April’s Photo-Heart Connection Photo – An Unusual Choice

Burlington Northern Train Cars Dwarfed by Kansas Grain Elevators

Burlington Northern © 2012 Bo Mackison

This photograph is about as different from my usual photographs as it can be, but in going through my photo catalogs from April, this is the one I kept returning to. I found myself studying its lines, its color, the subject matter, perhaps a hidden meaning, trying to decipher why this particular photograph caught my attention, and my heart, and so qualified as April’s photo-heart connection selection.

(Kat Sloma from Kat Eye Studio encourages photographers to pick a photo once a month for sharing — a photo taken in the prior month that best makes a photo-heart connection.)

Now to work my way through the feelings/thoughts attached to this photo:

  • The subject matter is less typical for me than many other genres. I shoot macro-botanicals with passion and abandon; I am ever fond of architectural photos; I’ll drive miles to explore a landscape – particularly those in the wilderness, in National Parks, often with no sign of human activity; and yet here is a rural scene, a scene that is agricultural in theme.
  • I take 95% of my photographs with my Canon DSLR and then spend extra time in post-processing. I am a tinkerer of the post-processing process. I love to use software to create new ways of seeing a routine subject. I will consider many options regarding a small aspect of a photograph, and then go on to another small aspect, and another, and another. When I photograph with my DSLR, I love to take my time, study possibilities, set up my tripod and try lots of options before going on to the next subject. I shot this photo with my iPhone using a Hipstamatic app preset. Sherpa and I were on the long drive home, and we stopped briefly on a country road for a truck to make a left turn. I opened the car window, grabbed my phone, and took a single photo before the car began to move.
  • I like bright colors and focused, close-up details. And my love for the colors associated with the US Southwest has deepened since I began living in Arizona part of the year. I see more color in my photographs – the bright cerulean skies, the turquoise and orange buildings, colors that make a strong statement. But in this photo, the colors are muted. There are a few patches of a rusty color and the remainder is in soft greens, whites, browns.
  • I love the play of light and shadow in photographs, and this photograph hasn’t much light nor shadow. It was taken mid day under a cloudy sky, not typically a good time for photography.

So why this photograph?

  • Well, I am attracted to the composition. It feels satisfying to me, the blocks of different colors, three almost equal rectangular spaces, plus the darker colors as contrast. I do not often take symmetrical photographs, and honestly, I would probably not have composed this photograph as it is if I had been taking a more deliberate photo. But the symmetry provided by the grain elevators, and the strong horizontal and vertical lines seem to emphasize the subject of farm work and transportation in the country’s Midwest.
  • I like that the train car is marked with the logo of the Burlington Northern line. I grew up in the Midwest not far from Burlington, Iowa – the train company’s namesake. And several of my relatives – a grandfather and two uncles — worked for the Burlington Northern. I remember bits of their stories, I sometimes saw them return home from night shift duty with coal stained coveralls, and I associated the smell of their smoky clothes with a night of hard work.

So, an atypical photograph can be a favorite. A photograph with the vaguest memories of family can add a strong sense of human connection to a seemingly straightforward scene. And perhaps there is special thrill about a photograph taken on the run, the knowledge that taking a photograph isn’t only about f-stops and sharp focus and the rules.

Maybe it is also the appreciation of timing, good instincts, and a little luck!


Bo Mackison is a photographer and owner of Seeded Earth Studio LLC. After three months in the Southwest, Bo is back home in the Midwest. And just in time — her first art show of the summer season is tomorrow — Madison’s Audubon Art Fair at Warner Park on Madison’s east side. Seeded Earth Studio’s booth will be inside in the glassed-in annex. Hours are 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.


About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Gandalf says:

    The photo does grab one’s attention. Your background and explanation are even more interesting. Gives some insight into your photography and artistic senses.

  2. Hi! Stopping in from Kat Sloma’s Photo Heart COnnection!
    I love what you did ! Great image and great post processing.

  3. I love it, for so many of the reasons you’ve mentioned, but compostion mostly. Sometimes, breaking out of our boxes and shaking things up a bit, can bee really good for the soul!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I think that is why I love to take so many kinds of photos — see something in a different way. So true about being good for the soul.

  4. Joanna Paterson says:

    How fascinating!

    I think the picture says something to me about movement – things moving constantly, long distance, through the night – and also constancy, this is how things still are – it has a quality of being from a time past, but is still here now.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I love your thoughts about the photograph, Joanna. Yes, the time past, time present. Interesting perspective.

  5. Marcie says:

    That sometimes happens to me too. Without explanation – I find myself drawn to something a-typical! And – what a wonderful image it is. A sense of complete timelessness. Lovely!

    • Bo Mackison says:

      I DO think the idea of time, and timelessness, is an interesting concept to work with. Thanks, Marcie.

  6. Joanne Keevers says:

    As I read through your thought process I wondered where the heart came into it, but it was there, wasn’t it? The Heart ~ family, memories. It’s the perfect photo for your heart connection Bo. 🙂

  7. This is a wonderful image. I too love the subtleness of color. The overall feel, for me, is of nostalgia. I like how all the lines seem to be pointing to the train car, especially in the center of the image.

  8. Wonderfull image and great photo-heart connection. Your explanation makes sense to me, it´s not only light, colors or subjects what make a photo more appealing, it´s also the underlying memories, the theme and its emotional implications and of course, the message that the whole composition tells us even when is not directly expressed

  9. I love to hear other artist’s thoughts about their work, so intriguing. This would be a favorite of mine, too. It’s the composition and simplicity that grabs me. Perfect!!! Looks to me like it would make a very cool B&W also, with its three main values 🙂

  10. Such an interesting analysis of why you love this image! Family connections always do tug at our hearts. I find it’s simplicity very attractive too.

  11. Great composition… love the detailed background, surely your heart is connected!

  12. I love your image! I think I love it more because of your words and the connection to your family! My son loves trains, especially the Chicago Rock, that at one time ran behind our property! Some of my favorite photos are ones I take of trains, stations, and rails just for him! Great post!!

  13. Kat Sloma says:

    You can’t always predict the Photo-Heart Connection, Bo. It’s great you went with your heart to see what it had to show you this month. Sometimes you can step out of your comfort zone and discover something wonderful and new! That seems to be what happened for you. Thank you for sharing in the Photo-Heart Connection. My apologies for taking so long to come by!

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