1) Use your foreground. Unless you’re a ballast enthusiast, avoid emphasizing the ballast. Too many railroad photographs suffer from excessive foreground clutter and other distracting elements, so when you’re composing an image pay attention to the bottom of your frame.
2) Watch your focus. Although most modern cameras have auto focus systems, too many use center-weighted auto-focusing sensors. These produce an unfortunate side-effect of encouraging novice photographers to center their subject, which tends towards bland and ineffective composition. More advanced cameras have tools such as variable focus points and focus locks that help you get around the centering problem.
3) Avoid Flare. One of the reasons traditional photography technique stressed over the shoulder lighting was to avoid the unpleasant effects of lens flare. This is caused when the primary light source hits the front element of your lens and cause streaks and patterns across your image while lowering overall contrast. You can make successful backlit photographs by finding ways to minimize direct sun or other primary light sources; stand in the shadow of a tree, building or other object; no shadows available? Make your own with a flat piece of cardboard, book, or spare copy of TRAINS magazine. One last point: while you should avoid flare, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should eliminate it entirely. In certain circumstances, a little flare can improve a photo. Watch the way Hollywood uses flare for dramatic effect.
I exposed this unusual angle of a RENFE high-speed AVE train at the modern Cordoba Station in September 2001.
The train was paused. The challenge was using my Rolleiflex Model T to look over the railing and down on the train.
The Rollei is a twin-lens reflex. Normally to compose an image you look down into the camera through a mirror and lens arrangement which projects on an interior screen.
If holding the camera at waist-level and looking down doesn’t suit the situation, there’s also a field-finder—which is just a window the helps you gauge the rough limits of the image area.
Neither of these tools were of any use to me when facing railing about six feet tall and my subject below me.
So, I held the camera above me and looked up into to it. Composing a scene in reverse (as is always the case when looking in the Rollei) is difficult enough, but doing this while craning my neck was especially tricky.
I made one exposure and a moment later the train accelerated away toward Seville.
We’ve all seen photos of the French TGV, and the German ICE. Yet, Spain also operates a high-speed railway network. While it’s AVE system uses the European gauge, its rarely photographed Euromed rolls along on Iberian broad gauge tracks.
Back in September 2001, I was traveling in eastern Spain with Denis McCabe and we made a project of seeking out this curious and elusive speedster.
I made this image of the Euromed westbound at Sagunt, where it was overtaking a local all-stops train. Before I made photographs of the EuroMed, I’d never before seen an image of the train in print. Even today I’d argue it is Europe’s least photographed high-speed train! Any wagers?