I am often asked the question “Why?” when folks hear about my passion for photographing railroads. And to be completely honest, I sometimes ask myself the same question. What is it that drives me to wake up at 5:00am and head for Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on a bitter cold morning?
I believe it all started back when I was a young kid growing up in Davis, California. Like most kids, I loved two things: sports and trains. After school , I would sit around the living room and set up huge railroads with my Brio track. I always had multiple trains running, including my coveted “Daylight” locomotive that had to be my favorite.
After dinner, my dad and I would go to see what we called “The 8:30’s”. Right around 8:30pm every night, there would be two Capitol Corridor trains coming through Davis, usually accompanied by a freight train. It was an easy way to watch trains and burn off some of the energy I had as a kid. All in all, I have to give credit to my dad for getting me started with trains at a young age. The passion I developed for railroads then has never faded.
I have always had a passion for photography and railroads, but trains weren’t my first favorite subject. As a kid, I loved going to Zoos to see all of the exotic animals. My favorite “zoo” was the San Diego Wild Animal Park where many animals share a large open “enclosure” in the middle of the park. Whenever my dad and I would go to the zoo, he would bring along two or three disposable cameras for me to shoot with. I remember snapping pictures of everything that moved and then waiting a couple days for the film to be processed at our local drug store.
My photography started modestly. Many of the shots came out blurry or backlit. I had no idea what composition or lighting was, and my favorite mistake of all- the finger in front of the lens. Yup, even I started off by taking pictures of my right index finger. I was not gaining any photographic “results” at this time, but I was creating a passion for photography. This passion has helped drive me to what I am today.
I got my first digital camera when I was 13 years old. For Christmas, my parents bought me the Canon A560, a little point and shoot that could take both stills and video. From there, I started video taping trains and putting them up on Youtube under the name “Amtrakdavis22“. I shot a billion trains coming in and out of the Davis Amtrak Station as well as trains in the Union Pacific Yard in Roseville. But I knew there was more.
Christmas Day 2009, I got my very first DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. It was the Canon Rebel XSi with an 18-55mm (kit lens) and 55-250mm. After receiving “tips” from a couple professional photographers, I blindly set out and started shooting. I leaned a lot of things very quickly, and butchered a number of shots in the mean time. Eventually I learned how to read the light meter and what “Shutter Speed“, “Aperture“, and “ISO” really meant. Once the technical aspect was somewhat figured out, I dove into composition and creativity. Now that I have a decent understanding on photographic composition, I am continually challenging myself to be creative and unique.
While I was encountering what I call my “Photographic Great Awakening”, I was also learning a lot more about the railroad industry and profession. By joining a couple rail groups, I gained a better understanding of how to find trains. From there, I began to research where I could find trains in the most picturesque locations. It wasn’t long before I ditched the Amtrak Stations and found myself in the Feather River Canyon and Donner Pass photographing trains . I haven’t looked back since.
I’ve been shooting trains for almost five years now and it has become more than I ever would have imagined. I’ve travelled to many areas of the western United States capturing images that make it worth every minute. I have been published in a number of publications including Trains magazine.
My client list includes mega corporations such as Union Pacific, Matson Logistics, and Amtrak. My images have been views over a million times on the various platforms I use, including Flickr, Youtube, and RailPictures.net.
Mentors Have Made My Journey
I have to thank a couple of people for helping me out along the way. Without them, who knows where I would be today. I just want to mention a couple here as they have played such a large role in shaping my path. Ben Battles has always helped give me a better understanding of the railroad. If I have a shoot coming up and there is any unknown about the railroad, he’s the first guy I go to. Also, Kelly Huston has totally opened my eyes to the world of photography outside the railroad. His online technical support along with expertise in photography, marketing, and life has made him an incredibly valuable connection for me. I am lucky to have such an intelligent person as my agent. Overtime he became a good friend. Without any of these guys, or countless other people I have encountered, my career would not be where it is today.
An idol of mine, photographer Corey Rich, often talks about combining passion. He combined his passion for rock climbing with his passion for photography and is now recognized as one of the world’s greatest adventure photographers. I have used this idea of combining passions to help explain how I got to where I am today.
That brings me to answer question we started with, “Why”? The answer-quite simply, is my passion. Passion for railroads. Passion for photography. Both passions born in me when I was young. They are what drive me to wake up at 5:00am, hike through 5 feet of snow and or stand out in the sweltering heat, all to photograph railroads and share these images with you. I hope you enjoy.