OK, I've got this fancy new camera. I have the good fortune to live in a "target rich environment" when it comes to railroad photography. It's summertime, and the shooting is good, with a nice high pressure system and cloud free skies. I can stand at a grade crossing and pick off trains one after another. So what's the problem?
After a while they start to look the same. There is no creativity, no adventure, no freedom. It almost becomes like a job, going out and catching trains at your favorite crossing or curve or dip in the tracks. The only unkown left is which loco the BNSF will decide to strap onto the front of the train.
And so you start to search. What can I do, here in good old central Minnesota, to vary the shot? Moving to Colorado is not a feasible option. You drive down the highway looking for something different. Is there an original shot to be had here? Or there? Or somewhere else?
On August 5th I ventured away from the grade crossings west of Wadena. It was time to bust through some of the 6' tall sweetclover and the bull thistles as thick as your wrist. While you are less than 100' off the highway, it seems like a world away. The first target that presented itself was this SD70MAC.This was definitely an improvement! Instead of trying to angle the shot to get the entire train in the picture, or as much as possible, here is an interesting picture. So what is good about this picture? Well, first of all, the MAC in executive paint is my favorite locomotive. The filth on this engine says heavy haul railroad to me. I like the way the curve presents the head end of the train to the camera, and variety in the cars of the train add interest. One downside of the photo for me was the lack of the original BN logo on the nose of the loco.
Just west of Wadena, the BNSF main heads down into the Leaf River Valley and there is a gentle curve. I had shot numerous eastbounds just entering this curve mornings. However, on the east end of the curve the tracks are hidden by a tree row on the north and there is a wooded area on the south. I had glanced at this area in the past but could not see any real possibilites there from the road. On this morning, though, I decided to venture off road and take a look. My intention was to shoot the 9547 once again coming up the grade, and I succeeded in that, but looking west I saw a view that seemed attractive and decided to wait and see what developed.
After a wait of less than half an hour I heard another eastbound blowing for the grade crossings near Bluffton and got ready to shoot him as he rounded the curve. It seems stange now but I never noticed the scenery elements until I got home later that morning and uploaded my shots. After a little cropping I found I had shot this:And this time I even got the old style BN logo on the nose! What really caught my eye, though, were the two silos and barn on the right side of the picture. I also liked the way the MACS were working hard coming up the grade with coal loads in tow-the smoke and heat factor. Finally, something more than a picture of a train at a grade crossing.
The intruiging thing about this photo to me is that 4 lane US Highway 10 is between the tracks and the farmstead on this picture. However, the elevations and angles work together to make it appear this little farm is set close to the tracks and the railroad is passing though bucolic farm country rather than paralleling a 65 mph highway. And yes, you can be sure that I have been back to that spot again and will return in the future.
Now I am constantly on the lookout for other locations where pictures would be able to convey a different message than a map. These areas are few and far between in the Wadena area. I hope to find more as I venture further afield. I have high hopes for the Lake Park region and for the area north of Lincoln east of here.
For me, the point to all this is that there is more to the shot than just the train. I need to pay attention to the weather, the scenery, the season, the time of day, etc... if I hope to take pictures that I will want to share on a continuing basis. I certainly won't stop shooting everything I can and I will have some crossing shots that are worth sharing, but I think you need to dig deeper to produce real "good photos", shots to be proud of.
All of this is personal. I am sure that there are folks out there who enjoy making technically great pictures of trains in conventional spots, and I don't mean to criticize that. I admire it. But for me, the search for something new, a different view of things, is half the fun of this hobby.