Catching The Train

When I was a kid I had a Hornby train set and my pride and joy was a model Flying Scotsman. To me it was everything that an engine should be, sleek, fast and painted in a beautiful British Racing Green.
 
The Flying Scotsman Black and White
The Flying Scotsman steams through the North Yorkshire Moors
 
Roll on 35 years and trains are no longer my thing, but great photography subjects are, which is why my ears pricked up at a breakfast TV story about the Flying Scotsman returning to the tracks after a £4m refit. I decided that it would make a nice little photography project and to that end I recently found myself wandering the North Yorkshire Moors in the vicinity of the heritage railway line that runs through it in search of my childhood train idol.
 
Now I’m not interested in your standard train pics. I knew that each station along the route, and indeed any part of the track that one could get near, would be full of people getting standard close ups of “train going by”. Shots of trains do not particularly interest me, however, landscape shots with probably the most iconic train of all time running through it do interest me, and that is what I set out to get.
 
As always I did a lot of research before hand on where the best vantage points were likely to be. It’s never good to drive 250 miles only to wander aimlessly unable to find anything worth shooting. I also familiarised myself with the timetable so that not only did I know where to be but I knew when to be there, hence maximising my chances of getting good shots.
 
I had decided on 2 places, one near Goathand where I could pretty much park up and shoot and one high up on the edge of a valley near Levisham station, a point that would require an 11km walk there and back. As a bonus I had also booked myself into a B&B in the delightful and picturesque village of Staithes on the coast in the hope that if all else failed I could at least get some nice coastal shots.
 
I arrived at around 09:30 and headed straight for the vantage point near Goathland as the train was due past at 09:44. Within seconds of getting out of the car the drizzle started and for the rest of the day the pattern remained the same. The rain would start the moment my camera came out of the bag and stop when it went back in. This made for a particularly frustrating time. I am waterproof as is my camera and lens, that is not the issue, the problem with that kind of weather is keeping the rain spots off the lens. Because the sky was a couple of stops lighter than the land I was working with a graduated filter and because the Flying Scotsman appears to not be the greatest time keeper ever I was finding myself waiting for an hour or more for her to come round the corner. I couldn’t put everything away if I was going to get the shot so all I could do was continuously clean the filter. Most annoying, however, eventually the waiting paid off and I got my first shot (above) of this glorious machine.
 
Next I headed to an area called The Hole of Horcum which is a 400ft deep, 3/4 mile wide hole in the moors. Here began my 5.5km walk to the vantage point for my next planned shot. It’s at moments like this that I’m thankful I ditched the world of DSLR for mirrorless cameras. I took everything with me, Olympus OM-D E-M1, 6 lenses that went from 18 to 400mm equivalent, all my filters, tripod, iPad, sandwiches, etc. All in a small backpack which I hardly felt. On the way I met a guy who shoots with a Canon 5DMkii and who was explaining his thought process that morning when deciding which lenses he should take and which to leave at home. I didn’t envy him at all.
 
Upon reaching my destination, after what was an extremely pleasant walk, I was greeted with a beautiful valley stretching out below me with the train tacks running into the distance along the valley floor. This was exactly what I had hoped for and with the next scheduled pass an hour away I decided to make the most of having the iPad with me and edit a few shots from earlier.
 
One of the most frustrating things that Adobe has done, and there are lots, is create a superb pro level editing app for the iPad that syncs with Lightroom on the desktop and not allow the user to import RAW files directly onto the iPad. Adobe blame Apple for this, but I don’t buy that, however, whoever is to blame, as I sat surveying the beautiful vista with time on my hands I decided to try out a workaround that I had figured out. You can find out more details of how this workaround works in this video but this was the first time I had tried it “in the field” with a new shot and it worked fine. Within 20 minutes I had a finished edit of the RAW file and yet I was 250 miles from my MacBook. All I needed was an iPad and a 3G signal. The shot I edited was the black and white one above.
 
The drizzle continued to come and go in the wind but as the sound of the approaching Scotsman began to echo through the valley the rain subsided just in time for me to dry everything off and rattle off this shot.
 
Flying Scotsman steams through a valley
Waiting through the cold wind and rain was rewarded with this shot of the Flying Scotsman steaming through the valley
 
The long walk back to the car was rain free and I had plenty of time to admire the scenery before stopping off back at Goathland for the last pass of the day and then on to Staithes for a well earned pint or 2 and a bit of editing.
 
Sunday morning broke with clear skies so I rose just before sunrise and headed out to explore and do one of my favourite types of photography, coastal. First I headed to a small area high up above the harbour which is a favourite place for photogaphers affording stunning views over the harbour and village. The sun decided to play ball and popped up just at the right time for the shot below making tolerating the bracing chilly wind a little more worthwhile. 
 
Staithes Sunrise
The beautiful village of Staithes at sunrise is well worth waiting in the cold for
 
I hung around a little longer and did a bit of long exposure stuff before heading down to the harbour where the sunlight played off against the tide in a little game to see which would win. Would the sun bathe the harbour in light first or would the tide drown me? Luckily the sun won allowing me to get this shot with minutes to spare before the tide cut me off.
 
Staithes Harbout
Staithes is stunningly picturesque and well worth a visit. A night at The Royal George is well worth the outlay
 
After breakfast I headed into the moors again but the traffic was manic compared to the day before and not wishing to spend all day sitting in queues watching the distant puffs of steam coming up from the bottom of the valley I decided to forego the landscape opportunities and head to Pickering station to do what I promised myself I wouldn’t, stand and take close up shots with everyone else. Thankfully upon my arrival it became clear that I would need to do no such thing, there was simply so much else more interesting to shoot than standard train shots.
 
Selfie
Surprisingly I wasn’t the only person taking photographs at Pickering Station
The Romance of Steam
The age of steam certainly seems to bring the romance out in people
Steam
 
 
Passengers
 
 
Nameplate
 
 
 
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OMD

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I am often asked “what camera do you use”. My old blog was pretty much dedicated to wobbling around the world on an old bicycle, and until recently this question had never crossed my befuddled mind. But as time moves on and circumstances change photography has become an increasingly important part of my life, both as an expression of the way I see the world, and as an outlet for the passions of a slightly confused fellow drifting through life in his own slightly off-skew sort of a manner.

During those years of drifting along my interest in photography has grown immensely. I originally began photographing my journeys because one of my closest friends, who happens to be a professional photographer, convinced me to do so. “You go to interesting places and do interesting things” he told me, “photograph it!” Well, there seemed little arguing with this logic, and so I followed his instructions, and as time passed I began to get an insight into what photography is about, and as this insight developed so did my interest, and with the developing interest seemed to come a development in ability and understanding of what I was doing. A new awareness of light and life began to emerge. And so did my photography, I think in the direction of travel photography which perhaps explains the question regarding the camera.

Two or three years back in an attempt to lighten my load I tried moving away from my cumbersome Canon DSLR camera and its two lenses to a compact camera. The compact was a great camera for its design brief; a point and shoot camera for the mass market; people who want a camera to make all the decisions beyond composition for them. But for the photographer who wants to take control and tell the camera what to do it was very limited.

Fortunately for me a great new system had just emerged, micro 4/3. Designed jointly by Panasonic and Olympus these cameras have a sensor half the size of a full frame DSLR but around 9 times bigger that a run-of-the-mill compact. IE, it has a sensor big enough to fulfil the needs of pretty much everyone. Micro 4/3 cameras offer full manual control and have a wide array of high quality interchangeable lenses that freely swap between M4/3 brands.

For several years I used Panasonic’s wonderful little GF1, a camera that had, and possibly still has, an almost cult following. Back then the only lens I used was a tiny but perfectly formed Lumix 20mm f1.7 lens. With the sensor being half size this equated to a focal length in 35mm film terms of 40mm. Loitering twixt the classic focal lengths of 35mm and 50mm this was the perfect lens for street photography and travel. For those of you wondering, the lens has an organic zoom system, called legs.

Times move on though and micro 4/3 developed a new darling, the Olympus OM-D EM5. This may not be the catchiest moniker on the market but the camera does, to my mind at least, have the most wonderful styling. Harking back to the Olympus OM range that began life in 1972 the OM-D could easily be misjudged by anyone other than a very keen observer as a relic of an era gone by. This in itself is, to my mind, a bonus for street photography. There is something disarming about odd eccentrics travelling the world by bicycle and using ageing film cameras. People from developing countries cannot quite grasp why a fellow from the land of milk and honey is travelling in the manner of the poor and using technology from the dark ages, and so the luddite traveller is treated with caution and kind concern from a discrete distance. The thing with the OM-D EM5 though is that beneath its ageing exterior lies one of the most advanced cameras ever built for the mass market. Even that stylish exterior is an advanced weather sealed magnesium body, a step beyond all but the most exclusive of Canon DSLR cameras.

And it is a Canon full frame DSR that I have just been comparing my old EM-5 with. For those interested in the technical ins and outs of the OM-D EM5 there has been much written about it over the past couple of years, a good start for real world use would be Robin Wong’s informative review, and for a more technical review look.here.

Time though moves on, and even though the EM5 is very often the camera I grab to take out of an evening when I am fortunate enough to have both cameras with me, it is it’s successor, the outstanding Olympus OMD-EM1 that now travels everywhere with me. But more of that, and the way I travel the world, a little later.

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OM-D WITH 14MM LUMIX LENS NEXT TO CANON’S SEMI PRO 5D WITH 24-105 ZOOMS LENS. LUMIX LENS USES ORGANIC ZOOM
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CANON’S FANTASTIC L SERIES 24-105MM LENS WEIGHS IN AT 690 GRAMS. THE OM-D CAMERA AND 2OMM LENS COMBINED WEIGH 566 GRAMS. ADD THE 45 MM AND 14MM LENSES AND THE TOTAL WEIGHT COMES TO 762 GRAMS.
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BOTH CAMERAS IN IDEAL STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MODE. THE OLYMPUS SPORTS A 20MM f1.7 (40mm equivalent) THE CANON WEARS A 50MM f1.8 (50mm equivalent). CANON = 1050 grams. OLYMPUS = 566grams

All images on this post were shot using a Panasonic Lumix GF1 (360 grams) combined with a Lumix/Leica 25mm f1.4 lens, a M4/3 heavyweight at 232 grams