Train of thought

Just a day after admitting a penchant for umbrellas, here I am confessing to being a trainspotter. As someone just pointed out on Facebook, the next thing will be my ‘fessing-up about my road-cone ‘issue’. That one’s coming next week.

But, come on, trains are cool. Especially here in Japan, where they range from one-carriage local varieties – on quaint little countryside lines – to the high-tech ‘rocket-sled on wheels’ type: the shinkansen or bullet-trains. Plus, as the picture above proves, it’s not just the trains that are cool but a fair few of the folk who work on them could just as easily be seen on a catwalk as on a train platform.

Add to the trains and babes in uniform the fact that railway stations are a bustling, ever-changing landscape of paraphenalia and people and, well, shall I go on?

Stations are an awesome place to shoot even if you’re not a train-lover. They represent the world in motion and – because of the clockwork regularity and repetitiveness of events, they give the photographer – especially the learner – a chance to try certain shots over and over again. There’s one in particular I can think of and there’s an example or two of it in the gallery below: guard hangs out of window as bullet-train pulls out of station. The train is moving fast, the target for focus is small and approaching rapidly. It’s a perfect way to practice using Continuous [Nikon] or AI-Servo [Canon] focus. And it happens once every ten minutes or more at peak times of the day.

I’ve often taken photography students for lessons at Tokyo Station, where we’ll spend an hour or two shooting on the bullet-train platforms and on the underground concourses. It’s a documentary waiting to be snapped; the staff, the trains, the passengers, the furniture of the platforms, the colour. There’re a million different ways you could encapsulate the feeling of the train station in a set of pictures.

Just recently I took  a group of photographers – amateur, seasoned hobbiests – on a circle of the Yamanote Line, starting and ending-up at Tokyo Station. We hopped out of the Yamanote train in a few cool stations to shoot some pics and returned to Tokyo to spend some time on the shinkansen platforms. It was a fun workshop and the whole idea of the day was to produce a series of pictures which we’ll – at a post-pro class soon – be putting together into a magazine-style spread. People will be learning how to tell a cohesive story with their camera, whatever aspect of the train experience they want to zero-in on.

Here’s a gallery of shots I’ve taken on, off, of and from trains in Japan. It spans a fair few years [the shot of the train in the snow is from 2000]. Hope you enjoy and maybe even feel inspired to get out and do a little trainspotting of your own.

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Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

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