Professional railroad photographer Ken Fitzgerald of Benbrook, TX, has been shooting trains since the 1970s, when the Santa Fe hired him to document incidents along the line. He currently contracts with BNSF Railway, Union Pacific and the Fort Worth & Western to take publicity shots, as well as document corporate initiatives. Most recently, he completed a four-year project to photograph BNSF’s trackage improvements in Abo Canyon, which also was featured in Trains Magazine. He also will be recording construction on the Tower 55 makeover in Fort Worth.
A native of Long Island, NY, the 56-year-old Fitzgerald took his first railroad photo at age 11 of a New Haven FL9, which would become his favorite locomotive. He’s spent many hours on the Danbury Branch of the New Haven, where he got to know crews and would ride in cabs of FL9s and RDCs. Fitzgerald moved to Oklahoma in 1971.
He’s been published in numerous publications, including Trains Magazine and Railfan & Railroad. He won the grand prize in Trains Magazine’s annual photography contest in 2004 and 2005, an unequalled feat.
While Fitzgerald shoots for the railroads, he’s also a rail fan. But there is a distinct difference in how a rail fan and corporate photographer record images along the nation’s rails, he says.
“Working for BNSF and UP, what they normally consider to be a good photo is that the lighting is in the right place, the locomotive is well-lit and the trademark in position,” he says. “They’re using for marketing purposes, so the photos may include grain elevators in the background. The railroad photographs should identify with their brand. Whereas in a railfan’s world, a more artistic shot is desirable. There’s a sunrise or sunset, or a silhouette. They’re more moody and artistic.”
Fitzgerald has a few tips for photographing trains, and encourages rail fans to practice safety and be respective of railroad property. Here are four tips he offered the Cowcatcher Magazine while shooting with Editor/Publlisher Tim Blackwell in Fort Worth, TX, on a Saturday afternoon in December:
1. Find a public location . If on private property, get permission. Do not trespass. “If you try, you can usually get good shots without the need to intentionally trespass.”
2. Determine what time of day is best for photographing a specific location, keeping the sun at your back.
3. Composition can be difficult. Look at the landscape and get an image in your mind how you want the photograph to look. Take into account railroad signage, buildings like grain elevators, any type of scenery that can compliment the photograph. “Some zoom in to get nothing but the train, but to me that’s boring. To me, it’s what the train runs through, what’s around it.”
4. Avoid shadows, but good software can turn an otherwise dimly lit photograph where textured images like trucks, couplers, plows and fuel tanks can be without detail.