Tag Archives: #night photography technique

Clear Signal CP83—December 27, 1997.

At 8pm on December 27, 1997, I exposed this view looking west at CP83 in Palmer, Massachusetts.

Mike Gardner and I were returning from one of our all day photo adventures in the Albany area and we decided to make a few more photos before heading home.

The signals lit and there was a green on the mainline, indicating a westward train was near.

This back in Conrail days, when the Boston & Albany route was still very busy with freight. It was years before the old Union Station was transformed into the Steaming Tender restaurant. And there were a few more buildings and businesses on Palmer’s main street.

It was more than a decade before I bought my first digital camera and I exposed this using my Nikon N90S on Provia 100F color slide film.

CP83 at Palmer, Massachusetts on December 27, 1997.

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Tara goes Thump in the Gloom of Night!

It was dry evening a few weeks back, when photographer Jay Monaghan and I ventured down to Dublin’s North Wall yards seeking the laden Tara Mines train.

First we caught it arriving from East Road, then we legged it down to Alexandra Road to make photos of it arriving at Dublin Port.

This one of the only places in Ireland where tracks share space with a road, making it a distinctive place to picture trains.

I’m fond of this atmospheric trailing view exposed in black & white using Nikon F3 with an old-school Nikkor non-AI f1.4 50mm lens.

My film choice was Superpan 200, processed using multistage development.

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Steamy Night at Mallow: Cravens for the Kerry Road.


On the evening of 26 Nov 2005, I exposed this Fujichrome slide on the platform at Mallow, County Cork.

A relatively long exposure was needed, so I mounted the camera on a Manfrotto tripod. The swirling steam leaking from Irish Rail’s Cravens carriages added to the mystique of the image.

This was a regularly scheduled train for Tralee, and toward the end of locomotive-hauled Cravens service on the Cork-Kerry runs. Not too long after this photo was made Irish Rail replaced the old steam-heated Cravens on this run with diesel railcars.

Slide scanned using a Nikon Super Coolscan5000 scanner; TIF file imported into Lightroom for color correction and contrast control then exported as a scaled JPG for internet display.

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Lisbon Oriente at Night.


Lisbon Oriente was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and opened in the early 2000s.

I made these nocturnal photos handheld with my FujiFilm XT1 with 90mm prime lens set at 1/15 at f2 ISO 6400.

The combination of high ISO made possible by modern digital cameras and a fast telephoto lens enabled me to make photos that had been virtually impossible with old Kodachrome slide film.

Not only was Kodachrome slow, but it had very poor reciprocity failure which made it difficult to calculate night exposure, and it didn’t respond well to artificial light.

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Electric Night Photos: ISO 80 versus ISO800


I tried to pick and exciting sounding title! These are some more of my thoughts on railroad night photography, the nuts and the bolts:

The other evening at Clontarf Road in Dublin, I was experimenting with various ISO settings in preparation for a more serious photo I was about to expose under the wires on Irish Rail.

Normally with my Lumix LX7, I limit the ISO settings to between 80 and 200, because this camera tends to get noticeably noisy/grainy at the higher settings.

Higher ISO increases the effective sensitivity of the sensor but does so at the expense of image quality, especially in regards to exposure latitude and noise. (Technically that’s not exactly correct, but for the sake of space and clarity that’s how I’m going to explain it here.)

In my night situation using a higher ISO setting will allow me a faster maximum shutter speed, which I need to stop a train in motion. Yet with each one-stop increment the image quality suffers more severely.

Keep in mind with each doubling of the ISO, the camera gains one stop: So, ISO 100 to 200 is one stop, 200 to 400 one stop, etc; and each jump allows an equivalent one stop increase in shutter speed. So in the lighting conditions at my location and using my LX7 aperture set at f1.4, ISO 100 allowed 1/15 of a second; ISO 200 1/30th; ISO 400 1/60th; ISO 800 1/125. Obviously, I needed to go higher than ISO 200 to stop the action. (Or simply pan the train, but that’s a story for another post).

Here are two views of static DART electric trains in low light that I made simply as comparison tests to see how the higher ISO setting compared visually. (Ignore the minor variations in composition).

At the small size displayed for internet viewing there’s only a slight difference. One is at the camera’s minimum ISO setting which is 80; the other is at 800, which three and a third stops faster.

ISO 80.
ISO 800. Notice the increased noise, especially evident in the sky and shadows.

Stay tuned for the main event!

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Irish Rail at Portlaoise—Two Night Views.


The other evening I made these two night photographs using my Lumix LX7 at Irish Rail’s station in Portlaoise.

Night photography involves compromises. My techniques sometimes seem counter intuitive.

In this situation, I was traveling light. To optimize the amount of information captured, I set the ISO to 200 and steadied the camera on available surfaces to minimize the effects of camera shake.

After exposure, working with Camera RAW files in Lightroom, I made various adjustments to shadows, highlights and over all contrast as a means of optimizing of the appearance of the final images.

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Amtrak Veterans Cabbage: Panned at Night.


The other evening at the modern Amtrak station in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, Trains Magazine’s Brian Schmidt and I set up to photograph Hiawatha Corridor trains during their station stops.

The southward train arrived first, and featured one of the former F40PH diesels, now a cab-control/baggage car in the lead. These are colloquially known as ‘cabbages’, and this one was painted to honor American veterans.

Working with my FujiFilm XT1 and 27mm lens, I set the camera to ISO 6400 and panned the train as it arrived to allow for the effect of motion.

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Islandbridge Junction: Dark and Darker.

Not all photos are made on bright sunny days.

Here are two views of Irish Rail class 207 in the Enterprise livery working the back of the Cork-Dublin Mark4 push-pull approaching Heuston Station in Dublin.

One was made on a dull afternoon. The other on a frosty evening a day later.

In both instances I exposed photos using my FujiFilm XT1 with a Fujinon Aspherical ‘Super EBC XF’ 27mm ‘pancake’ lens.

Exposed at f3.2 1/500th second at ISO 500.

Exposed at f2.8 1/30th second at ISO 6400 panned.

I have a number of photos of this locomotive, but in my 20 years photographing the 201 class at work in Ireland, it remains among the most elusive of the fleet.

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Looking Like a Scene from Kubrick’s 2001: A Stereo Space Odyssey.

A lesson in Night-photography.

It was an arctic evening at East Brookfield when we crossed the bridge over the tracks near CP64.

There it was, making an alien roar: the Loram rail-grinder in the old sidings.

Hard snow on the ground and the moon rising.

‘This will just take a couple of minutes’.

We were on our way to a gig at Dunny’s Tavern, but I wanted to make a few photos of this machine. Interestingly, it was my old friend Dennis LeBeau that both invited us to the gig and alerted me to the Loram grinder.

I tried a few photos using my Lumix LX7 in ‘night mode’. But the extremely low light levels didn’t make for great results.

Handheld ‘Night Mode’ has its limitations. This isn’t the sharpest photo and the shadow areas are muddy and lacking detail.

Another view in ‘Nightmode’. Compare this view with the photos below.

So then I balanced my LX7 in the chain-link fence, dialed in 2/3s of a stop over exposure, set the self-timer to 2 seconds, pressed the shutter and stood back.

I did this several times until I made an acceptably sharp photo.

I exposed a RAW file using A-mode with 2/3s of a stop over exposure. By using the self-timer I minimized vibration. In lieu of a tripod, I positioned my Lumix LX7 in the chainlink fence. (Special secret technique!). This is the unmodified RAW file in the Lightroom work window.

 

I manipulated the RAW files in Lightroom to better balance the information captured during exposure.

Using contrast and exposure controls in Lightroom, and gauging my efforts using the Histogram (top right) I adjusted my photo to look like this.

The improved image from the RAW file.

I know someone will moan about the tree at left. There’s nothing I can do about that, it’s part of the scene. Sorry 2001-fans, no black slab! So far as I can tell, anyway.

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