Posts Tagged ‘Railroad photography’

John Gruber was Influenced by the Work of Photojournalists and Brought That to Railroad Photography

October 11, 2018

Wednesday, Oct. 10, was a slow day for railroad news. Oh, there was news made and reported, but none of it involved railroad operations in the region that I cover for the Akron Railroad Club blog.

Among the news items on Wednesday was an obituary for John Gruber, 82, of Madison, Wisconsin, a noted railroad photographer and founder of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

I wasn’t going to report Gruber’s death on the ARRC blog because I wasn’t sure most ARRC members would know who he is even if they might have seen his work.

But I was intrigued when former Trains editor Kevin Keefe wrote in a tribute that Gruber had pioneered a “daring new approach to photographing the railroad scene.”

That got my attention. What was it? How was it daring?

It turns out that Gruber was an early practitioner of using a telephoto lens to, as Keefe put it, practice the art of “getting up close and personal with professional railroaders.”

This wasn’t something that Gruber thought of on his own but rather was the byproduct of the influence of newspaper photographers.

Keefe wrote that Dick Sroda of the Wisconsin State Journal and Jim Stanfield of the Milwaukee Journal inspired Gruber to go beyond what he was seeing in Trains magazine.

“It was a time when press photographers and journalists were interested in what people were doing,” Gruber once said. “I saw this as an underrepresented area of railroad photography, and I took advantage of every opportunity to document railroad people at work, rather than concentrating on equipment.”

Gruber may have built a career on people-oriented photographs, but it is not a philosophy that has caught on with most rank and file railfan photographers.

Most railfans are fixated on the equipment, particularly the lead locomotive of a train. The people working on the train, riding the train, or watching the train are an afterthought if they are thought about at all.

That is particularly true of spectators and bystanders. We’ve all heard someone lament that a railfan or a daisy picker got into an otherwise pristine image of an oncoming train. I’ve griped about that myself at times.

Although I never considered myself a photojournalist per se, I did engage in the practice during my early years in the newspaper industry.

At small town newspapers you need to make photographs as well as conduct interviews and write stories.

News organizations spend a lot of time writing about the behavior of organizations. They also report a lot of staid news about people in organizations, much of it focusing on such things as the work history of someone who was just named to a position such as vice president.

That information can be contrived and lacking a sense of authenticity even if it is rooted in reality.

But it’s the moments when people are captured acting naturally that most excites photojournalists. To capture those moments on film or megapixels takes practice, some training, and patience. In time it becomes something that you just do.

John Gruber is not the only railroad photographer who took a journalistic mindset into his work and he probably wasn’t the first.

But it became his trademark or brand to use a current buzzword.

His first photograph published in Trains featured shivering railfans photographing an excursion on the North Shore interurban line at Northbrook, Illinois, in February 1960.

That led to a friendship with legendary Trains editor David P. Morgan, who published many of Gruber’s photographs. The two would go on to become traveling companions.

Keefe wrote that Morgan would later say about Gruber that he was always “on top of the action, however unexpected and regardless of the hour. His pictures tell it like it was.”

Gruber never worked as a newspaper man, opting instead to take a job in publications and public relations at the University of Wisconsin, a position he held for 35 years.

But you don’t have to be a professional journalist to understand and practice the principles of photojournalism.

Aside from his work for the university, Gruber was an editor of the Gazette of the Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

In 1995 he began editing Vintage Rails, a magazine about railroad history and culture published by Pentrex.

After Pentrex shut that publication down four years later, Gruber moved on to organize the Center for Railroad Photography & Art, which has its own magazine and hosts an annual conference known as “Conversations.”

“I had become curious about railroad photographers — who they were, their backgrounds, their ideas about photography,” Gruber said of why he created the organization.

Other than magazine articles, Gruber wrote or co-wrote a number of books, including Travel by Train: The American Railroad Poster, 1870-1950 (with Michael Zega); Classic Steam; and Railroaders: Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography

In 1994, the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society presented Gruber its Senior Achievement Award.

You sometimes hear railroad photographers describe one of their images as having been inspired by a well-known photographer such as Philip R. Hastings, Richard Steinheimer, David Plowden or Jim Shaughnessy.

None of the images presented above were inspired by John Gruber as such. But I’d like to think that he’d appreciate them and understand why I made them.

They were all made on the same day on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and none were planned. They were just moments I saw and was nimble enough to capture. More often than not instinct takes over when these opportunities present themselves.

The top image was made at Boston Mill before a photo runby featuring Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765.

I don’t know who that boy is. He might be the son of the engineer or another members of the locomotive crew. But this experience is one he will never forget and one that many children and even adults are not fortunate enough to have.

The middle image was a grab shot of a passenger sitting in one of the open-window cars in the steam excursion. I did intend to make images of passengers watching out those windows, but you don’t know what you will get.

This guy’s demeanor captures the joy of riding an excursion, particularly one behind a big steam locomotive.

The bottom image was made at Botzum station of a CVSR engineer working the northbound National Park Scenic.

It’s one of those countless moments that unfold on the CVSR or any other passenger railroad every day. And yet it tells a story, even if only a small one, of life on the railroad.

I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to Gruber than to post the type of images he devoted his life to making.


Unseen Link Images in New Exhibit

September 21, 2018

A new exhibit at the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke,Virginia, is showcasing rarely seen images made by the photographer best known for capturing the last days of the steam era on the Norfolk & Western.

Unseen Link will run through Nov. 6 and show original prints never before shown at the museum.

The images came from the Historical Society of Western Virginia archives and the O. Winston Link estate.

They include his work of operations of the Canadian Pacific and Long Island Rail Road, some of his commercial enterprises, and other images from New York, Canada, and Louisiana.

When Someone Thinks Your Hobby is Silly

February 13, 2017

A spring on the door of our dishwasher had broken so we called an appliance repairman to fix it. He been to our home before, but I’d never met him.

on-photography-newI had come downstairs to see how the repairs were going and found the repair guy talking to my wife about someone he knows who photographs trains.

I’ve never met the appliance repairman’s friend, but his name sounded vaguely familiar.

Within seconds it became apparent that the repair guy doesn’t think much of the hobby of photographing trains. “I think you’re both nuts,” he said.

It could have been worse. At least he didn’t say that railroad photographers are engaging in some sort of nefarious activity.

It was yet another example of why I am careful who I talk with about what I enjoy photographing.

The repair guy didn’t say why he thinks it strange that someone would travel for miles to photograph a particular locomotive.

Given the strident tone of his remarks, I didn’t care to explain it to him. He doesn’t want to know and probably wouldn’t understand if someone did explain it to him.

He thinks making photographs of trains is silly and nothing I or anyone else might say in response is going to change his mind.

I generally avoid people like that. It doesn’t matter what they think.

Of course some people are open-minded about the interests of others and have a genuine curiosity about the attraction of railroad photography to those who practice it.

If such a person were to ask me why I make railroad photographs I would say that railroad operations have always fascinated me and that I can’t remember a day in my life when I wasn’t interested in trains.

I don’t know why that is. Why does anyone like what they like? There are reasons for it, but sometimes those are beyond our comprehension.

Maybe it is because trains are large objects that move. I also have an interest in commercial transport aircraft for the same reason.

Maybe those are unsatisfactory explanations for why I like to photograph trains, but I sometimes wonder about those who religiously follow a certain professional Cleveland football team that loses games more often than it wins them.

They talk about what the owners, players and coaches should be doing even though no one with the team will ever hear their ideas or much care about them. Now isn’t that silly? Maybe not if you enjoy doing it and it is harmless fun.

People have passions about certain things and they seldom sit back and wonder why that is. There is no reason to do that. You like something and that’s that.

I’ve never felt a need to do “missionary work” and explain why I and others enjoy photographing railroad operations.

And yet given the post-911 climate we probably should. We probably should seek to educate the public about why we make railroad photographs.

But I don’t want to do that. If someone thinks that making photographs of railroad operations is silly or stupid, well, that’s their problem, not mine.

And yet I know that it does become my problem when their problem becomes the worldview of police officers and others with a well-meaning, but misguided sense of trying to protect national security.

In the meantime, I’m going to go about my business of photographing rail operations. I enjoy it and come to think of it maybe I need no better explanation than that.

If You Post Your Photographs in Social Media, It’s Almost a Sure Bet That Someone Will Steal Them

January 30, 2017

If you post photographs on social media you run the risk that someone will copy and use your work without your permission. Chances are they won’t even give you credit so no one will know that it is your image.

on-photography-newIn theory that is a violation of copyright law, but like speeding on an expressway it is a law that is widely flaunted.

I’m not sure whether to be angry or flattered when someone steals my photos.

At times I’ve been amused. That was the case when someone posted on a photograph of a flier on the wood bridge carrying Bort Road over the CSX Erie West Subdivision tracks near North East, Pennsylvania.

A group seeking to save the bridge from removal put on that flier an image that I made of a CSX train passing beneath the bridge. That photo had been posted on the Akron Railroad Club blog.

I was less amused when I discovered the organizers of a Michigan railroad conference lifted an image I made last July of Amtrak’s Blue Water at Durand, Michigan.

An educational group should know better than to steal a photograph without permission or giving credit.

On occasion, someone sends me an email asking permission to use one of my photographs.

The Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers did that for an image I made of an Amtrak train in Kalamazoo. My images have been used with permission in professional presentations and in the magazine of a rails-to-trails group.

But All Aboard Ohio stole a photograph I made of the Lake Shore Limited at Bort Road and published it on Page 1 of its newsletter. They did give me credit, though.

Some photographers won’t post on social media because they hate having their photographs used without their permission.

Others post stern copyright warnings, but those may be useless because it is easy to copy and paste online content.

Those who steal copyrighted work are largely unapologetic about it. Supposedly, some people believe that if something is online it is in the “public domain.”

There may be some truth to that, but I see it a different way. There is larceny in the hearts of many, if not most Americans.

Some scrupulously honest people will refrain from theft out of principle or moral obligation, but far more others have the attitude of “I’ll take what I can until someone stops me.”

The cost of stopping people who steal photographs can be high and the rewards low or nonexistent even if you prevail in a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Using the legal system is not free.

Many, if not most, who “steal” the photographs of others are not making money from the theft.

They see what they did as providing an illustration. I can look past those situations, but have a harder time with situations such as the blogger who copied an image I made inside an Amtrak dining car and used it to illustrate a travelogue about his Amtrak trip. The post suggested it was his photograph.

I received an email from someone I don’t know alerting me to that theft and providing a link to the site moderator to seek removal of the image.

I was told this blogger has a reputation of stealing other people’s images. Although I thanked the watchdog, I wound up not doing anything about the theft.

In part that is because I have adopted the philosophy of David Oroszi, a highly-respected railroad photographer from Dayton.

He once wrote that if someone is able to profit from stealing one of his photographs, well then good for them.

He did not elaborate on why he felt that way, but it might be a combination of understanding that the battle might not be worth waging and feeling comfortable with his own success as a photographer.

Dave’s images have appeared in numerous books, including several he has co-authored. Magazines regularly pay him for use of his photographs.

He knows what retailers know that you do what you can to protect your property but some loss from theft is part of the cost of doing business.

When N&W Still Had an AC&Y Look

November 2, 2016



Here is another glimpse of the past in black and white as captured by Akron Railroad Club member Robert Farkas.

In the top image, even though the Akron, Canton & Youngstown was taken over by the Norfolk & Western i 1964, AC&Y diesels were still in service.

It is 1967 or 1968 and AC&Y 506 and 500 could still be found at the Akron engine facility. Both are rare FM H20-44 models with AC&Y 506 in blue and AC&Y 500 in yellow and black.

In the bottom image, Bob is standing on the bridge over Penn Central’s Collingwood Yard in Cleveland, which could provide a great view of the shops and yard.

PC 1788 in fresh paint and New York Central 1840 are at the head of a westbound train in this 1968 or 1969 view. Stored next to the shops are three lines of Alcos and EMD units.

Photographs by Robert Farkas

Cell Phone Category Added to Photo Contest

August 1, 2016

Cell phone photographs are now an individual category for the annual John E. Gruber Creative Photography Award Program sponsored by the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

“The cellphone camera is often treated as a curiosity and a casual device by serious photographers, but … the quality of recent mobile device cameras is quickly closing the gap (with) most digital SLR cameras,” CRPA said in a statement.

The statement also said the group wanted to open its competition to photographers who don’t own a single-lens reflex camera.

The awards program is named for CRPA founder photographer John Gruber. The entry deadline is Oct. 31, 2016.

On Photography: Some Lessons To be Drawn From an Artist-Photographer’s 4-Year Exploration of Traveling Across Amerca Aboard Amtrak

May 2, 2016

I’ve long had an interest in how a master photographer who is not necessarily a railfan might approach photographing railroad operations. What would he or she see that the typical railfan overlooks or doesn’t think about?

Hence, I was drawn to an article at the website about San Francisco photographer McNair Evans and his exhibit In Search of Great Men, which is on display at San Francisco City Hall through Nov. 18.

Evans spent four years riding Amtrak for two weeks at a time twice a year. The exhibit highlights what he saw and captured during those trips, a view of Amtrak travel through the camera of an artisan photographer.

If you lack the time or money – or both – to travel to the West Coast you can sample the exhibit by clicking on the link below.

I haven’t seen the complete exhibit, only the sample available at It was enough to intrigue me.

On Photography Logo-xEvans did not focus on what a typical railfan photographer might emphasize. He was more interested in the people riding the train and their stories of why they were traveling.

One theme he developed was how people appear on a long-distance train after having ridden in a coach seat all night.

“The long-haulers interest me the most because at that point, why aren’t you flying?” Evans told the San Francisco Chronicle.

They weren’t flying because the train was more economical, they enjoyed train travel or they had an aversion to flying.

Evans, 36, is not without a railroad background.

A biographical sketch posted at sfac said that the North Carolina native spent summers as a teenager on a track gang for a short-line railroad.

A passenger car that his grandfather once owned is on display in North Carolina.

But it was a summer 2011 trip from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Richmond, Virginia, that sparked his interest in what became his “great men” project.

“I felt in love at the time, so the romance of this short ride really swept me away,” Evans told “We passed the backs of manufacturing facilities, Little League Baseball games, and tobacco fields where individuals worked with traditional hoes and rakes. I was drawn to the passengers on that route that not surprisingly mirrored the surroundings. They were very receptive to my camera.”

Between 2012 and 2014 Evans rode Amtrak for two weeks at a time and would spend 16 to 18 hours a day making photographs. As a college student Evans studied anthropology and in a sense his train trips were anthropological expeditions.

Aboard the train he looked for passengers who caught his attention through such traits as the color of their clothing, the meal they were eating or the way they laughed.

He asked them to write out a narrative explaining something about their lives and why they were aboard the train.

“It provides a safe place for them to share their story and a rich source for me to explore each person’s emotional nuances through his writing,” Evans said. “The idea of a single perspective project felt self-indulgent, distant, and one-dimensional.”

Evans said he rides the train because of the human interactions it provides. “I’m there because I love people, observing them, learning from them, and finding common ground between our lives. For a romantic humanist like me, it’s a wonderful way to travel,” he said.

Not all of Evans’s photographs are of people. He also made images of what could be seen from the train, including such things as the underside of a highway bridge.

A description of the “Great Men” exhibit at sfac described it as a combination of “compelling portrait and landscape photography alongside photo-documentation of pages from first-person, passenger-written journals, offering the viewer a poignant and empathetic view of the diverse cross-section of travelers he encountered . . .”

Among those whose stories he tells are an Amish family traveling to Tijuana for medical treatment, a single mother commuting to the North Dakota oil fields, and a teenage son hoping to reunite with his father.

“At a time when such travel may soon be only a memory, this show explores that search for something just out of reach and a bit intangible,” Evans said. “It is about the desire for change and the possibility of hope fulfilled.”

I found myself admiring how Evans was able to get the people he met aboard the train to cooperate with him.

Most people do not embark on a journey expecting to be photographed or approached by a stranger asking them to tell their life story.

I’ve had interesting conversations with people aboard Amtrak, but more often than not those occurred during meals in the dining car. Many – although not all – of those you dine with aboard a train want to socialize.

I also know that many people are self-conscious about being photographed and suspicious of your motives for wanting to photograph them.

When traveling aboard a train, I try to make images of people who aren’t looking at me or who seem unaware of my presence.

Evans used that tactic, too, but at other times he created portraits of willing subjects.

Doing that takes a certain amount of people skills and even courage that many railfan photographers – myself included – don’t have.

You have to have a photojournalist mindset in order to board a train and start firing away at your fellow passengers with a camera. Having an extroverted personality also helps.

There is an art to approaching people and getting them to agree to be photographed. Evans probably has plenty of stories to tell about people who were cool if not hostile to his work.

He probably reached a certain comfort level with people before pulling out his camera. I’d bet he has developed a feel for what type of person is amenable to being portrayed in a photograph.

It is not just people that Evans photographed during his journeys. He didn’t overlook details that we take for granted because we’ve seen them a thousand times.

One of Evans’ images shows a menu for the Capitol Limited tucked between a wall and the back of a booth as late day light streams through a window.

Such detail helps to tell a larger story by showing a nuance about the experience you are seeking to capture.

Another lesson is to view that experience through the perspective of someone unfamiliar with it.

Most Americans have never ridden Amtrak, let along taken a cross-country trip by rail. To them, Amtrak is just another way to travel yet they might even think of it as romantic because that is how train travel long has been portrayed. What would a person unfamiliar with Amtrak travel or any other experience focus on if seeing or experiencing it for the first time?

And then there are the people at the center of the experience. They do not have to be doing extraordinary endeavors. Some of Evans’s most interesting images portray ordinary people doing an ordinary thing. As much as train travel has been romanticized, it is, for most travelers, an ordinary experience.

But it wasn’t just travelers who Evans captured. One image shows a young man watching the Southwest Chief pass a McDonald’s restaurant in Trinidad, Colorado.

Perhaps that man views the train as a summons to travel to some faraway place for the excitement of discovery of something new, as a means to escape something that is haunting him, or something that is attractive because it is moving.

Whatever the reason why they watch trains go by, people alongside the tracks are a part of the railroad experience.

Evans’ work shows what you can accomplish if you are willing to spend the time to study something in depth and put in extensive work documenting it.

It also shows the value of theme development, which often results from familiarity with your subject matter. Theme development, after all, is the difference between a story and a mere collection of photographs.

Maybe It Was All About the Pursuit of Perfection

April 8, 2016

I was killing time at the Lakeland train show a few weeks ago when I picked up an issue of Trains magazine from the 1990s to leaf through.

Catching my attention was a letter to the editor pertaining to an article published in the September 1995 issue about the man who shot perfect photographs.

I dug through the pile of magazines and found the article in question because I was curious who it was and what made his photographs “perfect.”

On Photography Logo-xThe photographer was the late Robert O. Hale and the article author was Richard Steinheimer, who some might say also made “perfect” photographs.

Hale worked in the western United States, particularly California, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Steinheimer wrote that he first encountered Hale’s work in Trains around 1950.

For those who liked Hale’s work, Steinheimer wrote, he was a “superman of rail photography.”

According to Steinheimer, all of Hale’s images were properly filtered and cropped, and he had an “independent personal style.”

However, the article never explained what constitutes a perfect photograph and how and why Hale’s work fit that description.

Terms such as “perfect” and “perfection” might seem to have a definitive meaning, but wind up being rather nebulous because of the casual and careless manner in which they are used.

What constitutes “perfect” has caused me some anguish over the years, particularly when I was grading essay exams written by college students.

I was loath to award the maximum point value for an essay, usually 50 or 100 points, because the maximum score meant that the answer was “perfect.”

“Perfect” meant nothing more could have been done to improve upon the response.

If more could have been said or it what was said could have been presented in a more skillful manner, then the response was not perfect because it was flawed.

That, though, raised the question of how a mere mortal could determine that a performance was without any flaws.

I eventually came around to thinking that “perfection” when it came to college student essays is context-specific.

My standard became that the student did the best that an undergraduate could reasonably be expected to do given how much time he or she had to answer the question.

That is still a tough standard to judge, but I’ve found it easier to deal with than a rule that to be perfect something has to be without any flaws.

The letter to the editor about the Steinheimer article on Hale’s photographs asserted that the latter’s work was very good and some of it was unique, but it was not perfect.

The letter writer also failed to define what is meant by “perfect,” but after looking at some of the photographs that illustrated Steinheimer’s piece, the letter writer probably had in mind the fact that some of Hale’s images of steam locomotives did not show the entire locomotive.

Whether Hale made perfect photographs or not, his story was interesting and quite reflective of the era in which he worked.

He might make just one or two photographs a day and had a rather laid-back attitude toward his work.

He didn’t spend endless hours waiting for a train. Either the train he wanted to photograph came or it didn’t.

Hale’s day did not begin early. He often would visit with railroad block operators, finding out during those chats what was coming.

Then he would make a plan to photograph trains at a specific location. Hale was not one to engage in “death marches” to reach distant and rugged locales, but he did like to get out into the countryside.

Steinheimer wrote that when Hale had a vision for a particular image, he stayed with it until he had captured just the right train in just the right light with just the right clarity.

It probably was that quality that prompted Steinheimer to conclude that Hale made perfect photographs.

Hale honed his photographic skill during his U.S. Navy service. Steinheimer noted that Hale had worked long and hard to perfect his technique of making images of landing aircraft.

That level of development led Steinheimer to observe that not all great talent appears spontaneously. It must be developed, even by those who possess much natural talent.

I still don’t know what constitutes a perfect photograph or whether Hale made such images. What seems clear, though, from Steinheimer’s article is that Hale practiced the pursuit of perfection.

Hale mastered the little things that work together to make images that evoke an emotional response from a viewer by capturing a strong sense of time and place. Today, we call this “nailing it.”

One of his strengths was his ability to visualize an image and then have the patience to try multiple times if necessary to attain it.

He was a student of the craft. That didn’t make him unique, but it did elevate him to the upper echelon of his peers.

We should all feel that we’ve accomplished a great deal if someone can someday say that about any of us whether we did or did not make perfect photographs.

On Photography: Using Foreground Shadows

November 10, 2015




Foreshadowing is a tactic used by story tellers, writers and film makers to hint at a plot twist or something that is going to happen later in a story.

It is a way to hold the interest of the listener, reader or viewer as well as move the story along.

It can also be used by photographers to add interest to their images by providing contrast and visual tension.

In the case of photography, the term might be better described as foreground shadowing because you are making use of a shadow in the foreground of the image.

Shown above are two techniques that use foreground shadows to enhance an image.

The top image was made at Boston Mill of Nickel Plate Road No. 765 during a photo runby on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

The shadow in the foreground resulted from the sun sinking behind the hills and trees behind me.

In this image, the shadow has the effect of covering what otherwise would be empty space.

The reader’s eye is naturally drawn over the shadow to the locomotive, which gleams brightly in contrast to the foreground shadow.

Many photographers would rather that their trains be pristine, meaning free of bystanders cluttering up the environment.

But the 765 was executing a photo runby and the people watching it are part of the story being told by this photo.

Most of those along the tracks watching are also spotlighted by the late day light.

Another way to use foreground shadowing is to allow clouds to provide it.

That is what is happening in the middle photo above that was made of a Wheeling & Lake Erie train awaiting a new crew west of Norwalk.

When I arrived on the scene, a cloud was covering the train in shadows. But the cloud began moving and the shadow moved with it.

What does this foreground shadow add? Compare the middle image with the bottom one.

In the bottom image there is some cloud shadow in the field about half-way between where I am standing and the train.

The foreground shadow of the middle image softens the harshness of the green of the corn crop. Although this image was made just after 4 p.m., the sunlight is still harsh because it is late June.

The foreground shadow also creates a slight illusion of shortening the distance between where I am standing and the train.

As in the case of the image of NKP 765, the foreground shadow also draws the viewer’s eye toward the train because your eyes pass over the shadow. The foreground shadow creates visual tension, which encourages eye movement.

Foreground shadowing is not necessarily something you can set out to create in your photographs.

In the case of the 765 shot, it was a matter of timing. The photo runby occurred when there was still enough direct sunlight to illuminate the train.

Had it occurred a few minutes later, the shadows would be covering the train. As it was, there are some shadows from the trees on the 765.

In the case of the W&LE train, I had the right cloud conditions. I would not have been able to use foreground shadowing in the W&LE train image had it been a clear day.

As is the case in making any image, shadows can hinder your shot or they can be your friend if used in the right way.

How the shadows fall is something to watch for in the environment next time you are out trackside on a sunny day.

Photographs and Commentary by Craig Sanders

On Photography: I Made the Long Trip Because Making Photographs is What Photographers Do

August 29, 2015

I was talking with a fellow member of the Akron Railroad Club a while back about my chase of Nickel Plate Road No. 765 as it steamed from Ashtabula to Youngstown.

He noted that I had driven 150 miles and only photographed the 765 in three locations.

In his mind that didn’t make the trip worthwhile. The distance involved was a major reason, he said, for why he had not chased the Berkshire locomotive when it pulled a pair of public excursions in Northeast Ohio in late July.

Distance is a factor when I plan my photo outings, too. There is only so far I am willing to travel.

But in the case of the excursion of the 765 on the Youngstown Line, the distance involved was never an issue. Anywhere within Northeast Ohio is not too far for me to travel.

Steam locomotives don’t operate on mainline railroad tracks all that often in Northeast Ohio or, for that matter, many other places. So I viewed this as a rare opportunity.

Another ARRC member also downplayed chasing the 765, calling the Youngstown Line a “bland” piece of railroad.

He acknowledged the rarity of getting a steam locomotive in action, but he just doesn’t care that much for steam locomotives.

When guys start explaining why they don’t want to do something, there usually is an underlying reason they are not revealing for why they don’t want to so something. We must make our own decisions as to how to spend our time and resources.

I tend to have wide interests in photography subjects. That is not true of everyone. Some guys have narrow interests and all manner of rules for when and what they will or will not photograph.

One of my regular railfan travel friends once refused to go to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad to photograph trains during the winter, telling me to do that on my own.

So I dropped him off at his house and did just that. I came away with some of the best winter images I’ve ever made on the CVSR.

I had a similar experience in chasing the 765 on the Youngstown Line. One of my photo locations was near the summit of Carson hill coming out of Ashtabula.

I made what turned out to be one of my best images of all time of the 765 in action.

There have been times when I, too, stayed at home because I didn’t feel like getting out with my camera. Sometimes circumstances beyond your control keep you at home or elsewhere. You just can’t get away to make pictures.

But that is not always the case. Sometimes staying at home just seems more appealing.

Not every outing yields a memorable image and sometimes things just don’t work out as you had hoped. It happens to all of us.

But worse than an average to mediocre outing is what might have been that wasn’t. I know that feeling all too well and it continues to motivate me to get out with my camera.

Had I viewed chasing the 765 as driving too many miles for too few images, I would have missed out on that dramatic photo on Carson hill that is my second favorite image I’ve ever made of the 765.

Interestingly, a guy saw that image on my Flickr feed and tried to replicate it the next day. Unfortunately for him, the 765 wasn’t putting on quite the smoke and steam show that it did the day before. Having luck on your side remains a significant factor in making striking images.

Yes, it was a long drive to the Youngstown Line and back. It would have been worth it had I gone home after photographing the 765 at my first photo location.

Even if I had not gotten that compelling image of the 765 attacking Carson Hill, I still would have thought that the effort had been worth it.

I am a photographer and getting out to make photographs is what photographers do. It’s that simple.

And that is why I was willing to drive 150 miles for a handful of images of a working steam locomotive that doesn’t come around all that often.

Commentary by Craig Sanders