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Railfan Photo Line - November 2012

Bethlehem Steel Photo Shoot

What appears to be steel being poured is actually a part of a night photo session held at the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Pa., and arranged by Brian Alesin.

Back in Time in Bethlehem

by Steve Barry/photos by the author

Photo LineWelcome to Photo Line! Railroads don't exist in a vacuum. They operate for a reason and their story is intertwined with that of industrial America. People drawn in by trains would soon follow those tracks to become interested in grain elevators, sawmills and steel plants. Railfan photographers would turn their lenses to the overall scene. The National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Pa., was looking to raise awareness of their efforts to preserve parts of the Bethlehem Steel complex. The high percentage of people interested in Bethlehem Steel who were also railfans made it a natural to adapt a rail photography staple into a museum event. Looking for ways to capture the essence of a working steel mill in photography, the night photo session -- where lighting is selectively used to highlight certain elements and eliminate others -- was the perfect solution. Indeed, the first night photo event at Bethlehem Steel utilized some railroad equipment as the subject. But the secondary shots that night, using steel mill props, stole the show and soon more sophisticated events arranged around these subjects were held. Such was the case of this night shoot, held on November 17, 2012. Volunteers from the National Museum of Industrial History who served as "actors" included Frank Sattler, Micah-John Kershner, Calum Learn, and John Weber. The unique lighting was designed by Brian Alesin.

National Museum of Industrial History

A Stream of Steel

Using a sample ladle, a worker monitors a flow of runoff through the Bethlehem Steel plant. The silver suit comes from the collection of NMIH. The steel "runoff" is actually a light rope used for holiday decorations.

National Museum of Industrial History

A Molten Ladle

Nothing exemplifies steel mills more than the pour. A smoke machine, a red light, and a piece of plexiglass make a ladle full of molten steel, while rope lights make the pour.

National Museum of Industrial History

Light Show

Part of the night photo session was a fireworks display put on by Frank Sattler as he torched a piece of metal (which actually needed torching for a museum project, so this was a working display)! An exposure of a couple of seconds made for a nice sparks show.

National Museum of Industrial History

Signature In Steel

Volunteer Frank Sattler completes his work by burning the NMIH initials into the steel beam.

National Museum of Industrial History

Steam Power

A semi-portable steam engine is also part of the NMIH collection. Frank Sattler posed next to the engine along with a collection of lanterns and lamps.

National Museum of Industrial History

Somebody's Watching Me...

A supervisor stands in the smoke as two steel workers monitor the molten flow. These scenes are actually in the back room of the NMIH's museum building; smoke and darkness mask the true location of the shots.

National Museum of Industrial History

The Glow

This shot was quite accidental. While moving lights around, coordinator Brian Alesin removed the orange gel from in front of one of the lights, leaving a white light to backlight the scene. The NMIH night photo sessions are always a mixture of pre-planned scenes, requests from photographers, experimentation and happy accidents.


Railfan Photo Line

Railfan Photo Line welcomes your submissions. We're looking for a themed topic (and "theme" can be interpreted fairly broadly) with five to eight photos. Each photo should be no smaller than 14 inches (or 1024 pixels) across at 72 dpi (no verticals, please). Brief caption information must accompany each photo. Please send your inquiries to the Webmaster for consideration.

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