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Photographing your railway

Written by Andy Watkins, 2001-2015.

Alan Smith asked:

I am having a problem trying to photograph some of my stock. I want to get a totally in-focus 3/4 view with the back ground out of focus. Can anyone give me some idea of the settings etc?

Stuart of Flitchfold Loxwood and Alfold Tramway

Try a moderately fast film 200ASA and a decent macro lens for prints.

For the best results I use and old 35mm fully manual camera which allows me to "play" with exposure and aperture. Shoot on slow 64ASA slide film it gives the best results.

You need a camera lens that allows you to select an aperture of f5.6 up about f16 will be the minimum you will almost certainly want to mount the camera on a tripod to keep things nice and steady. Try and keep away from flash unless you fancy "burning" the image. If you must use artificial lighting decent photographic floodlights can be hired quite cheaply and shoot on Tungsten film stock.

It used to possible to buy a "ring flash" that mounted on the filter ring of the camera lens so that the subject was evenly lit which in macro work is very important. Again you may be able to hire one of these.

Site the model so that it fully fills the frame and is a reasonable distance from it's background if you want to isolate it.

In the dim and distant days aperture priority was the name of the game you choose the aperture and the camera sorted out the shutter speed.which will be why you will need the tripod. Most of the cheaper cameras available now give you no idea what is going on in it's tiny electronic brain.

I also use the shutter delay timer so that any vibration from the shutter being cocked is minimised on the final shots.

John Angell

A fast shutter speed, which requires a wide aperture, which gives a shallow 'depth of field'. Then stand the model a few feet in front of the background, and focus carefully on the model.

This should give a sharp photo with a blurred background. However, it is still worth checking the background for any recognisable shapes or colours, and removing them first. Things like a fencepost growing out of a loco chimney are something I always notice.

Sunshine helps, with the background in shade.

Erik-Jan Stroetinga

I'm not an expert, but do a lot of photographing of steam locomotives (large and small). I got good results with a medium tele photo lens (85 mm) for taking pictures of gauge 1 locomotives.

Using this type of lens you need a distance of 1 to 1.5 m of the object to get the frame (35mm camera) nicely filled. If you than use an aperture of f 1.8, 2.8. 3.5 or even 4.0 you a shallow dept field, but sufficient for your rolling stock to stand out sharp. The back ground will be blurred.

With a wide angle (28mm or 35mm) lens you get also good results, but a lens opening of 2.0 or 2.8 is needed for getting a sufficient blurred background. (If you don't have such a wide lens opening, try to get a reasonable distance between the locomotive and the background (1.5 to 2 meter or more) or use a low point of view, so the back ground will be the sky.