Irish Rail 217 River Flesk—A Lesson in Night Photography.


The other evening I made a few handheld photos of Irish Rail class 201 diesel number 217 River Fleskat Dublin’s Heuston Station.

217 was working a Mark4 set on the 2100 schedule to Cork.

There are myriad approaches to night photography. In this instance, I worked with my Lumix LX7 without a tripod.

I’m fortunate because I have an unusually steady hand. The Lumix further aids my efforts because it has image stabilization.

I set the camera to ISO 200, and working in ‘A’ (aperture priority) I manually set the lens aperture to its widest opening, which in this case is f1.8. The wider the aperture, the more light passes through the lens to reach the sensor, so having a ‘fast’ lens (one with a small maximum aperture number, such as my f1.8 lens) is a huge benefit.

This set up allowed me work with a 1/10 of second shutter speed, which is adequate speed for a static photograph.

Lumix LX7 photo f1.8 at 1/10th second hand-held, ISO 200, auto white balance. JPG adjusted from a camera RAW file using Lightroom.


Lumix LX7 photo f1.8 at 1/10th second hand-held, auto white balance

If I had been using my FujiFilm XT1 with the kit zoom lens, my widest aperture would have been about f4.5, which is nearly two full stops slower than f1.8, which means at ISO200, I’d require about ½ second exposure to obtain a comparable result, which is too slow for a sharp handheld image in most instances.

Another way of approaching this would be raise the ISO. So with the FujiFilm set up just described, I could increase the ISO setting to 800, which would boost the effective sensitivity of the sensor by two stops (bringing me back up to 1/10thof a second using f4.5). However, this would also boost the noise level and reduce sharpness.

Back in the old days, I would have used Kodachrome, and that would have required a tripod, and probably some filters to colour-correct for the artificial light. Today, digital cameras when set to ‘auto white balance’ do an admirable job of balancing the colour for fluorescent, sodium vapor and other forms of artificial light that tend to tint an image.

Normally for night work with the Lumix, I’d dial in a 1/3 over exposure compensation (+ 1/3 on the exposure compensation dial) however in this situation the relatively bright night sky where low cloud was illuminated by lots of artificial light combined with the silver body of the locomotive and bright platform lighting, obviated the need for boosting the exposure by 1/3 of a stop.

However, I did make some very subtle changes in post processing to help visually separate the roof of the locomotive from the sky.

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2 thoughts on “Irish Rail 217 River Flesk—A Lesson in Night Photography.”

  1. Why the insistence on such low ISO? Surely having the higher shutter speed for a slightly higher ISO is worth it to reduce the softness gained from the stabilization and any even light shake. Given the cameras at question should both have little to no noise at ISO 400 even ISO 800.

    1. I find that with my FujiFilm XT1, I can happily work at higher ISO; however with the Lumix, anything above ISO 200 starts to become noticeably pixelated. So why use the Lumix? The exceptional optical quality of the Leica-designed lens on the Lumix, combined with the camera’s light weight and small size makes it a great tool for making night photos, especially in urban areas. Brian Solomon

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