The Art Of Film Photography And Travel
Earlier this month Ellen and I took our 9yo grandson Jordan on a week long trip to the San Francisco area. We did many things and visited some great sights! One of the most memorable was a 2 day visit to the Roaring Camp where the Big Trees and Pacific Railroad is! They offered several train trips around the mountains and through the giant Redwoods.
There also were two covered bridges in Felton, one in Roaring Camp itself and another a short distance away in the town. Here is the Roaring Camp bridge.
Our first trip was on the Dixiann a 160 year old narrow gauge steam train designed to move ore down the mountains from the mines. It was special in that it had geared drives to all of its wheels and while it could not move fast it could pull loads up and down the mountains and take as much as an 8% grade!.
The rail yard was full of amazing trains that were in various stages of repair or being torn down for parts. It was a photographers dream! There was so many different parts, trains and cars around the yard that I could have spent hours and many rolls of 120 film there. The film I did choose was Kodak Tmax 400. The reason for this was the fact that I was in the mountains covered in giant Redwoods and there was not too much light!
Once it was time to board the train Jordan and I went down beside the tracks trying to get some good angles on the steam engine with its puffing smoke and steam.
As it approached we were physically pushed aside by an foreign woman and her daughter who then stood directly in front of us taking phone pictures.
We were already setup with our film systems when they did this. It was the only black mark on the day for us and caused enough anger for me to yell at them for being so rude but they simply did not care. So this next image had to be majorly cropped to remove them from it. Some people are totally clueless and without a shred of common sense or decency.
If you take a look at the engine you will notice that there is really no dark smoke. This is due to the fact that it has been converted to burn used motor oil! There was a water town that it pulled up to and topped off its water level too.
The engine had a central drive shaft that powered the gear drives to all of the wheels. Next is another image of it getting ready to leave the top of the mountain on the ride back down to the station.
There was another interesting covered bridge in Felton as well. It was the tallest covered bridge that I have ever seen! The town built a nice park around it.
Let’s take a bit of time to talk about the photography a bit… On these two train trips, light was an issue as well as not being able to use a tripod. As this was a week long trip and not photography based I chose the Fuji GA645zi medium format camera because of its light weight, 55mm to 90mm 4 position f/4.5 zoom lens, fast autofocus, accurate built in meter, Aperture, Shutter and Manual modes, internal flash and lightweight as the only camera I would take and carry. It is also tough with a solid titanium body! In other places around California I was able to use a small carbon fiber travel tripod from Really RIght Stuff and then shutter speed became a non issue.
As I said earlier, ALL shots in this post were done on Tmax 400 due to it being difficult using a tripod as well as lower light levels in the Redwoods. Normally in a situation where I have enough light or am able to use a tripod I will always choose Ilford FP4+ 125 ISO film for its amazing sharpness, small grain and great contrasts. I also shot with an orange filter whenever I could but sometime even that had to come off in order to keep a decent shutter speed. Processing was done in Kodak Xtol stock in my FIlmomat automated table top film processor. Once dried I used a wet mount scan process. I find the Tmax films very easy to use and they give consistent results are easy to load on the reels due to their thick film base. I also brought along some Velvia 100 film and managed to shoot a few rolls of that at the covered bridges and ocean scenes.
TIme for the Beach train ride! This was a 3 hour trip from the mountains down to the boardwalk along the beach in Santa Cruz! Of course Jordan liked this trip also because the boardwalk held a huge amusement park! We had an hour to play there once we arrived but he was having so much fun that we decided to wait 4 extra hours for the last train back to Felton. The train this time was a diesel, Gene O”lague #2641 that took us and we actually rode on tracks thru Santa Cruz proper! I was pretty interesting and sad at the same time due to the VAST numbers of homeless people who had setup permanent camps along the tracks in the low mountains outside of town.
The train is shown here arriving to pick us up at the station. It was huge and I managed to capture this one image of it arriving before a mob of people again ran out in front of me, oh well…
The trip done out of the Redwoods was very interesting and we even went through a long tunnel as we came into Santa Cruz. The tracks are actually down the center of the streets and was very slow do the traffic! ALL of the people on the streets, in the cars and trucks waved continuously as we would pass.
After we arrived at the boardwalk the train powered down and sat there for an hour waiting for the first trip back to Felton. This gave me ample time to do some detail shots of the train which I found very interesting. This is my favorite of the roll!
Of course we were now at the boardwalk amusement park. We were there a few days earlier (the park) but could not spend much time there for Jordan. So as I said earlier we decided to add 4 extra hours here for him to ride and play. It was time well spent and he enjoyed the day.
All in all the train rides and park were a nice time on the trip for us all. It was both fun and very tiring but I managed to capture 14 rolls of B&W 120 film and 4 of color slides. I continue to evolve in my technique for travel photography with the inclusion of more capable travel medium format camera systems which makes me VERY happy. I hope to travel much more with Ellen in the future and once in a while I will take my larger Mamiya 645AFDii camera and lenses there is good reason to stick to the lighter Fuji GA645zi system with its single zoom lens!
- While a wider range of interchangeable lenses would be nice, the camera/lenses are just too heavy to travel with and carry…
- I love rangefinders but an auto focus made my photography much more fun and faster with my family in tow…
- Take more film…
- Split the B&W film evenly between slow and fast. Stick with Tmax 400 and Ilford TF4+ 125…
- Take along a faster slide film…
- Get a bigger dark bag to hold exposed film…
- Did I say take more film? Yep, but it is a biggie!
Thanks for bearing with me thru this ultra long post. While it does come across as more of a family vacation (which it is) post it really does go into ways to make such a easier and funner experience!
As always, please let me know what you think of it all!
Mark, I love your steam locomotive and the photos are terrific. I’m heading for CA soon and have already located Felton. Many thanks.
Great, I hope you enjoy it!
Mark, It’s been awhile. I thoroughly enjoyed your train trip photos as BW is one of my favorites and you do such a great job with them. I only wish I had taken up serious photography pre-digital as I would like the knowledge and skill you have regarding film and proper cameras of that day. Even I can see the difference film makes with BW. tt’s extraordinary! And what a wonderful thing you and Ellen did/do for your grandchild. It creates memories for him and the love for his grandparents that will stay with stay and endure for a lifetime/
Thanks Ross, it is NEVER too late to learn!
Been there, done that! The Shay locomotive ride up the mountain. It’s great.
Yes it is! We go to San Fransisco every year because the youngest son lives in Mountain View and works for Adobe. Spend most of the time exploring and taking images. This time we took the 9yo grandson who also shoots film and develops it himself!