Top 10 Best Railroad Photography Books for Photographers

January 28, 2013 Travis Dewitz

Top 10 Best Photography Books for Photographers

I love books that showcase amazing photography. I also have a strong passion for railroads and railroad photography. So it is only natural that I love great railroad photography books. There are different types of railroad photography books out there. What I mean about different types is that there are railroad books that serve different purposes. Some railroad books are about documentation of a specific locations or regions, some are about telling the history of a specific railroad or line. Others showcase the photography of some of the railroad photographers out there which is what I reviewed below. The books I reviewed below are from my personal collection. I obviously do not own every railroad title out there, not even close, so I am sure I missed many incredible titles which I would love for you to share in the comments below. The books I reviewed below are arranged in order from what I believe are the best to least favorite in photography quality and aesthetics. I reviewed these books based only on the photography in the books and not the subject or text. The top 4 books below could be put head to head with many top photography books on the market. Great photography is great photography and it doesn’t matter the subject. If you own and love one of the top 4 books on this list, I think this review will be spot on for you personally.

Also see Part 2 – Revisiting My Top 10 Railroad Photography Books for Photographers



Railroad Noir by Joel Jenson and Linda NiemannBuy From Amazon Photograph

If I had to choose just one railroad photographer’s photography to look at I think I would choose Joel Jenson’s. His works are more creatively captured and often convey motion or emotion. He also is able to cross the line between black and white and color very well. The book Railroad Noir contains  both along with a great variety of his work. My #1 pick.  Read Customer Reviews




A Passion for Trains by Richard Steinheimer and Jeff BrouwsBuy From Amazon Photograph

Richard Steinheimer is recognized and respected as one of the best railroad photographer to ever hold a camera. His photography in this book is beyond stunning. The black and white images just feel alive which not everyone can capture. The book contains images of steam engines to diesel locomotives including the men and women who make it all come together. Read Customer Reviews




One Track Mind by Ted BensonBuy From Amazon Photograph

Ted Benson. What else needs to be said? His rich black and white photography of railroad subjects of the past is beyond inspiring. This book contains all aspects of railroading including steam and diesel operations. No photography book collection is complete without this book. If you don’t own it, buy it, you won’t regret it.  Read Customer Reviews




Steam – An Enduring Legacy by Joel Jensen, John Gruber, and Scott LothesBuy From Amazon Photograph

This Joel Jenson book is all about steam locomotives. The creative and skillful compositions make this book a complete joy to page through. I will admit that I am a diesel kind of guy but this book will never leave my collection. This book transports you into a world of steam railroading with many scenes showing the people who keep these beast alive.  Read Customer Reviews




Northwest Passage by Rob LeachmanBuy From Amazon Photograph

If you’re in love with the Pacific Northwest or Burlington Northern Railroad, you must own this book. The color images showcase Burlington Northern’s early diesels up to before the merger. Many unique angles and locations along with breathtaking landscapes keep you paging through this book reliving the green beasts on steel rails.  Read Customer Reviews




Railroad Voices by Lina Bertucci and Linda NiemannBuy From Amazon Photograph

You will not see images like these anywhere else. Photos taken by a female railroader that photographs life in an artistically pleasing way. These images show you railroaders and their spaces rather than trains and places. The insight into this world is real and raw. A world that doesn’t exist remotely in the same capacity as it once did.  Read Customer Reviews




Life Along the Line by O. Winston Link, Tony Reevy, Scott Lothes, & Conway LinkBuy From Amazon Photograph

To be perfectly honest, I am not a huge fan of O. Winston Link. His images were revolutionary and ahead of their time. Shooting complete scenes with trains not always the main focus and all done at night. This book changed my views of his work completely. This book showcases much more of his work that I have never seen and much of which was shot during daylight. Whole new respect.  Read Customer Reviews




Heartland by Greg McDonnellBuy From Amazon Photograph

The photography in Heartland has a much more traditional railroad photography feel. Again, full of amazing images as the rest of the books above have but not mold breaking like the photography in the books above. Greg McDonnell’s photography is still outstanding and he has many titles to choose from including other genres.   Read Customer Reviews




Echoes Down the Canyon by Ted BensonBuy From Amazon Photograph

I placed this book towards the bottom of the list because of the lower page count compared to the other books I reviewed and I did not like the layout of multiple smaller images on many of the pages. It is hard to fall into a photograph if it isn’t large enough. The photography itself is all Ted Benson full of life and rich tones.  Read Customer Reviews




Rolling Thunder by Gary Benson and Fred FraileyBuy From Amazon Photograph

My review of Heartland closely sums up this book as well. Again, much more traditional but yet still spectacular images that transport you to a time of railroads that will be forever missed.   Read Customer Reviews


Also see Part 2 – Revisiting My Top 10 Railroad Photography Books for Photographers


My railroad photography website and link to my railroad photos are at

 All of My Top Ten Photography Lists

Travis Dewitz Powerlines Portrait Thumb

Through the creative lens of Travis Dewitz; he demonstrates time and time again how much splendor can be extracted from the interplay of the industrial world around us. In the most unusual and unexpected places Dewitz showcases images that embody the forgotten beauty of railways, factory floors, the rolling smoke of steel mills, and the cities that are built around them. He brings a certain magic as he invokes the very souls of these once-glorious industrial areas; his captures overflow with inspirational energy. Click here to view his personal series.

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Travis Dewitz

My name is Travis Dewitz and I am from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My specialty is commercial photography with a love for expressive portraits. My work is Conceptual, Emotive, Editorial, Surreal and Eclectic. I am passionate about fashioning new worlds through photographs as I extend my visions beyond the realm of the camera. I have incredible vision, which you can see in all of my photos.

Comments (14)

  1. You have certainly picked some great ones. I don’t know if my Top 10 would be a whole lot different, but I’d certainly find room for “A Time of Trains” by David Plowden. Also, my favorite Greg McDonnell book is one that has trains as part of the environment and not the primary subject — that book would be “Wheat Kings,” Greg’s Canadian grain elevator portfolio.

    This is a very good list, though. My all-time favorite? “Echoes Down the Canyon.”

  2. I do not have “A Time of Trains” yet. I may have to move this up my wish list. I do have “Wheat Kings” which I agree is a great book which I thought about using but wasn’t “railroad” enough for my list.

  3. Dennis A. Livesey

    I like your list and I have four of them.

    Please consider these B&W monuments to rail photography. “Starlight on the Rails” Jeff Brouws and Ed Delvers, “Trackside Maryland” James Gallagher, “The Mohawk That Refused To Abdicate” and the “Boston & Maine” Philip Hastings, “The Call of Trains” Jim Shaughnessy,” “Requiem For Steam.” David Plowden, and “Rails” Don Ball. These are all B&W.

  4. Ben Bachman

    To your list I would add The Boston & Maine by Phil Hastings. Reproduction is a little off but the images are so powerful it doesn’t really matter that much, and the subject material is outstanding. Nobody captured the essence of northern New England like the Doctor. Also worth consideration is Night Train, by Donald Duke, and oldie way ahead of its time. My main complaint about railroad photo books, aside from the fact that not nearly enough of them are black & white, is that they try to cram too much material in. Cut down on the number of plates and use a little more discrimination. The end result will be stronger.

    Ben Bachman

  5. This is a great list, Travis. I would offer two more titles:

    “Northern Light,” Dale Sanders’ epic photo book about the final years of BC Rail. Dale was given unprecedented access to the railroad and the book is filled with dazzling photography in remote locations, on board the trains, and inside the administrative offices — plus stunning night photos lit naturally and/or with bulbs.

    I’d also add Dick Steinheimer’s “The Electric Way across the Mountains,” which explores the men and machines of the Milwaukee Road’s western lines. It’s some of his finest black and white work, and includes the astonishing action sequence of a Little Joe climbing the Bitterroot Mountains lit by moonlight. As usual, Dick’s storytelling is every bit as inspiring as the pictures.

    Nice to see “Echoes” on your list! Thanks for a fun read.

    Elrond L.

  6. I have looked into “The Electric Way across the Mountains” but the cover is so off putting and without access to looking inside I didn’t want to make the purchase. I have also been wanting to buy “Route 66 Railroad: The Story of Route 66 and the Santa Fe Railway in the American Southwest” but the price has been untouchable for awhile on Amazon. I almost bought a copy from you at CRPA a couple of years ago and now looking back I should have. I have paged through “The Milwaukee Road” by Frederick W. Hyde which I remember being really good. Another book I should have bought then.

  7. Lew Ableidinger

    “The Electric Way” is definitely worth the purchase, the book goes deeper than just a historical look at the Milwaukee’s electrification, there’s some great anecdotes and wonderful portraits of the railroaders as well. Steinheimer did a great job of creating a whole portrait of the operation: men, machines, and mountains. A majority of the photos are Steinheimer’s but there’s also some great photographs by Max Tschumi and Ted Benson as well as a few by Ron Nixon and others. The first half contains many historical photographs (though usually very good photographs) that capture the Milwaukee before Steinheimer’s time. This is one book you can’t judge by its cover!

  8. Those are all fine choices Travis. Six of them are in my library. Here are a few others that are some of my favorites: “Never on Wednesday” by Richard Loveman and Mel Patrick is another book that I’m proud to have printed. It’s a comprehensive look at the Rio Grande Zephyr during the 1970s. Hard to get though. BTW, the publisher had the color dust jacket printed elsewhere and was not up to the standards of the book in my opinion.
    My favorite Greg McDonnell book (I have all of them) is “Rites of Passage: A Canadian Railway Retrospective” which is a much more personal presentation of Greg’s vision.
    I’ll second Elrond’s choice of Dale Sanders’ Norther Light. He had a great opportunity and hit it out of the park.
    Speaking of Elrond, if his Route 66 book doesn’t go into a second printing, it will be a grave injustice. That’s a great book and one that has marketing potential far beyond the railfan universe.
    And anything by David Plowden of course!

  9. A Great bunch of books you have listed I have 8 in my collection. A couple more that I rank up there also “Never on Wednesday” as described above by Mr Styffe – a number of David Plowdens books – but the “Time of Trains” has what I consider one of the finest written cab ride experiences with steam. “Backwoods Railroads of the West” is high on my list as is another Greg McDonnell book – “Canadian Pacific” – but a couple many have missed if you are into B&W are two David P. Morgan classics both of which went thru many – many reprints at Kalmbach – “Canadian Steam” and “The Mohawk that Refused to Abdicate”.

  10. Lisa Renee Ragsdale

    My current favorite railroad book in a Four Ways West Publication by Andy Romano titled “Dragon Steel.” The entire book is about nothing but Alco diesels.Yea I like Alco’s.

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