- With your research of trains and a few scouting trips, your imagination should become open to the many possibilities of photographing trains.
- Frame a close-up of an old station sign, with very little depth of field, so the blurred empty tracks fade into the distance.
- If you can gain access to the interior of an old station, then use a wide-angle lens to photograph all the rooms from various angles.
- Try a super-telephoto lens to frame some subject matter very tightly that tells an entirely different story of railroads.
There is so much subject matter for your digital photography that you should never be at a loss of what to shoot. It’s understandable that you would want to spend most of your time photographing your favorite subject matter, but also try a few new choices. You may discover that trains and railroads are very interesting, and provide you with new challenges and opportunities to improve your photography. Part 1 of this PhotographyTalk.com articlepresents the first three tips you’ll need to know. The remaining tips are below.
Safety before photography.
Regardless of how close you can be to the tracks, never walk on the tracks, ballast, ties and roadbed. In fact, the minimum distance you should be from the tracks, on either side, is 30 to 40 feet. Trains can be surprisingly quiet when moving down a grade, so you don’t want to be on the tracks or close with the rising grade to your back. Plus, trains create plenty of suction as they pass, especially at top speed. If you’re too close, then you could be sucked under the train.
You’ll virtually guarantee your safety if you use longer telephoto lenses in urban or industrial settings, which will actually force you to move even further from the track. Outside of town, where there is more room and a natural landscape, a telephoto lens with a middle range of focal lengths will allow you to capture both trains tightly framed as well as contrasted against the countryside, mountains, river, etc.
See the light.
Light affects train photography just as it does all outdoors subject matter. The old rule still applies: The best outdoors light is early morning and late afternoon. In fact, twilight (after the sun has set) and night can also be great times for very different kinds of railroad pictures. Excellent silhouettes are possible and think of what you might be able to record if you had a series of flash units along the track. An overcast day is usually better than a totally sunny day, although this lighting condition can make for some interesting shots too.
What’s your angle?
Taking unique pictures of trains requires a bit more thinking than some subject matter, since most engines/trains look the same. That is why developing a photographer’s eye is so critical because often it’s the angle and location of the camera that is more important to a train photo than the train. Shoot from low and high angles (bring a stepladder). Move up a hillside or below track level, so the camera is parallel to the top of the tracks. Look for a bend in the line, and then position yourself, so you can frame the series of cars rounding the bend.
Check for clutter.
It’s not unusual for maintenance personnel to discard old ties, tracks, tie plates and utility poles along the right-of-way. Give yourself enough time to look for this clutter, so you can frame your shots without it.
Visions of the rail.