The Making of "Sir Nigel Gresley"

How the winning photo of the "Bridges" contest was made

By pauljay in Photo Contests on Oct 29, 2023

"Sir Nigel Gresley" by pauljay (click image to enlarge)

To say that I was shocked to win the September competition would be a fine example of British understatement! The version of the photo I selected to enter was one I had reduced insize a few years ago for entry into another competition, one that I ran my self and thus could never be allowed to win! However, I realized that perhaps I had downsized the photo to the extentthat it had lost a degree of its original sharpness and by the time it had been uploaded to PF it had lost a little more. I was not a happy Hooper but I decided to take my chances. The version of the photo attached here should maintain most of its sharpness.

You don’t have to travel far in the UK to find a preserved railway some of which have just a few hundred yards of running track whilst others can boast a number of miles on which to display their operable traction and rollingstock. The majority of these private railways are operated by preservation societies mostly made up of volunteers and a small percentage of paid staff. Some are operated as registered charities which aids their search for financial donations. The carrying of fare-paying passengers and membership fees from the volunteers provides a solid income but it is never enough so it is down to the society to seek out inventive ways of raising funds. The National Lottery Heritage Fund can be a good source for projects that it considers worthy. I have been a member of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway for more than thirty years but living in the Netherlands means that the only support I can offer is via my annual membership fee.

On a visit to my homeland in June of 2012 I opted to spend a few days inthe beautiful county of Yorkshire not only to take landscape photos but to visit and ride the railway. I had made arrangements to meet up with a fellow Pentaxian who I had communicated with on the Pentax User Group. Together we spent a few hours publicising the name of Pentax as we wandered among the locomotives that were active that day.

Let me just back track briefly at this juncture. One of my favourite areas of my photography interest is the production of HDR images, a medium that tends to come in for a degree of criticism, not only from photographers but also my wife! She describes my HDR photos quite generally as looking unreal. Wrong Mrs! They only look unreal if you go for that particular result although I see that my Sir Nigel Gresley production was tone mapped rather than the fusion alternative that I would use today. If processed appropriately I feel the latter option offers the more realistic result.

I have always found that buildings make the most pleasing subjects for HDR; plenty of dark corners to lighten and highlights to quell. Landscapes don’t seem to benefit from the method in my humble opinion. As we made our way around the railway’s maintenance area we came across former London & North Eastern Railway A4 class locomotive number 60007 "Sir Nigel Gresley" simmering gently under an early afternoon overcast awaiting its turn to haul a train from Grosmont over the eighteen miles south to the railway’s terminus at Pickering.

Notonly was the engine just begging to be photographed but its crew was standing close by to complete the scene. I quickly decided that there was enough available light to attempt a hand held five shot HDR, something I’d never tried previously.

Equipment on the day was my beloved K-5 with a Tamron 28-300mm up front, a combination that served me admirably until the K-1 came along. On this occasion it would seem that I selected a focal length of 28mm, an ISO of 800 and an aperture of f8 to get the best out of the lens. If my memory serves me correctly I processed the shot using Apple’s late lamented Aperture editor and Photomatix to process the HDR.

What appeals to me about this photo are some of the details that have shown up after processing; the oily coating on the loco’s wheels and the small globules of soot that have accumulated above the boiler! Having driver Roger Barker and his assistant in the photo is an added bonus as Roger passed away just a few years ago. The photo has served as wallpaper on my iMac for the last year or so! The A4 class of locomotives was designed by Nigel Gresley and gained fame in 1938 when another of the class, 60022 Mallard, broke the world speed record for steam locomotives on July 3 of that year attaining a speed of 126mph (203 km/hr), a record which stands to this day. Indeed, 60007 also made a name for itself when it claimed a post WW2 record of 112 mph (180 km/hr) on May 23, 1959.

Finally, I’d like to thank all those kind people who nominated and voted for Sir Nigel Gresley. It has certainly helped to boost my confidence in respect of displaying my photos; I’ve always said that I generally like 1 in 100 of my pix and I’m prepared to display about 1 in 1000! Perhaps it’s time to lower the numbers!


October 28, 2023.

Paul J. Hooper

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