For many of us, the excitement and wonder of seeing a moving train was the start of a passion for trains and later, railroad photography. As we looked deeper and started to explore and understand the railroad better, we often develop a deep appreciation of its infrastructure system and see potential as a photographic subject. Track, signals, yards, stations, trackside structures, tunnels and bridges all have vast photographic interest in of themselves and don’t need a train present to tell a story of railroading. From my observation, bridges are probably the most photographed railroad subject other than the trains themselves….I know they are for me.
Most railroad bridge photographs seem to fall into one of three categories; train pedestal, landscape or structure inspired.
At its most basic, a bridge is basically a prop for the train, which is usually the main subject. A long open deck bridge offers a beautiful pedestal to glorify the train, usually with an un-obstructed, elevated view. Framed relatively tight, the train looks majestic and heroic in such a shot.
Bridges aren’t built without a reason, and when photographed with sympathy to the physical barrier in the landscape, offers not only context, but insight into the design and engineering chosen. More often than not, the surmounted barrier, whether a body of water or a crevice in the earth, makes for a dramatic scene in itself. The combination of landscape, bridge and train can create a wonderful and dramatic photographic scene.
For me, all bridges are design and engineering marvels, no matter what the span or obstacle surmounted. As a designer, I can appreciate the structural challenges inherent in supporting a large load over a span and it never ceases to amaze me on just how many ways there are to do this on something so purely functional and utilitarian. The repetition of form and shape inherent in the structural elements of a bridge creates interesting patterns of geometric form and texture as one moves around the elements.
While the bridge design, landscape and light may inform how I want to shoot it, I always find an interesting vision on this subject. I can’t always say that about a train…
A quick search on Amazon for books about bridges turned up 567 titles, so obviously there is much interest in this subject. Here are a few that focus on railroad bridges. The Beauty of Railroad Bridges by Richard J Cook North American Railroad Bridges by Brian Solomon A basic primer on bridge types can be found here.