Friday, May 9, 2014

10 Tips For Photographing Trains

On Top of Tunnel #10 - Tehachapi, California
Two years ago I wrote an article entitled How To Photograph Trains - 10 Tips For Capturing Railroads. This has been a popular post on the Roesch Photography Blog, but it is a post that I'm embarrassed about. Why? Because awhile back there was some sort of glitch and some of my photographs got deleted from the blog. This was one of the affected posts.

So I decided to completely rewrite the article. Some of the tips are the same, but many are different. Feel free to look at both articles.

#1 - Keep It Simple
Tender Wheels - Barstow, California
Often the strongest photographs are the simplest photographs. This is because the viewer clearly understands the point of the image and all unnecessary distractions have been removed.

Photography is a form of nonverbal communication. If I rambled on without direction and failed to use punctuation, no one would read this blog. It is the same with photography. Everything that is unimportant to the photograph must be removed.

#2 - Have Photographic Vision
Roadway - Caliente, California
Photographic vision means knowing what the photograph will look like before it is even captured. Actually it is more than that. I define vision as a vivid and imaginative conception.

You have to know what it is that you want to create in order to create it. You need an idea in your mind first. Otherwise you are aimless and hoping for a great photograph by luck. So you have to consider what you want the finished photograph to look like, then go about creating that photograph.

#3 - Use Contrast To Your Advantage
4014 Flag - Barstow, California
While studying photography in school many years ago, I did not understand what contrast truly is. No one taught me. I thought if you wanted contrast, you used a higher contrast filter when printing. But contrast in an important thing to understand and utilize. You can use it to your advantage.

There are actually two types of contrast: light and color. Light contrast is where a dark area and a light area of a photograph meet. Color contrast is where two colors opposite each other on a color wheel meet. The part of an image with the highest contrast is where the viewer will first look. Contrast will either draw the viewer to what is important or it will take them away from what is important. Use contrast carefully and thoughtfully .

 #4 - Show The Details
Clasped - Tehachapi, California
When you have big machines, it is easy to overlook the small details. There are a lot of interesting parts and pieces that are rarely photographed.

You've probably heard the advice that if your photographs are not good enough, then you are not close enough. That can apply to railroad photographs, too.

#5 - Capture The Train Cars
Crazy Bird - Caliente, California
When I see people's train pictures, almost always the locomotives are the prominent subject. Personally, I find the train cars that follow to be more interesting than the locomotives.

Why? They are painted all sorts of different colors. There's a large variety of types. They are not always well maintained. There's graffiti found all over them. Put simply, train cars have personality. 

#6 - Include The Infrastructure
Freight Train At Days End - Tehachapi, California
Railroads are more than locomotives and cars. There's track, signals, buildings, and a host of other things that help the railroad function. Some of these things are actually quite interesting, like the signal tower in the above photograph.

Railroads also like to leave old junk lying around. These things can make for interesting photographs, as well, so be sure to keep an eye out for them.

#7 - Use Leading Lines
Old Tracks - McKinney, Texas
Leading lines are a powerful composition tool. They take the viewer on a tour of your image and (if used right) lead them right to the point of the photograph.

You want to avoid lines that originate at the edges of the frame because these lines tend to take the viewer out of the photograph. Lines that originate in the corners are good and tend to lead the viewer into the photograph. Also, be sure that the lines lead to something, preferably to the point of the image.

#8 - Show Movement
Fast Freight - Cajon Pass, California
A great way to add drama and interest to a photograph is to show movement. A fast shutter speed will freeze motion, but a slow shutter speed will show the motion. You may need a tripod and perhaps even a neutral density filter.

The railroad is a moving industry and having the subject blurred is a great way to convey that thought. Just before sunrise or just after sunset (but when there is still some light) is a great time to do this type of photography.

#9 - Show Employees
Joe Cool - Barstow, California
While some think of railroads as locomotives, cars and track, it really is comprised of people. It takes a lot of people to move a bunch of freight across the country.

People like pictures of people. Photographs that show the human element of railroading are important, dramatic and interesting. 

#10 - Show Enthusiasts 
4014 Crowd - Barstow, California
Another group of people commonly found around trains are enthusiasts. Railroads are fascinating to young children and elderly adults and many people in-between.

Not only are some of these people photographically interesting, but it shows the public interest in this subject. There is a human element worth capturing. Look for opportunities to include railroad enthusiasts in your train photographs.

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