To the trains


When I’m walking through a city with my camera I’m always looking for interesting architectural features. Lines, angles, shapes, patterns, alone or in combination, can create an interesting photograph.

I’m also a sucker for old train stations, buildings with architectural personalities built during a time when rail served as the primary transportation between cities and regions. 

This photo of the week combines my interest in architectural photography and my interest in old train stations.

I had just finished capturing some photos of the towering main hall in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and was preparing to leave when I turned and saw this passage from the main hall to the Amtrak ticket counters and boarding areas. I had passed through these doors many times through the years, usually when rushing to catch a train from D.C. to Baltimore or New York City for work, but I had never paid much attention to the structure.

I liked how the tall, round columns contrasted with the rectangular openings and how I could see people waiting at the ticket counters under the “trains” sign. I also liked how the tile patterns changed on the floor, from squares with diamond corners in the main hall to a more elaborate pattern in the passageway. The outside of the entrance was bathed in natural light from the large windows in the main hall, but warm yellow incandescent light illuminated the areas beyond the entrance.

So I grabbed a shot and moved on.

When I returned home and began reviewing my photos, the photo of the main hall with its towering arches stood out. I had expected that shot to be a keeper when I saw it through the viewfinder. The vastness of the hall and the repetitive arches created an eye-catching scene.

But this shot also caught my attention. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the combination of elements that first drew my eye — the round columns, the rectangular openings, the lighting. Or maybe it’s the mood it creates: the anticipation of travel to unknown destinations available beyond the doors. But there was something about this shot that kept pulling me back to it.

Union Station in Washington, D.C., is on the short list of my favorite train stations I’ve visited, along with New York’s Grand Central Terminal (by far my favorite), Chicago’s Union Station, Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, London’s St. Pancras Station and maybe a couple of others.

Union Station opened in 1907. It is now Amtrak’s headquarters and the railroad’s second-busiest station, with more than 5 million riders annually (Penn Station in New York City is Amtrak’s busiest station with approximately 10.4 million riders annually, but Penn Station has the look and feel of a crowded, aging shopping mall and is definitely not on my short list of favorites). 

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.


Date/time: Sept. 3, 2016, 10:17 a.m.  
Location: 38°53’50.779” N 77°0’23.389” W (Show in Google Maps)  
Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II  
Lens: Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 (20mm)  
Aperture: f/4.5  
Shutter: 1/250th second  
ISO: 2000