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  • Chris Starnes

    Chris Starnes of Gate City, Va., got the shot above of an empty coal train crossing the Copper Creek bridge in nearby Clinchport, Va. The image is this year’s grand prize winner from among what judge Shirley Burman Steinheimer said was an impressive haul of entries.

  • Robert Day

    Among those was the first-place (color) winner of a conversation taking place on the platform next to the train in Wolsztyn, Poland, on Feb. 4, 2011.

  • Mark Jones

    Amtrak’s eastbound California Zephyr chugs over snowy Donner Pass, Dec. 13, 2009, by Mark Jones of Vacaville. It was one of two photos by California photographers that were noted in the “Judge Also Liked” category.

  • Matthew Malkiewicz

    This magical shot – third place, black and white – is of a rotary plow clearing Alaska’s White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, April 2011.

  • Ken Kraemer

    A Western New York & Pennsylvania train heads west on the Erie Line at Tip Top, N.Y., Feb. 13, 2010. It is the third-place image in the color category.

  • Shel Michaels

    This image is of the crew of Grand Trunk Railroad locomotive No. 7470, on Jan. 5, 2009. It took first place (black and white).

National railroad photo contest exhibited at Sacramento museum

Published: Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 8AANDE

Don't look for cliché train photography at a new exhibit at the California State Railroad Museum.

The 21 photographs show people, weather and out-of-the-boxcar photo technique.

The photographs, from the Center for Railroad Photography & Arts creative photo awards program, follow the theme of the 2012 competition: "Railroading, Inspired by Steinheimer."

The name refers to late Sacramento resident Richard Steinheimer, who was called "the Ansel Adams of railroad photography."

The contest was judged by his widow, Shirley Burman Steinheimer, herself a fine photographer of trains, trestles and the people who make rail transportation work.

"I looked for photos that 'Stein' liked taking – especially crummy weather, landscapes and night shots using time exposures and moonlight, along with people," she said.

The grand prize went to Chris Starnes of Gate City, Va. It shows a CSX northbound empty coal train crossing the Copper Creek viaduct in Clinchport, Va.

"Dick Steinheimer loved photographing in fog, and I know he would have picked this image, too," his widow wrote in her judging comments.

With separate categories for color and black-and-white submissions this year, the first-place prizes went to Robert Day of Fillongley, Coventry, England, (color) and to Shel Michaels of Hollis, N.H. (black and white).

In addition, two California photographers received recognition in the "Judge Also Liked" category: Dick Dorn of Yuba City and Mark Jones of Vacaville.

Burman Steinheimer recently answered a few questions about railroad photography and the photo contest:

What makes a good railroad photograph?

That's like asking what makes a good pizza. It can be anything. I look for the unique and different kind of settings.

Judging had to be difficult. Did you think of your late husband's photographic techniques when you were judging?

I looked at 200 entries. They were so good. I finally culled it down to 80. I had a whole month to do this. Every picture I eventually selected had something in it that reminded me of something he had done.

Why do railroads still hold such an attraction to us?

Railroads go back to the beginnings of our country. These memories get passed down from generation to generation. You can see a little 5-year-old as excited as anybody about a train.

How is train photography different from making pictures of people?

With people, if you don't get it right, then you can reshoot real quick. But with moving trains you can't do it over.

Is there a range of emotions a railroading picture can elicit? I'm thinking a train picture can project nostalgia, power or beauty.

Oh, yes. It not only comes through in photography, but there is railroad poetry. And music, too. Those train songs can make you weep.

What made Starnes' shot the grand prize winner?

When I looked at those 200 photographs, I zeroed right in on Chris'. One of our favorite places to photograph was in the fog. Dick loved it. And the way Chris framed it with black twigs is great. It would not have been as good if he had moved out from under the branches and just had the train on the trestle. It brought back a lot of memories of jumping in the car and Dick saying: "Let's go shoot in the fog today."

In photojournalism, news- paper photographers look for interaction of people to make a good picture. That's not needed in railroad photography, it seems. Why not?

We tried to have people when we shot. I can remember trying to photograph people milling around a locomotive with all the other photographers screaming for the people to get out of the way at a rail fair. I was trying to get them in the picture! If we were out in Arizona at a remote railyard and there were rail crews with a shift change, Dick would run over and look for interaction. He did not like stagnant trains. If the train was moving, hopefully a crew member would lean out of the cab. Dick worked for a newspaper, so that made a difference.

Who entered this contest?

They came from all over the world, including Australia, Switzerland, Slovenia. They have all types of jobs: technical writers, electrical engineers, graphic designers, architects, professors and pharmaceutical sales. The age range was from 26 to 65.


What: Special exhibition of 2012 award-winning photographs from the Center for Railroad Photography & Arts

Where: California State Railroad Museum, Old Sacramento State Historic Park, 111 I St., Sacramento

When: Through summer

Cost: $10 adults; $5 youths ages 6-17; free for children ages 5 and under

Information: (916) 445-6645; or

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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