Railfan photography

Discussion of photography and videography techniques, equipment and technology, and links to personal railroad-related photo galleries.

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Railfan photography

Postby concordgirl » Tue Jan 08, 2008 8:43 pm

Lincoln78 wrote:McTed's comments are right, but who among us doesn't like hanging out near the tracks?


:-) Amen! So, any other advice on how to approach tracks to take pictures (i.e., what not to do)? I'm pretty much a novice where that's concerned, so anything people can tell me would be appreciated :-)
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Postby Arborway » Tue Jan 08, 2008 8:58 pm

Two quick ones:

- Respect the 10ft rule

- Make sure your camera is in manual mode. Unless you just want to waste your time out there.
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Postby concordgirl » Tue Jan 08, 2008 9:05 pm

So that's 10 feet from the actual tracks? Or do I have that wrong?

Thanks, btw :-)
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Postby Otto Vondrak » Tue Jan 08, 2008 11:25 pm

The most important tip is to stay safe- make sure you stay off the tracks and dont pose a danger to yourself or anyone else... just look around- check out railpictures.net, search the web, there are many examples out there- you'll find things you like and want to try yourself... there are no "rules" and no one can tell you how to take a good picture. Keep the sun to your back, stay safe, and have fun!
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Postby Arborway » Wed Jan 09, 2008 1:15 pm

While no one can tell you, they can offer suggestions. ;)

I could type up my crash-course in photography basics, if anyone's interested.
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Postby concordgirl » Wed Jan 09, 2008 1:18 pm

Arborway wrote:I could type up my crash-course in photography basics, if anyone's interested.

What do you mean, "if"?? ;-)

Seriously that would be great if you have the time, thanks very much :)
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Postby Arborway » Wed Jan 09, 2008 2:22 pm

Bill's Crash Course in Photography

Rule of Thirds and Leadroom

I would read these two links, as they mention two of the most important rul..er.."suggestions" in photography, and they explain the two concepts better than I could.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_thirds
http://www.mapacourse.com/DVpages/leadroom.htm

Depth of Field

This relates to how space along the Z axis is represented. (Z being the axis that goes straight away from you to the vanishing point on the horizon)

You can either make a picture look flat and painting-like, or you can make it look like there is a lot of depth. It's up to you how you want something to look, but this can't be changed later so plan accordingly.

Shallow DOP:

Short distance from subject
Long focal length
Wide-open aperture

Deep DOP:

Good distance from subject
Short focal length
Closed aperture

What does this mean?

Focal Length is the distance between the film or sensor on your camera and the rear of the lens. Zoomed-out you have a very short focal length. Zoomed-in, the lens is extended out away from the film or sensor and you have a long focal length. That's it, really.

Aperture is what controls the light entering the camera. It's located behind the lens, but before the shutter and the film or sensor. It's setting is determined by what is known as an F-Stop. An F-Stop is simply a number that tells you how wide or how narrow the aperture happens to be at any given moment. 2.8 would be a wide-open aperture and let in a lot of light. 8.0 would be very narrow and let in very little. It's a bit counter-intuitive that the larger the number, the smaller the aperture, but you'll get used to it.

Telephoto lenses will flatten the depth of field, while wide-angle lenses will increase it.

ISO

This relates to the speed of the film, or the imagined "speed" of the imaginary film in a digital camera. This is good to keep in mind when determining the other settings.

The smaller the ISO, the faster the film, and the less light it will pick up. For example, 80 ISO would be best for bright sunny days, and 400 ISO would be good for late night exterior shots.

However the higher the ISO, the more image noise in each shot.

Shutter Speed

The shutter is what controls how long each shot is exposed for. It is measured in fractions of a second. 1/3, 1/4, 1/200, etc.

The smaller the fraction, the faster the shutter. You can usually capture a shot of a train moving at a decent speed at 1/200 or above, for example. This varies, so play around with it.

A long-exposure shot is good for taking photos of moving objects where you want the objects in motion to be blurred, and the stable objects clear and sharp. This usually requires a tripod to do properly, as the subtle shaking of your hands will tend to blur everything.

Another long-exposure tip is to either use a remote trigger for your camera, or set your camera to a delayed countdown of at least 1 or 2 seconds. This is important as the pressure of your finger on the camera alone can be enough to ruin a long-exposure shot.

White Balance

This is something that a lot of people overlook, and when it's overlooked, the results are pretty bad. Light has what is known as a color temperature, sunlight is very cool blue, while incandescent lights tend to be a warm yellow/orange.

The human eye adjusts to changes in color temperature rather well. Your camera may not - or at least not as well as you would like it to. This leaves a tint every shot. It can be subtle, or pronounced.

To overcome this, you should always, always, always remember to set the white balance before shooting. The method of doing this varies a bit with each camera, but basically you aim it at something you know to be white, and tell it "Hey, this is white". It adjusts everything else accordingly.

Order of Operations

Before taking a shot, consider doing the following. You can do some of these things out of order; this is just a suggestion.

SET YOUR CAMERA TO MANUAL MODE BEFORE PROCEEDING Forget that "Auto" even exists.

1 - Frame the Shot: Figure out where you are shooting, what you are shooting, how you want to capture it and how it's lit.

2 - Set the Aperture: Figure out shallow vs. deep space.

3 - Provisionally Set the ISO: You may want to change this later, but guess for now.

4 - Set the Shutter Speed: What kind of exposure do you need? Depending on the demands of each shot, you may have to repeat steps 2 and/or 3 again.

5 - Set the White Balance: Find something white like socks, paper, a sign, etc.

6 - Frame the Shot: Check it again

A Note On Flash

Flash is something that is horribly overused. You probably don't need it. Seriously, turn it off. Use the steps above to control light. Don't add light you often don't need to.

Flash also flattens images, causes unpleasant reflections and generally looks bad. If you have to use it, try getting an external flash and aiming it in a way that will cause the light from the bulb to be reflected off another surface and onto the subject of the shot. Otherwise, you get that horrible paparazzi effect.

A Note On Focusing

Auto focus can actually work rather well. Though you have a manual focus option, play around with it. It's fun for taking photos of something in the foreground viewed in sharp focus, then taking another with the background in sharp focus and layering them in Photoshop. (this demands a tripod)

You can do a lot with it.

Other Things To Look Up

Balancing the Frame: Symmetrical, Disequilibrium, Asymmetrical

A Final Note

Experiment. Experiment. Experiment.

You can only learn by doing, and while it may seem a bit overwhelming, you can have it all become second-nature very quickly.
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Postby concordgirl » Wed Jan 09, 2008 6:50 pm

That is amazing! Thank you :-) I've taken a couple of videos but no pictures yet so this is very helpful.
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Postby Finch » Wed Jan 09, 2008 8:03 pm

I still haven't really grasped how the aperture setting comes into play with regard to depth of field and focusing. Say you want to take a shot with something in the immediate foreground in focus, but the background out of focus. Would that mean you go with a wide-open aperture (3.6 or whatever), focus on the subject in the foreground, and the background will come out blurry?

I think I am getting these concepts mixed around too much in my head. I only really use the aperture to control how much light gets into the shot. It is important for keeping locomotive headlights and trackside signals from "exploding" across much of the frame. I usually select a small aperture (larger numberically, like F/7.2) to keep the bright lights in check. But I'm sure this is affecting the rest of the shot in other ways that I'm not aware of.

I have heard the old adage "F/8 and be there," so I've sort of been going by that. But I'm sure there's more to it than that. :-)
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Postby EMTRailfan » Wed Jan 09, 2008 8:52 pm

Try the "Sunny 16" rule too.
Aperature Shutter Speed
f22 1/50 Small aperature/slow speed/shallow DOP
f16 1/100 V
f11 1/200 V
f8 1/400 V
f5.6 1/800 V
f4 1/1600 V
f2.8 1/3200 Large aperature/fast speed/deep DOP

Each fStop listed is double or 1/2 of its neighbor pending direction, and each shutter speed is double or 1/2 pending direction. So, if you use f8@1/400, this will give you the same exposure as f16@1/100, only a deeper DOP.
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Postby pgengler » Wed Jan 09, 2008 9:01 pm

Finch wrote:I still haven't really grasped how the aperture setting comes into play with regard to depth of field and focusing. Say you want to take a shot with something in the immediate foreground in focus, but the background out of focus. Would that mean you go with a wide-open aperture (3.6 or whatever), focus on the subject in the foreground, and the background will come out blurry?


The aperture is one just one of the factors that goes into DOF, but it is the most well-known. You get a shallower depth of field at the same f/ stop with a longer lens than a shorter one, and DOF is shallower the closer you are to the subject.

The "sunny 16" rule is great if your camera has metering problems, but it's somewhat less important today since all digital cameras have built-in metering, and it usually does a pretty good job.

I'd say it's quite useful to know the sequence of f/ stops for your camera (1/2 or 1/3 stops, depending, usually). That way, if the camera meters 1/400 at f/8, but you want a shallower DOF, you can set the camera to f/2.8 and know that since you've moved three full stops (f/5.6, f/4, f/2.8) the shutter speed is going to be three stops faster, at 1/3200s (1/800 1/1600 1/3200), which is faster than some cameras can handle.
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Postby RailBus63 » Thu Jan 10, 2008 10:51 am

pgengler wrote:The "sunny 16" rule is great if your camera has metering problems, but it's somewhat less important today since all digital cameras have built-in metering, and it usually does a pretty good job.


For newcomers or casual photographers, I'd caution against relying too much on the camera's metering system until you get to know your camera. The more sophisticated the camera systems have become, the more I've found that they are capable of outsmarting themselves and over or under-exposing an image. I find that 'Sunny 16' is a good sanity check - if the meter reading doesn't meet my expectations, I can take several shots at different aperture and/or shutter settings and keep the best one (for newcomers, this is known as 'bracketing').

To echo an earlier poster, practice is important. Get out there and take lots of photos and see how they come out. When an image doesn't come out the way you expected, try to figure out what you did and adjust.

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Postby jamesinclair » Thu Jan 10, 2008 7:25 pm

Arborway wrote:Two quick ones:

- Respect the 10ft rule

.


But sometimes trains move veeeery slowly

Image
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Postby Conrail4evr » Fri Jan 11, 2008 3:00 am

jamesinclair wrote:
Arborway wrote:Two quick ones:

- Respect the 10ft rule

.


But sometimes trains move veeeery slowly


Even if it's stopped, still keep your distance. You never know when a railroad cop might pull up behind you, for instance...
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Postby jamesinclair » Fri Jan 11, 2008 10:07 pm

Conrail4evr wrote:
jamesinclair wrote:
Arborway wrote:Two quick ones:

- Respect the 10ft rule

.


But sometimes trains move veeeery slowly


Even if it's stopped, still keep your distance. You never know when a railroad cop might pull up behind you, for instance...


What could they say? The example I showed was taken on open land, so trespassing couldn't be an issue
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