Whether you call it railfanning, trainspotting, train chasing, or train observing, it is all doing one thing, photographing and video taping real railroads, in the real world, operating in real life. Railfanning has been a parallel hobby for model railroaders. Most of us will refer to the prototype now and then to gain some insight into how a railroad operates, or uses it's equipment. So photographs of the real trains can be of help to modelers.
Then there is the art aspect of railfanning. Some travel on long journeys just to get the perfect shot of their favorite railroad, or locomotive, or even structure in the natural world. Just like any photographer, trainspotters into the art aspect of railfanning are always on the look out for their best shot. Railfanning helps to preserve history. Someone modeling a railroad 50 years ago may refer to pictures and videos of that era. Historians looking to piece together recent history may refer to similar documents about a railroad in a particular location. Many railroads will also hire, or buy photos from photographers for annual calenders, newspaper articles, magazines, and marketing.
So now you're interested? How does one start railfanning? What do you need to be a trainspotter?
Before anyone starts taking pictures, there are some basic rules that apply to the public about railroads:
- Stay off the tracks. In most places, there is a right of way several tens of feet from each side of the tracks that the railroad owns. Be aware that crossing this line at most places is tress passing. Exceptions would be at road and trail crossings, or on platforms near stations. If your property borders the railroad, you can get as close as you want to the right of way. Besides being unlawful, standing on the tracks can be dangerous.
- Be aware that you may look unusual in public places. Ever since 9/11, large businesses such as railroads have become more strict about where people can stand to take photographs. However, railroads have responded differently to this threat of attack. BNSF has welcomed photographers, and has put in a program designed to allow people to report suspicious activity.
- If asked to leave, it is best to leave. This probably won't happen in most places, but if someone of higher authority such as a railroad employee, or a police officer asks you to leave, it is best to avoid confrontation. However, the act of photography itself is protected under the Constitution in the amendment involving free speech and freedom of the press. Therefore, you as a citizen of the U.S. can keep the photos you have taken as they belong to you.
- Be sensible. If a spot is dangerous, then don't be in that spot. Don't destroy or change signals, communications, or disrupt the flow of traffic, both rail traffic and road traffic. if the weather is cold or hazardous, dress accordingly, or avoid the situation all together. No photograph is worth a life.
- Although you own the photos you have taken, the objects in them are the property of the company. Attempting to pass any of these objects as your own is a crime. But you are still able to publish the photos for the following purposes:
- For personal use.
- For non-profit use such as publishing on a public website/blog or distributing to your friends and family at no cost.
- For educational or historical purposes
- For use in making a model, or displaying images alongside a model which falls alongside the educational purposes clause.
- If used to make a painting or other form of art that is not under photography, the artist has full, unfaltered copyright to the painting.
Now that some general rules are known, a person can go out and photograph their favorite train. Although all that is needed is a camera, it helps to have the following along with the camera:
- Camera bag to store extra batteries, or accessories.
- A tripod so that the image can be stable and level.
- During winter, a large glove with a heat pad in it helps to keep the camera warm, preserving the batteries.
- A notepad and pencil to document what locomotives you see. This is especially useful when publishing a photo online or in your own blog.
- A vehicle to use. It is a lot easier to keep up with a train if you have a car or truck to use. Walking is a little slow.
- Binoculars to spot a train at a long distance. The farther away you see a train coming, the more time there is to set up the camera. Binoculars help you see farther than you can normally see.
Now that the equipment has been piled together, where do we take the shot from?
Every situation is different, so there is no right or wrong answer to this question. Generally, a safe, clear spot, that is maybe even boxed in by trees or structures is best. Again, exercise caution and be sensible. Ariel, low level, silhouette, and bizarre shots can be taken at different angles, and elevations.
In the modern digital age Cameras can store many photographs and all can be printed at minimal cost. With the use of programs like Photoshop, any good photo can be made great.
Once photos have been taken, download or scan them to a computer and then back them up to a website, or spare hard drive so that there is little chance of photos being lost due to malfunction or tragedies like fire or flood.
If you want, photos can be shared with people on the web at various sites. Below I have included a few of them:
- http://photos.nerail.org/ For the people photographing the Northeast's trains.
- http://railpictures.net A general rail-photography website.
- http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/default.aspx Another website dedicated to rail-photography.
- http://www.railphotos.com A website brought to you by the creators of Trainweb.com
Besure to have fun when taking photos, and HAPPY RAILROADING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ALTHOUGH I HAVE SUPPLIED SAFETY INFORMATION, ANY ACCIDENTS IN THE EVEN OF TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS OF TRAINS IS NOT THE FAULT OF JJW2795, BUT RATHER THE FAULT OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER FOR NOT TAKING PROPER SAFETY PRECAUTIONS AND LAWS. THESE PRECAUTIONS INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO WHAT HAS BEEN STATED ABOVE. LAWS AND REGULATIONS RELATED TO RAIL PHOTOGRAPHY MAY VARY FROM STATE TO STATE.