Celebrating darkness…

December 22, 2015

It’s the shortest day or winter solstice, depending on your point of view and which hemisphere you happen to live in. For an outdoor type like me, it means fewer daylight hours for mountain walking and invariably poor quality daylight for line side photography.

So, I usually turn my attention to sorting out my photo library. A wee dig about in the archives turned up a selection of pictures from 2003, taken after dark in various locations including Plymouth, Cheltenham Spa and Darlington. The chase for mail train action meant some late nights and dealing with low light situations.

The following sequence of images were taken on photographic film, not in digital format. The challenges of night photography are all too apparent with film and you do not know what the results will be until the transparencies return from the lab. Film grain, tripod shake, cold, yellow sodium lighting on stations, wind and light flare are many of the challenges that face the nocturnal photographer, the effects of which cannot be seen at the time, unlike digital photography where the results can be examined in the rear viewer of the camera and a shot taken again – if there is time!

For railway photography is challenging action photography in the same way as sports and wildlife photography can be and our subjects can very often be moving at considerable speed. At night, photographing moving trains is not really possible without motion blur and when reasonably good record shots are your aim, trains have to be completely stationary.

Consequently, many of the night-time images I have taken are snatched in the few minutes that a train stands at a station making a scheduled call. Mail trains tended to stop for more than a few minutes for loading. Even so, with shutter speeds of 15 seconds plus and set-up time, placing oneself in the right place for the shot is not always easy. So, here’s to the shortest day and until the return of the sun in the next few months, I will ignore the cold and wet to grab the occasional night shot.

90030 Darlington-2

The North East TPO at Darlington with 90 030 in charge on 28th August 2003.

90030 Darlington

67014 Cheltenham

South bound stowage mail train bound for Plymouth (1V69), a train that originated from Low fell on Tyneside. Photographed very late at night in Cheltenham Spa on 18th September 2003.

03-987 sleepr FGW Plymouth copy

A single Mark 3 sleeper awaits the Up Cornish Riviera sleeper where it will be attached to the train by Class 08 No. 08 641. This practice, as far as I know, no longer takes place, even though the sleeper to London Paddington still runs. 25th September 2003.

Penny Black Darlington

The Midland TPO bound for Bristol Parkway with another Class 90 doing the honours under the wires between Low Fell on Tyneside and Doncaster. The train reversed at the Doncaster Royal Mail depot for the run through the Midlands of England, usually with a Class 67 taking over. 29th August 2003.

67009 cheltenham

Back in Cheltenham Spa with the north bound Bristol-Low Fell Midland TPO No.1 side making abrief stop for loading with 67 009 the nag in question. 18th September 2003.

Cheltenham Spa Down stowage

Another stowage mail train at Cheltenham Spa. It becomes quite lonely on station platforms after midnight.

159001 Plymouth

Sometimes, one has all the time in the world to photograph trains at night when a service has just terminated and sits in the platform long enough to take a reasonable shot or two. 159001 in two-car formation was photographed at Plymouth on 25th September 2003.

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