Freight cars crisscross North America on a regular basis, and train artists and writers use them as canvases to send their artwork out across the country.
This week I watched several freight trains move between the Locust Point Rail Yard and Gwynns Falls Road here in Baltimore. Graffiti adorned many of the freight cars, and I was able to capture a number of colorful images as the trains clacked along the tracks. Intriguing is how I would describe the variety of designs, the simplicity and the intricacy of styles, and the vibrant colors the train artists employed.
Take a look at the following traveling art show. I hope you find it as fascinating as I did. The gallery includes old and new work, including the 2008 piece Bobkat by California artist Sworn.
Here are two tips on photographing freight train art:
(1) I find a zoom lens in the 28-70mm range to be the most useful; anything longer often restricts your choice of composition. Set your camera in the aperture priority shooting mode and select an aperture of f/5.6. Dial in -1/3 exposure compensation. Set your ISO to give you a minimum shutter speed of 1/250th of a second. Select the continuous-servo focus mode. Press the shutter release halfway down to focus on an approaching freight car’s artwork. Pan along with the freight car’s movement and shoot a burst of several images as the freight car nears and passes you. Compose wider than you normally would, and you will have sufficient space to perform a pleasing crop during post-processing.
(2) Maybe you are younger and fleeter of foot than I am, but I strongly recommend staying out of rail yard property. Do not cross any tracks. Respect the railroad right-of-way. Do otherwise, and you run a serious risk of an encounter with railroad security staff who will likely arrest you for criminal trespass.
Play it safe. Park near a train crossing on a country road, or near a train crossing in the industrial area of your town. Here in Baltimore, for example, there are several such spots within view of the Ravens stadium.