During Year 1 of my PhD, I came across the work of American photographer Cole Thompson and in particular his collection Trees from a Train (2019) taken on a train from Fairbanks to Anchorage in Alaska – a twelve-hour journey.  When revisiting these beautiful black and white images I found a four-minute audio piece by Thompson.  He talks about the story behind the images – the reason for the train journey, how he conceived of the project and technically how he achieved the swirling effect.

Trees from a Train Collection by Cole Thompson:

https://colethompsonphotography.com/portfolios/series/trees-from-a-train/

Audio clip by Cole Thompson about Trees from a Train:

https://colethompsonphotography.com/story-behind-the-image/

On my return train journey from Dundee to Kyle of Lochalsh, I decided to experiment with the theme of trees from a train.  In the week prior to my trip to Dundee I had a breakthrough while taking images through my car windscreen in heavy rain, in that I glimpsed the world of Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology – objects withdrawing and emerging before my eyes.  Taking trees from a train required a different approach.  I used my iPhone (as I had in the car) but rather than using a slow shutter speed (as Thompson had done), I chose to use intentional camera movement in the sense that I held my camera still, flat against the glass of the train window (to avoid reflections) and allowed the speed of the train to create the blur.  So, the faster the train’s speed the more blurred the image.   In addition, there were times when it was raining or there were water droplets on the window which also added to the effect.

Trees from a Train 1 – Alison Price, November 2021

Trees from a Train 2 – Alison Price, November 2021

Trees from a Train 3 – Alison Price, November 2021

Trees from a Train 4 – Alison Price, November 2021

Trees from a Train 5 – Alison Price, November 2021

Trees from a Train 6 – Alison Price, November 2021

Trees from a Train 7 – Alison Price, November 2021

Trees on a Train 8 – Alison Price, November 2021

Trees on a Train 9 – Alison Price, November 2021

Trees from a Train 10 – Alison Price, November 2021

Thompson, on the other hand, had the luxury of an open window from which to take his images.  His technique was to use a long exposure ¼-1/2 a second) and at the same time he panned the camera in the direction of travel of the train.  He found that the closer the trees were to the train the stronger the swirl effect.  He also kept the chosen tree in the centre of the frame.

The images I have taken are not the finished article.  I need to experiment with my digital camera (rather than my iPhone), with different shutter speeds, different types of camera movement, different modes of transport (ie train and car), different points of focus and working with black and white images.  That said, I am pleased with the type of aesthetic that can be achieved through this technique.

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Skip to content