Have you ever taken pictures from a moving train? If you have, then perhaps you'll agree that taking a good photograph from the window of a moving train is sort of like life -- you can't really see what's coming, but you occasionally get little glimpses of what's ahead as you go around the curves.
You take shots at things you think will be great, but then they seldom turn out to be just what you expect, because it's all guess work and chance. Life's a gamble and so is taking photos from a train.
It's for that reason that I've always loved to ride on trains, where I have a moving panoramic perspective on everyday things, and where other people's realities go sliding by on the other side of a glass window as I roll past.
It can be a glimpse into an apartment window, a young family in a car at a train crossing, an abandoned factory surrounded by deserted streets, or a cluster of tents with laundry hanging on the trees by the tracks -- and then it's gone.
The light, the time of day, the shadows, the weather, can all add drama or mystery to these scenes, but because you are moving sideways to the landscape, it all rushes by in something of a blur.
So it was when I made a recent trip to Boston on tracks that run right along the I-95 corridor. I have been driving on the I-95 side of the same landscape I could see from the train window, north to Massachusetts, for decades now, and I feel as if I know every meadow, every bridge, every barn, and every bump on the road all the way from here to Boston.
To see I-95 and so many of these same familiar views from the vantage point of the train was fascinating.
At first, I just looked out the window, recognizing water inlets and back-door views of shopping plazas and buildings between here and Fairfield.
When I got to Bridgeport, my eyes were glued to abandoned multiple family homes and empty streets that looked even worse from the train than they do from I-95.
I later wished I had taken photos of those things, because they left strong visual impressions.
By the time the train made a stop in Mystic, I had taken a few photos and had the camera in my hand when I saw some interesting things reflected in the train station windows. Just as I went to take a picture, a double reflected image of a huge ferry going by behind the train leaped right into my picture. Reflexively, I grabbed the shot, as you can see in the photo accompanying the article, and the ferry was gone before I could even refocus my camera.
Train windows often give off very interesting double reflections -- when a train stops under the station's canopy, for instance -- when the light is bouncing off of something outside the canopy at just the right angle.
As the train continued along from there, I recognized other towns I can't name, and the long bridges of I-95 as they arced over the inlets along the road. I-95 is a lot more interesting from the train than it is when you drive on it.
Somewhere north of Mystic, I took the picture you see of I-95 straddling one of the inlets -- this is what you look like to those in boats on the water when you go whizzing overhead on the road.
At one point, the train began to slow as it approached a station, and I caught the picture you see of a small, one-street town in late afternoon. This scene reminds me of places I've been at various times in my life -- places I'm happy to see, but happier to pass through and keep on going.
Later in the afternoon, as it was getting dark, we were passing some salt marshes and ahead on a gentle curve I saw a lonely house seemingly in the middle of the marsh. Because of the low light, I had the camera on a slow shutter speed. I really shouldn't have been able to get a decent exposure, especially from a moving train, but I grabbed the shot anyway, and I was happy that, with the blurred edges, washed out sky and muddy dark areas, it turned out to look like a darkroom print made from the negative of a primitive film camera.
After the sun sank below the horizon, there were some beautiful moments as the sun's rays shot up to hit some high clouds, making a dramatic sky. On this shot, I was lucky to catch such a bright sky contrasted by a lovely church steeple with beams of light flashing into the picture. You'll notice that, with the slow shutter speed, the brightly lighted clouds are in sharper focus than the shadowy steeple, which is blurry because it is dark and closer to the moving train.
So that was the adventure of the day -- taking a train ride and a challenging refresher course in how motion, reflection, focus and light affect photography.
Lee Paine of Riverside is a professional freelance writer and photographer. She teaches, lectures and judges in the photographic field. You can visit her website at www.leepainefinephotography.com.