It’s a tried and true saying – do what you love and do it well – and Robert A. Howard, owner of Howard Studios in Lebanon, Pa., embodies it. He photographs it all – from portraiture to commercial advertising photography – and then some.
The “then some” is his lifelong hobby: railroads and capturing both modern and vintage railroads in striking ways. He’s part of a cadre of “rail fans,” aficionados of all things railroad past and present. About three years ago Howard created Rail Art, which takes the best of his collection and makes it available for sale to the general public.
“I was born and raised around a number of family members who worked for the railroad here in Lebanon: the Reading and Pennsylvania railroads. I somehow found time throughout my life to chase trains. Rail fans take a lot of photos of trains to share them with clubs, and now blogs and social media. It’s about finding rare rolling stock still on the rails and capturing it in various places,” explains Howard. “Presently, we have a catalog in print of just shy of 100 images for sale. Each is a carefully chosen railroad image that depicts both contemporary and vintage railroads.”
In the case of this LexJet Sunset Award-winning print entitled It Was the Best of Times, Howard and a group of photographers, videographers and painters gathered after Howard and Carl Franz of Western Maryland Railroad (WMRR) set up this shot of an old steam-driven Western Maryland locomotive hauling freight. Franz rented the railroad for the day, coordinated the volunteers who cleared some brush out of the foreground, and helped set up the shot.
“We choose areas that resemble the way they would look in that particular era. In this case, the locomotive is from the 1940s and 1950s. It was easy to set up in this case because we found a third-generation farmer who owns the land. We went out on an early morning just after a morning rain and it was captured with most of us underneath umbrellas,” says Howard. “The farmer’s barn burned down a number of years ago, so the rail fans got together with the local Amish and built him a new barn. This location is very historic. The Western Maryland Railroad was one of the oldest working railroads in the country that still used steam locomotives to carry freight. In addition to the tourist trade, it still hauls freight for the local community.”
Howard then brought the image into Photoshop, applying Topaz and Nik filters to get the sepia/watercolor look of a vintage 1940s postcard. The image was printed on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag by Jonathan Penney for its entry in the PPA of Pennsylvania and PPA Northeast regional competitions.
The image merited at the PPA Northeast regional and won a LexJet Sunset Award at the PPA of Pennsylvania for highest quality print and presentation.
“I’ve been trying to win the Sunset Award for awhile and was very honored to do so this year. It takes an incredibly high score at a state competition to win the award,” says Howard. “The Sunset Award is proudly sitting in our front window and will be featured in our local newspaper in a couple of days.”