Tag Archives: making better photos

Terrible Railroad Pictures? Tips for Overcoming Common Problems

Bad timing, poor exposures, lousy composition and blurred images can all result in missed opportunities.

Was it human error or an equipment malfunction? You got to the tracks in time but your camera didn’t perform as expected. Is there something wrong with your camera, or was it simply set the wrong way.

There’s the moment of frustration  when you press the shutter release and nothing happens, or the auto focus goes haywire, or you realize the camera is in  a ‘mode’ and not the right one for making railway pictures—All well and good if you have time to resolve the problem, but if a train is passing at speed, you might end up with regrets rather than results.

Nice angle, interesting subject, but the dreaded ‘shutter lag’ may make your life difficult. (Shutter lag simulated digitally for effect).

Even if you are an experienced railroad photographer, you should take the time to learn the peculiarities of your equipment and double check the exposure and focus settings BEFORE you expect a train to enter the scene.

Earlier, were you using the self-timer? Be sure to turn it off again before you expect to use the camera for making action photos.

Why was the camera set to manual? AND why was it a f22 at 1/8000 of a second?

If you don’t know why, that’s going to be a problem. So step back and go over the basics. Or rely on ‘automatic’ modes until you have the time to cover that properly

Locomotive headlights can confuse camera autofocus systems. The result may be that at the very moment you need to rely on autofocus, it fails you.

One potential solution, if the autofocus starts hunting wildly quickly point the camera away from the headlights and allow it to find a focus point, then point it back at your subject.

Another solution: before the train arrives in the scene, auto focus on a preset point, then switch the autofocus off so that it won’t attempt to refocus at the last minute.

Autofocus problems tend to be more acute on dull days and in low light.

No pixels were harmed in the making of this post.

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Tracking the Light Leap Day Special: Secret Photo Tip (the one you want to read, but don’t want to hear about).

Over the years I’ve traveled with dozens of railway photographers with whom I’ve  learned elements of railway photography.

Among the most important lessons I’ve learned, one has has very little to do with specific railways, locomotives, signals, or old stations. It doesn’t specifically relate to different types of equipment and isn’t really about cameras, types of film, or the definitive virtues of one media versus another.

Normally, I avoid philosophical preaching and I remain reluctant to instruct people how to conduct their affairs.

However, I think this tip may help some photographers—this is if they choose to accept it and react to it.

So, what is it?’

When you’re out making photographs avoid your invisible barriers— those things in your head that discourage you from being in position to make great photographs.

In other words try to avoid letting your arbitrary personal opinions, feelings or established prejudices from materially interfering with your focus on photography.

By ‘invisible barriers’ I mean things you can control and not personal obligations, physical limitations or other real impediments. The invisible barriers are what some people call ‘foibles’.

Some examples:

‘I don’t like to get up early.’

‘I like to eat a full breakfast before making photos.’

‘I don’t like cloudy days.’

‘I don’t like engines that are running long hood forward.’

‘I don’t like traveling more than 45 minutes from home.’

‘I don’t like driving in rush hour traffic.’

‘I don’t like locations that are too close to rivers.’

‘I hate the cold/heat/wind/dry air/rain/snow/dust storms/tornados.’

‘I only like passenger trains/freight trains/short lines/mainlines/Alco diesels.’

‘I don’t like tree branches.’

‘I only like trains climbing grades with a defined row of hills in the distance.’

‘I like bright sunny days.’

Any or all of these things may be true for you. However,  when any of these things get between you and a photographic opportunity, your photography may suffer.

Not the dreaded single diesel long hood forward!
Not the dreaded single diesel long-hood forward!
In 1994, I spent three rainy days in the Oregon Cascades. It wasn't comfortable, but I was offered a host of incredible photographic opportunities. For me the results were worth the trials.
In 1994, I spent three rainy days in the Oregon Cascades. It wasn’t comfortable, but I was offered a host of incredible photographic opportunities. For me the results were worth the trials.

If you want to push your boundaries consider reconciling those arbitrary foibles that may be preventing you from being in place to get  the best possible images.

Being in-place is key. If you are not there, you can’t a make photo. All the excuses in the world are no substitute for being there: so, Be There.

Push your limits. Get over the small things that are your invisible barriers. Work out what may be keeping  you from your optimum photographic potential.

Not a good tip? Here’s a question:

When documenting a scene what’s the benefit of allowing invisible barriers to shape your photograph or prevent it? Answer that for yourself, not for me. I’m just giving tips.

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