Bus Spotting: Like Trainspotting, But Weirder

The quirky allure of photographing mass transport in the urban wild.

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BusFanWorld.org

We know a lot of bus lovers at Atlantic Cities, people who research buses, people who play with bus data just for kicks, people who commute by bus as a civic statement. But this one is new to us: people who capture and collect photos of buses spotted in the urban wild as if they were some exotic or celebrity species.

This is apparently an actual thing done by hundreds of people in Hong Kong (according to the headcount of the 800-member strong BusFanWorld.org). The Wall Street Journal just published a delightful piece about the quirky hobby:

While bus fans express their love of a good ride in different ways, for many, the real purpose is to show off their artwork—thousands of pictures of buses, head on, turning, in profile and occasionally from above. The problem is there are a limited number of models roaming the city's streets and only so many ways to shoot a bus.

To make their portraits stand out, the bus fans plan their shots with the precision of wildlife photographers shooting a lion hunt. They seek out the ideal location and wait for the light to be just right, occasionally bolting into traffic to capture the perfect moment.

The pastime sounds sort of like trainspotting, if you remove all the romance and engineering marvel of trains. For many of these enthusiasts, the point seems to be to spot all of the models of a given double-decker make, or all of the wrap-around ads that redecorate a single vehicle. Bonus points for optimal lighting, full-frame shots and rare sightings ("In one photograph that he especially prizes, [Philip Chan] was able to capture a bus with a Nikon ad featuring pop star Joey Yung juxtaposed against a billboard at a bus stop featuring the same advertisement").

If you're interested in following this insight down a fascinating Internet wormhole on a Monday morning, we also recommend the Wikipedia page for "bus spotting," these YouTube videos of said buses in action, and the Chinese-language magazine Bus Focus (includes "articles about bus routes history, bus gossips, bus fans’ special interests").

Top image via BusFanWorld.org.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.