How to Take Better Train Travel Photos

For an Internet Rail Travelogue, and for Personal Use.

By Carl Morrison at - -

(The photo examples are best viewed while online, since some references are to photos on other web pages of mine.)

Click any photo to see a double-sized copy, click BACK in your browser to return to this page.

19.  Shooting Pictures of the Train on which you are traveling.

The Ultimate way to photograph the train on which you are traveling is to join a trip that has Photo Runbys.  You've seen many photos in this report of Engine #93 at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in Ely, NV.  I have more useable pictures of steam trains from this one trip than any other, and it is because we had Photo Runbys.  Most every tourist train has such trips.

Use TrainWeb's to find Photo Trips.  I just typed in:  Photo Runbys 2007 and got 2 pages of links!

Most trains will eventually go around an "S" or "horse shoe" curve.  Sometimes these will be mentioned in the Route Guide.  Position yourself on the inside of the curve and shoot forward to get the engine going around the curve ahead of you, or backward to get the end of the train.  Even better, if you know you are approaching such a curve, go to the end of the train and get a picture of the whole train going around the curve.


On the Questa Grade, north of San Luis Obispo, CA, the Coast Starlight stopped on this trip, and I was able to take several pictures of the front and back of the train, from the Parlour Car (above and right).


Most rail travelers get off at the announced stretch stops, formerly smoke stops, and from the platform take pictures of the train.  People will like pictures of the engine, so walk past the front engine and take a picture back toward the engine with the rest of the train stretching toward the horizon. 

Even from the middle of the train, at the station, you can get a long shot and maybe a sign with the date and time.  Coast Starlight at SLO.
Arriving Sunset Limited in Los Angeles, CA.

Off the train for a 'stretch stop,' shoot the outside of your sleeper, or favorite car, in this case the Parlour Car on the Coast Starlight at Santa Barbara, CA, then coupled with interior shots, your readers/viewers will have a good idea of what 'Parlour Car' means.

Interior of the Parlour Car on the Coast Starlight.  A lounge car for sleeping car passengers only.  Exterior shot at the left.

The Logo on a special car will help your remember specifics for your story.
This logo on a glass partition inside the Parlour car with the sand dunes of Vandenburgh Air Base out the window, would be an excellent candidate for 'horizontal flip' in Photoshop.

This is a typical shot of a train arriving at the depot.  To get such a photo, you must have your camera out and on, and you have to take the shot, store the camera, pick up your belongings and board before the train leaves the station.  I accomplished all this on my way to the Airport in Portland on the Redline.

Another train arriving at the depot.
This rare shot from outside the Amtrak Coast Starlight in Oregon, was possible because I heard the Conductor announce that a boulder had rolled down the cliff and struck the engine.  (Listening to my scanner revealed the progress of the check as we were stopped.)  Upon hearing this announcement, I went downstairs, and our car attendant had the door's window open and I asked if I could take a picture and was granted permission.  It was surely a typical picture of Oregon with green moss and overcast, with the added feature of our train entering a tunnel.

Your fellow train photographers will envy this shot...a train meet, because it was the Surfliner I was boarding, a BNSF freight, and a border to the picture of the Pedestrian Bridge in Fullerton, CA.  If they claim that this is a picture of the Surfliner leaving the station, point out that it is a cab car and the headlights, rather than red tail lights, indicate it is in fact arriving.

While you are underway, walk through the train looking for new and different things to photograph.  I found a remodeled Sightseeing/Lounge car was on my Coast Starlight trip, so I photographed the new blue/gray color schese and some features I'd not seen before:



Half of the remodeled sightseer/lounge cars is now tables for 4, much more seating capacity.

Stop in the Diner for non-serving hours photos.
This Lily Tomlin look-alike was a Parlour Car attendant and a waitress in the diner.

If the menus are out, take a picture of one, it might have an interesting saying on the front.
Open up the menu for the Lunch and Dinner offerings, on the back is breakfast.  (Double-click for readable copy)

The lower level of the coach car may reveal a sign that indicates  that elderly and ADA passengers can reserve lower level seats, thus avoiding any stairs.
Continue to the very last coach car and peek out the back door for an unusual view of train travel.

As for Tourist Trains, arrive early so you can catch the engine and train set coming from the yard to the platform.  If your tourist train does a turn around, take exterior shots here too, while you are off the train.

Notice the highways and byways that travel along the track of your tourist train as you ride the train, and after your ride, drive your car back that road and take pictures of the train as it passes on the next excursion.  If you have a GPS, when a road comes near the track, set a waypoint.  If there is a railroad bridge and a road nearby, set a waypoint.  If there is a crossing that looks picturesque, set a waypoint.  Then have your GPS take you back to those waypoints whether you know the name of the road or not!  This can be done with a roadmap that shows railroads as well.

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