On a beautiful fall afternoon I didn’t see a single train on the drive between Troy and Whitehall, New York. Excellent news, perhaps it will be a busy night. I was going to Vermont to photograph the Canadian Pacific’s line along Lake Champlain at night. I drove right past magic hour in farm country to twilight at Benson Landing, Vermont.
The North end of the Lake features a ribbon of track tied to cliffs that drop straight into deep water. This stretch is an iconic representation of the Delaware & Hudson’s north end. After considering how many balloons it would take to lift my lights to track level (the lake is a little windy for that), I went looking for some easier geography. I found a long rock cut running along the lake a few miles south of Ticonderoga, New York. Aerial images showed some plants sticking out of the water, two hundred feet off the tracks. Perhaps the lights could float on top of the marsh plants. A nightly local runs up to the paper mill in Ticonderoga so this location would give me two more shots than a scene further north.
“Yeah, alright D-13,” said the scanner as I was loading the canoe. “What is my train doing out so early!” The local rolled north a few minutes later. To my surprise, a caboose terminated the short train. I was energized by the thought that they might return with the caboose right behind the engine.
The crew called the dispatcher a few minutes later to say they were out of the way on a passing track by the mill. An oil train overtook the canoe as I headed south in search for the rock cuts and shallows. Another train past before dark. This wasn’t looking so great.
If you push a light stand down into the muck, the whole stand slowly floats back up on a wave of gassy bubbles. I spread the legs out as far as they’d go and hoped for the best as I set up the lights.
Light no. 1 was set perpendicular to the tracks, about one hundred feet to the north(right) of the camera. This light would do most of the work. A second light of equal power was placed about 100 feet in the other direction and pointed towards the right side of the frame. This light would ensure there were no shadows behind the nose of the locomotive, light the south ends of the cars, and the right side of the frame. I paddled between the two lights and tried a test shot. Nothing. I’d paid close attention to keeping the 120 volt electrical work out of the water, but left the radio slave triggered behind the lights’ batteries. Corrected, the lights worked. I focused the camera using the light atop a flashing bouy, fired up the stove in the canoe for tea, and waited.
And waited. After cooking some dinner, a northbound rolled through. I took a shot to test the exposure and found the left side of the frame was a little dark. I set out two speedlights and set them to the maximum zoom. Now we were set for the southbound D-13. Took a quick spin by the big lights to warm up and noticed they had not settled much. Good.
Five hours after first seeing the train, its headlight illuminated the Vermont side of the lake and then swung around a curve and lit up the New York side. I turned on some continuous lighting to check for the caboose, stood up in the canoe, and took the one shot I’d get.
The short train completely passed before the flashes recycled in the cold. I didn’t care, I was hitting plus, plus, plus on the camera to check the shot. Things looked good enough to call it an early night. With wet, muddy stands in the bottom of the canoe and the camera and lights back in their dry-boxes, I paddled to the boat launch. “Wait, where was the launch?”
That’s when i spotted two yellow reflectors. I padded over hoping they were on the state dock. It was a house cat sitting on the end of the dock. Some nights are lucky like that.