Right Time Right Place

Loco on the rails, Hornby 2009

This is my first posting to the new blog about photography, so my apologies to anyone who’s started following this site on the assumption that I blabber on about SEO and marketing related topics all the time.

(Gallery down below, re-posted from my old blog but I lost the places for the photos inline. 🙂 )

I commute to work, as many of you surely do. Twice a day I tootle across the countryside in our long suffering MX5, which aside from being 20 years old now is ailing distinctly from the gravel road portion of the trip it endures five times a week.

On the way home, for a few months of the year I’m travelling during golden hour. For those not of a photography bent, golden hour is the magical bit before sunset and after sunrise when the low sun angle creates the wonderful golden light you see on sampler biscuit boxes and the cheap post cards your auntie Mavis sends.

For that reason I regularly lug a camera along with me. Many suspect it’s because I’m always on the hunt for road accidents but in all truth I’m more likely to cause one when I see something interesting and veer suddenly off the road to satisfy my itchy shutter finger.

On the way home tonight I had just such a moment, although because I was on a railway over bridge at the time I resisted the urge to suddenly park up, and decided the sensible thing to do would be park up and walk back to the bridge.

For those who know Christchurch, we’re talking about the Sockburn over bridge in Christchurch. The thing that caught my eye was the smoke stack for the Ravensdown fertiliser works, backlit by the setting sun. Golden hour and all that.

I took a few shots from the top of the bridge, looking east into the sun, but didn’t really come up with anything that I liked. This HDR was about all I could muster from up there, and decided a bit more adventure was in order.

In this case creating the tone mapped image is an attempt rescue a bunch of pretty average looking bracketed photos. I’ve been known to poke fun at people who try to rescue poor photos with editing gimmicks. Paint me guilty.

Next I went further into the scene, looking for the thing that caught my eye from the road. The smoke, or steam as it probably is, was arching out to the north when it first caught my eye, framing something. Something was needed to frame, so I parked up closer to the tracks and broke several laws and cast personal safety to the wind by wandering along the rails till I got this shot.

Maybe an interesting concept-stock shot for a green light for pollution? Green house gases? Not sure but certainly nicer to get it out of the camera rather than having to try and rescue it by twiddling with a mouse and keyboard for 30 minutes.

Off to the left of this scene is an empty section with some old car bodies, burnt out couches and a pile of general crud. All the normal detritus of human evolution we expect in industrial areas. There’s something magnetic about an empty lot near railway tracks that pulls in cars and couches like a black hole.

After a ten minute ramble this old trike catches my eye. Bang up the contrast a bit, add an odd tint and you’ve got one of those mournful shots which makes us wonder where the children are who used to play with the trike. How did it wind up here? Just as the junk was attracted to this location we seem to be drawn to broken toys.

A time check and I’m running late. Best be on my way, so I pick my way through the broken glass and head for the car a few hundred meters away. As I’m walking I hear a lonely steam whistle.

Odd. The fertiliser plant must have one? They’ve got a boiler of some kind, so maybe a shift just finished?

Walking with my back to the sun I can hear the whistle again, a bit louder. I reckon that’s a steam engine, can’t be. I’m no-where near any tracks.


I go from casually walking away from the sun to trying to run into it. I’m sure any normal person would just wait for the train to go by. It’s not entirely sensible to try running into the sun wearing leather office shoes over railway ballast. Then I’m not an entirely sensible person, or so I’ve been told.

Close enough, it’s actually moving quite fast. I have a minor panic attack trying to remember how I exposed the sky on the previous photos. Even the best camera will have trouble pointed almost straight into the setting sun. Remember your mum always told you not to point your camera at the sun?

Focus on the train, expose on the sky, 1.3 stops down. Bang off as many shots as the camera will store. It’s a pity they don’t run coal these days, the smoke is a bit disappointing but the noise and atmosphere a steam engine projects can’t be beaten.

I’m standing about 15m away as the two engines rumble past with the plate glass carriages of the Tranz Scenic tucked in behind in a juxtaposition of ages which seems right in the same way putting wire-rim mag wheels on a Model T does.

Click the thumbnails for images