Train Snowplow


Like many mountains, Mount Shasta is featured prominently in Native American legends. Local tribes saw the mountain as the center of the universe and integral to their creation myths. Mount Shasta sits on territories held by the Shasta, Wintu, Achumawi, Atsugewi, and Modoc tribes.  For me, Mount Shasta has always held a sacred presence in my heart.

During this pandemic, we are all supposed to keep isolated from others. However I still want to go and take photographs though, so where to go? Naturally, I like night photography very much. So I went out looking for a good composition that would also work well at night.

I remember exploring around the McCloud River Railroad a couple years ago and finding a bunch of old rail equipment being stored on their tracks in McCloud, CA. I should mention the railroad is abandoned and hasn’t run in years. Considering McCloud is a small community and the rail yard is on the outskirts, I thought this may have a good opportunity for some night shots and still remain isolated – especially considering it’s winter. When I arrived during the day to look for a good spot, I was surprised to see there was no snow in the area. It has been a light winter so far, but I was still surprised. But at least I don’t have to worry about walking around in the snow.

I was looking for maybe an old caboose which I had seen previously, thinking it may be a good candidate. Instead, I came across an old track snowplow (spreader in railroad terms). The plow was very worn which would lend to some interesting light painting opportunities which I was pleased with. Even more exciting was the location of Mt Shasta behind it. I could incorporate both the snowplow and the mountain into the same shot, which I thought was a great composition. With my increasing (very slowly) knowledge of Photoshop and photo stacking, I thought this was the perfect location and subject.

I checked the moon phase and realized it also was the size (approx 1/3) and location that would benefit the photo, as it should light up Mt Shasta nicely. Considering the weather was clear this day but clouds and winter weather was forecast to come in starting the next day, there was no time to waste. Another advantage of winter is the sun goes down early and you don’t have to wait long for darkness to set in.

Now knowing where I wanted to be and what I wanted to photograph, I returned at darkness and started the process. I set up the camera and tripod where I had previously explored. With the help of my son-in-law, I started to ‘light paint’ the plow from every angle I could think of. Changing the intensity of the light for specific angles, I took a lot of photos. I figured I would rather have too many than be disapointed by having too few. Things went surprisingly smooth and in no time we were done.

Since we were there, I took photographs of other equipment and buildings in the area to try and get the most out of our visit. At one point another vehicle pulled up and parked near us. I figured it must be a security guard but he never approached us (we were on the correct side of a locked gate). He only talked to us when he was leaving, which he asked if we were okay and what we were doing and then left. So I don’t really know who he was or what he was doing, it was a little weird.

Once I returned and downloaded the photos, I started the stacking process in Photoshop. I was pretty happy with the results after stacking over ten different photos to make one final one. This final photo is one photograph for the sky and Mt Shasta and then about 10 photographs of the snowplow and foreground. Looking one at a time at the photographs I used for stacking, it is not very impressive. However, once all the photos are combined is when it really comes together and creates a remarkable image.

There are more photographs to take at this location and I can’t wait to return and experiment some more!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s