People of Charlotte, meet the Queen City's most amazing Area Rail Photographer, Adam Schultz! Adam's photography stopped us in our tracks, so we had to find out the story behind his photos. The train-spotter's story is also a great reminder to find a hobby or activity that serves as a creative or grounding outlet from the everyday grind.
When did your love of photography begin?
I picked up my first camera in the early '90s, a Canon Rebel G that used film, just as the digital evolution was coming on. The intent at the time was just to have a decent camera for general purpose because we didn't have cellphones at the time and even digital handhelds were in their infancy. I traveled for work here and there and it was nice to have, but I never really did it with the intent of becoming a photographer or learning to use the camera as a tool until we had children. I picked up a few different lenses and before I knew it I was hooked.
How and when did your passion for photography intersect with locomotives?
When my son went from loving an X-box more than playing trains on the floor with Dad, I knew I was hooked. I had a couple of model trains to play with in my youth and thought it would be neat for my children to have that experience—but their interest quickly waned. Mine, however, was rekindled and I had to find an outlet. I started doing more HO scale model layouts while also going out on the tracks locally just to watch a train roll by here and there. I started taking my camera along after finding my first few favorite spots to see trains and before long I had a collection. It's therapeutic for me. Some folks fish. Some golf. I chase trains. There's so much change in Charlotte recently, and the railroad certainly isn't exempt. Besides the mainline between Charlotte and Raleigh being expanded to double tracks, there's a new Amtrak maintenance facility on West Summit Avenue, and the new Charlotte Gateway station construction is already underway. Major railroad construction along with the addition of the new north end of Charlotte's light rail system, for example, make the NoDa area look completely different. I also host a radio tower from our house that catches roughly a ten mile radius of any local railroad radio chatter and broadcasts it on the Internet for other railfans to hear. You can pick up details of where local trains are working in our area.
Have you always been a creative?
Not intentionally. I don't consider myself an artist, though I have many friends I would consider to be. I think it was more fate, and I found a way to rekindle my love of trains to combine it with my interest in photography. It was never an intended effort.
We have to ask... Did or do your kids have many trainsets?
I bought a small train set to play with in the floor when my chidren were much smaller. We had a huge collection of wooden Brio trains, and a whole bunch of Thomas the Tank Engine videos. But their interest waned, while mine kicked into overdrive. I started working on a small layout in a shed behind my house, then was fortunate enough to meet some others interested in the hobby and we've been working on a large (45' x 30') model layout for the last five years. We have a small group and meet weekly, and we're part of a larger group that meets monthly at a model layout near Mountain Island Lake that's been worked on for close to 50 years and was recently featured in Model Railroader magazine. It seems to be a dying hobby, though it's made some serious leaps in recent years from a technical standpoint due to the digital age. Many engines now have built in sounds that were recorded from the real engines they model, for example.
Favorite places for train-spotting?
First and foremost it's important that people remember to be safe, and that walking on or around railroad tracks is considered trespassing. So you have to be careful and respectful of private property. But there are some incredible views of the Charlotte skyline from the rails, and I try to frame the city into my photos any chance I get. Many of my photos give the appearance that I'm standing in the middle of the rails but a lot of my photos are taken with telephoto zoom lenses and are cropped to give that effect. I'm always looking for new angles, and some of my favorite spots would include the view from Summit Avenue near Charlotte Pipe and Foundry:
And the view from the Matheson Avenue bridge that overlooks Norfolk Southern's yard along North Tryon Street.
And I'd also have to include Charlotte Junction, located on Donald Ross Road just off of Wilkinson Boulevard.
None are very hard to find...just look for the railroad tracks! Pick any photo and I'll tell you how to get there!
When we share our favorite items to collect, interests, or hobbies, kindhearted folks can over gift these themed items. Has this phenomenon happened to you with trains?
Interesting question and I would certainly say yes. I tend to get a lot of Facebook activity from friends forwarding videos I've seen a number of times—snow plows, steam engines, other rail-fans freaking out over vintage engines. I don't mind, it's good to know that people care enough to think of me when they see something of interest that's railroad related.
Ever considered a Charlotte photography exhibition?
In the past, I never considered an exhibition, but truth be told I'm trying to find ways to have my hobby support itself; meaning I'd like to find methods to raise money through my photos to pay for the new gear I desperately need. But it's a fine line. I take photos as a means to relax in my spare time, so I want to avoid turning it into actual work. But these lenses aren't going to pay for themselves. I thought about having an assortment of my photos professionally printed and framed and then setting up a tent at one of the local art gatherings or up in NoDa on the weekend. My wife suggested I set up an Etsy store, and we all know she's right about everything else so I'm giving that consideration.
What do you shoot with?
The body I'm using is a Canon 60D. It's been a true friend but it's kind of like that car you had back in college that‘s on its last leg, parts falling off, parts not working, and it's just ugly. All the shell and hand grip coating has been worn off of it. But it's faithful, and gets the job done. Given the choice I would invest in better lenses, but lenses won't do much good without a camera body attached. I don't have a preference for Canon over Nikon over whatever, as long as I can capture the image.
What area of Charlotte do you reside in?
I was fortunate enough to marry into a home in the Elizabeth neighborhood. My lovely wife bought the house around 1998, and we married just a couple of years later. We've both lived in the neighborhood for nearly 25 years and it's going through some incredible changes presently especially with the ongoing streetcar construction. But it's especially convenient to a lot of the rail traffic in our area, especially given that CSX trains roll right through our neighborhood daily.
There are a lot of new restaurants in our area, but I'd have to say Lang Van is my personal favorite. It's a hidden gem that has stood the test of time, always has great food, and their staff is extremely friendly. The owner, Dan Nguyen, remembers people's orders from years past...SHE's magical.
Favorite Netflix or Amazon series?
My family watches The Office but that's about the limit of Netflix intake for me. I struggle to keep interest in TV and movies, but if I'm watching then I prefer documentaries or shows involving history.
If you retired today, how would you spend your time?
I'd love to be able to visit more of our national and state parks without feeling the pressure of a timeline or having to get back to office work. I love camping, and getting out into wilderness and disconnecting.