Archive for the ‘Industrial Heritage’ Category

Old Shoes

Friday, April 12th, 2013


Old Shoes

The Lonaconing Silk Mill has become something of a photographic mecca for the mid-Atlantic. All of the judges, and camera club regulars, have learned to recognize the increasingly iconic spindles, machines, and shoes that have been cooling their heels in this crumbling site since it was shutdown without warning in 1957.

Paying the owner $75 for the privilege of being able to go wherever we wanted, and move whatever we wanted to,  Elizabeth and I joined a group from the local camera club on a bitter cold January morning several years ago.  I found my favorite scene in a cramped locker room on the top floor.  Golden winter sunlight was streaming in through a grimy window, lighting up the contents of open cubbyholes containing shoes and other personal effects that had been left behind for over a half century.

Old Shoes

I experimented with several different pairs of shoes, but the red shoes, which looked more like some pope’s Italian loafers than a working woman’s practical footwear for the factory, contrasted nicely with the darkened old green locker.  Getting my tripod as close to the far wall as I could, while still being able to see the LCD, I took a bracketed series of exposures.


It took me 8 layers to create an image that approached what I’d seen when I was actually at the mill. Dealing with the cramped quarters and not wanting to block the golden light, I ended up a slightly skewed perspective that I corrected with the Transform tool, ensuring that the bottom border was square with the sides of the photo.  I had first experimented with an HDR image, but just didn’t like the way it came out. However, I did end up superimposing the HDR version on top of the normal version, and selectively unmasked it, providing some additional detail in the shadows at the back of the shoes (see Brighter shoes layer above). This version of the red shoes was missing the top of the open bin, so I copied it from a different picture, pasted it on top, and then used the Transform tool to correct the horizontal perspective, and straighten it so that it would be square with the photo and the other 3 borders.  I used a curves layer to match the exposure to the other 3 borders.

A bright object next to the shoes had to go, I cleaned the chalk marks off of the upper wooden piece, and then I did some local corrections, burning & dodging in an overlay layer, and an adjustment layer masked to the #75 label improved its contrast. After saving the multi-layered composite as a TIFF, I made some global adjustments in Lightroom, dialing some yellow back in to restore that nice golden glow. Using my favorite Velvet Fine Art paper, I made a 17.5 inch wide print, and matted it with Rising white.

Lonaconing Silk Mill Exterior

All Aboard: 20 Layers in Photoshop

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

All Aboard

A few pictures leap right out of the memory card, through your printer, and into the eyes of admiring viewers, looking just like you expected when you took the picture in the first place. Very few.  Most digital images benefit from some time in the digital darkroom, and sometimes it can take several hours of computer work to create a finished image that is worth the price of a sheet of fine art paper.

The intriguingly rusty interior of  Shaker Heights Rapid Transit Car #76, a Pullman-Standard special for that line which served from 1947 to 1975,  motivated me to setup my Canon DSLR on a tripod and spend some time exploring angles and exposures.  For each of several different angles, I took 3 bracketed exposures, recognizing that the tonal range exceeded the capture ability of my camera.  The image below shows the ‘normal’ exposure for that image without any manual attention in Photoshop.

RAW image before postprocessing

My first step was to combine 3 images into a single HDRI image using Photomatix, and then tone map it back into a standard bitmap for editing in Photoshop.  The advantage of HDRI is that it allows you to equalize out the exposure, even on a high contrast scene, such as this shadowy streetcar interior surrounded by the bright sunlight.

High Dynamic Range techniques allow to pull a lot of detail out of the shadow, without blowing out the highlights. It is also an effective way to emphasize texture, so it is well suited to grotty and rusty subjects.  Its also easy to turn a photograph into a cartoon, with distorted and unnaturally vivid colors, and terminally high levels of dirty-looking mid tones.  If I was going to reprocess this image, I think I’d tone down the HDRishness, but printed on Velvet Fine Art paper, I’ve had nice compliments on this image, and it one a first prize at a camera club end of year competition.


The image above shows the multiple layers required to pull these surprisingly complex image together. The black & white rectangle visible to the right in most of the layers is a mask, allowing me to apply the effect to selected parts of the image.  I did a lot of local exposure correction to make the steps visible, to ensure that the seat was well lit, to open up some of the details, and to highlight the incredibly filthy window.  I ended up reconstructing the metal strip along the left side of the image to neatly frame it, and I copied the ‘rd’ from the mid-car door, pasting it here to complete ‘Aboard’.  I also pasted in the window and reflection behind it.  Some of the above layers were tonemapped through Photomatix, and some are from a single exposure. Confronted with different textures, I ended up doing different levels of sharpening to different parts of the picture.

Shaker Rapid #71 & #76

I love all the details in the interior, with the handset on the floor, and some kind of control box lying on top of a driver’s seat with a lot of miles under and over it.  The rust and grime, and decay are evidence of the authenticity of use and time. It did feel like I put a lot of Photoshop work into this image, but in comparison to the amount of time Ansel Adams spent in the darkroom on some prints, a couple hours isn’t so bad.  It’s the price you pay when you enjoy found subjects, instead of studio subjects, where light can be much better controlled.

British Bikes in Tokyo’s Electronic City

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Newly restored Triumph

Akihabara is where the Otaku, they highly enthusiastic Japanese geeks, go for electronic toys and lunch with a French maid. Instead of pop culture dining and manga figurines, I found Trinity School, a small workshop on a side street, where a couple of experienced mechanics have spent the last 10 years teaching a group of enthusiastic apprentices to restore classic bikes, often European ones.  I had a nice chat with the guy who runs the school, who had just taken a restored Triumph out for a road test. 


Most of the cycles were Triumphs and BSAs, but a smoky room in the back included a vintage Harley, and pre-war BMW will be an upcoming drivetrain restoration project (I expected the drive shaft, but not the H-pattern hand shift on the right side of the tank).


I watched one of the students adjust the carb on a 1952 Triumph, which was propped up on a stand so the wheel could spin, and I watched another student cut the threads on a bolt on a turret lathe.


They also have done some non-motorized bikes, like this very funky Moulton (which also goes to show why you need to cover your Brooks).  With both Sturmey-Archer and Lucas to worry about, these students are going to learn a lot about vehicle mechanics.


Crofton Pumping Station: Kennet & Avon part 4.

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Croften Pumping StationThe Crofton Pumping Station has the oldest James Watt steam engine still operational (installed in the pumping station in 1812). Just below the highest point of the canal, the station was located near a source of water, which it raises about 40 feet and dumps into a 1 mile long feeder which fills the canal near Bruce Tunnel. Today, the canal is fed by electric pumps, although the steam pumps were used as the primary source of water during a mechanical outage earlier this summer.

Lancashire Boiler

The station operated under steam until 1959. Volunteers spent about 30 years painstakingly restoring 2 steam engines, the Lancashire boiler shown above, and the facility. Restorations were completed in 1997 with the topping out of a rebuilt chimney (top photo).

Valves and Cylinder Head

The photo above was taken in the cylinder head room.  The piston rod is at the far right side, leading to the beam gallery overhead.  The three round things in the background are the valves which control the flow of steam into and out of the cylinders.  They are operated by connecting rods coming down from the overhead beam.  The photo below was taken in the well head, looking down towards the water level. It shows one of the two 30 inch bore, 8 foot stroke pumps, and the connecting rod coming from the beam above. The large cast iron pipe in the upper right leads to the launders, where the 1.25 tons of water is discharged on each stroke.


Additional photos can be found in my Crofton Photo Gallery.  Below, you can see the route I took from The Upper Westcourt B&B to Crofton.  Zoom in and use the satellite view to see the pumping station’s relationship to the canal and the feeder canal (upper left of pump house).

Claverton Pumping Station: Kennet & Avon part 3.

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Claverton Pumping StationEvery time a boat transits a lock, a huge volume of water runs downstream.  Canal engineers struggle not only to ensure adequate water to supply the locks, but they also need to compensate for leakage, which turned out to be especially critical in the stretch of canal between Bradford and Batch.  Chief Engineer John Rennie came up with the solution of putting a pumping station at Crofton.

Unlike the steam powered pumping station at the canal’s peak in Claverton, this pump would be powered by the current of the Avon River. Volunteers have completely restored this facility, putting it back into working order.  Just a few miles out of bath, this was the first stop on my weekend cycle tour of the Kennet & Avon.


Claverton’s waterwheel is a type of breast wheel in which the water flows into the side of the wheel, and continues underneath it. Less efficient than a pure overshot wheel, it makes better use of available water power than does an undershot wheel. With its iron frame and wooden paddles, this wheel is 24 feet wide and 17 feet long.

The Pit Wheel on the left (below), a wheel composed of cast iron sections with wooden teeth, is directly connected to the axle of the water wheel.


It drives an iron-toothed gear wheel on the right which is mounted on the same axle as the flywheel and connecting rod.

The connecting rod oscillates a pair of large beams which are connected to a pair of pumps.

In order to keep the pump cylinder rods straight, a clever mechanism called a Watt’s Linkage is used.  This same mechanism was a common feature of 19th century pumping stations, and can also be seen at Crofton and Crossness (photo gallery appearing here soon).  One of the pump cylinder heads is shown below, in a picture taken from below the beam.

Watt Linkage and Pump Head

More photos of Claverton can be seen in my gallery.

Kennet & Avon Canal Cycle Route Overnighter: part 2

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Steep hill climbe up a tree-lined lane in FroxfieldI took my time over breakfast and the Sunday paper with Peter & Carolyn at the Upper Westcourt B&B, leaving about 10am for the 15 minute ride, arriving at The Crofton Pumping Station well before it opened (blog posts on both pumping stations coming up shortly).  Unlike the day before, it was still sunny after this day’s  industrial heritage stop.

The first half of today’s trip would still follow country roads, before rejoining the tow path, but looking at the map, they didn’t diverge as far from the canal, and at least seemed to be less steep.  It turned out that I had multiple opportunities to practice coasting, preceeded of course by the obligatory climb.

Like Saturday, the first half of the trip was characterised by attractive country towns, like Great Bedwyn, and pretty villages, like Little Bedwyn.

The biggest town of the day was Hungerford, which under other circumstances would have been worth a longer stay. On the far side of Hungerford, the road crossed a cattle guard and a gate, and I entered the Hungerford Common Portdown.

Hungerford CommonsThe commons is a 200 acre shared pasture.  I stopped to take some pictures, and watched a farmer walk out to check on his cows, all of whom seemed to have a healthy suspicion of  the road (in spite of the nominal 30mph speed limit).


Kintbury was the last town before rejoining the towpath.  Many of the buildings were built directly on the narrow High Street.  I stopped to take a picture of my bike in front of a colorfully named pub, and then continued on, finally rejoining the canal and towpath at Hamstead Lock. The path was much narrower and yellower than it had been at the start of the trip in Bath.  In many places, it wasn’t wide enough for 2 bikes to pass between the nettles and the canal.