Getting Started in Model Railroad Photography
In many ways, the Railroad Modeller and the Photographer go hand in hand,
inasmuch as the photographer, has to have the eyes of an artist to be able to create just the right picture inside the camera.
The model railroader also has to be the same kind of artist, to create his or her landscape into a believable picture.
I am going to stick to the 35mm S.L.R (Single Lens Reflex) with manual focus, and the ability to place the f-stop yourself. Unfortunately, the Instamatic type camera, is not good enough to be able to take photographs to publication standard.
You must be able to have the facility to stop the lens down to its smallest aperture :- f22 or f32 for the best depth-of-field. In other words, using f22 or f32, apart from the subject you have in focus at the time, objects in front of and behind will also have some degree of sharpness.
Photo Number 1 ( set at f3.5)
Shows the subject in focus, while the middle and background are out of focus.
These photographs were taken focusing on the grass in front only, to prove a point. When taking photographs of your railroad, always try and focus on something in the middle, that way, nearly all of your photographs will be in some degree of sharpness.
Photo Number 2 ( set at f8)
Shows the subject in focus and a part of the middle in focus, whilst the background is still out of focus. Photo Number 3( set at f22)
Shows the subject in focus, also the middle and background has a reasonable amount of clarity.
Okay, we now have the camera in mind, what about the lenses. With the S.L.R. you have the ability to be able to change to any kind of lens that takes your fancy, but for railroad photography, I personally use only two that are as follows.
One 28-7Omm Macro-Zoom and one 28mm Wide-angle/Macro. With the 28-70mm lens, the effective aperture changes when using wide-angle Macro. The Zoom provides a range of f/3.5 to f22 at its shortest focal length :-: at its longest length from f/4.8 to f31. The other lens only goes to f22, but this is fine for getting sharp pictures in focus from front to back in most cases.( f32 would be better ) By the way, the light meter inside your camera will not be able to tell you how many seconds the exposure will take.
Most model railroad photography is nearly always around the 2 to 6 second bracket depending on the film speed etc. (More about film speed and types of films later, i.e. prints and slides, colour )
Getting the equipment
Collecting all the rest of the equipment together for Railroad Photography is not as expensive as you might think. One tripod for the camera, this is a necessity, otherwise camera shake on those long exposures is going to show. These can be bought for as little as £25 (NEW) or if you are lucky for about £7 second hand at camera exchange shops, also the rest of the items listed below can be bought second hand. (except the floods) You require three (or at least two) photoflood reflector lamps and some sort of clamps, ( similar to the clamps used on a wandering lamp when working on your car engine at an awkward time) better still if you can afford it, two or three tripods to hold the reflectors.
Now all that is required are three (or two) 5OOwatt photofloods, or if you were like me and did at one time standard 8mm CINE photography, you might still have those 1OOO watt lights left over somewhere.
There is a difference in colour temperatures with 5OO watt and 1OOO watt lamps, for colour photography but -- more on THIS ĖlaterIf some of you have not got a 35mm Camera, but have instead a two and a quarter (12O) camera, then this is also fine to work with. In fact, because the negatives are larger, the quality is better to a degree, depending on the camera of course.
Some 12O's like the Mamiya C22O has also apart from twin lenses, have the facility to change lenses. But, a word of caution when using a 12O up close with twin lenses. Remember that what you see isnít quite what you get, unlike looking through the viewfinder of a 35mm. The best way around this is to measure the distance between the two lenses and after you have focused in on the subject, then raise the camera by that amount by winding up the camera on the tripod and measure the same distance as you wind it up. and you should get what you were looking at inside the camera on film. For normal photographs from about 4 feet onwards, they are okay. The other 12O's that are of the single lens variety can be used as if they were a 35mm. (All text refers to 35mm)
Before we load the camera with a film, here is something you can test for yourself if your camera has a built-in auto shutter speed selector. (If your camera has not got this facility, then all you can do is just read about the test.) With the camera set on AUTO (without a film in the camera) set the f-stop to 22 or 32 which ever is the smallest on your camera lens. Place the camera on the tripod, set the lights to the positions in the drawing.
Now, switch on the lights, wind on as if you had a film in the camera, now at the same time as you press the release, look at the second hand on your wristwatch and see how many second's pass-by before the shutter closes again.
If the exposure is between one and four seconds, then the camera can handle these few seconds whilst being in auto mode. (If the exposure is over four seconds, then you will have to use the "B" mode, and cable release.)
Lets say for example that your camera set on f22 made the full 4 seconds before closing itself, was it 4 seconds or might it have been over 4 seconds for the correct exposure. How do you find out - EASY - turn the f-stop to f16 and do the test again. If it is still a full 4 seconds, turn it to f11 and do it again, and so on until the camera shuts off before the 4 seconds are up. Now then, the little table below is only for 4OO ISO film speed, and is only a guide, but at least you will be able to make a start. Read off the seconds your f- stop made under 4 seconds, and then adjust the time for f22.
|1 to 1.5||f11|
I would advise to bracket the time by half to one second either side, taking three or four photo's at a time, and do not forget to use the penny trick, "WHAT PENNY" you ask, -- read on.
Taking a picture
Okay let's make a start. I shall begin with a photograph of one of your loco's or perhaps a building you have scratchbuilt, or what ever takes your fancy.
Letís begin by loading up the camera with film. Find a small table, place it about one foot from a wall, dig out one bed sheet (white or pale blue an keep an eye on the (Wife), I know a bed sheet is not quite the answer, but lets face it, -- itís cost effective) Now iron any wrinkles out, then drape it over the table from the front and up to approx. three feet above the table and place a few drawing pins into the wall. (when nobody is watching)
Make sure when it is placed on the wall and over the table that the wrinkles you ironed out have not returned.
If it is a model of a locomotive, place a piece of track onto the table about midway from the wall and centered on the table, and please make sure that the wheels of the loco are all on the track. Make sure the loco and track are at a slight angle to the table top.
Now the fun can start, placing the floodlights in the correct place is important, so here we go. The main flood light is to light up the subject and a fill in light to highlight the subject. If you have three floods then the third light is used to bring the subject out of the background.
Photo Number 4
shows one of my buildings taken as per the drawing lighting plan
Photo Number 5
shows the same building on the layout.
Placing the lamps
Drawing No.1 shows the position and distances for each of the three lamps. All distances, i.e. 24" - 4O" and 6O" are only approximate, and besides you may have to move them slightly to get rid of any unwanted harsh shadows that may fall on the subject. Place the camera in front of the subject you are going to photograph, and approx. 3O" from the subject, make sure that the camera is square on to the subject, otherwise the subject will appear to lean one way. all the distances are not critical, only a guide for future reference when taking other photo's in a similar position.
When all the lights are in place, you are ready to take the first of many photographs.
Also do not forget to set the ISO to the setting recommended on the film,- on the camera. that is unless the camera used has an automatic DX setting, then the film speed is set for you.
I always bracket any photographs for the first time to ensure I have the correct exposure needed for the perfect print. Do not alter the f stop which should be f22 or better, but bracket the time taken for the particular shot. Always keep a record of what shot was the best, to do this I place a penny (HERE'S THAT PENNY) in the background and move it for every shot and keep a record of the time taken plus where the penny was when the shot was taken. I have very often used a full 24 exposure film for just one or two shots that were needed for publication. Believe me, you will get some very good photographs this way. Try it and see.
Before I forget,- to delay the shutter release when the mode/shutter-speed selector is set to "B", do not forget the cable release. Before you press the shutter release or press the cable release, please make sure that what you are looking at through the view finder is in fact in focus.
The camera I use has a focusing aid consisting of a split-image spot surrounded by a band of micro prisms in the center of an Acute Matte field. All I have to do is focus through the view finder, turn the lens focusing grip until the images are aligned.
The split-image spot is used for subjects that have vertical lines, micro prism for subjects without vertical lines and the Matte field for macro etc.
I mentioned briefly Film speeds - slides - 5OO/1OOO watt photofloods, and said I would come back to this later, that time has come.
A little explanation on colour temperature verses' colour prints, or for that matter colour slides.
Light is measured in degrees Kelvin, and at around mid-day outside, is roughly 55OO degrees Kelvin. Now, When using the 5OO watt photofloods, as these are rated at 32OO degrees Kelvin so some sort of compensation filter is needed across the lens of the camera when prints are required. With the 1OOO watt lamps, these are rated at 34OO degrees Kelvin so the compensation needed for 32OOK is slightly different to that of 34OOK. So what do you need.? One 8OA and one 8OB filter, these screw onto the front of your lens. The 8OB is for 32OOK and the 8OA for 34OOK. Again, this is only for COLOUR PRINTS NOT SLIDES. ( unless you want to use a daylight type slide film )The best slide films to use are :- EKTACHROME 64T and FUJI CHROME 64T these are a Tungsten based film and are colour matched to 32OOK. no filter is required. The 64 means 64 ASA or DIN rating, so exposure is going to be long, longer than that you took last time. These are two very good slide films, and are professional films, so I expect you will have to order these from your local Photography shop. If you do buy one of the above and are not expecting to use it for a while, please place the film in the fridge to keep it cool, not in the freezer. If you have the 1OOO watt lamps, and want to use one of the above slide films then do not worry, I have used 25Owatt 5OOwatt and 1OOOwatt lamps with perfect results.
There is another source of lighting which can be used for both colour prints and slides, and that is the use of FLUORESCENT DAYLIGHT TUBES, these tubes are rated at 55OO degrees Kelvin and are perfect match for colour photography, when using daylight type slide or print film, they come in 4' 5' and 6' lengths, and are only a little bit more expensive than normal household fluorescent tubes, and as they match daylight temperature no filters i.e. 8OA or 8OB are required.
Unfortunately, Household fluorescent tubes cannot be used because they give a greenish cast to slide or colour prints. You can buy a filter for use using the tubes, but I would not recommend it.
As for film speeds, the slower the film speed :- 25 ISO - The better the quality photograph, with hardly any grain what so ever, but exposure time will be very long. With a higher film speed :- 4OO ISO - slight grain will be in evidence but the exposure time will be a lot quicker, but as the photographs you are taking will hardly ever be any bigger than say a 1O" by 8" then the problem with grain in these photographs will be negligible.
Now lets make a start taking some photographs of the layout Get out the lights, clean your track and drag-out some loco's and rolling stock. Now, I want you to imagine that you are the same size as those tiny people scattered around the layout, and get your eyes down to that level.
Keeping down low with the camera is the key to good interesting photographs. I do not say take all the photographs this way, some will have to be taken from above, as if you were standing on a bridge looking down, but for the most part, do try and keep down low.
Make the photograph appear to have plenty of action going on as well. Also have a look around the area you are going to photograph just to see if there are any non-railroad objects floating around the track, i.e. :- track pins - old rail joiners - ashtray (If you smoke) tools of any kind. I know this might seem to be stupid, but if you have somethingís laying around the place, you yourself, because they have been around for awhile have got used to seeing them, and in fact do not notice them, the camera will, and take a smashing photo of everything in sight.Don't just take photographs with the camera in its horizontal position, turn it sideways to the vertical position. Using vertical shots, make sure that whatever you are going to photograph fills the viewfinder. Always try and keep the camera level to what ever you are taking photographs of, also when looking through the viewfinder, and focusing say a building, make sure that the vertical side of the building is of equal distance from the vertical side of the viewfinder and not leaning to one side or the other, the same applies to the horizontal position of the camera.
Photo Number 6
shows a Horizontal shot,
Photo Number 7
shows a vertical shot.
With layout photography, it is more difficult to place the photofloods in the right place for taking photographs, so here is another tip I very often use. If you cannot place a lamp say to the side and to the rear of whatever you are photographing, use a large mirror to reflect the light to that place. Take one of the lamps and place it near the camera and point it towards the rear wall and either to the left or right of the subject. Now hold the mirror by the wall where the light is, and reflect the light back towards the rear of the subject
This way you will still be able to use two lamps in the front and still have the rear lamp to bring out the subject.
The distances for placing the lamps for layout photography is on a par to that used in the first part of this article, but do not be afraid to move the lights around. Make sure that what you want to photograph is well lighted and that there are no harsh shadows. Also pay attention to the background, make sure that this is also well lighted.
When photographing large area's of the layout, it is important to take a central point and focus in on this. When using the f-stop at 22 or 32, if you focus from the middle, then the object focused on, will be sharp, also in front of, and behind the subject is going to have some degree of sharpness, depending on how large an area you are photographing.
Also, it depends how far from the object the camera is placed. The closer the camera, the less depth of field. Conversely, the further away the camera from the subject, the more you will get in focus.
When taking photo's of your layout, move vehicles around and place them in various positions, and look at them through the viewfinder of the camera. Changing the position of one or two items can make a good picture better.
Make sure that what ever you are going to photograph, the back wall has in fact got some sort of back scene to it. It is very easy to forget about the workbench, it is always there and we tend to forget that. The camera doesn't know that it's not supposed to be in the picture, so if you do have a workbench, then use something to cover it over with, similar to the sheet used to cover the table mentioned earlier, or better still have a piece of hardboard with some sky paper glued to it and move this around if you have not got a back scene.
I have a piece of hardboard that is 6' by 2' and covered in sky paper, and use it to hide the doorway sometimes. (Remember to bracket the shots to get that perfect picture)
My personal preference for colour print film is agfacolour and use either 1OO or 2OO ISO, both yield excellent results using the 8OA or 8OB filters. with either 5OO or 1OOO watt lamps.
Once again if your camera has the AUTO mode then I should expect using 2OO ISO that the exposure time will be taken and handled by the camera itself. (On a tripod and with cable release) with 1OO ISO or lower, you are back to counting the seconds yourself or use your wristwatch second hand, and bracket the shots. Colour film when developed and printed can vary from photo lab to photo lab, some times they are fine, some times they have a yellowish tint or a reddish tint in them.
If they do come back with the yellowish tint or a reddish tint, ask the photo lab to do them again, 9 times out of 1O they will be okay anyway, but if they aren't, they will re-do them for you.
Now, if you have as I mentioned 1000 watt lamps as well as 5OO watt lamps, then why not use them together. Use the 1OOO watt lamp twice as far away as you would put a 5OO watt lamp for the main lamp, and use the other 5OO's for fill in and back light. When using the 1OOO & 5OO's together, I would recommend using the 8OA filter for colour prints. (None needed for the slide film
Now, If you want to take close-up photographs with the camera sitting on the tracks, then I advise you to get hold of a small 6" tripod with flexible legs, they aren't very expensive at all, about £5.
Using this around the layout gives you more freedom sometimes than trying to get the large tripod in close enough. Also remember that the closer you get to the subject, the smaller the depth-of-field will be.
You could of course make a small tripod using the plastic bowls that Christmas puddings come in. Cut out three legs and drill a 1/4" hole in the center and buy a screw from the camera shop to fit it to the camera, and hey-presto, one small tripod. (I made one for myself)
Some camera's have a built-in depth of- field preview button, by focusing on a given subject and pressing the button on the camera, you will be able to see just what is in focus both in front of and behind the subject. The only drawback in using the preview button is the amount of light that isn't getting into the view-finder, in other words, when looking through the view-finder with the button pressed, and because the amount of light coming into the view- finder has been cut down, you may find it difficult to view small details both in the foreground and background, due to the screen being darker than normal.
Now here is a photograph that were slightly altered in my computer
The first job to do was remove the existing back scene, leaving the power cables intact. Then using various photographs from my collection, paste a new back ground behind.
If you want to have a try yourself, use this picture if you want, (Right click - save picture as) or do one of your own. If you do your own pictures, then your first task is to remove the back ground using the ERASER (Looks like a rubber) tool. This work can take quite a lot of time. (Well worth it in the end)
Okay, - load the picture into Adobe Photoshop or Paintshop Pro.
Select the magic wand tool and left click into top left of picture, now hold down shift and click into every available clear part. when finished go to SELECT and inverse the picture then save the selection from the SELECT button. Go to EDIT and copy the picture. Now minimize the picture. The reason you saved the picture was to be able to use it for another background later, just click on SELECT at a later date and re-load it.
Now open up another picture that you want to use as the background picture, The main picture is 608 by 431 pixels. make sure that the other picture you are going to use is the same size. If not then go to IMAGE and Image Size and re-size to 608 only, the rest will take care of it's self. Now go to EDIT and paste. Once the picture is in, use the MOVE TOOL and position the picture properly. NOW go to LAYER and flatten image.
All that remains is for you to save your new picture.
Ode to the Model Rail photographer
Oh what a tangled web we weave
Of might deeds
that weíve conceived
That loco their, thatís on the track
The motors dead,
it's even slack
Theyíll never know whatís up your sleeve
The publics eye
when they do read
They say the camera never tells lies
but what do you
see before your eyes
A part of the scenery, to be finished later
Right now with my
camera Iíll slip in some paper
So my good friends I hope you believe
That what you do
see, is not too deceive
When all said and done, itís all in good fun
Let's take this
model out in the sun
It might be too bright you never can tell
But it can be
doctored with a computer, ---
(The Camera never lies) only the computer.