Semester Break Part 2: Rails and Rust

On Wednesday, June 3rd, photographers Lee Peterson and Mike Uriel and I went to the Orange Empire Railroad Museum (OERM) in Perris, CA.   It is considered to be one of the best train museums there is and since we’ve had good luck photographing at the train and transportation museums in Campo we were curious how this stacked up from a photographer’s perspective.  I was also interested in its potential as a field-trip location.

From a museum perspective there is no doubt this is a top rate place.  If you are into trains this is a must stop destination for you.  They have almost everything related to trains and on weekends they give rides on their tracks all over the property.  However have a good map or use your GPS to find it.  Perris is not a big place but the museum is definitely off of the beaten path and main roads.

The grounds are like a little town complete with buildings and town square.  Here is one of the buildings beside a collection of railroad signals.

Building at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum, Perris, CA

Building at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum, Perris, CA

However, to be honest, strictly from a photographer’s viewpoint, if the goal is to shoot trains and rolling stock and you are from San Diego, the Campo sites are better and also closer.  Here, at OERM things are either packed together in barns or spread out over their very large property.  There are very cool things to see but shooting is more of a problem. It is easy to take “I was there” snapshots but fine art type images of train stuff seemed easier in the other places.

Regardless, our primary mission brought us here to take photographs and that is what we intended to do.  We selected and loaded up our gear, walked into the area and almost immediately split up to go search for our own images.  Group dynamics has always interested me, especially as a teacher.  Some groups want to stay together and end up with a common shared experience.  Others split up quickly with each experiencing the event in their own ways.  We three old Grey Beards had our own experiences and associations with trains and, at least in my case, walked in with pre-visualized images to capture.

I had decided to really give the Rhinocam™ MF adapter a workout.  I’ve written about it before showing how it is designed to allow you to mount a DSLR behind a medium format lens and shoot multiple frames to stitch together.  The sliding adapter allows you to capture the equivalent of a full size Medium Format (MF)  2¼ x 2¼ sensor .  Actually none of the digital medium format cameras are that large and are more like the 645-sized small MF cameras.  The Pentax sensor is even smaller.  But a side benefit, for me, is that it forces me away from the “spray and pray” approach I see so many digital camera operators using and back into the deliberative style of the true photographers of the serious film days.

Back in those film days I always liked the square format and this rig allowed me to compose for it for several of the shots and, at the same time, also created a large enough file (nearly 250 megabytes) to crop as needed and still have a captured file considerably larger than a full frame 35mm-sized DSLR.  It does not give me the optical lens and image plane movements that the DSLR adapter on the Wista Technical camera affords – and for several shots a forced angle made me wish for it – but it provides a much easier-to-use platform to capture an image file with over 5 times the pixel count of the base DSLR.  And using a Hasselblad Zeiss lens gave me the color and contrast beauty of those incredible lenses.

Remember my comment about pre-visualized images to capture here?  Ah, not so fast Grasshopper…  The greatest and most wonderful plans often crumble in the face of reality…  This is true in both commercial and fine art genres.   You have to be able to adapt.  When the plans formed in the fantasy world of my mind turned out to be non-existent in this venue, the question is simple: what is?  I had anticipated using all that resolution on some shots of locomotives and the like.  However when I saw how things were arranged at the museum it was instantly apparent to me that I needed to concentrate on details and perhaps even some abstracts.  And fortunately that type of shot was everywhere.

This would be perfect for the Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm f4 lens, famous for its sharpness.  Most of these shots allow you to click on them to see the images enlarged so you can see the detail and smoothness of tone.  Just remember, to been seen on a computer and save room on my blog’s servers, these are all low resolution files.

The first shot here is the face of a machine with incredible texture from cracked and peeling paint.

Cracked and peeling paint on old machine at the Railroad museum in Perris, CA.  Canon 5D MkII with Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm f4 and Rhinocam adapter

Cracked and peeling paint on old machine at the Railroad museum in Perris, CA. Canon 5D MkII with Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm f4 and Rhinocam adapter

Nearby was a collection of welding tanks outside one of the repair barns.  Not really parts of trains or railroad equipment, the tank colors and pattern against the drab tin wall and dark dead windows got my attention.  Interestingly this shot is very similar to one Lee took.

Welding tanks behind a repair barn at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum.

Welding tanks behind a repair barn at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum.

On one old machine, the bizarre arrangement of tubes and levers reminded me of a whimsical Miro painting.

A Miro-like pattern on a machine panel at the Railroad museum in Perris, CA.  Canon 5D MkII w/ Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm f4 on Rhinocam adapter

A Miro-like pattern on a machine panel at the Railroad museum in Perris, CA. Canon 5D MkII w/ Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm f4 on Rhinocam adapter

Another shot eerily similar to one of Lee’s is this view of the window in one of the maintenance sheds with the weeds growing in front of it.  Neither of us saw the other one shooting this and yet it is almost as if our tripods were in the same place.

A window on a car barn at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum in Perris, CA.  Canon 5D MkII, Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm f4 and Rhinocam Adapter

A window on a car barn at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum in Perris, CA. Canon 5D MkII, Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm f4 and Rhinocam Adapter

I love shooting with other photographers, especially great ones like Lee.  Sometimes I can stand side by side with a shooter and our individual “visions” for the images make our photos look like they are from different planets.  My friend and colleague from Palomar College, Donna Cosentino is like that.  We will be drawn like visual magnets to the same views but our resulting images are completely different in almost every aspect.  At other times, however, even though the other photographers and I are not shooting together we ultimately cover the same territory and find that we were drawn to the same subjects with only slight differences in how our individual senses of composition or association guide how we crop or aim at the subject.

I was especially attracted to the rust patterns on some of the old equipment. You may recall my fascination with the rust patterns on some trucks on the Taos trip. This shot below is a pattern of faded paint and rust on the side of a box car.

A pattern of rust and faded paint on a railcar at the Railroad museum in Perris, CA.  Shot with Canon 5D MkII and Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm F4 on Rhnocam MF Adapter.

A pattern of rust and faded paint on a railcar at the Railroad museum in Perris, CA. Shot with Canon 5D MkII and Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm F4 on Rhnocam MF Adapter.

And this next shot was on the hood over the engine of what looked like some sort of old road maintenance equipment

Rust on the hood of what I think was an old road maintenance machine at the Perris Railroad Museum.  Canon 5D MkII w/ Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm f4 and Rhinocam MF Adapter

Rust on the hood of what I think was an old road maintenance machine at the Perris Railroad Museum. Canon 5D MkII w/ Hasselblad Zeiss 180mm f4 and Rhinocam MF Adapter

And I also was drawn to this simple yet complex detail of the locks and locking levers on the door to a boxcar.

The lock on a box car in the Perris, CA Railroad Museum.  Shot with Canon 5D MkII, Hasselblad-Zeiss 180mm f4 in Rhinocam MF Adapter.

The lock on a box car in the Perris, CA Railroad Museum. Shot with Canon 5D MkII, Hasselblad-Zeiss 180mm f4 in Rhinocam MF Adapter.

So it was a fun day shooting. It was an interesting exercise to switch visual gears when the images I had imagined in my fevered brain were simply not there.  It was also a great exercise to again work with the square format.  A few of the shots needed to be cropped into a more traditional rectangle but some remain that, to me, work perfectly in that square composition.  And it was good to be forced to slow down and work as I used to when shooting view cameras in the field and had to plan each shot as it was forming in my mind.

To see Lee’s images from our little trek you can go to his blog at www.photographyinparadise.com.  There are some fun ones there for you to see.

So now that I have some time before the semester starts, I’ll have to see what else is out there to shoot.  On Saturday I will give a presentation to the San Diego Photoshop Users Group which is always fun.

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About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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