Old 10-14-2007, 04:53 PM   #1
hoydie17
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Default Do you ever just watch?

This will hopefully spark some interesting discussion.

When you go out to the tracks, do you photograph every single movement that passes, or do you sit back and just watch the trains for entertainment value? Why? (I'm really asking you to think about this one.)




For me, I started in the photography hobby primarily for my model railroading purposes. And then over the last few years, the photography has overtaken my interest in the models, and I really became heavily obssessed in making quality images. I just collect the models now with no real intention of ever running them on a layout. In fact now, I re-number alot of my models to reflect engines I've taken photos of.

I moved back to NY and embarked on a somewhat short-lived railroad career throughout 2006 and part of 2007. I point that out because I found myself not taking as many photos, even though I had "rock star" access to the railroads in NY.

It has gotten to a point that I don't really shoot every train I see, as I look for an unusual angle, or different composition. For example, since I returned to DC I dont go to Brunswick, MD and shoot every train I see anymore, sometimes I just like to watch and especially enjoy the sounds. If something interesting passes, I'll certainly take a pot shot at it, but sometimes I'll even let the unusual stuff pass me by in favor of just watching.

So how about ya'll?

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Old 10-14-2007, 05:06 PM   #2
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Well, it depends. That's a cheap answer, but I don't have a hard and fast rule about when I shoot and when I don't shoot. Chances are, if it's cloudy, I sit back and watch the trains go by. Same way with rain. If the trains are running the wrong way (i.e. out of the sun), I'll sit back and watch...unless I see the shot as looking good as a backlit B&W:

Image © Chris Paulhamus
PhotoID: 133623
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Image © Chris Paulhamus
PhotoID: 168808
Photograph © Chris Paulhamus


If it's sunny and the train is running into the sun, I'll shoot...unless it's a unit I already shot at the same location.

Night time's another scenario when I sit back and watch.

I care about image quality, but I also care about catching that history as it passes me by...it just usually has to be sunny for me to press the shutter!
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Old 10-14-2007, 05:19 PM   #3
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I am at the stage where I am still shooting pretty much every train but am starting to realize that I don't have to and shouldn't, especially at locations where I have tread often (in particular Gaithersburg MD). I suspect that a year from now I will be spending a substantial fraction of time, at least at nearby haunts, just watching.
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Old 10-14-2007, 05:36 PM   #4
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My primary focus in railfanning is the photography aspect, but I still enjoy "just watching" on occasion.

There are several regulars that railfan at one of the spots I frequent, and they all try to shoot everything that passes by just for the sake of the shot. I think they find it odd that I seldom shoot trains that are backlit or have little to no light on the nose.

I sometimes take a ride to this spot on a cloudy day and never take the camera out of the bag. I use these opportunities to renew friendships, shoot the breeze, talk trains, sports, whatever, as I watch the trains go by.

Two evenings ago I found myself in that area with some time to kill, so I stopped and parked for about an hour at 8pm, just to see how cool the signals look as they glow in the dark and watch a train or two go by.

Of course, if I have traveled some distance on a railfanning trip I am inclined to shoot more liberally, with the shots that won't work here reserved for the personal rememberances.
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Old 10-14-2007, 06:20 PM   #5
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I'm a big fan of rolling stock, and I'll attempt to take pictures of anything that rolls by if, for some reason, I think it's unusual, or if its from a favorite fallen flag. Shots like that aren't going to end up on calendars, but they can be useful for modelers, even if they're not perfectly, composed, etc.

If for some reason I don't have my camera with me, and I see a train, I'll still make an effort to watch it roll by, but I have more fun when I feel like I'm "documenting."
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Old 10-14-2007, 06:23 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ween
Well, it depends. That's a cheap answer, but I don't have a hard and fast rule about when I shoot and when I don't shoot. Chances are, if it's cloudy, I sit back and watch the trains go by. Same way with rain. If the trains are running the wrong way (i.e. out of the sun), I'll sit back and watch...unless I see the shot as looking good as a backlit B&W:
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Old 10-14-2007, 06:24 PM   #7
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This is a very interesting topic... I like it.

When I first started shooting, I took pictures of everything, no matter the condition, with little thought to the picture... which yielded unexciting, sub-par images.

I then entered a second stage, where I only shot sunny shots, or rare power.

I am curently, in what I consider my best stage. If the picture is a dull, overcast shot of a very common train I will watch the action...however, that is the ONLY situation in which I won't take a shot. Nasty weather, backlit, even clouds on cool power, I take photos of it all. And now that I have a better knowledge of what to do behind the camera and in post-processing to make the image better, those "odd" situations have produced some of my favorite iamges, as for some reason, I seek a more unique shot when the conditions are less than perfect... although, when I am on a road trip...I shoot EVERYTING!

Some "odd" condition images that I like.

Dusk-
Image ©
PhotoID:
Photograph ©


Back-lit + akward location-
Image ©
PhotoID:
Photograph ©


High sun:
Image ©
PhotoID:
Photograph ©


Cloudy-
Image ©
PhotoID:
Photograph ©


Cloudy + nasty weather-
Image ©
PhotoID:
Photograph ©
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Old 10-14-2007, 06:37 PM   #8
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When I started railfanning back in the 1960's in Colorado I watched a lot more than I shot. Didn't take the photography very seriously and mostly just photographed unusual power and equipment. Also, I didn't pay attention to lighting and composition like RP has made me aware of today. Now, looking back I sure wish I had taken a lot more photographs (slides for me). Too many of the UP Centennials, U50's, City of ... passenger trains, Zephyrs, anything Rio Grande, CB&Q, Santa Fe, Rock Island and so on I watched from trackside are only recorded in my head. Of course I cherish the memories but they get fuzzier as time passes! Now, I shoot and videotape almost everything trackside whether it's worthy of submitting or not but I have often thought about how many trains I've seen only through a viewfinder. At least with the video recordings I can relive the experience at home on TV. The bottom line I think is to try to record as much railroading history as possible because it changes quicker than you expect. Those Alco's in Scranton, UP's 844 & 3985, Amtrak passenger trains and even CSX and NS Dash 9's won't be around forever and we'll be glad we have them recorded to remember them by. But I do agree with just enjoying the common poorly lit traffic go by sometimes and giving the cameras a break! There's a lot to be said for savoring the moment...
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Old 10-14-2007, 07:04 PM   #9
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I've been a shooter for about two years and a watcher for about 38. I wish it were the other way around. Oh, how I wish I had pics from the 70's and 80's.
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Old 10-15-2007, 01:18 AM   #10
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I photo almost everything. There's no telling what might turn out to be significant.

My favorite example...
When I first returned to the hobby, I didn't have a scanner, and my only camera was a Canon Elph that shot APS film. I used to stake-out this one particular location here in Philly, where Walnut Street crosses over the CSX Philly Sub, over Amtrak, and under the ex-PRR high line within a two-block stretch above the Schuylkill River. Even with all these lines, there were days when I didn't catch a train. So at 4pm, I'd take my "consolation shot" of the lone E60CP that would trundle south of 30th Street station before reversing to pick up its coaches. Now the E60s are gone, and I have roster shots of a half dozen, taken just before their retirement.
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Old 10-15-2007, 01:38 AM   #11
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There for about a year and a half I was without a camera but I still was trackside every weekend. I dont just enjoy photography I also enjoy layin the seat back in the car and takin a little nap and wait until I hear a horn.
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Old 10-15-2007, 01:56 AM   #12
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I only shoot when I think I have a chance of getting a good shot. For me, it's no fun taking a shot if I know it's going to be crap. If I don't think I'll be able to get a worthy shot I don't bother going out to see anything. Unless, the train is very special (example; BNSF 7812) or if it's right down the street I'll go to just watch it pass through.
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Old 10-15-2007, 05:23 AM   #13
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I don't watch trains anymore...who wants to see another set of not-so-new CP GEVos on yet another intermodal train? I still take photos a-plenty, but I just don't find the trains here very exciting anymore...
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Old 10-15-2007, 11:57 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trainboysd40
I don't watch trains anymore...who wants to see another set of not-so-new CP GEVos on yet another intermodal train? I still take photos a-plenty, but I just don't find the trains here very exciting anymore...
I can somehow relate, living in an area where sagebrush and UP SD70M's are more than plentyfull, it's hard to get enthusiasm about watching trains.
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Old 10-15-2007, 03:47 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JimThias
I've been a shooter for about two years and a watcher for about 38. I wish it were the other way around. Oh, how I wish I had pics from the 70's and 80's.
This is exactly the reason I must say I shoot 90+% of what I see with the camera with me. It may not be a good shot or even decent shot, but it will still be in my collection. A good example occured yesterday while chasing the PRR E8's from Binghamton, NY to Harrisburg, PA. While the special neared the Buffalo Line at Sunbury/Northumberland, PA it had to wait for a northbound coal train coming out of the sun. The coal train had CSX which as far as I know is a rarity on the Buf. so I found a tiny opening where I could see most of the loco and there was a PA Rte. 147 on the road below. While it didn't even classify as a 'keeper', when I look back at my photos a year or 5 years from now I will see that I got CSX power on the Buffalo Line, and I will be glad I didn't just watch.

Now, I have two answers for this question as I must honestly say it depends where I am. Of course, if I'm out in Oklahoma or up in Maine, places I don't get to often, I am shooting everything that moves. That includes trains, spiders, wind! I never know when the next time I will be back to these places and what will be different when I go back. A lot can happen even in a year or two.

This topic is one reason I enjoy shooting or going to tourist and commuter lines. Sometimes you just want to sit back, listen, watch, and wave.
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Old 10-15-2007, 05:50 PM   #16
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I don't honestly enjoy just watching as much.

I also regret not having pictures of a lot of the stuff I've let go by in the past without shooting.
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Old 10-15-2007, 05:54 PM   #17
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It's odd, the way our hobby - train watching, that is - is so inextricably linked for so many to photography. As a contrast, think of birding. While there are those who photograph, think of the many who are out there with just binoculars, or perhaps spotting scopes. Why? Perhaps proper camera gear for birding is just too expensive (500mm + focal lengths are often useful/needed)?

Are there any other observational hobbies that either match train watching in terms of intensity of photography or are closer to birding in its absence?
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Old 10-15-2007, 06:23 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JRMDC
Are there any other observational hobbies that either match train watching in terms of intensity of photography or are closer to birding in its absence?
I would imagine people who enjoy aviation and plane spotting might do a lot of photography, assuming they don't get arrested in this day and age.
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Old 10-15-2007, 06:24 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rich K
I would imagine people who enjoy aviation and plane spotting might do a lot of photography, assuming they don't get arrested in this day and age.
Maybe in my question I should have excluded other transportation modes.

I am aware of jetphotos or whatever the sister website to RP is called. Amazing how many shots are over there.
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Old 10-15-2007, 08:45 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Freericks
...

I also regret not having pictures of a lot of the stuff I've let go by in the past without shooting.
That's one of the reasons, because I can't: the big fear to miss THAT train.
When I don't see the tracks it starts becoming bearable, but any closer: the camera must be ready. - I don't know if there is any cure for this, - and its just going on for too much time now. - But there are moments now, I wish I could only watch these trains go by !
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Old 10-15-2007, 10:32 PM   #21
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I used to shoot nearly everything I saw; good light, bad light, no light, etc. This was when I went to college up in the Northern part of MN where you would be lucky to catch a train or two a day assuming you were lucky. Those living along the BNSF's Lakes Sub and Grand Forks Sub Divisions can attest to this. Now that I live within 30 miles (less than 4 miles from one major hot spot in the state of MN) of just about any Class 1 operation, even some short lines I probably only shoot 20%-30% of the traffic I see. In addition, 1%-5% of those shots may make it online for others to view since I consider myself to have high personal standards for railfan photography.
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Old 10-16-2007, 12:48 AM   #22
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I believe I've stated before that in my opinion being very heavy into rail photography slightly cheapens the overall experience. That's not a knock on photographers, or an attempt by me to be holier than thou, but when looking at trains through a viewfinder, I find that that the adreneline rush of getting "THE" shot blots out other aspects of trains I enjoy. I learned to love trains by watching, and listening to them, not by taking pictures of them, and everytime I've made a concerted effort to lower the camera and just enjoyed the show, I've never regretted it. And while some people may think it's a bit of a shame not to record everything they see, they overlook one oft forgotten medium...our own memories.

It was all struck home to me a few days back when I was sleeping a scant quarter mile from UP's Coffeyville sub in southern Kansas. In the quiet of a cool night, the faint strains of a horn crescendo steadily as a train works up the grade out of Independence. The halo of light on the horizon marking the trains location, eventually resolving itself into headlights. The roar of prime movers battling gravity. And me, just drinking it all in, an experience which no camera or camcorder could accurately record, yet preserved in my brain for years to come. That experience with one train was worth 1000 photos to me.

So next time you're trackside at some familiar haunt that you've photo'd a hundred just sit back and watch a train for a change. If you're like me, you won't regret it.
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Old 10-16-2007, 01:25 AM   #23
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I shoot as much as I can, for the fact that I don't want to miss something out of the ordinary if it should come my way.

For example, I shot the following today:

Image © Gerald Oliveto
PhotoID: 206652
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I would have been quite unhappy if I had just watched this go by. Catching a double headed NJT train is rare enough, catching one running long hood forward, now that's something else!
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Old 10-16-2007, 03:57 AM   #24
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Most of the time i just like to watch them. To me there are 2 different type of Railroading trips, Planned trips and the short trip to a favorite spot to watch trains and eat. The power is getting so common, all you seen now a days is SD70Ms, Dash9s, SD40s, GEVOs, and ACe's. But i always strive for something different. Such as Heritages, Foreign Power, Fallen Flags, Some shiney new power, or just something that is rare or just odd. Also scenary is always a nice change of pace, the train can be as boring as anything, but if the scenary is beautiful, or possibly a glint or sunset photo, i will grab my camera out for that, or even take a trip to take it. So in the short way of saying, it all depends, it is fun to just watch, but as a railfan, Every i mean EVERY railfan LOVES the chase sometimes!
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Old 10-16-2007, 05:27 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ken45

It was all struck home to me a few days back when I was sleeping a scant quarter mile from UP's Coffeyville sub in southern Kansas. In the quiet of a cool night, the faint strains of a horn crescendo steadily as a train works up the grade out of Independence. The halo of light on the horizon marking the trains location, eventually resolving itself into headlights. The roar of prime movers battling gravity. And me, just drinking it all in, an experience which no camera or camcorder could accurately record, yet preserved in my brain for years to come. That experience with one train was worth 1000 photos to me.
This is a definite advantage to night photography! You set it up, get ready with the remote or cable release, and watch the train as it comes, first the light striking the vegetation next to the tracks before you see it come around the corner, then the lights come and BAM! Then it gets closer, closer, louder and louder, and since you're blinded by the headlights you can't tell it's just another GE, and there's magic about standing 15 feet away from a train doing 45, blowing the wind in your face as it flies by in the dark!
Uhh...
I've got to...go....
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