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Railfans: Chicago Rush

Every Photographer has a bucket list of places and things they would like to shoot. 3-3-2016 ended up being the perfect day to knock a few locations off my list. The fact that the weather wasn’t great was actually a plus. Intel from some friends, found me stuck in afternoon Kennedy Expressway traffic, trying to get to “CP Morgan” for the test run of the newly refurbished METX 99. I figured the combination of fresh METRA paint and older Pennsylvania Signals against the Chicago skyline would be a good contrast for a first shot. I pulled up with minutes to spare. After parking, I grabbed my Canon 5D and favorite Railfanning lens, the SIGMA 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS lens. Sharp, fast and versatile- the image stabilization is perfect for less than ideal lighting situations. Minutes later the gates at Racine avenue came down and I had my shot… The 99 Popped against the gloom of the city!

© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher

Parking in this city is an issue. The main purpose of this trip was to shoot off of a couple of new Parking Structures recently built to handle this crush of traffic. Location Number 2 is the new public parking structure located off the corner of Kinzie and Clinton Street. This is the busiest single location for Train traffic in the entire City. The triple track leads to Chicago’s Union Station (CUS) pass under the multi-track bridge of UP/Metra’s Ogilvie Transportation Center (Or just O.T.C). By the time I arrived Metra was starting to load up both Depot’s with equipment for the impending outbound afternoon rush.

© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher

The “River North” part of the city can be seen with the former CNW trestle over the North Branch of the Chicago River. That line once tunneled under the entire city to Navy Pier on the Lake Michigan shore and fed this once bustling inland Military Terminal and Port. A great area for medium telephoto, these 2 images were all taken with the SIGMA 24-105mm F4 DG (OS) HSM lens. Really, the ideal lens for Railfanning, it’s on my Full Frame body almost all the time. Smooth zoom control, accurate focus and stabilization are really just a few of the reasons I like this lens. It really is the perfect combination of reach in tight areas and wide perspective when you really want to show the entire scene.

Traffic was starting to really move, and as easy as it was to watch the parade from my warm tailgate on the 7th level of the garage, I wanted to witness the Rush from a brand new structure. Across the tracks off Canal St, is the “Left Bank at K Station”, Apartments and Retail center. High end- YES!… Unfortunately, very private also. Steel doors block my entrance and with no sign of activity, it was time to swing into action. A quick stop inside finds the security guard in the plaza, handing me a business card for the Management Company. His best suggestion is that I make an appointment and he’s sure they can accommodate me- NOBODY has time for that! So into the streets I go. Out front on Fulton, I just happen to notice a very attractive woman idling in her Sport Coupe. I wander over and casually strike up a conversation. She’s obviously a doctor by her license plate, and after a few minutes of charm she has no problem letting me on foot – SCORE! I’m parked right behind her, so I load up the parking meter, add another layer of insulation, re-pack my bag and follow her thru the now open steel door.

What we have here is a wicked view right into the throat of O.T.C. Complex track work, Signaling, the CTA Lake Street EL train overhead, surrounded by the older architecture of the former C&NW power house and scads of new high rises and office buildings. Here’s where cloudy weather can help. This is a tuff spot to shoot in open sunlight, the shadows of a clear day, would obscure all the key angles in this North/South alignment at this time of day. Which is why I wanted to do this in overcast. We’re just going to hope security leaves us alone, and maybe some moody blue hour will move in.

© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher

The first shot is right into the Depot as a CTA train streaks across. This is a very linear shot to the north and I wanted to use some reach before it got too dark. I brought my SIGMA 150-600 F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports lens to frame up the boxy/tuff looks of METRA’s ubiquitous F40PH locomotives. Heavy construction, this lens was really built with me in mind. Image Stabilization on, I am able to lean up and use a handrail to frame up these 4 shots of a couple parallel moves in and out of the Station.

© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher

All the while dozens of trains are moving with greater frequency below my feet, 6 stories down! Inbound and outbound meet at Canal Street. The SIGMA 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 DG HSM II lens stretches the limits of the streamlined lines of MP36 Locomotives, which are too heavy to operate on the bridges above and tend to stay on several METRA lines not operating out of O.T.C. I’m really liking the full frame abilities of this lens, which gives you all the wide perspective without the Fish-eye barreling. My style, I guess, you could say is either “in your face telephoto” or “In your face wide”, so I have used this lens extensively and really love the results. I have a few friends that really want this lens in their kit after seeing the potential of this lens.

© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher

Next is the “Club Run”. At 17:00 the METX 140 pulls its consist complete with ancient coach 553 on it’s head-end. The last of it’s kind in Chicago, the “Club Run” coach is a subscription car held for the convenience of it’s exclusive North Shore riders. It takes a bit of clout and a ton of cash to buy in, complete with private bar service and other amenities, the car is the stuff of Rail Barron Legends. It’s getting noticeably darker, so I go back to the SIGMA 70-200 EX DG to put the constant aperture F2.8 and image stabilization back to work. I line up my shot just as a CTA Lake Street (Green Line) Train streaks over the top and another outbound Elburn train follows.

© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher
© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher

I conveniently zoom back for a wider view, showing of the 553, and another inbound deadhead move at a location once called, “Clinton Street Tower”. The internal zooming of this Telephoto Lens helps keep dust and other particulates out of the barrel, which is a plus around railroad subjects. After 5 O’clock the magic is in high gear, the sky is darkening and the moves are non-stop. With 3-4 and 5 trains all moving at once making for awesome compositions of glinty stainless gallery cars and F40’s exhausting their hot breath. The light dusting of snow from earlier that day helps accentuate the ornate trackage even further.

© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher
© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher

A “fresh” pan shows the lines of the Leo J. Cusick, Sodium vapor lights flicker on casting their yellow glow over city streets. Again the Sigma 70-200 F2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens is well balanced and with the shear volume of trains here it allows the Photographer unlimited opportunity to be creative.

© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher

Blue Hour moves in and the ISO hovers around 2000. Not wanting to push my luck and draw too much attention, I neglected to bring a tripod. But with fantastic image stabilization SIGMA lenses allow you to push the limits of available light. Fortunately, lower train speeds here allow for even 1/80th of a second action shots. Because the view is what we Railfan’s call a more front on or “nosey view”, it allows for very acceptable sharpness while minimizing train movement or blur, even while hand held!

© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher
© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher

An Elgin bound scoot below isn’t even noticed out of green tinted glass. Dinner and family are surely on the minds of riders up top. But the SIGMA’s 24-35mm F2 ART lens brings out all the color and sharpness desired in this last available light meet, yet I continue to work!

By 18:00 it’s show over here! Thousands of riders safely home, an orange glow of clearing in the last rays of this March day, signal a perfect blue dome here in the morning, and another great day of shooting in Chicago for me. The reliability of Sigma Lenses has created another gallery of quality images for my portfolio and lasting memories of a great day in the Windy City. Luckily for me, I’ll be out tomorrow getting the shot. Stay Tuned!

© 2016  William Beecher
© 2016 William Beecher

William Beecher
William Beecher

Railroading runs deep in the Beecher family. Born the son of a career railroader, there was never any doubt the path his career would take. Today, 25 years in the industry as a Locomotive Engineer, Beecher possesses intimate knowledge and access to railroading, something which few people ever get the chance to witness.

While railroading was his career path, photography and music were his passion. Beecher says his photographic style is best described as “up close and personal”. Whether close up details, or candid shots of people working their crafts, Beecher focuses on using his access to work “behind the scenes”.

Published countless times in railroad press, Beecher has also shot video for several commercial producers. As technology has evolved, Beecher says; “I have probably used every format of commercial and pro photo and video gear, produced in the last 30+ years”, adding to his resume.

With lifeless Hard drives consuming and concealing the hard work of so many great photographers, a way to share has always been important to the Beecher’s. Now in it’s 19th year running, William and his twin brother Marshall, organize and host the largest railroad multi-media event in the Midwest known as “BeecherFest”. BeecherFest attracts national attention, showcasing the very best in railroad photography and video. Held every November in Milwaukee, BeecherFest has a cult like following by a devout community of photographers and fans from all over the world.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Beecher lives in central Wisconsin.  His arsenal of professional equipment includes a wide variety of cameras and Sigma Lenses.  He’s thankful to be married to his very patient wife Julie and together they have 5 beautiful teenage children. In-between an extremely busy family and demanding career commitment, Beecher can be found shooting railroad subjects all over the country.

 

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