Is This a Railroad Photograph?

This image, The Passage Home, was awarded the top prize in The Center for Fine Art Photography’s juried competition entitled “Night”.  Being one of my current favorite images, I have entered it into 5 other photographic competitions and it has been honored in 4 out of the 5. I’ll get to the exception later.

For me, entering my images in various photographic competitions is a way of getting feedback on where I stand with my vision. I don’t put all my faith in competitions as they’re juried by people, each with their own particular biases, but being recognized still helps reinforce what I’m doing.

In an earlier post, I mentioned how the Center for Railroad Photography and Art (CRPA) themed competition of “Creative Images” railroad photography caused me to look at other photographic genres for not only inspiration, but to learn what is considered a creative and good image. My goal has been to compare my work against the best of all photography, not just railroad photography. For me, this is a way to be challenged and grow as an artist.

One of my photographic projects has been to look at my weekday ritual of commuting by rail. This image, The Passage Home, came out of that project and is a result of some previously tried experiments of slightly blurring the people to reflect the hast of commuting but also to represent the anonymously of the group. I visualized the image when I set up my tripod at the entrance to the underground passageway portal, but the brief burst of animation that happens when a train pulls into the station and discharges its passengers is always unpredictable. I watch how the scene unfolds and try to time my shots for interesting motion or people relationships. After the last commuter walked away and the train was gone, I reviewed my images and this one stood out.

Formally, I like the visual balance of the lit passageway with the light of the stopped train. The composition and inclusion of the train, station, and commuter tells a story without a caption needed. The light is nicely balanced with just enough ambient light at the station to set the scene, with strong light coming from the passenger car windows and even stronger light at the passageway portal. The figure in the passageway seals this image as she has just enough blur to show motion, but not too much that you can’t but help but envision a personality with her gait and bag. It’s easy to read multiple stories into the image and thus most people can find a personal connection to it.

As stated earlier, this image has been received accolades within the general photographic community, but less so as a railroad photograph. I entered it into the past year’s CRPA Awards competition and it was not selected. Does that mean that it’s not a good railroad photograph? Or maybe the bias of the judges just did not see it as a good photograph or possibly it did need meet their criteria on a selection? I don’t know and it probably shouldn’t matter as I like this image very much, and in the end I have to satisfy myself and my own personal goals.

So, is The Passage Home a railroad photograph? Please let me know your thoughts.


As an aside, there are two other “railroad photographers” whose work has been accepted into the above mentioned Center for Fine Art Photography juried competition and exhibition. Lewis Ableidinger and John Singleton are both good photographers whose work I have admired and glad to see that they are like me in pursuing a broader audience for their work beyond the railfan community.


  1. Eric,

    I appreciate the aside referring to Lewis Ableidinger & John Singleton. I met John last year at Steamtown, this is my first exposure to Lewis’s body of work. Like you, I admire like-minded individuals who photograph their passions and visions, instead of the masses who play follow-the-leader. In my pursuit I try my best to present images that are apart from others, and at the same time trying to convey how my mind’s eye perceives a scene. So much to look at on their websites, to digest, to ponder, in their captures. They leave me wanting more.

    My short answer to your question is yes; your “The Passage Home” is indeed railroad photography, and in my view very good railroad photography. It’s not all about the 3/4 wedgie, rule-of-thirds, and perfectly lit pictures that seem most popular – rather the ones that take grab and leave a lasting impression. In your example I see a depot, a loading platform/waiting area, a train. But most importantly a view often overlooked or not thought of – the passenger who has departed from the world of railroading and moving on to the rest of her life. This photo tells a story, as does any photo from Lewis and John.

    In a similar vein, I pose the same question. The link below is to a gallery of my photos entitled “The Portraiture Series”. All are photographed in a themed environment, but in all the main subject matter is the human element and not the train itself. I doubt any of these will win a high profile photo contest. Are these railroad photos? Can they be considered good railroad photos?

    As always, an excellent topic that generates plenty of food for thought. Thank you!


    1. Eric Williams


      Thanks for commenting and giving me some feedback! I always appreciate an outside perspective on my work.

      And since you asked….

      For your series of portraits, I see differing types of images and would separate them into three categories; authentic, re-creation, and editorial fashion. To me, these three groups are each unique and have their own attributes and standards to view them against.

      I define authentic as a shot of a “real” railroader, engaged on an active working railroad or tourist line. The work is the same for both types of railroaders and most of the employees or volunteers are cut from the same cloth in terms of their work ethic and values. These people are real and with your thoughtful vision, leads to a good railroad photograph with heart!

      The re-creations are people dressed in period clothing and posing in classical posses frozen in our imagination, ironically often based upon images that were originally posed and used for advertising or propaganda purposes (Rosie the Riveter, etc). A railroad photograph as well, but these are generally not original visions, but captured re-enactments. Nice to look at, but missing the soul of the person.

      The editorial fashion images are entirely a different group and in this case the railroad is merely a prop to serve as a background element for the model. To me this is clearly not a railroad photograph, but when done well captures the personality and soul of the individual and thus can stand on it’s own as a good portrait. You have many good ones in this group!

      Each of these groups has its own merits, but for me the “authentic” is where the true artist in you lies. In almost every one of these portraits, you get a sense of the “real” person and a look into their soul. I enjoy looking at each and everyone of these and wold encourage you to do more of them!


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