On a cold February morning, my friend and I ventured out towards the Winona area, about fifteen miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona, to go on a hike to a spot we had no idea where it exactly was. The reasoning behind this madness was for one photo and one photo only. A photograph by John Benner, a marvelous southwest photographer, taken in 2010 depicts a westbound freight train working up the eastern slope of the Arizona Divide as the morning sun silhouettes the train. The goal was to recreate this photo. After scrambling around the hillside, I finally found the location of Benner’s photo. Now we waited for a train to come and for the sun to rise. The radio scanner started sounding off, letting us know a train was approaching. Soon after, we began to see headlights off in the distance, yet the sun was still below the horizon. After about ten minutes, the train was finally in positon for me to take photos. Unfortunately, the sun did not peak over the horizon in time. As a result, no sunlight light was shining on the train, but the sky began to glow red with the sun rising.
With the sun not fully out, I really made my Canon 60D work for this shot. I had to find a perfect exposure of not an extremely high ISO, a fast shutter, and a good enough aperture setting. Shooting with Canon’s 70-200mm F/4L lens at 200mm, with no image stabilizer or tripod, I knew 1/400 was the lowest I could go without noticeable camera shake. Then, I set the aperture at f/7.1, figuring that would be wide enough to let a good amount of light in, as well as to give me some depth of field. Finally, I boosted my ISO to 1600. That high of an ISO results in some noise, but with Canon’s 60D as well with some post-processing; it would not be a huge issue. Also in post processing, I lightened up the photo since I underexpose it so preserve the colors and detail in the sky.
Weeks before I went out for this shot, I spent some time doing research for this shot. I studied the sun calculator to see when the best time to get this shot would be. Well, when I was looking for this shot, early February, the time for the shot had already past. The sun needs to be more towards the south, closer to the shortest day of the year the better, so it can illuminate the curve completely. Well, when I went out to shoot this photo, February 25, the sun would only be in position for the shot for only a few more days.
Another thing I did was to actually go out and find the spot for the shot. There are a couple of hills south of the railroad tracks at Winona that would offer a high vantage point to recreate John Benner’s shot. I hiked one of the hills a few weeks before and realized it was not the spot. I figured it would be the other hill. The following week, my friend and I made the hike up it before sunrise. Once we got to the top, we could not even see the railroad tracks since the brush was so tall. We started walking around looking for the vantage point at the tracks. After about twenty minutes of walking around, I finally found the spot.
The main objective with this photo was to recreate one of my favorite photos. John Benner’s work inspires me and I try to model my work after him. He photographs some of my favorite locations that I visit. The difference between him and me is that he is able to get photographs at spots that I would have never thought of. His work makes me challenge myself and produce photos that other people do not have. It is hard to capture new and interesting photos on a rail line visited heavily by other rail photographers. Just by studying John Benner’s work, I have learned that using a variety of lighting and weather conditions can turn a simple photo into an award winning one. In addition, I have learned to go out and hike hillsides to see shots that people do not normal go after. Since I have started modeling after John Benner, I have seen improvement with the quality of my work.
About the Photographer:
My name is David Carballido-Jeans (or C-Jeans to make it easier for everyone) and I am a sophomore at Northern Arizona University. Since the 8th grade, I have been running around with a camera snapping pictures. I was born and raised in San Pedro, California, near the Port of Los Angeles. Since I was little, I have had an interest in trains and that has snowballed to this passion of railroad photography. Within the last six years, my photos have been published for articles, book covers, magazines, and personal use. My work was even featured by Trains Magazine in a part of their online blog, “The Next Generation Rail Photographers” series.
I prefer to photograph trains since many of my friends do the same. We share our shots with each other and go on road trips together. That makes it enjoyable. I also enjoy taking night photos; doesn’t matter what the subject is as long as it’s at night. With my photos, I try not to over process them; even though I do accidentally on occasion. I feel that your best shots are the ones that are straight out of the camera.
I consider my work somewhat unusual because the main focus is of a train, but at the same time I consider my photos as landscape photos. That’s because I try to capture the landscape and there just happens to be a train in it. Even though this is an uncommon subject to photograph, there a few others who do the same as me that inspire my work. James Belmont, John Benner, and Mike and Tom Danneman are the guys I study to help me improve my work.
I really enjoy this hobby of photographing trains. It has led me to meeting some amazing people who have taught me a lot about photography and railroading. I hope that these photos tell the story of how trains move so much of America’s goods from coast to coast and across spectacular landscapes.
To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/4th-annual-northern-arizona-university-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project. Please take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – David would love to hear from you!