Blast from the past

Jerry Day has two great pas­sions: pho­tog­ra­phy and vin­tage steam lo­co­mo­tives – and it shows in the images he takes

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I’ve al­ways com­bined my love of pho­tog­ra­phy with my pas­sion for steam-pow­ered rail­roads, par­tic­u­larly the nar­row-gauge rail­roads of Colorado. I first be­gan pho­tograph­ing rail­roads in the 1950s us­ing a 35mm Ko­dak Retina cam­era.

I was able to con­tinue my pas­sion for pho­tog­ra­phy when I served as a pho­tog­ra­pher in the US Air Force for 22 years. The Air Force used Nikon cam­eras, so I used them both for my pro­fes­sional work and my per­sonal pho­tog­ra­phy. The first Nikon I owned was an 35mm S3 rangefinder, which I pur­chased on an air­base in Ja­pan in 1961.

I was scep­ti­cal of dig­i­tal for a long time. I worked at Hewlet­tPackard on their first dig­i­tal cam­eras and the im­age qual­ity was just not there, although I could see the po­ten­tial. But in 2004 I tried a Nikon D70, and I was sold im­me­di­ately. After two years I moved up to a D200, which I used un­til two years ago, when I pur­chased a D800, which was pho­tog­ra­phy nir­vana. This year I bought a D600 as a backup. It’s so good that I shoot with it and the D800, chang­ing cam­eras in­stead of lenses.

The lure of steam

Rail­roads are as much a part of the his­tory of the Amer­i­can West as cow­boys. I en­joy re­search­ing the his­tory of th­ese pre­served trea­sures, and I’ve pro­duced sev­eral books about them, as well as con­tribut­ing

pho­tos and ar­ti­cles to rail­road his­tory mag­a­zines.

A num­ber of the Amer­i­can his­toric rail­roads op­er­ate spe­cial trains for pho­tog­ra­phers and rail­road fans, usu­ally prior to or at the end of the sum­mer tourist sea­son. The op­er­a­tors will re­paint the equip­ment as it was in the old days, so that those at­tend­ing can recre­ate au­then­tic scenes. Ur­ban de­vel­op­ment has crept closer to the tracks along which th­ese trains are op­er­ated, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult to recre­ate a scene from the 1930s, ’40s, or ’50s; for­tu­nately the ar­eas where the trains op­er­ate in the west still in­clude iso­lated stretches with­out cell tow­ers and mod­ern build­ings.

I en­joy pho­tograph­ing the trains in op­er­a­tion, with smoke roar­ing into the sky, but I also en­joy pho­tograph­ing them at night and inside the work­shops, which are of­ten his­toric struc­tures in their own right.

I’m a Nikon diehard. I rec­om­mend get­ting the best glass you can af­ford – I’ve just got the new 20mm f/1.8G, which is great for in­te­rior shots of cabs – and push­ing your­self to try new things. I couldn’t af­ford a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in the film days, but now I’m con­stantly try­ing new tech­niques. Some­one once sug­gested that after 60 years of pho­tog­ra­phy I should know it all. I replied that if I don’t learn some­thing new each time I shoot, I feel dis­ap­pointed!

01 Ma­chine Nikon D800, Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, 1/160 sec, f/6.3, ISO4000

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