Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Excellence Should Be Your Style

Sun Rays Over Cummings Mountain - Tehachapi, California
Something that I read often is that every photographer should develop their own unique style. I see this advice all over the internet and in books. I've even told other people that they should work on developing their own style. And I've tried to define what my unique style is.

There are a few problems with this advice. First, it's vague, and defining exactly what "your own style" is an extraordinarily difficult pursuit. Second, your style could and should be continuously evolving (as you evolve)--your "style" tomorrow will be a little different than your "style" today which is a little different than what your "style" was yesterday. Third, just because you have your own recognizable style, doesn't mean that style is actually any good.

I recently realized that I needed to stop worrying about what my style is. You shouldn't worry about developing your own style. Disregard style! Instead, you should strive for excellence, and everything else will fall into place.
Come To Jesus - Pasadena, California
"Forget about the style," said legendary photographer John Free. "Pursue a style of excellence. Excellence in craft, excellence in execution, excellence in showing the shot, excellence in thinking about the shot. That's the style I want."

Do your very best with each exposure from start to finish. You should strive for excellence in your vision, your creativity, your exposure, and your post-processing. Excellence should be your style! No shortcuts. No half-efforts. Do it right, right from the start. It might be more difficult, but good things don't often come easy.

If you are excellent in your photographic pursuit, then your images will reflect this. People will recognize it by looking at your photographs. If the word "excellent" comes to people's minds when they view my images, I have truly succeeded as a photographer. Starting now, excellence is the style that I'm pursuing in my photography. Will you join me?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tehachapi Pass - Impossible Railroad Engineering - Central California

Orange Engines - Tehachapi, California
January 2016
I'm leaving California later this week, moving to the Salt Lake City metro area in Utah. For the last nearly five years I've lived in the quaint town of Tehachapi.

I wanted to pay some sort of photographic tribute to this great little mountain community in the middle of the Golden State. I had a difficult time deciding what exactly to do. Then it hit me: feature what the town is most known for--the railroads twisting up the Tehachapi Pass.

The Tehachapi Mountains are a 40 mile range that sit between the southern end of the Central Valley and the western edge of the Mojave Desert. While the mountains aren't necessarily tall--ranging from about 4,000' to 8,000'--they are steep and rough.

There are two major passes through the Tehachapi Mountains: The Grapevine (Interstate 5) on the south end of the range and Tehachapi Pass (California Highway 58) on the north end. The railroad goes through the northern pass, through the town of Tehachapi.

The Southern Pacific (which is now the Union Pacific) built the line in the mid-1870's. The consensus among the engineers at the time was that a railroad couldn't be built through the Tehachapi Pass. The elevation rose too sharply--it was simply impossible. But that didn't stop the railroad, with the help of engineer William Hood, from doing it anyway.

The track climbs over 3,500' from Bakersfield to the summit in about 48 miles (track miles, not straight-line miles). From Mojave, the tracks rise nearly 1,300' in about 28 miles. Originally there were 18 tunnels, and 12 remain in use today. The line twists through many hairpin and "S" turns to reach the summit, but the crowning jewel of this impossible engineering marvel is the famous Tehachapi Loop.

The Loop is just what it sounds like: a climbing circle of track. The track loops over itself. Most freight trains cross over or under themselves as they traverse the circle. It's a unique railroad landmark, and is an official California Historic Landmark (#508). People travel from all over the world to see it.

Today about 40 trains traverse the pass daily. It's a busy line! It connects the bountiful Central Valley with the southwestern United States. It's a key route for the Union Pacific Railroad (who owns it) and the BNSF Railroad (who is allowed to use it).

The scenery changes quickly as one traverses the pass. Mojave is a hot and dusty brown desert. As the one gains elevation wind turbines speckle the hills. The wind can be fierce through here!

At the summit is the town of Tehachapi. This is a mountain prairie. The ground is covered with grass, which is green in the spring but otherwise tall and brown. The distant hills and peaks are covered with oaks and pines. The temperature is about 10 degrees fahrenheit cooler then in the desert below.

Heading down towards the Central Valley is where things get interesting. The sloping hills become steep. They're dotted with oak and pine trees and, in the spring, colorful wildflowers. This is where you'll find the tunnels, crazy twisty turns and The Loop.

At the bottom is a massive agricultural valley and Bakersfield, which is a smoggy, poverty-stricken city in a hot desert-ish environment. It's vastly contrasted by Tehachapi above.

Tehachapi is one of California's best-kept secrets. It's a charming and scenic small town with great four-seasons weather. It sits between two unsightly parts of the state, and perhaps that's why it's not better recognized. Running right through it is a busy railroad line that at one time people thought couldn't be built.

The photographs in this article (with the exception of the teaser image at the top) are in order from east to west, beginning in Mojave and ending in Bakersfield. I captured them over the last five years using a bunch of different cameras, including (but not limited to) a Pentax K-30, Samsung NX200Sigma DP2 Merrill, Nokia Lumia 1020, Nikon D3300, Sony RX100 II and a Panasonic Lumix ZS40. I included the month and year that each image was captured so that one could also note how my photography has changed over time. I'm always striving to improve my skills.

I will miss Tehachapi. It was a good place to live. It was a good place to photograph. And it was a good place to watch massive freight trains tackle the impossible pass.
Out of Mojave Yard - Mojave, California
June 2014
Freight Train In The Desert - Mojave, California
March 2016
BNSF Intermodal - Tehachapi, California
July 2015
BNSF Climbing The Pass - Tehachapi, California
December 2011
Train In Evening Light - Tehachapi, California
December 2011
Moving Train - Tehachapi, California
May 2012
What Lies Ahead - Tehachapi, California
August 2012
Monolith Cement - Tehachapi, California
May 2012
Monolith - Tehachapi, California
November 2011
Summer Railroad West - Tehachapi, California
July 2014
At The Summit - Tehachapi, California
January 2016
BNSF Through The Snow - Tehachapi, California
March 2012
BNSF Under Bridge - Tehachapi, California
December 2011
Train Underpass - Tehachapi, California
May 2012
Work Train - Tehachapi, California
December 2011
BNSF 5773 - Tehachapi, California
March 2016
Clasped - Tehachapi, California
February 2013
Three Hoses - Tehachapi, California
February 2013
The Last Car - Tehachapi, California
March 2016
Spinning Wheel - Tehachapi, California
March 2016
Two Trains - Tehachapi, California
October 2012
Stres Relief - Tehachapi, California
June 2015
BNSF 4964 - Tehachapi, California
September 2014
Quick Train - Tehachapi, California
May 2012
Ties That Bind - Tehachapi, California
October 2012
Fog Train - Tehachapi, California
February 2013
Signal Stand and Moving Train - Tehachapi, California
February 2013
Orange - Tehachapi, California
March 2012
Rail Lamp - Tehachapi, California
December 2015
Semaphore 6838W - Tehachapi, California
December 2015
Freight Train At Day's End - Tehachapi, California
November 2011
Train And Signal - Tehachapi, California
May 2012
BNSF Intermodal Train - Tehachapi, California
October 2012
Rainbow Train - Tehachapi, California
January 2013
Two Trains - Tehachapi, California
July 2015
AT - Tehachapi, California
April 2013
Train Wreck - Tehachapi, California
April 2013
Yellow Freight Cars - Tehachapi, California
April 2013
Toppled Car - Tehachapi, California
April 2013
Inside The Broken - Tehachapi, California
April 2013
From Darkness To Light - Tehachapi, California
July 2015
Tehachapi Mountain Tunnel - Tehachapi, California
September 2012
On Top of Tunnel 10 - Tehachapi, California
February 2013
Filming The Train - Tehachapi, California
February 2013
The Orange Three - Tehachapi, California
February 2013
Horseplay At The Loop - Tehachapi, California
July 2015
Horsepower - Tehachapi, California
February 2013
Out of the Tunnel - Tehachapi, California
February 2013
A Cross Country Train - Tehachapi, California
April 2014
Observers - Keene, California
July 2015
Climbing The Pass - Keene, California
September 2012
Cliff Side - Bealville, California
July 2015
The Executive Train - Bealville, California
July 2015
Orange Train, Yellow Train Car - Bealville, California
July 2012
Tehachapi Mountain Railroading - Caliente, California
May 2012
Around The Bend - Tehachapi, California
June 2011
Roadway - Caliente, California
March 2013
Orange Train, Green Hills - Caliente, California
March 2013
Crazy Bird - Caliente, California
May 2012
CSX Container, BNSF Train - Bakersfield, California
August 2012