Videos & Photos Photos Photo Galleries Do people wreck train photos?

Do people wreck train photos?

By David Lustig | April 26, 2023

People interacting with railroading can improve almost any image

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories, and more from brands. Sign-up for email today!

Do people wreck train photos? A common situation that really irritates a lot of rail photographers is when people get in the way of their picture taking.

If you are attempting the perfect “roster shot,” I suppose that could be an irritant. But having railroad employees, passengers, and other fans in your photos should be seen not as a problem but a blessing. Having people in a picture gives life to mechanical objects and helps create a scene, rather than just a picture.

No. 1: Look at the photo on the Yolo Short Line with former Southern Pacific 0-6-0 No. 1233 powering a sold-out excursion just south of Sacramento, Calif. It was a beautiful sunny day and fans came out in droves for the occasion. Would this shot be better without the people lineside? I don’t think so. Nobody is going to confuse this train as being a regular movement. The people, in my opinion, make it far more interesting.

No. 2: The last vestige of Southern Pacific’s narrow gauge empire existed until 1960 in the Owens Valley extending from Laws, near Bishop, in the north to Owenyo in the south. Except for the Laws Railroad Museum, Dave Mull, and the non-profit Carson & Colorado Railway in Independence, not a lot is left.

So, in 2010, the Slim Princess Chapter of the fraternal organization E Clampus Vitus re-laid a short section of narrow-gauge track and erected a historical marker. As fascinating as it is to think of what it was like to have been there so many decades ago, it just doesn’t seem to come alive until I caught a friend of mine inspecting the track.

No. 3: I got the perfect roster shot early one morning when Sierra Northern had one of their gensets waiting for an interchange with a Union Pacific local at Briggs Road near Santa Paula, Calif. The crew that day were two friends: Matt Blackburn (on the left) and Nick Martinez (on the right). With the UP train not expected for at least another hour, I coaxed them out of the cab for this “work shot.”  With the citrus groves and genset behind them it pretty much tells the whole story.

No. 4: Hawaii — land of leis, luaus, and virtually no active railroads. So, when I visited the Hawaiian Railway Society operating on a part of the defunct Oahu Railroad & Land Co.’s right-of-way, I grabbed this shot of their ex-U.S. Army GE 25 tonner moving Parlor Car No. 64 around the yard I didn’t hesitate. I think it’s a better photo for the two employees in it.

No. 5: I found myself in Seattle one gray day and wandered around the station platform. It was impossible to get a photo without people, so I went the other direction and tried to get as many as possible in the shot. I also met conductor Pete Gushwa, who took a moment to pose for me while waiting for passengers to board.

No. 6: I had been in many PCC cars but rarely got the opportunity to ride in one. This is San Francisco one rainy night. Would it have been as good without the operator? I doubt it.

4 thoughts on “Do people wreck train photos?

  1. Everything depends on what you want. Sometimes, you’re looking for a shot that looks like it could have been taken back in the day. You don’t welcome people decked out in styles that didn’t exist before last week. On the other hand, someone dressed in period clothes or just timeless ones can look like he belongs.

    Sometimes, regardless of period, a person would help, but a crowd would just look like clutter. This is not just in train shots, and it can be true of trees or animals or any element in a photo.

    If you’re documenting how many people showed up to look at UP 4014, all 3 billion of them are the subject of the picture.

    Personally, I try not to photobomb others. I’m less likely to be wanted than to be helpful.

  2. Mostly, no. It is a problem when somebody displays the rude behavior of walking directly in front of a photographer, blocking him (or her) from the subject. However, far too many of today’s photographers are unwilling to accept that we live on a populated planet and that people are going to be around interesting events.
    As Safety Officer for the Steam Railroading Institute, I see the smart phone camera brigade every trip, many crowding closer and closer to the track in a vain attempt to get a shot without human beings in view (we take measures to mitigate this).
    I also see photographers with REAL cameras who pick their shots in advance and find a way to get what they want safely. The more clever ones (who probably started back in the wet film days) bring a 3-foot folding stepladder with them to get a vantage point above all the heads.

  3. Good thoughts David, I know that next month when I ride and photograph the Flying Scotsman in Yorkshire there will be lots of people all about, so keeping your thoughts in mind will help me taking photos. Thanks!

You must login to submit a comment