Story Telling or: How to Make Sense of all Our Images

Whether we consider ourselves railfans or photographers foremost, we all like to shoot railroads and have most likely amassed a large collection of images. My guess, based upon my own collection, is that most of these images are at first glance fairly random. A chase down a favorite line, roster shots in the local yard, a vacation trip to Colorado, a glint track shot on the way home from work, an industry meant to be modeled, etc. So what do we do with all these images?

We all place a high value on our own photographs, but will anyone beyond our railfan friends see and understand their worth? While many of our images will be throw-aways in the large body of railroad photography, we all can add value to the history of railroad photography and documentation by editing what we have shot and continue to shoot.

When we edit our work, we start to think about an idea and how that can tell a story. In order to construct a story, we need to assemble a group of images that are related and add value as a collection towards expressing an idea. By crafting a story through our images, we give relevance to them as content. This will make them relatable and understandable not just to railfans, but to anyone that is interested in the ideas and information contained within the project.

If you look though your body of photographic work, more than likely you can find an idea or two that can be the foundation of a story that you are interested in telling. Look at what you photograph on a frequent basis and you will discover that you are drawn to a subject as a recurring theme. Perhaps you have been documenting a specific railroad line, or a collection of equipment such as MOW crew vehicles, images that show the differences and commonalities between railroad bridge types, crew portraits, an industry, etc. Whatever your interest is, you can build a themed story behind it with a collection that is more telling and valuable than an individual image.

By editing and grouping our images into a themed collection, we can express our unique insight and tell a story to the viewer. By giving our content meaning and context, we give it value and hopefully a life beyond our own.

In my next post, I’ll review a few of my own projects and what inspired them.



  1. I believe it was Richard Steinheimer who often spoke about “layering”, where repeated attempts on a subject allow the photographer/storyteller to see beyond what’s on the surface at first. I’ve found that this can lead to great photography and a more gratifying experience within this strange little hobby.

  2. Eric Williams

    Brian, “layering” is a great term and one that I’ll keep in my mind as I shoot in the field and work my images into a story to two. I never had the chance to hear Richard speak and wonder if he had written anything on the subject? LMK if you know of a source.

    1. Eric, I don’t know where exactly he may have said that, but I recall conversations I had with Martin Burwash of Washington State where he tried to pass along advice that Steinheimer had given to him. I’ll reach out to Martin and see if he can elaborate further.

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