Railway photography is a tricky business and It rarely goes how you want it to. There are however several things you can do to ensure things favour more in your direction. A couple of common misconceptions need to be sorted out first when it comes to cameras:
- Megapixels: The amount of megapixels (MP) a camera has isn’t proportional to how good the camera is. When printing photographs for billboards, the minimum required is 6MP. The thing that counts towards picture quality is what type of sensor is used amongst other things such as the quality of the lens on the camera.
- Digital SLRs: Another misconception is that purchasing a D-SLR will improve your photographs and photography skills almost overnight. This is not the case. In fact it can do the complete opposite if you’re unsure how to use the camera correctly.
Now for some tips. Firstly you need to know how your camera works and that its suitable for your needs. Not knowing which button does what in the field can spell disaster for your photographs. If you don’t feel comfortable when using your camera then we suggest using either automatic or a programmed automatic mode such as ‘Aperture Priority’ or ‘Shutter Priority’. Don’t feel forced to use ‘Manual’ just because you feel pressured to by friends.
Theres no perfect setting when taking photographs. There is however a perfect exposure. You need to manipulate the settings to enable yourself to get a perfect exposure. There are three factors that need to be taken into account. ISO speed, Shutter Speed and Aperture Speed. ISO speed changes how sensitive the sensor is to light. A low ISO will result in slower shutter speeds, but you will not suffer from noise (which appears on the photograph as grain). A high ISO is the opposite – you’ll get higher shutter speeds but you will suffer from pronounced noise on your photographs.
Shutter speed is the speed of the shutter curtains measured in how long they expose the sensor to light. Lower shutter speeds will result in motion blur either from trains moving at high speed, or by picking up movements from your hands. Higher shutter speeds will ‘freeze the action’ but let less light into the camera in the process.
There is also the aperture. This is the size of the aperture in the lens itself and is measure in f/ numbers. The lower the f/ number, the larger the aperture. Large apertures cause problems like chromatic abrasions (colour shadows at harsh colour transitions) and a poor depth of view (where objects further away from the main focus point are out of focus).
To get a good photograph unless you are in perfect conditions, you need to compromise at least one of these settings. Personally, we recommend that you never let the shutter speed drop and always lower the f/ number and raise the ISO speed if needed. This will ensure your train photographs don’t appeared blurred as they rush past you at speed.
Our final tip is about location selection. Choose a good location not in shadows and with little clutter blocking the view such as foliage and trackside furniture like signs, signals and OLE masts. Never shoot into the sun and try to shoot sunny side on. Once you combine all these factors together your photography should start to improve but remember everyone has there own different styles and preferences. We can’t tell you the fine details to make you perfect. Following these tips however will start you on the right road.