One thing I am really enjoying about my new Macro lens is its power as a storytelling vehicle. I’m finding that some of my favorite close-up photos aren’t just everyday objects, but things in my life that are part of a larger story or narrative. Of course it’s fun to take pictures of ordinary everyday objects like leaves, flowers, bugs, and the like, but I’m finding that I get greater satisfaction out of shots like this one that carry some degree of meaning or tell a particular story.
My dad was a railroader for his entire adult life, starting at the age of 18 and working until he retired over 40 years later. He wore a lot of (hard)hats during those decades, worked first-, second-, and third-shift, and drove his bike instead of his car almost every single day. (When I was a kid we were a one-car family so his practice was partly out of necessity, but I think he just rode his bicycle because he enjoyed it more than driving a car.) When he finally punched the clock one last time, BNSF presented him with this watch as a way of commemorating his years of service–a watch that he wears to this day, and as you can tell by the nicks and scratches on its face, has seen more than its fair share of use. That’s something my dad taught me that has stuck with me over the years: if you really value something, you shouldn’t keep it in on a shelf or hidden in a box. You should use it, and in so doing, show your appreciation for the value it brings to your life.
When my parents were visiting for Thanksgiving I asked my dad if I could take a picture of his watch with my macro lens, and he gladly acquiesced. The setup for this photo was pretty simple: the watch and my camera were just sitting on my living room floor, and there was a big light source off to the left thanks to the door to our porch. I played around with the exact position of the watch, how I wanted the light to be reflected around the bezel, and what exactly I wanted to focus on which was particularly crucial given the extremely shallow depth of field. I decided the most important element was the “Railroad Approved” moniker, especially since the BNSF logo would still be discernible even though it was slightly blurry as a result. I intentionally set the hands to the classic ten-and-two position common for timepiece photography, but didn’t stop the second hand in order to capture just the smallest bit of movement and dynamic energy in the frame. This meant that I had to wait until it came around to roughly the 20-second mark to take a few shots, because it just looked strange in most other positions. (Try it for yourself–there’s a reason most watches are shot with the hour and minute hand at ten-and-two, and the second hand pointing downward.)
I quite like how this turned out, though it’s a far cry from actual timepiece photography with good lighting and a photographer who knows what he or she is doing. Still, I had fun taking it and I’m glad I could capture this bit of my dad’s history at the railroad with one simple photograph.
JOHN C WESSON says
Nice photo !
John G Hancock says
I enjoyed your narrative about the railroad watch. I did not know that Seiko made a railroad approved watch. Do you know why the ‘railroad approved’ was of significance?
In the ‘old days’ railroad engineers were required to carry a time piece that was accurate. The purpose was to keep them on schedule. An exercise that seems to be lost on AM TRAC. They never seem to be on time.
My maternal grandfather was a railroad engineer on the Illinois Central for over 50 years. He carried a pocket watch made by a firm in Springfield, IL It had a white dial with bold black numbers. The name on the watch was simply Illinois, and they were one of the first manufacturers that made a very accurate watch for helping the engineers stay on schedule.
My grandfather road the steamers for most of his working years and retired within 2 or 3 years of the railroads switching to diesels. He didn’t like them. Said it took no skill to engineer a diesel locomotive. I suspect he just didn’t like to change a lifetime habit of the skills it took to run a steamer.
Anyway, thanks for this posting. It brought back some memories. Now you got me shopping on Ebay for one of those watches.
Enjoy your macro lens. I have six children and my oldest daughter is the only who developed any serious interest in photography. She loves macro and has done some pretty good work with shots of flowers up close.
You know photographers are violent people. First they shoot you, then they take you into a dark room and blow you up, and last but not least they bring you out of the dark room and hang you on a wall.
I really appreciate the added information about railroads and watches, John. Thank you! I always like hearing railroad stories too, like the one you shared about your grandfather and the switch from steamers to diesels. Railroad tracks are a common sight, but most people don’t know the rich history of the trains that travel on them and the people who operate and maintain them. Without the railroad, this country would cease to function!
I had quite a laugh at that “Photographers are violent people” joke. I’m going to have to remember that one :)
Love the story behind this photo!
Thank you Jacqueline!
John A. Ringsmuth says
Thanks everyone. A side footnote: the reason for accurate time pieces on the railroad was because the bulk of railroad trackage was single line construction in the days of steam locomotives. But trains operated in both directions, so crew members were required to be in certain “sidings” at certain times so an opposing train running in the opposite direction could pass.
The original crystal on my watch was so scratched up that I had it replaced after about 10 years of use. It didn’t take long before the new crystal got scratched too.
I’m Simon’s dad.
Jill McKechnie says
Thanks for the 10 & 2 tip
No problem Jill! Once you see it you start to notice on pretty much all watch advertising :)