One of Bryce's favorite shots: yoga just off the Lands End Trail in California.
Trail Voices: Bryce Hall
"Trail Voices" highlights the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, hiking and bicycling movement is too big or too small—dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.
With our 2008 Digital Photo Challenge underway, we turned this month to freelance photographer Bryce Hall, who has contributed volumes of images to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) publications since 2005, when he was living in Los Angeles. A brief search through our Web site provides a fair sampling of his portfolio, especially for trails in California, Oregon and Washington.
Today, Bryce works as a freelance producer for National Geographic Television and lives in Silver Spring, Md. We caught up with him by phone recently to learn more about his investment in photography and rail-trails.
How did you first get into photography?
I've loved taking photos since I was little. It's always been an interest of mine, and I have also always loved to do outdoor things like hiking and biking. So taking photos for Rail to Trails is a great fit.
What captures your eye most when you're shooting pictures of rail-trails?
The stories are about the rail-trails, so I'm always looking for scenic subjects and landscapes. But on a broader level, the story is always about the people who use rail-trails, so it's people-watching, really. The great thing about using trails is getting to know the people who use them. You'll see both old people in wheelchairs and kids riding bikes to classes, so it's great to see all those different people using them. Some people will even be doing other stuff near the trails, like yoga and fishing.
How can the experience of a rail-trail shape a person's perspective of a location?
Rail-trails really define the cities and communities they run through. They become living parts of everyone's routine. You'll see kids using them, or moms taking their kids out in strollers or on walks. Being on a rail-trail is being a part of the community, so many of the trails have a unique flavor. When we're out there shooting, we try to make each shoot have its own identity.
Do you have any favorite rail-trails?
I really like the Lands End Trail in San Francisco, just because it looks out over the bay and is stunningly beautiful. I also like the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, because it passes through the Gasworks Park. I also really like California's Mt. Lowe Railroad Trail. The railway used to go up a steep slope, so unlike trails that usually have a moderate incline, this one has many dramatic switchbacks and inclines, and you wonder how in the world a train ever got up there.
How do you think your photography helps advance the rail-trail movement?
I think it helps to let people know the diversity of those who use the rail-trails. And the ones that end up being pretty pictures serve to remind people of just how important these trails are and how important it is to get out on a Saturday morning and enjoy them. Often we don't have the time do so, but it can be very rewarding. It's also important to remind people that creating the trails takes an organization, and if it helps get people to contribute to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, or to volunteer to go out on local trails and do work themselves. That's also a good outcome.
What advice might you give to the fledgling photographer?
Just go out there and take a lot of pictures and look at a lot of good photography.
What do you think makes an excellent photographer?
In this case, it's paying attention and having a good eye for things, but also having some sense of storytelling and how these things will be used in a story or layout. It's like making a movie: We take wide, establishing shots, and then we take cutaways or close-up shots of things like flowers on the trail or wheels spinning to give an intimate sense of things happening along the way. When you put them together, it gives people a taste of the trail.
Do you have any personal favorites of your own rail-trail photography?
I can think of two. One is a shot I got of a family on the Springwater [Corridor] on the Willamette River in Portland. It was a mother with her father and her three kids. Two of the girls were twins with matching bikes with training wheels, and the mother and grandfather were holding hands as the girls rode underneath with huge smiles. When I was finished, I introduced myself and asked them to sign a photo release. The mother told me she was so happy I was taking these photos because her father was very sick and she wasn't sure how much longer he would be around. It was one of the most memorable moments I've had as a rail-trail photographer, and it drove home what is so important about these rail-trails.
Another favorite of mine was on the Lands End Trail. I saw a woman doing yoga poses at the top of a cliff with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. It was late, and a fog was just rolling in, and it was just a really memorable image.