Steam trains remain a popular subject no matter what letter your generation may be. Thick plumes of smoke, strong leading lines and big wide angles: this classic shot of steam trains is forever etched in our minds.
But often you only get one attempt at getting this. Below we’ve offered 6 essential train photography tips that will help you be ready to capture stunning rail pictures the next time you go out to photograph steam trains.
6 Tips for Tremendous Train Pictures
Tip 1: Control your shutter speed
Try experimenting with shutter speeds when you’re commuting. Fast city trains look particularly striking with slow shutter speeds (1/60sec or less), because this adds motion blur to the shot, making it more dynamic.
However, fast shutter speeds (1/200sec or more) that freeze the train in action can add detail and realism to an image.
Tip 2: Shoot steam trains on cold days
Photographing older trains without any steam makes shots look very flat and dull. Photograph steam trains on cold days with the steam engine at a gradient so the exhaust is emphasised.
You may also want to defy conventional composition rules and position the train further into the frame, so the trail of steam takes on a more prominent position.
Tip 3: Shoot in raw for the best results
Whether you’re photographing fast-moving electric-powered trains or steam trains chugging slowly towards the station, you’ll want to choose the raw file type to get the highest-quality train pictures.
If the lighting is poor when you’re shooting or you find that you’re losing detail in the train’s black metal finish and billowing white steam, then the advantage of raw is that you can easily improve these colour, contrast and exposure problems later in post-processing.
Tip 4: Fix your focus manually
Unlike other forms of transport photography, capturing pictures of trains is a little more predictable.
To get sharp shots every time, visualise the point where you want the steam train to be in your composition, and focus on that area of the tracks using one of the autofocus points.
When you’re confident you’ve got the focusing spot-on, switch to manual focus to lock on this position and just wait for the train to arrive.
Tip 5: Use telephoto zoom lenses for top shots
You may be forbidden from shooting train pictures inside stations for security reasons, so you’ll want to position yourself along the steam train’s planned route in order to get the shot.
Try finding a bridge that goes over the tracks to get powerful front-on shots. To fill the frame and capture a train from side-on, use a telephoto zoom lens and shoot from a public pathway or road that runs parallel to the tracks.
To give a sense of location, be sure to zoom out and include as much of the scenery as possible, but if there are a lot of signs or pylons cluttering the landscape, zoom in for a tighter, cleaner shot.
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