight Times New Roman text.  Not sleeping.  Rise and grind.

Okay.  One test.  If this doesn’t work, if this doesn’t look like a worthy photograph, I’m giving up on this plan.  I can’t keep doing this.  My readers are getting tired of blog post after blog post of Chuck failing to get something to work.

I went back to my original photo of the bridge.  The one where I had to climb through the forest, balancing both my tripod and my feet on a rickety stone lest I fall into the rapids …

The blue “Ps” splash screen fills my monitor.

Come on, Chuck.  Adjust here.  Tweak there.  Yes.  No.  Too much… Not enough… capture that foliage… make this picture pop.

And after a few tries and errors and adjustments and calibrations…

I got this.

Saratoga and North Creek Railroad, October 2015.   Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Saratoga and North Creek Railroad, October 2015. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Son.

Of.

A.

Bridge.

Holy tea you sez know kurz wurdz…

This is it.  This is the photo.  It’s got everything.  Wispy clouds that look like steam from the locomotive’s smokestack.  The words “Saratoga and North Creek Railroad” on the locomotive chassis.  The Hadley Parabolic “Bow” Bridge in the background.  Foliage.  Red and yellow and green foliage.  The shadow on the right isn’t obtrusive.  The power wires are concealed.

This is the postcard image I wanted.  The might and power of the forest, the energy and elegance of a railroad locomotive…

I had it right the first time, and I didn’t even realize it.

Forget short pile.  Everybody completely forget “short pile.”

This is getting printed.  I don’t care where it ends up.  It’s ending up somewhere, that’s all that matters.

This was the image I wanted all along.  This was the concept that bubbled in my mind at night, in my sleepy slumber.

This is the answer.

And why did it take so long to comprehend the question, I may never know.

4 thoughts on “When the “first” really was the best”

  1. Chuck, you’re a maniac, but your pursuit of perfection is why you produce world-class pictures, time after time. I want a camera like the one you’re using!

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  2. Great shots Chuck! Who ever gets that photo just right? As someone who’s been chasing trains for 30 years you never get the perfect shot when you are trying to!

    And yes, The Human League is WAY more than a Synth-Pop band!

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