The Lingering Image

I’ve learned over the years not to pass up a potential image. That ‘thing’ that caught your eye will reside in your imagination like an unsolved mystery for a long time. Your eye saw something and the mind needs to resolve any doubt about whether you missed a great image. More often than not, that seen image doesn’t pan out, but if you don’t go back, you won’t know. Going back in the moment is ideal, but sometimes it takes longer.

The lead image above lingered in my mind a long time after I ‘saw’ it.

This story starts in the exploration of the Coles Station Water Tank that I wrote about here. When I finished photographing the tank, I packed up and set off on my journey home. Cruising east on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, my mind wandered through the day’s exploration and photography. Then it hit me…that image that I saw, but didn’t make! It was getting dark, I was tired, and knew that going back was not going to work out that evening. But the image lingered and I vowed to return.

Going back to that day at Coles Water Tank…

Having found the tank in the middle of the Pennsylvania woods, I approached it from a distance with an eye towards potential photographs. As I got closer, saw that the door was ajar, moving so ever gently in the low breeze. Not one to pass up an invitation to explore the interior, I gently pushed the door in, not knowing what to expect.

The first thing I observed as I opened the door was a rustic wooden ladder that went up into the rafters to service the water tank above. A window on the opposite wall allowed daylight to enter and provided enough light for me to feel comfortable stepping inside. As my eyes adjusted to the lower light levels, I moved into the interior more and then the wind pulled the door closed behind me. Not completely shut, the light that poured through the cracked door hit the ladder and set it aglow. The rest of the interior was dark in contrast and created a shrine-like scene that perfectly represented my vision of the tank. I knew I would have to shoot this scene, but made a decision to photograph the exterior first and finish up inside. For now, the exterior was enveloped in a soft filtered light from the low fog and I didn’t not know how long it would last.

I walked out and fixed the door latch so that the interior was closed to any animals that might find its shelter inviting. For the next hour or so, I was totally engrossed with the tank in its idyllic peaceful setting among the barren trees. Having circled the tank twice and with the fog lifting, I decided it was time to head home. It was on that drive home that the missed image kept coming back to me. I wished that I had taken the time before leaving to access my shots and make sure I had everything I wanted. I vowed to go back.

Every time I looked at my East Broad Top Railroad portfolio, that missing image kept coming back to haunt me. Three months would pass before I could make it back to remote central Pennsylvania to explore a ‘what if’ image. Just because I had seen an image in my mind doesn’t mean that it will translate well into a photograph. The chances for disappointment equaled those of success.

Upon my return, as soon as I got inside, set up my camera and looked through the viewfinder to compose my shot, I knew the return (and wait) was worth it.

This image shows a good part of the interior and was made by merging three images, each 3 stops apart to get the dark interior to balance with the bright outside.

The water tank sits securely on the rafters and is relatively good shape for being close to a century old.

The tank is still mostly intact but many of the iron hoops have slipped a bit over the years.

A wider view shows the wood floor that covered the center of the interior. The coal burning stove sat on the right side of the photo where the boards are disturbed. It warmed the tank that was directly above and held about 8000 gallons of water.

Now, to not let another one linger so long in mind…


  1. Eric,

    As always, a very evocative and thought-provoking blog post. Thank you!

    Over the years I’ve missed a few great opportunities to capture a photograph, but in my case it was a train in motion with no way of a repeat performance. Out of focus, poor composition, blown exposure settings, someone or something stepping in front of the camera at the last second. Luckily I have forgotten about those bad times and not dwelled on them. Regardless, its all part of the learning curve, and I applied those mistakes to my ever-evolving workflow.

    Coles Water Tank is a quiet gem that rests well off the beaten path. I am fortunate to have been introduced to it, and in turn tipped you off. You have captured it very well, but I’d bet you still want to make a return trip or two (hint hint) to further explore the photographic possibilities.


    1. Eric Williams


      We’ve all experienced the “blown” shot and kicked ourselves for missing an opportunity due to a stupid error. It’s just part of mastering the technical side of photography. I find that I’m losing less to technical reasons these days, but now more attuned to missed vision opportunities. Trains and people don’t stand still and you have to think on your feet and anticipate the action. Sometimes I see ‘it’ too late to capture the moment and now realize that it is the other challenge in mastering photography!

      And yes, a return to EBT land will never be turned down by me. There is still much to see there.


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