Thirteen years ago, when I started taking rail pictures, I searched online for the best place to share these images. RailPictures.net was the first site that came up. After a string of rejections of my submissions (most of which made sense in hindsight), I found Flickr and never intended to look back.
Fast forward to today. I looked back over my images over the years and I have noticed an improvement in my images. That said, in no way do I regret the photos I took when I started.
To be honest, I only regret the photos I didn’t take. There have been many abandonments in my neck of the woods over the past decade that I should have photographed but never did.
In December 2019, I came across RailPictures.net again. I reached out a few people in the rail photography community to solicit their opinions on the site. There was only one positive comment, one neutral comment, and all the rest were negative.
What surprised me most was the amount of negative sentiment out there, especially by many people whose work I admire.
In January (2020), I decided to perform an experiment where I would submit 40 photographs to see if RailPictures.net was for me. This resulted in 14 acceptances and 26 rejections. 10 unique reasons were given for rejecting the photos.
What are the positive aspects of RailPictures.net?
First and foremost, the people running the site are dedicated. They have a published SLA (Service Level Agreement) to evaluate the contributions in the stated time frame, and from my experiments I’ve found that they keep it. It is great to see that there are such dedicated people who volunteer their time for the rail photography community.
The ability to appeal a rejection is a nice touch as well.
Lastly, I’ve found that the process results in a very accurate database of engine types to road numbers. When I have a road number and I don’t know what type of locomotive it is, their database has rarely lead me astray.
What makes a photograph railpictures.net worthy?
From my rejections and acceptances, here is what I’ve found that they prefer (most of the time).
Lighting – Morning and Late Afternoon
Any other lighting conditions typically results in a rejection. The light must be direct on the train with absolutely no shadows visible.
Aesthetics – Blue Skies and No Clutter
Only photos with blue skies and no clutter in front (or behind) the train set should be visible.
Framing – Pizza Slices Only
Any attempt at creatively framing the train in the shot is frowned upon and everything must be the rule of thirds. Only the pizza slice wedge shots need apply.
Photo Details – Noise, Sharpness, and Brightness
All of the train must be super sharp and in focus. I’ve found that I’ve had to increase the brightness half a stop for submissions, and to over apply noise reduction.
Rare to RailPictures – Not Yet in Database
There are certain geographies (and lines) that are under-represented on the site. If your submission is an image in one of those areas, the other rules are slightly relaxed. The inverse of this is that if you submit a “perfect” RailPictures.net shot (but a common one), it is more likely to be rejected.
What do I dislike about railpictures.net?
When submitting photographs, I usually look at what the customer (or evaluator in this case) likes and dislikes. During this project, I browsed the photos that were recently accepted into the database to influence which photographs I would select and submit. This method was the easiest way for me to get rejections.
The frustrating part is that it feels as if there is inconsistency of acceptances (and rejections). Either there is a large variation in the preferences of the evaluators (which is a problem), or there are some submitters who are not held to the same standards as others.
One last small thing is that the usability could be improved.
What does RailPictures.net provide the Rail Photographer?
This is a list of what I typically look for as a rail photographer from a site.
For determining locations to shoot from, I’ll use railfanatlas.com. I find that RailPictures.net doesn’t have a large amount of tagged photos that they are easily browsable in the map view.
I find Flickr very good because many images are composed in ways other than the pizza wedge angle.
Railfan Community Information Sharing
When I’m looking for information on special consists or events, Facebook wins here.
Stream of Content
Even though many of the photos here aren’t always of the highest quality on Instagram, it is a good window into what is happening out there.
For getting your work out there and seen by people, I would say that all social media sites are more effective than RailPictures.net at driving engagement with my work.
As mentioned earlier, the only reason I go to RailPictures.net is for power identification.
Is submitting work to railpictures.net worth my time?
I’ve found that my return on investment for the time taken during the submission process (usually around 2 minutes per photograph) isn’t worth it.
I will no longer submit to RailPictures.net and instead continue to use Flickr and Instagram as I personally derive more value from them.
All of the images used in this post were rejections from RailPictures.NET!
Thank you, David! You can find his work on Flickr and Instagram.