Bringing it full circle

Two weeks ago, I returned to Cleveland for the first time since being kicked off campus in March 2020. As part of this trip, I did a bit more photography on the RTA. My main focus was on things that had been renovated since I had left (specifically East 79th on the Red Line, the improved tracks at Tower City, and Farnsleigh). However, I also got new and improved photographs of Cedar-University and Little Italy-University Circle as part of the adventure.

I arrived mid morning at Little Italy-University Circle, one of the first stations I photographed during my time at CWRU by virtue of it being right by campus. Most of my photos of that station were from freshman year, when my photography skills were nowhere near what they are now. Here’s an example:

Little Italy-University Circle Platform looking Outbound
Photo of the Little Italy-University Circle station I took in 2016

Compare with a photo from this time:

Outbound track at Little Italy-University Circle, looking north
Photo of Little Italy-University Circle from 2021

Definitely an improvement: better lighting (I got lucky with the weather admittedly), better angling of the camera, etc.

From there I went to Cedar-University, one stop down the line, and serving the southern portion of the CWRU campus. The story was similar to Little Italy for the most part: my photos from 2016 weren’t the best quality due to my inexperience. However, also important was that Cedar-University had a major bus loop attached which I never photographed.

First, see a typical photo of that station from 2016:

Cedar-University platform looking outbound 4
Photo of the Cedar-University station from 2016

Now compare with a photo taken in 2021:

Outbound track at Cedar-University
Photo of the platform at Cedar-University taken in 2021

Much better lighting (once again lucked out with the weather, but also knew to photograph in the middle of the day instead of in the evening as I did with the first photo), better angles, all that.

Then, I photographed the bus loop which I somehow never did in my four years at CWRU:

Northern bus loop platform at Cedar-University
Bus loop at Cedar-University

Having finished there, I started the main focus of my expedition, photographing the stations renovated since I had left Cleveland. First, I went to East 79th. For reference, here’s what the station used to look like:

Looking westbound from East 79th
Platform at East 79th in 2016

The station at the time was a pretty simple affair: a staircase (behind where I’m standing with the camera) and a wooden platform with a basic bus-like shelter and a roof. The renovations, on the other hand, significantly improved it:

Outbound track at East 79th (Red), looking east
Renovated East 79th station platform in 2021
Platform at East 79th (Red) from the entrance ramp
Renovated East 79th platform in 2021 from across the track
Street entrance to East 79th (Red) from the north
New entrance to East 79th in 2021

The new station has a concrete platform, a ramp for ADA accessibility, new signage, a significantly improved roof, and a much better-looking entrance. Overall it is a significantly improved passenger experience from the original. It did add one interesting twist though, a grade crossing. For a while the only grade crossing on the Red Line was at Brookpark, where passengers had to cross a track to reach the platform. Renovations at the station in 2016-2017 removed that grade crossing and replaced it with a tunnel under the track, but later on one was added at East 34th which saw a similar renovation to East 79th, including a set of ramps on the adjacent hillside.

Grade crossing at East 79th (Red) from the entrance
Grade crossing to access the platform at East 79th

From there I headed to Tower City. When I was a freshman at CWRU in 2016, they replaced the northern track, which resulted in westbound trains going to a temporary station on a normally non-revenue track. They did the same thing again to replace the southern track, and the work was completed prior to my arrival. Here is what the track looked like prior to renovation:

Eastbound platform at Tower City looking west 1
Old eastbound track at Tower City in 2016

After several years with a new northern track but retaining the old southern and stub tracks, they were all replaced. Here are the new and improved tracks:

New westbound Red Line track at Tower City in 2021
New eastbound track at Tower City in 2021
New stub Red Line track at Tower City in 2021
Red Line stub track at Tower City in 2021

Meanwhile, the Blue and Green Lines were not operating due to an eight week construction project shutting down the lines entirely, with them being replaced by shuttle buses in the meantime. However, I did notice that the ceiling had been removed:

Waterfront Line platform at Tower City
Old platform ceiling at Tower City in 2018
Westbound Red Line platform at Tower City in 2021
Platform with ceiling removed at Tower City in 2021

I don’t know the reasoning for removing the ceiling, and whether it’s temporary or permanent, but it definitely takes away some of the character of the station. I hope it will be added back. Given that a lot of the mall above was temporarily closed for construction, it wouldn’t be surprising if that were another part of the construction.

From there I took the shuttle bus out to Farnsleigh. Here’s what it looked like prior to renovation:

Both platforms at Farnsleigh
Farnsleigh station in 2016

It’s a pretty basic median station on the Blue Line with two platforms and a shelter. Now see it post-renovation from approximately the same viewpoint:

Tracks at Farnsleigh, looking west
Farnsleigh station in 2021

Notice the mini-high platforms for wheelchair accessibility and the new shelters. Definitely an improvement, and a big win for the ADA. I wonder if the manufacturer of those shelters will steal my photos again

Heading back to Cleveland was a nice experience, and this photo expedition brought things full circle. I got to see the stations I first photographed when I was still fairly inexperienced and bring to it a new camera and better skills. It really shows how far I’ve come in photography and also brings some closure to my time in Cleveland which was sadly cut short by the pandemic. I’ll definitely be back there another day, and it’ll be nice to see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same then. According to the RTA website, no new station renovations are planned, though they do intend to replace their railcar fleet.

Graduated, moved, starting work soon, and a whole lot more

Wow, the past few weeks have been crazy. Quite a lot has happened. This was definitely not the scenario I imagined even a few months ago, but despite quite a whirlwind of things happening, I managed to make it work.


Immediately after visiting Chicago to scope out apartments. I had to go back home for the remainder of the semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was lucky enough to be in among the least-affected classes. For the most part, we just continued doing what we were before (mostly a combination of lectures and projects) online.

One interesting twist was the component where I was teaching. I was a teaching assistant for Software Craftsmanship, and the primary component of my job was leading code reviews every week for students’ programming assignments.

Then, the graduation ceremony was pretty much a complete non-event. Some videos were posted, and we each got a slide. I’ll get my diploma in the mail in a few weeks. I managed to graduate Summa Cum Laude (for CWRU that means top 10% of my class), so that was good to see. They unfortunately removed my submission for my slide. I’m not sure why, since it wasn’t anything inappropriate or rude or anything. It was just a picture of me sitting with a cat in my lap and the line “It’s been a crazy four years”. Oh well.


I have now moved to Chicago! When on my apartment scouting trip earlier, I found one apartment that I knew was my best option. The apartment had basically everything: a good location close to the L, lots of room, on-site laundry, the property management gave me a good impression of how they handled things, and an additional small room that would be good for an office. As an added bonus, the tenants living there at the time I toured the unit had a cat, so I immediately knew this would be a good apartment to have my own cat (coming soon, I hope!) After I finished with apartment tours, I went to the property management office to apply in person, and a few days later got a call telling me I was approved.

Fast forward to May, with some (a lot of) help from my parents, we loaded my stuff into a van and drove up to Chicago. Before actually moving in, I snapped a few quick photos of the empty apartment to document what it looked like without my stuff:

The bedroom
The bathroom
Living room

With that, we got to work unpacking everything. Most of the furniture was fairly easy. The bookshelf just had the shelves taken out, so we had to put those back. We also had to take the drawers out of the dresser to move it up the stairs. My desk required no modification at all. The one somewhat difficult thing was the bed, which we basically completely disassembled to fit into the van. However, being an Ikea bed, we were able to put it back together following the original instructions with minimal tools. Then we also unloaded my stuff, and went to Target to buy supplies and food. We finished the day with some Giordano’s pizza (deep dish, of course), a fitting welcome to Chicago. The leftover pizza then lasted me three more days.

With that, I had a place to live! Over the next few days, I got to work making this place look more like home, putting up decorations, cleaning out boxes, etc.

My living room
My bedroom with a bed in it (and a Chicago flag on the window)
My office (it was hard to get the lighting right on my phone due to the window)
Network supplies and Raspberry Pi in the living room

This definitely felt more like a home. However, I was still missing some real furniture. My living room table was a card table accompanied by a folding chair, and I had no couch. My grandparents came to the rescue for that problem and got me a table, two chairs, and a couch off Wayfair. After some assembly, I had a real living room:

Living room with a real table, chair, and couch

So with that, I have a home! No doubt this place will evolve as time goes on, but I’m pretty satisfied with how it turned out. I’m also really glad I ended up going for a slightly larger apartment, given that now I’m spending a lot more time here than I expected due to the stay-at-home order in Illinois.

Stuff I’ve been doing in the meantime

I had a fairly long gap between when I moved and when work will start, so I have done a bunch of different things in the meantime with all the free time I had. It felt weird being completely done with school, but nice to have all the free time. I have done the common things like watching TV and playing video games (in particular Wii Sports), but also some other things.

For exercise, I still am avoiding running on pavement due to my Achilles, and there aren’t really any good non-paved places around here to run that I’m aware of. Also, all the gyms are closed as part of the COVID-19 prevention measures. Thus, I settled on biking outside. After spending five months on the elliptical, being outside and moving again was a great feeling. The lakefront trail is closed since the amount of people that used it posed a hazard for COVID-19, so I had to find alternate routes. My primary route so far has been the North Shore Channel Trail up to Skokie and Evanston, but I also recently found that going further east into Evanston and Wilmette (via Northwestern) is a good route. I biked downtown once too (via Broadway, which has bike lanes for much of its length) for some photos, to date the only time I’ve been downtown since I moved here.

I have not yet been on the L, which is a bummer given how much of a transit enthusiast I am. Still, I know that the public health of Chicago is more important than my hobbies, so I’m avoiding the L to give more room for the people who really need it. All my supply needs are within walking distance (Jewel-Osco for groceries and Target for most other things), and I haven’t quite started work yet, so there really isn’t much reason for me to be taking public transportation for now. Once things calm down some, I’ll continue my exploration of the city. I have no plans to leave Chicago, so I have plenty of time to do this.

One of my projects in the meantime was the Arrow programming language, available on GitHub, and I will make another post about Arrow and the story behind it soon.

In all, despite the craziness going on everywhere, I think I’m doing well as I can right now. I can’t wait to start work, and in time as things settle down I’ll get to experience more of the city.

The apartment search continues, with some twists along the way

So first, I should mention the concept of cohesion in software engineering. It basically says that everything in one place should be dedicated to one idea. This post definitely is not cohesive. With that out of the way, the past few days have been interesting. They have been mostly dedicated to apartment searching. I have found a few that look great, as well as some that I am going to skip on. Once this search is over I’ll submit some applications and hope for the best. My search is primarily in Uptown, Edgewater, and Rogers Park, all near the Red Line. I ended up leaning towards Uptown and Edgewater since they’re denser and closer to the city, but still quieter than neighborhoods closer to downtown like Lakeview.

Along the way I’ve also been lots of interesting places. On Monday, I started the day with an apartment visit in Uptown, followed by another in Rogers Park. After that I headed downtown to Union Station to meet some friends from CWRU for lunch, where we ended up going to My Thai. It was a really good lunch and also nice to see them in a non-college setting. Along the way, I got off at Clinton on the Blue Line and that was my only set of transit photos for the day since it was raining pretty much all day.

O'Hare-bound track at Clinton
O’Hare-bound track at Clinton
Platform at Clinton
Platform and escalator at Clinton

After lunch I headed back north to Edgewater for another apartment visit. As part of the tour the property manager described the neighborhood, including the restaurants. One of the restaurants was Francesca’s, and it was apparently National Meatball Day, so that became my dinner. A very good dinner, though also a lot of food.

Tuesday saw some improved weather. It was colder, but also mostly sunny. I started the day with another apartment visit in Uptown. I then went to the Chicago History Museum and spent a while there. The museum was really interesting, containing an exhibit about a narrative of the history of Chicago, including a 1892-built L car. It also had an exhibit about Lincoln, Muslims in Chicago, modern design, and a few other things. Then from there, I headed downtown to kill some time before getting lunch. I bought my very own Chicago flag along the way, which I’ll hang up in my dorm or something for the rest of the semester. Also, I got some pictures from the LaSalle Street Bridge over the river:

Chicago River from LaSalle Street looking west
Looking west on the Chicago River from LaSalle Street
Chicago River from LaSalle Street looking east
Looking east on the Chicago River from LaSalle Street

While at lunch, I got an email from CWRU informing me that classes are cancelled next Monday and Tuesday, and will be conducted online for at least three weeks after that. As a TA, I immediately emailed my boss about what to do, and we’re going to be hosting lectures and discussion sections online via Zoom, so that should be fine. I wonder how my other classes are going to happen, and it’ll be interesting seeing campus become a quasi-ghost town since the email also encouraged students to go home if at all possible.

After lunch, I headed back north to Howard on a Purple Line Express for another apartment tour back in Rogers Park. I got there early, so I first tried to get some pictures at Howard, but too many people were there for me to get one without being disruptive. Instead, I got on the Red Line and went one stop back to Jarvis, and got a few pictures there. I also got a shot of the empty interior of a train before we left Howard. Since it was later in the day, I was limited in what I could do due to the sun.

Interior of a Red Line train at Howard
Interior of my train at Howard
Northbound track at Jarvis
Northbound track at Jarvis

I still had some more time before the tour was scheduled, so I headed over to the lakefront.

Lake Michigan from Chase Avenue
Lake Michigan from the end of Chase Avenue

Then, I went on the tour and went back to the place I’m staying. Later on, I got dinner at Asian Station, an Asian fusion place right by the Morse station. That was also a very good meal.

Tomorrow is the last major apartment hunting day, then Thursday is a bit more relaxed, and I’m going back to Cleveland Friday. It’s getting a lot more real that I’m moving to Chicago now that I’m touring apartments.

Changes to transit around Cleveland

My interest in photography as a way to document the world matured during my time in Cleveland, and as my time there comes to a close, I have begun to think about the change that occurred in my relatively short time here.

Railcar Renovations

My first experience with transit in Cleveland was in February 2015 as part of a campus visit to Case Western Reserve University. Some photos from that trip are available in my previous post explaining the evolution of my photography. One photo I didn’t include in there was the interior of the train:

Interior of the Red Line as of February 2015

That trip was the only time I ever rode where the interior looked like that, since the RTA undertook a refurbishment project on the entire Red Line fleet. Now, the interiors look like this:

Interior of the current Red Line fleet

I first experienced the new fleet when I did a prospective student visit after being admitted. I took the train back to the airport and experienced the renovated interior for the first time. It looks a lot nicer, with better-looking seats, brighter lights, an easier-to-clean floor, better color scheme, etc.

Little Italy Station

In early 2015 when I first visited Cleveland, the two stops near CWRU were Cedar-University and Euclid-East 120th. The latter would cease to exist before I returned, being replaced by the new Little Italy-University Circle station a block away later that year. Not long later, the original Euclid-East 120th Street station would be demolished.

Little Italy-University Circle Platform looking inbound 2
The platform at Little Italy
Little Italy entrance at night
The entrance to the station from Mayfield Road

Tower City Track Replacement

Starting around the time I came to CWRU, the RTA began replacing Track 8 (the main westbound track) at Tower City. The original track looked something like this:

Eastbound platform at Tower City looking west 1
Current eastbound track – the original westbound track also looked like this, with the trackbed paved over

For the time it took to replace the track during the first part of my freshman year, westbound trains were diverted to a non-revenue track separate from the main station. This temporary station had its own fare control and everything:

Entrance to temporary Tower City platform
Entrance to the temporary westbound Tower City station, August 2016
Turnstiles at temporary Tower City platform
Turnstiles at the temporary westbound station
Red/Waterfront temporary platform at Tower City 1
ADA ramp to the temporary Red Line platform
Red/Waterfront temporary platform at Tower City 3
Temporary westbound track from the platform

Eventually, late in 2016, the project was completed and the new westbound track completed, and service was restored to the main station for both directions. The new track used ballastless track, a major improvement over the original. Take a look:

Upgraded Red Line westbound track at Tower City
New westbound track! (December 2016)

Now, in early 2020, they’re performing similar work on the stub tracks on either side. Since both through tracks are still in service, service isn’t affected and trains simply don’t terminate directly at Tower City for the time being.

Track 10 construction work at Tower City
Tower City track 10 reconstruction, March 2020 [added on March 7, 2020 after original publication]


During the second half of 2016, the Warrensville-Shaker station on the Green Line was replaced. I don’t have any pictures of the original station, but I do have some pictures of the new one:

Outbound platform at Warrensville - Shaker
New track and platforms at Warrensville-Shaker, with the mini-high platforms not quite complete yet and landscaping remaining to be done, October 2016
Looking outbound at Warrensville-Shaker
New station, November 2016


In 2017, the RTA replaced the Lee-Shaker station. It was a basic median streetcar station on Shaker Boulevard, but was at a particularly high-traffic location and thus could use both a modernization and ADA accessibility. I actually was (according to Google Images) the first person to post pictures of the new station online.

Westbound shelter and wheelchair lift at Lee-Shaker
New shelter and mini-high platform at Lee-Shaker, September 2017
Eastbound Green Line train passing the westbound platform at Lee-Shaker
Eastbound train waiting to cross Lee Road


The Brookpark Station saw a complete replacement during my Freshman year. The station that existed in 2016 was a “temporary” station that had been in use for about ten years.

Old headhouse at Brookpark
Old headhouse at Brookpark, September 2016

I first came to Cleveland during the reconstruction process, so I saw the platform shortened so it only fit one car plus one door on the other car (before this construction project started, the platform could fit a full train). However, the platform was one of only three wooden platforms on the system (the others being East 79th and East 34th, and only East 79th is still wooden now). The headhouse also was on the opposite side of the westbound track from the island platform with no tunnel or bridge, requiring passengers to cross the track to access the platform.

Grade crossing and station house at Brookpark
Grade crossing at the old station
Looking eastbound from Brookpark
Old wooden platform

Throughout my freshman year, construction activity was going on. I was impatiently waiting for it to be done, constantly looking for press releases. I distinctly remember taking the train out to the airport very early in the morning with an operator who seemed like he had just started his shift and was very enthusiastic, and he said “Next stop: Brookpark! The new station is coming very soon, folks…” The time I was waiting for finally came around in April, when trains began stopping at the new platform. The new station was a much more modern station:

East headhouse at Brookpark after opening
New headhouse on the eastern side, April 2016
Looking away from headhouse at Brookpark
New platform
Brookpark west entrance and plaza
New entrance on the western side, which opened much later than the rest of the new station (photo taken September 2017)
Inside headhouse at Brookpark
Headhouse interior

In all, the new station looked much more modern and was more functional than the one it replaced. I was quite pleased with the new results. Interestingly, this removed the only grade crossing on the Red Line for a time, but another one would open later at East 34th Street (read on…)

East 34th Street

The East 34th Street station as I first remember it was a fairly outdated and run-down station. It was a simple island platform (with a low section for the Blue/Green lines and a high section for the Red Line) accessible by a single set of stairs from East 34th Street.

Red Line platform at East 34th
Red Line platform
East 34th entrance
The lone entrance from East 34th Street
Deterioration of the stairs at E. 34th
Worn-down concrete with exposed rebar on the stairs

My sophomore year, the renovation project began. I did my best to come down to the station when I had the chance so that I could document the change.

E. 34th stairs and construction, September 2017
The old stairs next to some pre-landscaping for the new ones
Future E. 34th stairs, September 2017
The groundwork for the new stairs begins
November 2017 Red Line platform progress at E. 34th
Foundation for the new Red Line platform
New stairs/ramp at East 34th Street, March 2018
The new stairs are on the way up
East 34th station platform, May 2018
Progress on the low platform for the Blue/Green lines and the entrance in May 2018
East 34th future entrance, May 2018
Progress on the new entrance, May 2018

Then, as I went back to North Carolina for the summer, work continued. I came back in the fall to see the work mostly completed:

East 34th Street from ramp turnaround
Overhead view of the new station, September 2018
Unfinished Red Line platform at East 34th Street, September 2018
Not-quite-finished Red Line platform, September 2018
Westbound track crossing at East 34th Street
After the removal of the Brookpark grade crossing the previous year, this one was added
New entrance to East 34th Street Station
The new entrance

The new station also looked much more modern and fresh, giving a nice upgrade to the Campus District. It was also renamed “Tri-C – Campus District” to reflect its proximity to Tri-C.

East 105th-Quincy

For a long time, East 105th-Quincy was known for only opening the front door of the front car of each train due to the platform being too short. Needless to say, this was a cause of a lot of confusion for riders not familiar with the situation and delays for everyone else. Riders in the second car had to go between cars if they wanted to get off, and the single door slowed everyone down.

E. 105th - Quincy platform looking inbound
The short platform (I’m standing at the end of the platform in this photo)
Inbound train at E. 105th - Quincy
A train too short for the platform it is serving

Beginning in late 2017, work began to lengthen the platform. Not only did they lengthen the platform, but they also opened a second entrance, maknig this one of only two stations in the entire system with two entrances, the other being West 65th-Lorain.

Platform extension at E. 105th-Quincy under construction
Concrete supports in place, October 2017
E. 105th-Quincy platform extension progress, May 2018
Metal framing, May 2018
E. 105th-Quincy platform, May 2018
…but the work still isn’t complete yet

As of September 2018, the platform had been lengthened to the point where a two car train could open all of its doors.

Overhead view of extended platform at East 105th - Quincy
The platform is getting longer, September 2018
Red Line train opening ALL DOORS at East 105th - Quincy
A train opening all of its doors, September 2018

However, that was only one part of the project. Next, the new entrance was to open in 2019.

E. 105th-Quincy entrance on E. 105th Street
New entrance on East 105th (the Opportunity Corridor), April 2019
Platform at E. 105th-Quincy, looking east
The new platform, now fully in service, April 2019

East 116th Street

East 116th Street also saw a major renovation, going from being a fairly old station similar to what East 34th originally was (especially the staircases) to another modern station.

Inbound platform at E. 116th
Original station, October 2016
Street entrance to E. 116th
Original entrance to East 116th Street

Then, the renovations began! The temporary station in place during the renovations consisted of two wooden platforms and a fairly basic entrance located further down the block to allow work on the new station to proceed unobstructed:

Train at temporary East 116th station
Temporary wooden platforms, May 2018
East 116th temporary entrance
Temporary entrance
Demolition at E. 116th
Demolition of the old station, May 2018

Then, the new station was built mostly over the summer, so I wasn’t able to document it. So, let’s jump to the big finish:

Inbound entrance to E. 116th Station
New entrance, May 2019
New entrance to East 116th Station
New entrance (including both sides)
Eastbound track at East 116th
New eastbound track, February 2020
Track and westbound platform at East 116th
New platforms

The new station, like the others, was a major improvement. It fit in nicely with the surrounding neighborhood, was ADA accessible, and was generally just much nicer-looking.

Blue Line renovations

I was notified on Wikipedia that the RTA was performing some upgrades for various stations on the Blue Line, so when I got the time and clear skies, I went out there to document the upgrades. The upgrades appeared to be new signage and shelters, with the platform structure itself remaining unchanged. The first station where I saw such upgrades was Avalon:

Shelter at Avalon looking outbound
New shelter at Avalon, November 2019
Shelter and sign at Avalon
New signage at Avalon

Final thoughts

A lot changed in four years, and I was glad to be here to document it. These renovations gave me exciting material for photography and always gave me an excuse to get out of University Circle for a while. They are in keeping with Cleveland’s city motto of “Progress and Prosperity” (even though one of the stations was in Shaker Heights) and helped modernize the city. It looks like I’ve seen the last major project that will be completed before I leave here in May, but I know there’s plenty of work going on in Chicago that I will be able to photograph as well.

Evolution of photography

I first got my feet wet with regards to photography in about eleventh grade. My first time going out by myself with a camera was on the Los Angeles Metro. I was meeting some family at LACMA while coming from Beverly Hills, so I arranged that I would get dropped off at Culver City, take the Expo Line (now alternately known as the E line) to 7th Street/Metro Center, then transfer to the Purple Line (now also known as the D line), take that out to Wilshire/Western, then meet everyone else there, and we’d drive the rest of way to LACMA, at Wilshire/Fairfax (which will be on the line in a few years, but definitely not in 2013).

Along the trip, I just took pictures of basically anything and everything, not really bothering to pay attention to my subject matter or the quality of the photos. I knew nothing about photography other than you point the camera at something and hit the button. I didn’t even have a camera of my own, I borrowed someone else’s. Here is a sampling of a few photos I took:

The interior of my train
The station sign (through the open door of my train)
The platform at Culver City
My train after ending its run at 7th Street/Metro Center
An out-of-service train waiting on the relay tracks at 7th Street/Metro Center (the tracks end at a wall behind that train, though this will change with the Regional Connector project)
My Purple Line train relaying at Wilshire/Western, which I later posted on Wikipedia as the headline photo for the article about that station since no platform photos were there at the time, and as of the time I write this post, it still is
The mezzanine level looking towards the escalator
Me (in the black fleece and shorts) posing in front of the station sign pylon

That was my first foray into photography. Obviously, those weren’t exactly the world’s best photos, but that’s what got me started.

Cleveland and Chicago, Round 1

Later on, in February 2015, I toured colleges in the Midwestern United States, specifically Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve (which I ended up attending), and Northwestern. This was my second opportunity to try a bit of railroad photography. In Cleveland, I wanted to explore a new transit system, so I took the Red Line from Cedar/University to Tower City to grab lunch there. I forgot to ask to borrow a camera for this one, so I got my pictures with a cell phone. I got some pictures along the way there too:

Red Line train relaying on the stub track at Tower City
Eastbound track at Tower City

Later on, after my tour of Northwestern, I ran from there to Millennium Station (about 13 miles) for my long run that week, and then then took the South Shore Line back to South Bend (where I was staying). Once I got to Millennium Station, I took some more pictures while waiting for my train:

Part of the station concourse
Two South Shore Line trains
A waiting Metra train

Travels in 2016

I traveled some along the way (still using borrowed cameras), to places like Boston…

Back Bay NEC platforms 12
Northeast Corridor platforms at Back Bay
Blue Line train at Government Center 2
Newly renovated Government Center station
Looking Inbound from Assembly 2
Then-new Assembly Square station

…and New York City…

Two NJT trains at NY Penn Station
New York Penn Station (two New Jersey Transit trains)
Looking eastbound from the Newark Airport Rail Station
Newark Airport rail station

My own camera

Then, as I graduated high school, I got my own camera, a Canon Powershot G9X, about the size of a deck of cards. I definitely got familiar with that camera over the next few years. Back in Los Angeles in the summer of 2016, I had my first real rodeo with that camera:

Entrance to 7th Street/Metro Center
The entrance to 7th Street/Metro Center
Platform at Westwood/Rancho Park 1
Platform at Westwood/Rancho Park, which had opened since my last trip to Los Angeles
Two trains at Pico
Pico station
Looking towards the bumper block at Downtown Santa Monica
Downtown Santa Monica Station

Cleveland, Round 2: a whole new city

Then, after that summer was over, I started college at CWRU. I immediately set out to get pictures of all the train station around Cleveland. Here are some of my preliminary efforts:

Little Italy-University Circle Platform looking inbound 2
Home sweet home, the Little Italy station
Cedar-University headhouse
The Cedar-University Station
Inbound train at E. 105th - Quincy
A train at East 105th-Quincy, showing how the platform is too short for the full length of the train (this has been fixed in the meantime)

Speaking of Tower City, I revisited that station. They were performing maintenance on one of the tracks, so they opened a station on one of the non-revenue tracks:

Eastbound platform at Tower City looking west 3
A somewhat-better picture of the Red Line platform at Tower City
Red/Waterfront temporary platform at Tower City 1
Temporary platform at Tower City
Turnstiles at temporary Tower City platform
Temporary turnstiles at Tower City

Definitely some progress was made in the meantime. I was able to better choose subject matter and get it in the frame. The quality was also better, with the pictures being clearer and better focused. However, the alignment was still pretty haphazard, with a lot of the pictures not level at all. I also didn’t really appreciate the importance of lighting just yet.

My next big breakthrough was in alignment, when I went out to Lee-Van Aken. I realized I could line up the camera with reference lines in the picture (in this case I used the power poles), and as a result my pictures were actually consistently level.

Both platforms at Lee-Van Aken
Lee-Van Aken: a level picture!
Outbound platform at Drexmore from south end
Drexmore Station
Stokes-Windermere station
Stokes-Windermere Station

I also got to apply these skills elsewhere traveling to Charlotte for a day…

Both platforms at 3rd Street-Convention Center from north end
Platforms at 3rd Street-Convention Center in Charlotte

…and New York City again…

(7)/<7> Platform at 34th Street - Hudson Yards
34th Street-Hudson Yards
Looking up the escalator at 34th Street - Hudson Yards
Escalator at 34th Street-Hudson Yards
Downtown (A) platform at Dyckman Street
Dyckman Street (IND Eighth Avenue Line)

…and Los Angeles again…

Western end of the platform at Expo/Sepulveda
Expo/Sepulveda platform
Train at Hollywood/Highland
Hollywood/Highland platform

Around this time, I also got interested in taking pictures of buildings in addition to transit systems.

Downtown Los Angeles from City Hall observation deck
Downtown Los Angeles skyline
Lower Manhattan Skyline from Staten Island Ferry 2
Lower Manhattan skyline

With that, I felt much more confident in my photography skills. I had definitely seen some improvement, my pictures were clearer and more level. Still, I was missing some things.

The start to 2018: Lighting

The next big improvement in my photography was lighting. Before I didn’t really even think about sunny or cloudy, or where the light sources were indoors. As a result, the colors often didn’t look quite like I wanted or the wrong objects were emphasized. With a renewed emphasis on lighting, I continued my work. In the winter of 2017-2018, I went to San Francisco, with my first vacation that had a really high emphasis on photography:

San Franciso skyline from Mission Dolores Park
San Francisco skyline
Light from above at Glen Park
Glen Park station
Mezzanine at 24th Street Mission from elevator end
24th Street Mission Station Mezzanine
Middle of the platform at Powell Street
Powell Street platform
Inbound platform at Castro
Castro platform
San Bruno platform from north end
San Bruno platform

The improvements definitely showed themselves in San Francisco. Having a photography-oriented trip also was a good opportunity to see for myself what worked and what didn’t. With that, I felt much more confident going forwards. I continued my photography along Cleveland and other places I went. I did my first internship at TransEnterix that following summer as well. Since I didn’t want to take any time off work, my travel opportunities were somewhat limited, just going back to Charlotte for a day (this time trying to aim for a sunnier day) and taking an afternoon trip to Raleigh. However, I had a few days between my last day at the internship and when I had to get back to school, so I took advantage of that to take a quick trip to Washington, DC.

One train waiting at Huntington
Train waiting at Huntington
Back of a Blue Line train at Crystal City
Train at Crystal City
Trains on both levels at Rosslyn
Trains at Rosslyn
Long escalator at Rosslyn 2
Escalator at Rosslyn
United States Capitol Building
Capitol Building (I went to DC, I had to get this one)

After DC, I felt pretty solid in my abilities. I definitely had the alignment thing down, and I was getting a lot better at lighting.

Richmond and Philadelphia

My next big photo adventure was a day trip to Richmond, Virginia in late 2018. I picked a day with perfectly clear skies, and basically spent all day walking around the city with my camera taking pictures of anything and everything that interested me:

Downtown Richmond skyline
Richmond skyline during the day
Downtown Richmond at night
Richmond skyline at night

With those two pictures, I began to feel that the limiting factor in my pictures was my camera and no longer the user. In particular, for the nighttime shot, I was having trouble getting the focus where I needed (my camera didn’t have any options beyond five meters other than “infinite distance”) as well as the lighting settings. I also was starting to use manual mode, which was really cumbersome on that camera. I took a mental note that a new camera was in order. Still, I continued on with what I had, and later on went to Philadelphia:

Philadelphia Skyline from South Street Bridge
Philadelphia skyline
Track 2 at Jefferson Station
Jefferson Station
Ridge Spur platform at Fairmount
Fairmount Ridge Spur platform
Northbound express track at Girard
Express tracks at Girard
Tracks at 13th Street Station
Tracks at 13th Street Station

I really gained an appreciation for lighting after this trip. I only had one sunny day, the first one (and I got there late in the day, so I was only really able to get that one skyline photo). I also learned that SEPTA, in contrast to many other subway systems, is very well lit. This made photography much easier and let me get higher quality pictures.

Chicago, Round 2

Over spring break that year, I traveled to Chicago. I returned to Millennium Station, and my new photos were definitely an improvement:

Waiting area at Millennium Station
Concourse at Millennium Station
Metra track at Millennium Station
Metra track at Millennium Station

I also got many pictures of the L:

Stairs to Red Line at Jackson
Jackson Blue Line platform
Platform at Harold Washington Library at night
Harold Washington Library platform
Elevated train stopped at Roosevelt
Train stopped at Roosevelt

I also got some pictures of buildings and stuff…

Chicago skyline from Adler Planetarium
The Chicago skyline
Tracks into Downtown Chicago from Museum Campus/11th Street Station
Metra Electric District tracks with Downtown Chicago in the background

That ended up being my last major expedition with my Canon. I had a few minor ones later on, including a brief trip back to Charlotte, a quick trip to Downtown Durham, as well as a trip to Greensboro, which turned out to be my last expedition with that camera:

Greensboro skyline from the Amtrak station
Greensboro skyline

Transition to a new camera, Atlanta, and beyond

Then, I got a new, more powerful camera: an Olympus E-M10. To take it out for a test drive, I took some pictures around Durham:

21C and One City Center
The two tallest buildings in Downtown Durham

The camera felt way more powerful than my previous one. It took me a while to get used to all its features and how to use them, but I knew this was a major step forwards. In the middle of the summer, I took a solo trip to Atlanta, and that is still to date my most successful photography expedition:

Downtown Atlanta skyline at night
Downtown Atlanta skyline at night
Midtown Atlanta skyline from I-85 and 17th Street
Midtown Atlanta skyline
Westbound train at Dome-GWCC
Backs of two trains at North Springs
North Springs
Vine City platform
Vine City
Platform at Peachtree Center
Peachtree Center Station
Five Points lower level northbound track
Five Points Red/Gold Line (lower level) platform

I definitely was still getting the hang of the whole exposure/ISO/F-stop thing, as evidenced by the lighting in some of these photos. Still, these photos were clearer than anything I had done before, and I felt much more in control. It was also awesome traveling solo for photography, which gave me a ton of practice.

For my final fall break I decided to travel to Pittsburgh with a friend. It was only for a few days, but I still had plenty of opportunities for photography:

Pittsburgh daytime skyline from Grandview Overlook
Pittsburgh skyline during the day
Nighttime skyline of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh skyline at night
Outbound track at Steel Plaza
Steel Plaza station
Outbound train at North Side
North Side Station
Cathedral of Learning
Cathedral of Learning

I had gotten a better feel for all the settings on my camera this time, so my pictures came out looking more or less how I wanted them.

I also traveled to Los Angeles and San Diego in the winter of 2019-2020, which I have already talked about in another post.

So, since I took up photography, my skills have improved dramatically. It wasn’t a sudden shift, but something that happened over time. I’m moving to Chicago soon, and that will give me a whole new city to explore. I look forward to what I find there, and hope my skills continue to improve. The future holds exciting things, and I can’t wait to see (and photograph) what they are.