I’m not sure that the question “why take photos of transit” is a burning one in the mind of many people who are reading these words. After all, if you’re here, there’s a good chance you’re interested in taking or looking at photographs of trains and buses. However, it is a question I get occasionally and for the benefit of anyone who is curious about why I make a hobby out of this, I’m going to make an attempt at an explanation.
I think I started taking photographs of the trains and buses I rode as a way of documenting what vehicles I had been on. For example, if I was in New York visiting family, I’d wait for the train to pull out of the station and get a photo of the rear end as it left the station. It took longer to evolve from getting these simple photographs to getting some of the artsier ones I try for these days, but I think that many transit photographers go through a similar evolution. Also, at around this time, the Internet was fairly new but I had been exposed to it long enough to find out that there were other people who shared my interest in transportation and who had websites, such as nycsubway.org. I had a nascent interest in the Internet and building my own website, and figured if others were doing this, I could, too.
The site has grown quite a lot over the years. If I remember correctly when it started, it had under 300 photos, none of which were from places outside the United States. Today, Oren’s Transit Page has over 7000 photos from the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, and the Middle East. There are photos of transit systems and lines that were only dashed lines on a map, such as WMATA’s Silver Line and the Jerusalem Light Rail, and also photos of vehicle models that no longer run in regular service such as the “Redbird” subway cars in New York City, or with paint schemes that are no longer in use. In the case of the retired vehicles, the photos I have can now serve as a historical record of what used to be. Based on the thousands of people who turn out to ride the vintage train in New York City each December, I think it is safe to say that other people are also interested in what used to be as well.
Another thing that people who share this hobby enjoy trying to get are rare shots. Sometimes a city has a vehicle in a special livery to commemorate an anniversary, such as the “silver buses” that Ride On used to commemorate its 25th anniversary. Other times, you manage to see and get a photo of a bus or train model running on a route where it typically is not found. It’s sort of a game of hide and seek except your target is moving.
Lastly, as someone who has also developed an interest in photography itself (and not just taking pictures of transit vehicles and facilities), it is challenging to set up shots of subjects that won’t wait for you to get that perfect shot. Cars and pedestrians can cross between your camera lens and the bus you’re trying to photograph. Trains have timetables to keep, they aren’t going to stand in a station longer so you can get a good picture or stop short of the usual spot to set up a better shot. As a photographer, I have to work within these constraints in my attempt to get the shots I want and adjust on the fly if need be. I don’t necessarily have to do that if I’m taking a photo of a landscape.
Does this explanation help answer the question in the title of this post? If you’re a transit photographer yourself, do these reasons apply to you or do you have others? Feel free to answer one or both of these questions in the comment section below.