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