* lashup/consist = combination of locomotives powering the train
1. Get On The Sun SideSo many railfan photos are shot into the sun. I know I made this mistake many times.
The frame and trucks disappear into inky darkness, or the sky gets blown out into bright white. Neither are good.
The solution? Get on the sun side.
I know that sometimes this is not possible without trespassing or being unsafe, and of course safety is always first.
If you cannot get on the sun side, at least move so that the sun isn't directly in front of you.
And if there's nothing you can do to move the sun, go for a silhouette photo instead.
2. Ban the WedgieOK, that might be a bit extreme, but try to vary your shots so you photograph trains at other angles than just this.
There's nothing wrong with a 3/4 wedge shot. It shows the locomotives well, but it's.. common. Easy.
Try different angles, and different composition, to make your photos really stand out. Shoot the train side on. Try a pan!
Get your camera really low - or really high (find an overpass, stand on a snowbank, or bring a ladder!).
3. Focus On The DetailsRather than show the entire locomotive, zoom in on the details. Noted author and photographer Greg McDonnell includes a lot of detail photos in his books and I think they really set his work apart.
Documenting the details really helps later on to resolve questions that people might have about "how things used to be". As railfans we are also documenting what's going on. We owe a large debt to railfans of decades past who shot the dying days of steam, the first generation of diesels, and so forth. Someday railfans will thank us who capture the last GP9s, the GMD1s, and other equipment that won't be around for much longer.
4. Keep It CleanGood photography tells a story, and it's hard to know what the subject is when there is a lot of clutter in a photo.
Keep it simple. Move your feet to get rid of distracting elements.
Other elements in the photo help provide context, but the subject of your photo (in this case, the train) should dominate.
5. Edit Your PhotosPlease, please, please don't post your photos straight out of the camera (SOOC). All photos can benefit from a little editing.
At the very least, you should:
- Make sure the horizon is level
- Get the exposure right
- Add a bit of contrast
Here's a photo I took in June 2013, almost straight out of the camera. I cropped it but that's the only edit I did to it - so far.
Not bad.. not bad. But it could be a lot better. Here's what I see that could be improved:
- The horizon slants a bit to the left
- The trucks are too dark - in fact the whole photo is a bit dark
- The grass is a little dull for June
Here's the edited photo.
I think it has a lot more "punch".
There are plenty of photo editors out there. As long-time readers know, I love Adobe Lightroom but there are many other choices including free editors like Paint.NET, Gimp, and PhoXo. If you use your phone for photography, there are lots of editors there too including the built-in iOS photo editor.
I hope these tips help you to produce better railfan photos. Please comment below if you have more to share. I look forward to seeing your photos. Follow me on Google+, Facebook, Flickr or Instagram and let's get sharing!