One thing I like to do from time to time is compare the images different languages of Wikipedia are using for the lead image of equivalent articles. While in a lot of cases the pattern is; whatever the english wikipedia was using at the time the article was created that isn’t always the case. And for traction engine it mostly isn’t. One complication is that for many languages it seems the article would be better translated as “road going steam engines” but the results are still interesting.
First off we start with English and Spanish (which appears to be a translation of english). This is my image from the Great Dorset Steam Fair. I went with it as lead image worth as it is a decently clear image of a pretty standard traction engine (not a ploughing engine or showman’s engine).It is pretty isolated and faces left (and thus into the article) with a three quarter view. Its not ideal as the background is busier than I would like and the crop is a bit on the square side since I removed an arena marshal. It was taken during a concerted attempt at great dorset steam fair to take the best traction engine pic possible. Unfortunately they drive round the arena anti-clockwise which makes getting left facing images rather tricky (the engine in the pic is cutting across the arena). This was driven by the previous lead image being rather dark and blury although fairly understandable for a product of 2005. Technology and wikipedians have marched on since then.
Second is Danish. This is a portable engine not a traction engine. It appears that danish is one of those languages where “Lokomobil” refers to any mobile non-railbound steam engine (or at least that is what the article does). The image itself is a black and white period image showing a portable engine at work. There are some who argurage that that is the best way to illustrate the subject. Personally I argue that humans see in colour and thus its best to lead with a colour image if one is available. The quality of the image isn’t the best (I suspect its a second generation copy) but the scene is well laid out and 1895 is very much the time period where these things were in use.
Third is German. It is a traction engine this time. A ploughing engine in fact. Not the greatest image though. Low res, not the sharpest, blown highlights and partially obstructed with a fence in front. Points for facing left though. In practice this wouldn’t have been that untypical for 2005. Which is when the image was added to the article and it has been there since. The machine is apparently in Germany which may help explain the choice of image.
Fourth we have French. “Locomobile automotrice” apparently translates as “Self-propelled locomotive” which would explain why the lead image is a steamroller (although it was described as a traction engine on commons until I fixed it). I think it is a film scan and the quality is certainly OK for 2006 when it was uploaded. However the rear view is an unusual choice for a lead image (although it does show a lot of the working parts better) and facing right it faces out of the article. Like the German one it could probably do with updating.
Fifth is Indonesian . It is a traction engine apparently at a show in Stuttgart. Its somewhat blurred due to camera movement (1/8 of second exposure) And faces right out of the page. Other than that its fairly well isolated, the view isn’t obstructed and the background isn’t overly messy. What I don’t understand is why they swapped out the previous photo of a very similar engine. Yes the front wheel is slightly obstructed but its less blurry.
Sixth is Cornish. The composition is decent with a nice action shot and the engine (which is a traction engine) facing into the article. However its rather low res and the back of the engine blends with the background. My guess is the author decided they didn’t like the then lead in the english language article and chose this from what they could find on commons.
Seventh is Dutch. This is a portable engine. Since its labelled “Locomobiel” the person who added it may not have known the difference. It is however a very good image of a portable engine. Its sharp and well isolated. Any improvement is going to be mostly stylistic. For example a preference for engines that are running rather than the funnel being in the stowed position.
Eighth is Japanese. It does show a traction engine (a showman’s engine). Its facing left into the page. However beyond that I’m not a fan. The obstruction by the fence is fairly minor but I feel its overwhelmed by the structure around it. The colours also look like they have been pushed a bit hard and may have been over-sharpened. A combination of these factors and the existance of better options was why I removed it from the English wikipedia. The engine is in Japan which may explain the choice here.
Finally we have Finnish . If you wanted an action shot of road locomotives then you couldn’t do much better. Yes it faces out of the page (great dorset steam fair going clockwise strikes again) but its a well composed photo showing some serious heavy haulage. Conventionally it might be better if the engines were a bit lower down to follow the rule of thirds but I think it still works. Personaly I prefer a single isolated example for the lead but in shorter articles that may mean losing the ability to show the range of designs.
Wikidata uses a perfectly decent film scan image although not perhaps as isolated from the background as it could be.
I’m not arguing that all the articles should be changed to use the english image. Asside from the obvious conflict of interest different language communities will have different priorities and I don’t speak any of the languages in question so there may well be things that I’m missing.