Photo of the Week: Stowaway on the Iron Ore Train

I would be hard pressed to tell you of a more amazing experience I’ve had in my years of travel than stowing away on the iron ore train to the middle of the Sahara in Mauritania.  The trip was simply incredible.  Looking back on the journey, I can’t help but feel shivers shoot up my spine.  In remembering the trip, I can almost completely re-live it.  I can feel the nerves building as I waited for the train, the anxiety I as tossed my bag over the edge and climbed into my dusty home, the laughs shared with strangers, and most of all I can remember looking up at the magnificant Mauritanian night sky, complete with the milky way, and being in complete awe of where my life has taken me.

I was on this train for 16 hours from Nouadhibou to Choum, had no idea what to expect, and it was one of those experiences that you just can’t really explain in words and photos. For years I had a difficult time choosing my greatest travel journey.  But since stowing away on one of the longest trains in the world, I have no doubts as to my favourite now.

I am not going to go into details about the journey because it will actually be the cover story of the next issue of Vagabundo Magazine.  That issue will be published on July 9th.

How I Got This Shot

Photographing the Iron Ore Train experience wasn’t exactly easy.  It is dusty, the train is bumping around, and the light is horrible.  However, the most difficult part of shooting it was due to the fact that the landscape is so flat.  Unless you are really high up, landscapes like this look boring in photos.  Thus, I tried to counteract the problem by using people in the foreground.  I also used the edge of the rail car to give a dimension to the image by blurring the rail close to me it works to lead the eye to the subject of the photo.

Above all though, making a great photo is about more than the tech; it is about capturing a moment.  This image is powerful not because it’s technically sound, it’s powerful because I managed to hit the trigger while one of the other passengers was looking at me and another rail car full of iron ore was passing.  I also got lucky that a gust of wind picked up and flipped up his turban; again adding to the dimension of the image.  Capture the moment, that’s the most important thing.

I shot this at f/7.1 and 1/400 seconds.  It was taken on a Canon 60d and a 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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  1. Wow – what an awesome shot. Can’t wait to read the story when it comes out!

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  2. Awesome experience this was and the captured photo of this man definitely made the journey interesting ang memorable!

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  3. Wow. Stunning photo. I’ll be looking out for the Vagabundo Magazine story–long train rides are a passion of mine.

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    • Thanks Susan, I’m really excited to get this issue out to the world!

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  4. So what was the buffet car like? Did you take first class or economy seats? Anywhere to charge your iphone?

    I envy you for a real experience where you just go with the flow and see where it takes you. The essence of genuine travel.

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    • Brendon – The buffet was tea and snacks the locals and I shared, and the seats were our backpacks. The iPhones, however, they charged on sheer awesomeness haha. It was an amazing experience and you’ll have to check out the issue of Vagabundo Magazine when it comes out on Monday for the complete story about it.

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