Photographic Tip: Using a High Speed Motordrive to Improve Your Photos

One traditional school of thought when making photographs is capturing the ‘decisive moment.’

This moment is arbitrary, but in theory it is the instant in time when the elements in the composition are at their optimum relation to one another.

When I work with my old Rolleiflex to photograph moving trains this is a good philosophy. I’ll carefully consider all the elements in the frame, and wait, with shutter poised, until the train is at its optimum point, and ‘click.’

Some time later, often days or weeks later, I’ll process the film. Maybe I got what I was hoping to capture, maybe not.

Such is not the case with my Fujifilm X-T1. The relative cost of exposing one digital frame versus a dozen is inconsequential as compared to film. While the ability of the camera to make a burst of images rapid has completely altered the way I consider my compositions and expose photos.

I’ll still study the scene and look at all the elements. Typically I’ll make a few test photos to check sharpness, exposure and how different focal lengths alter the scene.

But when the train arrives, instead of exposing one photograph, or in the case of my old slide camera a few ‘motor drive’ dupes, I’ll might make a burst of images all the while adjusting my framing to subtly alter the composition. More is better, right?

Then after the fact I can decide which image I like best. I can erase the rest.

Below are five similar views made within seconds of each other. These portray an Irish Rail perway train working the quad track in suburban Dublin. Operation of this particular train is sporadic, and making photographs of it require knowledge, planning and patience.

When it finally came into view, I wanted to be sure I made the best possible photo that shows the train in its environment. Which one do you like the most?

First in the sequence. In total I made nine similar images. Only five are displayed here, including the last.
First in the sequence. In total I made nine similar images. Only five are displayed here, including the last. Among the features of the scene: the ‘ghost station’ in the distance; the quad track line; the road to the left of the line’; old and new mileposts on either side of the line (of which the milepost on the left has been cropped out of this view); and the construction of building going on in the distance.
The train is ever so slightly closer.
The train is ever so slightly closer. But this image is essentially the same as the first. I can erase one of these without any loss.
Here the train is noticeably closer.
Here the train is noticeably closer. It is now slightly off center, which is probably better since it makes better use of the space. I can always crop in on it to tighten the overall composition, but I would rather avoid that.
4 DSCF6377
Here I’ve turned the camera slight to the left, which includes the new mile post, but crops the station.
This is the last of the digital photos. The train is at its closest. But now the 'ghost station' is cropped. Maybe I didn't need to include that anyway? This view accentuates the side of the train more than the distant views and the track panels are more evident.
This is the last of the digital photos. The train is at its closest. But now the ‘ghost station’ is cropped. Maybe I didn’t need to include that anyway? This view accentuates the side of the train more than the distant views and the track panels are more evident. The buildings in the distance have been cropped out as has the horizon. The lighting polls are more prominent, which make for an interesting element. On the downside the locomotive is more centered. I probably should have had the camera slight more to the right, which would have moved the locomotive off-center and included more of the railcars behind it.

Tracking the Light posts new material every morning.

Please share Tracking the Light!

http://briansolomon.com/trackingthelight/

3 thoughts on “Photographic Tip: Using a High Speed Motordrive to Improve Your Photos”

  1. I prefer the third one, although it needs to be cropped a bit. In the first two, the locomotive looks like it has a bush growing out of it, and in the fourth one, it looks like it has a lineside sign growing out of it. Meanwhile, the fourth and fifth ones omit the station. The third one lacks all of these problems. Also, whereas the fifth one has an inconveniently placed large white rectangular roadside sign above the locomotive, that sign can be conveniently cropped out of the third one.

    1. The third one. I always like shots with the wider railway environment, rather than over-emphasis on the train itself – although the latter has its place depending on the context.

Comments are closed.