Orthodoxy states that a train picture should be taken during the bright light of mid-morning or mid-afternoon, the photographer shooting with the sun behind and the subject brilliantly lit. The photo should be taken at a shutter speed sufficient to stop a moving train dead in its tracks, literally, and the subject should be in sharp focus. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve taken my share of such images.
However, I believe in throwing the orthodox out the window as well. Sunrise is a great time to throw the traditional train picture on its ear. The rising sun combined with partial cloud cover can make for a beautiful image, particularly in a rural region.
Last month, we looked at some of the reasons you might want to consider printing your work. (See here.) Living with your prints, and seeing them every day will sharpen your judgement and improve your work. A printed photograph is likely to be a more permanent means to preserve your memories. (For an interesting take on this, see “The Lesson from Costco’s Photo Lab”) And printing can be a valuable way to curate a meaningful body of work.
If you decide to print, you will find that the process is not easy, and it is not cheap. There are two options: buy a printer and print at home, or send your work out to a photo lab.
If, like me, you came up in photography before the advent of digital, a photograph was a physical object; a print, or a slide. Photographs were distributed and seen as prints on photographic paper or in the pages of books and magazines. You could hang a photograph on the wall or fold it up and carry it with you in your wallet. It was a real object in the real world.
Saturday, October 20, 2018 was the final day of the week-long Lerro Productions photo charter on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad. The anatomy of an image: here are the accounts of Polson #2 steam locomotive fireman Martin E. Hansen, and photographer Matthew Malkiewicz.
Reflecting on a steam run as experienced inside the cab and from behind the lens
Martin E. Hansen
The night before the last day of the charter I was told that one of the firemen for the charter had to leave and go home early. Our trainmaster asked if I could fill in for him on the log train the next morning with Polson Lumber Company #2, a standard gauge 2-8-2 Mikado built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1912. Since I had just completed a week of hard work days in the shop with our restoration crew finishing the jacket, piping and other final installations on the Skookum locomotive, I was ready for a change and gladly accepted the assignment.
A couple months back, I entered the new age, trading an old flip phone for a shiny new “ iPhone”. My old flip phone could take pictures, but to my eye they looked like the “Brownie” shots I took as a kid. I’d tried shooting with my girlfriend’s cell phone a while back but owing to shaky hands and inexperience the results weren’t very good. Now I get this new toy and resolve to try again—hey, what better than to have a decent camera right there in yer pocket at any old time—right?
We stand on the shoulders of the men and women who have gone before, and their legacy is a gift that lights our way forward.
In this, the second in our video series Legacies, we look at the Farm Security Administration photographers who documented the Depression in 1930s America. Their work includes the railroad as part of the visual and cultural landscape of that troubled time.
Photographs by Jack Delano, John Collier, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, John Vachon and Marion Post Wolcott are featured in this brief presentation.