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What's next for Trackside with Trains? Share your thoughts

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What's next for Trackside with Trains? Share your thoughts
Posted by Brian Schmidt on Thursday, September 1, 2016 11:24 AM

I'm looking to make Trackside with Trains better. What started as a conversation and demonstration about photography technique has morphed into almost an afterthought, and our readers deserve better than that. So I want to hear your ideas on how to make Trackside with Trains relevant again. I'm inclined to bring it back to its roots: holding entrants to a higher standard to explain the thoughts and technique that went in to making a photograph, rather than simply writing a caption about what's in a photograph. That, in my estimation, will hopefully begin to teach others about photography and raise the bar for entries. We get a wide range of entries, from seasoned photographers to cell phone snap shooters. My sincere hope is that every can use this as an opportunity to learn again.

Brian Schmidt, Editor, Classic Trains magazine

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Posted by tree68 on Thursday, September 1, 2016 1:26 PM

I like the idea of including the technical information, as it may be available - even if it is a cell phone picture.  Most DSLRs embed that information with the image.

Submitters can certainly write about their own expectations for the shot (what they hoped to achieve), challenges, etc.  We don't need a lengthy dissertation about the Podunk & Western - if we want that, there's other sources.  Let's hear about waiting for exactly the right light, or the right train, etc.  Was the photographer looking for something specific for their shot (again, lighting, etc) or was this a "grab shot?"

I think there's been a decent effort to encourage diversity in topics and approaches - we really don't want week after week of 3/4 shots of steam in the snow.   I realize that there aren't usually dozens of entrants, but perhaps focusing on new entrants would be good.  

We love to see the work of the regulars, but if Joe Railfan sees his image in the gallery, others may be enticed to submit as well.  Might we see some less than stellar entries?  Maybe.  Or not. 

If staff is willing to do it, perhaps revisit old topics.  In the announcement of the topic, include the winning image from last time.

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Posted by K. P. Harrier on Thursday, September 1, 2016 2:14 PM

You’ve got to be kidding, Brian!

Why don’t you encourage people to petition Union Pacific to bring back the old “Crap Shooter” to Las Vegas from Los Angeles, the train of luck!  TRAINS Magazine wants lucky photos, direct from the camera, no cropping, no recomposing adjustments, no nothing.  Luck is your great mighty God.  Why don’t you just be honest with everybody and say you promote the God of luck?  That or change the overall photo submission policies …

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- K.P.’s absolute “theorem” from early, early childhood that he has seen over and over and over again: Those that CAUSE a problem in the first place will act the most violently if questioned or exposed.

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Posted by hennepin98 on Thursday, September 1, 2016 2:14 PM
My suggestion would be to have an email blast that you offer for when your new topic is up for submitting photos and when voting starts for submitted photos. I have submitted a couple photos, however I often forget to look for topics that I have photos for and forget to vote for my favorites.
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Posted by zardoz on Thursday, September 1, 2016 2:41 PM
Be more discriminating regarding the images available for voting. Don't just take random samples and put them out for voting; take a little more time deciding which photos make it. How about perhaps every three to six months where previous winners go against each other. And I agree that there should be additional info, either technical and/or personal, provided by the photographer.
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Posted by Mookie on Thursday, September 1, 2016 3:07 PM

I haven't taken a pix since the instamatic days.  Just not my thing.  But I would like to continue to see one line about where and when on each pix.  (2010 - Chicago Il. - metra line) Pretty simple and then you can go on ad nauseum about what the photogs want.  

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Posted by zugmann on Thursday, September 1, 2016 4:16 PM

I would ditch the whole voting thing, period. Doesn't really serve any purpose than to inflate some egos, maybe?

 

And even just picking a random theme and having people find a photo in their archives that somewhat matches seems pretty anticlimatic.   I'd like to see the site do what other photog sites do and have photo assignments - where it makes people go out to shoot new photos that deal with a theme.  That's if anyone would bother.  Maybe they wouldn't.  I don't know.

 

Or maybe instead of having it a entire forum thing, just solicit photos/essays from select people.  Hell, you could just give the whole thing to CopcarSS Chris (if he wanted it).

  

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Posted by tree68 on Thursday, September 1, 2016 4:33 PM

zugmann
That's if anyone would bother.  Maybe they wouldn't.  I don't know.

I like the idea - if there is a problem it is that many don't have the opportunity to go out and shoot a specific theme on command.  Personal photo archives might be the summation of various train watching/chasing trips over time and may hold the perfect picture to fit the theme/assignment.

That said, some themes could call for a more recent picture - say, "contemporary railroading," while others, "small steam," would more likely be a personal archive event.  And that could be part of the assignment.

Unless the theme is "roster shots," I'd discourage such 3/4 view images for that "contemporary railroading" assignment.  Force the photographer to use their imagination.

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Posted by zugmann on Thursday, September 1, 2016 4:37 PM

tree68
I like the idea - if there is a problem it is that many don't have the opportunity to go out and shoot a specific theme on command. Personal photo archives might be the summation of various train watching/chasing trips over time and may hold the perfect picture to fit the theme/assignment.

That's the point.  Make people get off their butts, and out of the comfort zone of their photo archives.  Make them get involved and active - sort of like Pokémon Go! for trains.   Add a touch of competitiveness.  Will they always get the 100% super fantastical perfect shot?  Probably not.  Will they get decent photos that they can conform/manipulate to the theme?  Sure.

 

I doubt it would succeed, but it'd be cool if it did.

  

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Posted by rdamon on Thursday, September 1, 2016 6:51 PM

Swimsuit Issue Stick out tongue

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Posted by zugmann on Thursday, September 1, 2016 8:31 PM

rdamon

Swimsuit Issue Stick out tongue

 

Been a while, but I'll see if I can find mine.

  

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Posted by Mookie on Thursday, September 1, 2016 9:23 PM

Since a majority of train crews are male - this would be a winner for me! Kisses

 

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Posted by Euclid on Thursday, September 1, 2016 9:25 PM

I would get rid of the theme other than that it be related to railroads.  If the objective is actually to produce the best photograph, why not just let that be the objective?  When you require the photo to comply with a specific theme, that becomes a distraction, thus diluting the contest by dividing the objective as follows:

  1. To produce the best quality photograph.

  2. To produce a photograph that best fits the theme.

It is plenty challenging to produce the “perfect” photograph, and the skill of photography is all about #1, so why dilute that objective by adding #2?  Fulfilling the theme has nothing to do with the skill of photography.  I see the adding of the theme as diluting the purpose for the true objective of producing the best photographic work.

The theme causes the objective to be subject-driven, whereas the best photograph causes the objective to be photographic skill driven. 

There is no need for a common theme for the purpose of leveling the playing field.  It does not require a theme to choose the winning photograph.  

Choosing the best photograph without a theme forces the choice to focus only on the quality of the photograph, which is the ultimate point. 

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Posted by tree68 on Friday, September 2, 2016 5:00 AM

Euclid
Choosing the best photograph without a theme forces the choice to focus only on the quality of the photograph, which is the ultimate point. 

Alas, this opens things up to the point of absurdity.  A contributor can send image after image of 3/4 shots of steam locomotives - always a popular choice - while another goes to the trouble to take a great shot that is deserving of a win, but still isn't as popular as a 3/4 shot of steam in the snow.

Having a specific topic means submissions will have a grain of commonality.  If the theme is flowers, the challenge to the photographer is creating/finding (in their archives) an image that includes trains and flowers in proper balance.  Otherwise, they can run down to the crossing and take another 3/4 shot of one of the commemorative locomotives and send it in.

That said, maybe an occasional "open" competition could be held.    And even that could have a "theme" - images captured with the past couple of weeks, f'rinstance.

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Posted by zardoz on Friday, September 2, 2016 6:43 AM

zugmann

I would ditch the whole voting thing, period. Doesn't really serve any purpose than to inflate some egos, maybe?

 And what is so bad about having one's ego stroked?

zugmann

And even just picking a random theme and having people find a photo in their archives that somewhat matches seems pretty anticlimatic.   I'd like to see the site do what other photog sites do and have photo assignments - where it makes people go out to shoot new photos that deal with a theme.  That's if anyone would bother.  Maybe they wouldn't.  I don't know.

However, some of us are no longer mobile enough to go clamoring through the brush or climbing hills or trekking thru the woods, and thus are mostly restricted to using archived photos

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Posted by Goofyjim on Friday, September 2, 2016 8:56 AM

Hello,

I just wanted to say that I am an hobbyist photographer. All of my life I have loved trains and taking photos. In the last 2 years I have been working on my photography skills. After getting my first DLSR almost 2 years ago I started looking what I could do with my photos. I first found the annual photo contest and then I found Trackside with Trains. For me I like the idea of a topic every other week, so it gets me out shooting new photos with a theme in mind. I would like maybe one change is the photo must not be any older than 1 year(maybe 18 months). This way the images are fairly fresh. Seeing a shot from 1997 is great, but I think Trackside with Trains might be better with newer photos

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, September 2, 2016 9:41 AM

tree68
 
Euclid
Choosing the best photograph without a theme forces the choice to focus only on the quality of the photograph, which is the ultimate point. 

 

Alas, this opens things up to the point of absurdity.  A contributor can send image after image of 3/4 shots of steam locomotives - always a popular choice - while another goes to the trouble to take a great shot that is deserving of a win, but still isn't as popular as a 3/4 shot of steam in the snow.

Having a specific topic means submissions will have a grain of commonality.  If the theme is flowers, the challenge to the photographer is creating/finding (in their archives) an image that includes trains and flowers in proper balance.  Otherwise, they can run down to the crossing and take another 3/4 shot of one of the commemorative locomotives and send it in.

That said, maybe an occasional "open" competition could be held.    And even that could have a "theme" - images captured with the past couple of weeks, f'rinstance.

 

Well if the contest is strictly a photo contest without a theme (except being railroad related), the photos should be judged only on their merit of art and technical aspects of photography, and not on the subject matter.  So wedge shots, or commemorative locomotive shots of little technical or artistic perfection should not win.  However, a wedge shot with a combination of unusual drama, overall great composition, exceptional clarity, and great lighting might win.  

Of course, to be strictly a photo contest, it has to be judged only on that basis.  As it is now, with the theme, it is clear the people vote on the basis of both photo excellence and how well it fits the theme.  So if fitting a theme is part of the contest, it has to interfere with the photographic art and technical characteristics.  In that way, having a theme sort of “dumbs down” the photo contest.

The Trains editors should just try it and see how it goes.  Achieving great technical and artistic results in railroad photograph is relatively difficult for a variety of reasons.  One big reason is legal access.  Another reason is the difficulty of catching a train in the ideal composition, lighting, etc.  So why add the artificial extra burden of the subject needing to fit a select theme within the broader category of railroading?  It adds nothing to the viewing excellence of the photograph.

Try it without a theme and see what happens.  In what way would it not work?  There are bound to be winners.  What more is needed?  I think it would open the contest up to greater creativity. 

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Posted by zugmann on Friday, September 2, 2016 7:35 PM

Euclid
So why add the artificial extra burden of the subject needing to fit a select theme within the broader category of railroading? It adds nothing to the viewing excellence of the photograph.

It adds a small challenge.  If I want to see generic and good rail pictures - I'll just open up my Flickr feed.  Plenty of awesome rail photogs on there.  

 

  

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Posted by edblysard on Friday, September 2, 2016 7:37 PM
 I think Brian is right, a higher standard than the current simple requirement to provide a caption would up the learning experience.

I don't care if a photo is from someone's archive, as long as the technical info, along with a relevant caption come with it...in fact, I like the old locomotives and old shots of the way it was back then.

That, and maybe narrowing down the theme to a more specific requirement....instead of something broad, such as "Summer", which if you live in Nebraska means something totally different than what Texans calls summer, the theme could be "Hauling in the Heat"....

or "Summer time Nights"....

And, once the winner has been selected, have them provide a short paragraph or two on how they went about getting the shot. 

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Posted by zugmann on Friday, September 2, 2016 7:40 PM

Or shake it up.  Don't have to do the same thing every time.  Have one month/week/fortnight be a subject, one be an assignment, then one be open-ended.

  

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Posted by saguaro on Saturday, September 3, 2016 8:31 PM

I agree with this comment. Let people sign up to get a regular reminder. I always seem to be too late to enter and I am not on the site more than once a week, so it is easy to miss an announcement that is posted on the site.

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Posted by edblysard on Sunday, September 4, 2016 1:26 PM

zugmann

Or shake it up.  Don't have to do the same thing every time.  Have one month/week/fortnight be a subject, one be an assignment, then one be open-ended.

 

Yeah, sounds even better...

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Posted by tree68 on Sunday, September 4, 2016 8:01 PM

Euclid
So why add the artificial extra burden of the subject needing to fit a select theme within the broader category of railroading?  It adds nothing to the viewing excellence of the photograph. Try it without a theme and see what happens.  In what way would it not work?  There are bound to be winners.  What more is needed?  I think it would open the contest up to greater creativity. 

And you may be right - but one person can look at a fantastically creative photo and wonder what the photographer was trying to say.  Another may get it right away.   Yet another may just think it's a good (or lousy) picture.  Some may just vote for a picture because they like steam in the snow, even thought there may be better images technically.

I, too, like the idea of mixing it up.  Open sometimes, thematic others.

Having a theme, though, forces a photographer to turn the mundane into art.  There are many ways one could portray "railroad crossing."  How would you go about making your entry unique, attractive, and technically appealing?  A crossbuck in a cornfield?  Time lapse of gates coming down?  A pile of old crossing equipment in the back corner of an old yard?  There are myriad possibilities.  

Best of all, it forces you out of your comfort zone - making you compose images you might otherwise have not considered.

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Posted by zugmann on Sunday, September 4, 2016 9:37 PM

tree68
I, too, like the idea of mixing it up. Open sometimes, thematic others.

And you don't even have to do audience participation themes each time, either.  You could have tracksides that feature a photographer, his work, and a few paragraphs.  Or a trackside discussing equipment.   Just add some variety to it.

  

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Posted by Euclid on Sunday, September 4, 2016 10:24 PM

tree68
 
Euclid
So why add the artificial extra burden of the subject needing to fit a select theme within the broader category of railroading?  It adds nothing to the viewing excellence of the photograph. Try it without a theme and see what happens.  In what way would it not work?  There are bound to be winners.  What more is needed?  I think it would open the contest up to greater creativity. 

 

And you may be right - but one person can look at a fantastically creative photo and wonder what the photographer was trying to say.  Another may get it right away.   Yet another may just think it's a good (or lousy) picture.  Some may just vote for a picture because they like steam in the snow, even thought there may be better images technically.

I, too, like the idea of mixing it up.  Open sometimes, thematic others.

Having a theme, though, forces a photographer to turn the mundane into art.  There are many ways one could portray "railroad crossing."  How would you go about making your entry unique, attractive, and technically appealing?  A crossbuck in a cornfield?  Time lapse of gates coming down?  A pile of old crossing equipment in the back corner of an old yard?  There are myriad possibilities.  

Best of all, it forces you out of your comfort zone - making you compose images you might otherwise have not considered.

 

It is true that the voting will take the subject into account, and in with some voters, the preference for the subject will override all technical/artistic characteristics of the photo being judged.  So in thinking about this more, I should clarify that by eliminating the theme, and focusing only on the technical and artistic perfection, I don’t mean that subject should be dismissed in the picture taking or in the voting.  The subject would be part of the art. 

I googled photo contest themes, and see that stipulating a theme is very common.  These photo contests are for people whose common interest is mainly photography, but the subjects they photograph could be anything.  So the stated theme just narrows it down one step from photographs of anything. 

With the photo contest here, without a stated theme, there would still be the category and common interest of railroads/trains, which would be equivalent to the single theme stipulated in most general photo contests.  So if Trains magazine sponsored a photo contest, I would expect it would follow the theme of railroads/trains.  Then that subject would be equivalent to the stated theme of most general photo contests.  

Going one step further and adding a theme further differentiated from the general interest in railroad/trains strikes me as distracting.  It is like combining an artistic/technical photo contest with a scavenger hunt.   

How would you judge a photo that you thought was technically/artistically the winner, but did not match the theme quite as well as another photo that was less perfect technically/artistically?  At that point, it is like comparing apples to oranges.  If you just let the theme of the contest be the subject of railroads/trains, then the editors could screen entries to make sure they portrayed that broad subject category.  So the contest would pose no question of matching a theme. 

Let me ask this: With the Trains contests, has it ever been clarified as to whether or not the success of matching the theme is counted toward the winning entry?  If it has not, how can the contest be considered fair and objective?   

When I compose a photo, I might have some idea in mind, but certainly nothing as elaborate as might be worthy of an attempt to win a contest.  A lot times, what I might have in mind might not exist at the site, or it may be in poor lighting.  So my approach to photography is more like fishing.  I walk around and use my eyes to find things that look good.  Then, if I find one, I take a picture of it.  It is purely by chance.  That approach accounts for lighting, subject, and composition when they happen to show up looking good. 

So I find the picture that I like first, rather than search for the fulfillment of a preconceived idea for a picture.  Although, there is always some degree of a preconceived idea involved.  And also, this fishing approach only works with mostly stationary subjects.  It won’t work much for action shots of trains. 

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Posted by zugmann on Sunday, September 4, 2016 10:32 PM

Euclid
Going one step further and adding a theme further differentiated from the general interest in railroad/trains strikes me as distracting. It is like combining an artistic/technical photo contest with a scavenger hunt.

You call it distrracting.  I call it a a bit of a challenge.  Just having a general "show us train pictures" would be boring.  I mean, seriously, if I just want to see train photos - there's tons of sites that do just that.  We need something a bit more to make trackside stand out.

And it's not like the votes on these things are scientific by any means.  The handful of people that bother to vote just vote their interests.  And steam almost always rules, even if the photo sucks.

But as Brian said (or at least alluded to?  Inferred?) in the opening post - it has to go beyond just a generic, ho-hum, railfan photography contest/show-off gallery.  Those are a dime a dozen.  It needs substance, discussion, direction, something.  Now I'm not saying it would succeed either.  As I said before (I think I said it before - I'm not going to bother to look), this is not a real photography-focused discussion site like some others are.  Look at the post by CMStPnP about selecting a camera.  Up for several days and it got a measley 12 replies and a paltry 400-odd views.  I just don't know if the interest is there for trackside to succeeed in any form, to be honest.  

  

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Posted by cx500 on Monday, September 5, 2016 12:24 AM

I always consider how well a photograph matches the theme, or at least my interpretation of the theme, before voting.  To me that is nearly as important as the artistic merit. 

It also forces me to rack my aging brain to consider if anything in my 25,000 images both matches the theme and has sufficient quality.  And also think about how I missed opportunities in the past.  Or even try to fill in gaps that I ignored in the past.  Defining a theme is a wonderful challenge to vary our personal rail photography style.

I don't see how Trackside could be managed without some sort of theme to control the number of entries.  Like all art forms, what is deemed "best" will be entirely subjective and a matter of personal taste.  Some will always vote for steam, or insist on the locomotive occupying most of the frame.  That dramatically backlit scene with storm cloud willl not please some because they can't see the detail of the train.  Specifying a theme allows a greater variety to become potential winners.

One comment I will make is that the lead time between the announcement of the theme and the submission deadline is too short.  It requires time to consider how to interpret the theme, and then figure out if I have anything that might qualify.  Rarely does anything immediately jump out in my mind.

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Posted by tree68 on Monday, September 5, 2016 3:19 PM

Euclid
I googled photo contest themes, and see that stipulating a theme is very common.  These photo contests are for people whose common interest is mainly photography, but the subjects they photograph could be anything.  So the stated theme just narrows it down one step from photographs of anything. 

With the photo contest here, without a stated theme, there would still be the category and common interest of railroads/trains, which would be equivalent to the single theme stipulated in most general photo contests.  So if Trains magazine sponsored a photo contest, I would expect it would follow the theme of railroads/trains.  Then that subject would be equivalent to the stated theme of most general photo contests.  

But - why would a photography site have to have a theme?  Isn't just submitting good photographs enough?

Everyone else has stated the same case for themes.  My search on Google found a dog picture site that uses themes.  Isn't enough just to have pictures of dogs?  How about New York City?  One contest focused on the City has themes for submissions to their site.  You'd think that there are enough photo subjects in NYC that you wouldn't need themes.

Once again - theme one time, open the next...

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Posted by Euclid on Monday, September 5, 2016 4:24 PM

[quote user="tree68"]

 
Euclid
I googled photo contest themes, and see that stipulating a theme is very common.  These photo contests are for people whose common interest is mainly photography, but the subjects they photograph could be anything.  So the stated theme just narrows it down one step from photographs of anything. 

With the photo contest here, without a stated theme, there would still be the category and common interest of railroads/trains, which would be equivalent to the single theme stipulated in most general photo contests.  So if Trains magazine sponsored a photo contest, I would expect it would follow the theme of railroads/trains.  Then that subject would be equivalent to the stated theme of most general photo contests.  

Everyone else has stated the same case for themes. [quote]

 

 

I think that just submitting good photos is enough.  I know a lot of people insist on a theme.  I just have not heard a good reason why.  Nor do I see any plausible explanation for requiring a theme other than railroading. 

With or without a theme, there will be a ranking which will include a winner. 

Trains magazine has no theme except for railroading.  Everybody finds that to be acceptable.  People pick their favorite issues depending on the coverage.  They would never question that unless the magazine suddenly ran an issue all about mining machinery or something not related to railroading.

So what would be the practical problem with a photo contest without a theme? 

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Posted by zugmann on Monday, September 5, 2016 4:27 PM

Euclid
I think that just submitting good photos is enough. I know a lot of people insist on a theme. I just have not heard a good reason why. Nor do I see any plausible explanation for requiring a theme other than railroading.

I haven't heard a good reason not to have a theme either.

  

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