The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
Night Time on the Midland Line
Learning to Get it Right at Night
How Many Minutes This Time

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.

I was doing a bit of web surfing the other day and saw a tour itinerary that said 'For night photography you’ll need a tripod. Even with Nikon D3s with its more than 100,000 ASA a tripod is recommended.' I first off thought the 100,000 ASA was a misprint but on checking the Nikon www I found out it was for real. An incredible speed in comparison to what I and like minded others were using back in the sixties.

And so to my attempts at night photography on New Zealand's Midland Line between Christchurch and Greymouth. I had been given an old tripod and flash gun by one of my fathers friends......I'm sure those of my generation will remember those flash guns that used a disposable bulb every time a flash was needed. For film I had Kodachrome II with its 25 ASA rating and latterly I tried Agfacolor: a faster film but reviewing those slides now more grainier and certainly a less satisfactory result. So have a chuckle as you look at the trials and tribulations, successes and failures, of my night photography efforts back in the latter days of New Zealand steam between May 1968 and April 1969............

Definitely an early attempt! A longer exposure may have done the job but Kb 965 can definitely be made out slumbering in the Springfield Loco Shed. An advantage of the modern digital camera is you immediately see the result and try again if you don't like it..........back then you waited until film had been developed, and that could be a number of weeks away, to know whether you had a reasonable shot or not.

Getting more of an idea as to the correct exposure..... the main problem: no train! Taken from the east end of Springfield yard this shot shows an empty yard with water tank and station in the distance with the Southern Alps forming the backdrop.

Exposure pretty much spot on but it's not an exciting angle as Kb 970 sits alongside the platform at Springfield. It does show the grubby condition that most New Zealand engines were allowed to fall into though.

A couple of months later and Kb 970 is again seen at Springfield. Train 187, consisting of engine and van, is about to leave for Arthurs Pass. I've still to discover that a flash bulb fired in front of the smoke box door can work wonders!

Kb 967 at rest in the Springfield shed. Compared with my earlier attempt on 965 I reckon this one has all the boxes ticked.

Later that night, or more correctly at about 3 the next morning, 967 is seem at Arthurs Pass waiting to leave with train 146. That's my tripod shadow in bottom centre of the picture. A little bit of engine blur but considering the exposure was probably a couple of minutes.......

This time it's twilight but not enough light for a hand held exposure. It's a holiday weekend and Kb 968 is framed by the Rolleston footbridge whilst working G43 Relief Express to Greymouth. The blurred train on the left is 144 the South Island Limited from Invercargill heading off on the last leg of its journey to Christchurch. Rolleston wasn't normally a scheduled stop for 144 but I have in the back of my mind it may have transferred some passengers that night to G43. Occasionally there is a note on the slides for the exposure: this one was f2.8 for 15sec.

Now to the West Coast and Greymouth's Riverside station with J 1216 waiting to leave on train 808 for Otira. This and the next shot were made using Agfacolor....the difference is quite noticeable. At this stage of their life all West Coast engines had had their brass plates removed and in some cases the engine number painted on the smoke box door where a plate had been. It didn't do anything for their looks!

J 1212 stands at Otira station having arrived with a goods from Greymouth.... f5.6 for 10sec with one flash to lighten the smokebox door. 

Rob Dickinson