PetaPixel

Self-Taught Photographer Travels the US Capturing Extraordinary Photos of Steam Locomotives

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There’s something grandiose about the sight of a steam locomotive rumbling down the tracks, massive white plumes billowing in its wake as the picturesque train rumbles and screeches down the metal track. And every ounce of the power and strength and nostalgia these trains evoke is captured in the photography of engineer and self-taught photographer Matthew Malkiewicz.

Malkiewicz, in case the photos don’t clue you in, is a big fan of trains — an enthusiast whose passion for vintage steam-powered trains can be traced back to when he was four months old, mesmerized by a toy train that was winding its way around the family Christmas tree.

This passion eventually found its outlet through the art of photography, first as a teenager with a 35mm camera, and then again in 2005 after a long hiatus.

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Self-taught through YouTube and workshops and, above all, practice, his goal is to capture timeless images that engage all of the senses:

“The allure of capturing images that stimulate one’s senses is what drew me to photograph steam-powered locomotives,” says Malkiewicz. “I wanted to bring to life the smells of the coal fueling the engine, the sound of the steam hissing, and the earth shaking as these magnificent machines sat idling or were in motion.”

Looking at his portfolio, we’d say he’s achieved his goal and then some. Here’s a look at some of our favorite images from “Lost Tracks of Time”:

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Despite Malkiewicz obvious skill behind the lens, he says he has no interest in making this a full-time profession.

“What I love about my hobby is that there is no pressure to make something that appeals to others or meet certain requirements,” he says. “Furthermore, I do not have to worry about looming deadlines. I have the creative freedom to capture what interests me most and perfect my work at my leisure.”

To see more of the Malkiewicz favorite images, check out his “Worst of the Best” gallery, and then see the rest of his work by visiting the Lost Tracks of Time website.


Image credits: Photographs by Matthew Malkiewicz and used with permission


 
  • http://www.andrewkandel.com Andrew Kandel

    Beautiful images.

  • http://www.rwanderman.wordpress.com Richard

    Fantastic work, he’s really channelled what makes these machines fascinating for lots of us.

  • Chang

    Mostly good, but a bit hit or miss, I feel. That second picture is fantastic, beautiful shot I’d put on my wall, but the first one is everything that’s wrong with HDR images. It’s a pity because the image itself has a lot of potential.

    To each their own, however, and I admire his dedication and consistency.

  • http://www.kenlocker.com Kenneth Locker

    I doubt that the first picture is done with HDR. Assuming the train is moving on the tracks and the smoke is billowing, there is now way to capture multiple bracketed exposures that could be composited into this image. More like graduated filters, dodging and burning, etc. in LR and/or PS

  • sdtransfertomich

    It might represent everything that is wrong with HDR, but I highly doubt that image is HDR.
    I had a chance to shoot an image of a steam locomotive last December in winter temps, and that photo is pretty much how it looks.

  • properscientist

    Self taught! Well that’s amazing! After all, very very few people have ever taught themselves how to do photography!

  • tonyc0101

    His use of preserving the shadows is what makes these images iconic for me. I’m so used to the pseudo-HDR “highlights-way down, shadows-way up” look of images nowadays. Great work and series!

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  • Renato Renierra

    ” Self-Taught Photographer ” hahahahahaha … epic … wow, he didn’t even take a online photography course …

  • Chang

    I should not have said “HDR”, because you’re right, it would be impossible to do multiple exposures in that setting. What I should have said is unrealistic post-processing. It may be merely JPEG artifacts, but the trees look way over-sharpened, and the smoke looks like it’s had an excessive amount of dodging and burning applied.

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    Was this in the name of safety?
    http://www.ppmag.com/web-exclusives/2014/07/train-track-photography-danger.html

    http://oli.org/
    (While the images are beautiful, this is highly illegal!)

  • Patrick Downs

    My grandpa was a railroad engineer as was my oldest uncle. I love these! Wish I’d shot them.

  • Guest

    [deleted]

  • flightofbooks

    Are you kidding us right now??? The link you posted have nothing to do with the photos in this article. There is nothing, zip, zero illegal about photographing trains from a place the photographer is lawfully permitted to be, e.g. public property. Further, most of these images were clearly taken with lenses in the telephoto range, meaning the photographer was no where near the tracks. The few that aren’t show that he was standing well outside the foul. And pretty much all of these images were very obviously taken on museum railroads, where presumably Mr. Malkiewicz was a paying guest. Unless you’re implying he snuck in, I’m not sure what your point is.

  • flightofbooks

    I don’t see how the first image is “everything wrong with HDR”. It’s a rare image that uses HDR in a very targeted, discrete way and for a specific function.

  • flightofbooks

    It does look like it may have used an HDR process to tone the smoke and probably also to raise the shadows on the front of the locomotive, but it could also just be general dodging and burning. It certainly is realistic, if realism is what we could see with the human eye, rather than precisely what the camera recorded.

  • flightofbooks

    It could be three different exposures made from the same raw file and merged. That’s a process that’s fairly common in railroad photography to deal with the problem of bracketing.

  • flightofbooks

    Sometimes real life doesn’t look like real life.

  • Chang

    What is it Mark Twain said about fiction? “Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense” or something. Maybe the quote is apocryphal but it rings true. Similarly, if you’re editing a picture to look hyper real, it’s going to look fake to some, including me.

  • Pete

    “What I love about my hobby is that there is no pressure to make something that appeals to others or meet certain requirements,” he says. “Furthermore, I do not have to worry about looming deadlines. I have the creative freedom to capture what interests me most and perfect my work at my leisure.”

    This guy gets it. Kudos on the great photos!

  • sdtransfertomich

    I think its highly likely that editing was done to make the shot represent more what the human eye remembers or sees vs. the camera. Increasing “shadows” and decreasing “highlights”, for example, so yes, that is true.

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    No one is allowed close to the tracks, it is private property and it is illegal. He should show where he shot them from to show he didn’t trespass over the railroad property. I didn’t make the rules, just pointed out the article wrote by Professional Photographer’s Magazine, which is quite an important and respectful photographic association pointing out that this practice is in fact illegal.

    You don’t know if it was a telephoto, it could have been cropped to look telephoto…it doesn’t matter if it is a museum railroad or not. Have you not read the articles I posted? Being a paying guest does not mean you get to do illegal stuff on that property. That’s like saying “I paid for a Disney Ticket, and now I can just walk inside Cinderella’s Castle and take photos”! Doesn’t work like that.

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    It does actually, there is a CHILD posed on Train Tracks! His “hobby” is going to land him in jail.

  • Guest

    Great pictures, a little bit of overcooked HDR but really, great images.

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  • http://jtruephotography.com/ Jeremiah True

    That was a useful article. As someone who has shot on tracks and been surprised by a train or two coming by much faster than I expected, that PP article was very interesting.

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  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    It’s not HDR, he just dragged the “shadows” slider in Lightroom too far…

  • David Vaughn

    How can a photo look fake? It’s an actual photo taken with an actual camera by an actual photographer. It may look hyper-realistic and you don’t enjoy that style, but saying that a photo looks fake is basically discrediting the effort that the photographer put into making the photo.

    Just say that it’s not your style (although personally I love it)

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    Not supposed to…”Photography” is about interpretation of “real life”; if “real life” is what you’re after, then go outside, and don’t look at photos. Or work in journalism.

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    Thanks. I am just posting it as FYI for those who think this is “ok”…it is in fact illegal to do so…

  • Chang

    Wait, you’re seriously asking how a photo can look fake? If the answer to that isn’t patently obvious, I don’t know what to say. HDR photos (at least the really crappy popular style of HDR that the average photo merge plugin will give you) look scary unrealistic. Then there is every fashion magazine cover ever. The list goes on.

    I did say it wasn’t my style. I also said it was too hyper-real to be believable, and I suggested he was a bit aggressive on the exposure and sharpening sliders. As far as discrediting goes, I think there’s no discussion of this being photojournalism, and I’m not impugning his honor, just questioning his post-processing choices from an artistic perspective. This is a discussion board appended to a body of artistic work after all. If you don’t like discussion of artistic choices, perhaps another website would be a better choice for your reading. Or just stop reading where the comments start.

  • Chang

    Like I said.

  • Bearr

    These are beautiful. The first image of the train approaching a bridge in the snow is stunning.

  • David Sorcher

    Of course you are making some great assumptions here. Many of his shots lead me to believe that the photographer must have sought special access from some of these museum railways beyond simply being a paying guest. That would be my approach if i were undertaking such a project. All those night shots and ones that appear to be arranged shots are not the type of access that the average tourist gets. The boy on the track may well be sitting on an unused section of track. No way to tell from the cropping. Your assumption of illegality seems a bit alarmist considering that you really know nothing about how he went about making these images.

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    “Assumption of illegality” ??? wow! It is NOT an assumption, it is FACT! Read the links I posted thoroughly.

    Look, if he had permission, that should have been specified considering the true illegality of shooting around tracks of any kind. Please buy the latest issue of PROFESSIONAL Photographer magazine! Then call THEM and tell them how you think is an “assumption”.

  • David Sorcher

    Alexandria, i was not saying the laws are an assumption, only that you are assuming that the photographer was acting without permission of the museum railroads to be in those areas. Laws are laws and i have no doubt that they exist, but these museum rails are on private property where the owners can allow access to a photographer that are not open to ordinary people. As a photojournalist i have often been given access to places that are illegal for other people to go.

  • flightofbooks

    It’s not illegal if you have permission.

    Your entire knowledge of railroading seems to consist of one article by some joker who was gobsmacked to learn that his years of staging unauthorized photoshoots on active rail lines was in fact illegal, so let me clue you in:

    Museum railroads routinely allow their guests this type of access to their operations, including allowing access to the right of way, yards, workshops etc. Museums also frequently stage photo ops which allow for even greater access. Several images in this gallery appear to have been made during just such events. Moreover, many patrons of these museums will volunteer with the museum, giving them full ‘behind the scenes’ access as it were. Appropriate safety training is a standard part of such volunteer work. Given the amount of time Mr. Malkiewicz has clearly spent at various railroad museums, and the fact he’s been in the community for a long time (I think I first remember seeing his photography crica 2005) I strongly suspect he has taken up such opportunities.

    Given that by virtue of being at a museum, he’s absolutely not trespassing, then the only remaining issue is did he follow appropriate safety guidlines. In none of these images do I see anything that would indicate Mr. Malkiewicz was anything other than a conscientious and safety minded guest.

    tl;dr Your precious article has no relevance here and your accusations are irresponsible and defamatory.

  • flightofbooks

    Huh? Who are you talking to? You seem very confused.

  • flightofbooks

    Most of these shots you could get as a regular paying guest by just going to the right special event. Many railroad museums hold special photo secessions where they pose various locomotives and other equipment in a variety of ways and then allow the attendees up close access to it. The second to last picture looks like it was from just such an event.

  • JoeNonymous

    People dying across the world.
    Jetliners being shot down out of the sky.

    And you’re freaking out about this.

  • DylanWalkerPhotography

    Wow! just wow! :)

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    There’s is no “i” in my name…

    Some if these shots don’t look like they are on museum property. IF a museum (remains to be checked out), is really allowing visitors close to a moving train, they might be asking for law suits. (I doubt that a museum will allow visitors close to moving trains).

    IF he had written permission to be on such property, then whomever wrote this article should have specified that because there are a LOT of dumb people out there now thinking “it’s OK & legal” to trespass around a rail road for “photographic thrills”!

    Whomever wrote this article should have checked if this guy had permission to be there, because some of these shots don’t look anywhere nears a museum, and that child on train tracks will land him fines if he can’t prove it was in a museum.

    This is about safety. I posted that because professional associations such as PPA etc., are all for safety, and my job is to produce images and not endanger my clients, however somehow people started this non sense about photographing around trains, and there is little artistry about it unless those photographed are suicidal. (Which I doubt they all are, maybe just a few).

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    So then, let’s see the permission! I say this ONLY because there are a LOT of stupid people out there that don’t understand the danger they are in around tracks.

    This article will be seen by many “aspiring” “photographers”, and I think it would be a good idea to specify, and show clearly that this is not something that’s legal anywhere for anyone at any time. You know, like those notes: “don’t try this at home”? IF he had permission, then we should see it, so people understand that this is not one of those situations where you get off your chair and start looking for train tracks.

    What is defamatory about someone shooting illegally on train tracks? Call AMTRAK and ask them if it OK to shoot on any train tracks (live or not) around United States and then come back here and tell us all what they said. I pointed out something that is taught to photographers by a PROFESSIONAL Association of Photographers…

    First 8 photos are of moving trains, and NOT a museum setting. The kid is looking at a moving train.

    More on this here:
    http://oli.org/news/view/operation-lifesaver-urges-professional-photographers-to-stay-safe-stay-away

    …and here:
    http://bonellphotography.blogspot.com/2013/06/train-track-sessions-are-illegal.html

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    Obviously “death” by train is not the same! Right? Have you checked the statistics on deaths by trains yet? Google it, and then let’s compare with plane accidents.

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    A photographer’s job is NOT to endanger it’s clients. If this guy was some exception, and had written permission to photograph these trains, then PetaPixel should post that alongside the article, and inform themselves on the “legality” of photographing trains, so that those who read this, don’t end up endangering other people by trying to imitate this guy.

    See, those who got blown up from the sky, didn’t have a chance to AVOID IT, but those who purposely shoot on train tracks CAN Avoid their death, and their client’s deaths. Big Dif.

  • whoopn

    Absolutely stunning. That first photo is so bold!

  • David Sorcher

    Alexandra, why don’t you step down off your high-horse for just a moment and peruse this issue with the photographer himself. You can follow the link to his website and contact him there. I am sure that he can fill you in on his methods and if you find him in violation maybe you can report him to the authorities or just give him a good slap on the wrist. As for PetaPixel’s responsibility, adults need to be responsible for their own safety. If you are shooting around active railroad tracks you would have to be a complete idiot not to be ultra-aware of the inherent dangers. It is not PetaPixel’s job to cure stupidity. But artists do sometime choose to take risks for their art. I have no problems with that as long as it does not endanger others (and i am not going to argue with you over the child on the tracks because i have no idea what the actual situation was there). But i really have no interest in continuing this discussion, especially if you are incapable of recognizing the artistry in this work and feel that a person’s desire to capture these great old trains is nothing but nonsense. Sounds like you need a career in police work rather than photography. Thanks for playing… :-)

  • http://acorner.net/blog Alexandra G.

    Have you seen the statistics? Not everyone going through PetaPixel is a responsible person, and I am NOT sitting on a high horse! I pointed out materials posted by other PROFESSIONAL photographers about this issue, and a Gov website. Obviously you want to act like your toys were taken away, and that’s fine, you’re not the only one with this attitude when it comes to fauxtographers…

    1. “It is not PetaPixel’s job to cure stupidity”; not it isn’t, but they are posting articles for the masses to see, and have a responsibility to NOTIFY people about the legality of photographing various things. Many new at photography have this notion that literally everything is available to be photographed and end up endangering themselves and others, and end up promoting the gov to take action and create laws against all of us! e.g. no drones in national parks! To give you a recent example.

    2. IF an artist was taking risks, they should clearly explain that part too, and not make it sound that “passion for photography” was the only thing needed! Common sense.
    3. This conversation has nothing to do with the photos themselves. Some of the photos are great, some aren’t, did you not know “Photography” is a subjective art form and what you like, I might not? Kinda like shoes…I am not going to like every shoe out there…common sense.
    4. None of the stuff I pointed out is “nonsense”; you are showing a great deal of ignorance towards laws, and death.
    5. It is this kind of photographer that usually ruins something for someone else. Like I said before, if he had permission, he should have stated that in this article, what’s the big deal? so that aspiring photographers looking for the same type of photos can know and understand that “to do that” they will need some kind of permission, and train tracks are not readily available for random people with cameras. IF this was a “museum setting”, I want to know (for those who like trains), which museum is this that allows photographers around moving trains. I would also want to know what other safety measures were in place. It is ONLY normal common sense that this information is also available to us.

  • JoeNonymous

    Would you like a cranberry juice to help you relax?