Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Year End Wrapup

Rocky Mountaineer in Kamloops, BC
Here we are at the end of 2015. I hope you had a great year. My 2015 was good, no complaints!

I travelled to a few places this year:

I didn't blog about PEI or Newfoundland or Vancouver Island - yet. Shocking, I know!

McCreary, MB
I did another grain elevator loop, this time a bit further north in Manitoba. I finished writing about my southwest Manitoba elevator-hunting trip early in the year.

One very popular series I started was the 10 Questions series where I ask railfans, modellers, etc. 10 questions. I recently started this back up again and I have questions out to a few more people right now. If you have any suggestions on who you'd like to see answer the questions, please contact me.

Confessions of a Train Geek had more than 75,000 page views this year, with the most popular posts being Instagram for Railfans followed by my first impressions of Lightroom 6's facial recognition.

I took the advertising off the blog in May - not sure if you noticed - but I felt they were a distraction and it was only bringing in around $10/month anyway. I have not ruled out advertising, and if I bring it back I will talk about it in the blog.

Me in Salzburg, Austria
I wrote 102 posts this year, which is an increase over the 82 in 2014 and the 66 in 2013. I like to think I have been emphasizing quality over quantity in the past few years.

Outside of this blog, I've been writing at:

I recently started another blog but I've only written a few posts to date and I'm not ready to make it public yet. Soon.

I published four train calendars this year as well as a Manitoba grain elevator calendar. If Santa didn't bring you a calendar, it's not too late to order your own now!

I'll write about what I plan to do in 2016 in the next few days. Expect more of the same, plus more! ;)

I hope you have a safe and happy new year, and thanks for reading!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas Eve Action

I hope the holiday season has brought you joy. I had a bit of joy on Christmas Eve when I went out railfanning!

I bundled the kids in the car and headed to Diamond to try to catch the VIA Rail Canadian as it left. I was a bit late leaving home but I hoped that VIA 1 was also a bit late.

On my way around the Perimeter I spotted a CEMR train at Oak Bluff, with the locomotives on the east end, ready to go back into Winnipeg. I decided that I had a few minutes before they would start rolling so I carried on to Wilkes Avenue and headed east to try to cut off VIA 1 if it was coming.

Well, VIA wasn't there, but I did see a CN westbound train, led by CN 2853.
CN 2853 in Winnipeg

I went west out to Diamond to see if I could see any eastbound trains. No more CN trains were visible but I saw a CP train waiting to go north on the Glenboro subdivision. This was a solid grain train led by CP 2305, CP 3100, and multimarked CP 5765.
CP 2305 and company on the Glenboro
In this photo they are just beginning to pull as they got their light to cross.

Weary CP 5765 was the only six-axle power on the train.
CP 5765 pulling
I decided to try to get the train crossing the Assiniboine River. In order to do that, I had to beat them to the crossing by driving along Harris Road / highway 334, a gravel road.

Fortunately Harris Road was mostly clear so I was able to sustain 70-80 kph (speed limit: 90) and get to highway 241 ahead of them.

I crossed the river and parked on the wide shoulder just north of the road bridge, then sprinted across the road and back to the road bridge to capture them crossing the nearby train bridge. Did I say "bridge" enough in that sentence?

I got to the bridge a few seconds before the lead locomotive started to cross. Just enough!
CP crossing the Assiniboine River
I've always wanted to get a train there. Cross that off the list!

After capturing that, I returned to Diamond at a more leisurely pace. Within a few minutes, I spotted a headlight to the east that looked VIA-ish. It was indeed a 40-minutes-late VIA 1, with 6426 and 6453 leading the way.
The VIA Rail Canadian in the snow
Prestige-class car "Prince Albert Park" brought up the rear.
Prince Albert Park
I was glad that I didn't miss the Canadian after all.

After it passed, we carried on to Carman Junction to see if CEMR had passed through already. I spotted it approaching the junction and took a few shots. I was surprised to see that they had five locomotives... surely some kind of record for CEMR. Normally you see two or maybe three. I don't expect all five were running.

They pulled up to the derail and stopped.
CEMR at Carman Junction
Fan favourite SD40-2 CEMR 5396 was leading, followed by new-to-me CCGX 5201, SD40-2 CCGX 5311, and two long-time CEMR GP9s CEMR 4002 and CEMR 4000. CCGX 5201 is a rare SD38AC (ex DMIR).

The conductor came out to remove the derail and then got back into the cab. They sat there for a while, clearly waiting for permission to enter the Rivers subdivision.

I spotted a headlight to the east, which turned out to be CN 8917 heading westward.
CN 8917 throwing up snow
I waited another 20 minutes but CEMR wasn't moving and there was no more CN traffic visible, so we headed home.

It was a great 1.5 hours of railfanning. I managed to capture CN, CP, VIA and CEMR. A nice early Christmas present. :)

PS - Railpictures even liked my VIA 1 and CN 8917 shots. :)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

10 Questions for William Brillinger

Railroad magazine used to have a regular feature highlighting an "Interesting Railfan". I thought I would run a similar series with some railfans who have agreed to participate. I'm asking each railfan 10 questions, some standard and some customized for the particular person. I hope you enjoy it. (See all in the series)

William Brillinger is a modeler who lives near Altona, Manitoba. I had the pleasure of operating on his layout once (so far) and he graciously agreed to answer my 10 questions. In a great twist, his wife Dana also answered the questions on his behalf. I've included her responses afterward.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in a hardware store in a small town in Southern Ontario. I worked in a hobby shop in Kitchener for a number of my teenage years and later moved to Manitoba to work for Promotex. I am self-employed and work mostly in the model railroad industry, which is great because I get to spend most of my days playing with something train related - I manufacture a line of laser cut model railroad detail parts. When I’m not playing with trains, I’m in IT and website development. I’m 43 years old and my wife, 2 teenage children, and I live just outside of Altona, MB.

2. Why do you like trains?

I wish I knew. I have always been fascinated with trains. I got my first “real” train set and a subscription to Model Railroader when I was 7 years old from my uncle who was a train nut. I also spent a considerable amount of time around the rail yards in Kitchener and London as a teenager. ...but I still can’t explain why I like trains.

CN 5320 in Emerson, MB, June 2011
3. Where's your favourite place to railfan?

Pretty much anywhere, but mostly I enjoy watching the happenings along the Letellier Sub in southern Manitoba since it has a direct impact on my modelling choices.

4. Would you consider yourself a modeller, a railfan, or somewhere in between?

I’ve always considered myself in between, but when I really think about this question, I have to say railfanning is a means to an end: my modelling, so I suppose that makes me a modeler.

5. Why did you choose the CN Letellier / BNSF Noyes area to model?

I chose the Letellier sub because CN is my first love in the Railroad world and it’s close enough to where I live that I could gather information easily. Little did I know when I chose it how diverse this little connector line would be.

Engelhart, ON, June 1992
6. What's your favourite railway?

Well, here it comes. I have to betray my first love and say the Ontario Northland of the 80’s is hands down my favourite Railway. The breathtaking scenery, diverse operations and a stand out paint scheme really captured my attention during yearly fishing trips with my dad when I was a kid, and it would have been the focus of my current layout if it were a little easier to get to from Altona.

In model form, I think my favorite railway is Mike Confalone’s Allagash. His series showcased in Model Railroad Hobbyist is inspirational to me.

7. What attracts you to the operations aspect of model railroading?

Trains are part of a large complicated system that I find fascinating and moving freight is why they exist. Replicating this system in miniature gives my models believability and I find it immersive. Without aiming for realistic feeling operations, I feel like my toys are reduced to just that… toys.

8. What model would you love to see?

A decent RTR SD40-2W would be nice.

Bill's app in progress
9. What projects are you working on?

Right now I am working on an APP for the conductors on my 2 man crews to use. The app holds paperwork such as timetables, rules, dbo’s, spins info and zone maps, and simulates brake tests, border crossing procedures and other tasks that people use chance cards or dice rolls to incorporate into op sessions. The app also provides sound effects pertinent to the conductor’s job such as coupler clunks and stretches, among others. It’s web based and there will be a generic version that anyone is free to use.

10. Is there anything better than Allagash Lemon Cake after running trains?



BONUS - Bill's wife responds for him!

AND THIS IS HOW MY WIFE ANSWED THESE QUESTIONS FOR ME… (Interjections in brackets by Bill.)

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am an Ontario refugee living in Manitoba. They have been very welcoming but I hate the cold; it makes my hair fall out. Since I like things to happen, I am always busy; directing my family, employee, and committees to complete tasks well. Some things however I’ve got to take care of myself. I built my own house (with some help), and I like to build my own detail parts for my layout. I like the process, so currently I enjoy the plywood prairie running around my office. My kids occasionally come to check up on my progress, or some neat thing I’ve just invented, and my wife comes along trainspotting i.e. taking video of entire trains, recording clunks, or scenery photos, if I promise Chinese food in Emerson. I inherited “Art” from my mom and “Computer” from my dad, so I was well suited to deliver pizza early in my marriage, which has since morphed into a tidy IT business, and hobby focused detail parts business, and the ability to paint. I participate in the online model railroad community and enjoy bringing the rail equipment I photograph to exacting perfection in HO scale.

2. Why do you like trains?

They are like thunder, harnessed power, directed to a useful, orderly, and efficient purpose. OK, I sat on a signal catwalk while a train rumbled by beneath me, and it was awesome!

Paperwork on Bill's BNML layout
3. Where's your favourite place to railfan?

In Manitoba I like to hang out near the Emerson/Noyes crossing. The BNSF, CN, CP, and SOO can be spotted and often recorded while stopped for customs or crew change. Of course the US customs officers get annoyed if they think you are too interested in their VACIS system. Also the Chinese restaurant is pretty good and my wife will come along.

4. Would you consider yourself a modeller, a railfan, or somewhere in between?

I consider myself a modeller. I plan to build my own specialty pieces with materials labelled, styrene and thou, with evil smelling solvents, paints, and glues. When working with purchased rolling stock, I measure wheel spacing, replace couplers, cut off inaccurate parts, and make custom decals. Eventually, perhaps using my fantastic laser cutter, I plan to build my own buildings for my layout. Of course, the amount of time I spend trackside for “research”, throws me into the railfan category among my family.

5. Why did you choose the CN Letellier / BNSF Noyes area to model?

The CN Letellier / BNSF Noyes area is diverse, not crowded, with steady traffic, and close to home. BNML trains squeeze through the border with CP & SOO which makes for an interesting puzzle when transferred to the plywood prairie.

6. What's your favourite railway?

My favorite railway is the GNR. (Ha! She’s just guessing!)

7. What attracts you to the operations aspect of model railroading?

Solving the switching puzzles efficiently is challenging and fun but it’s running the layout, bells, whistles, switches, delays, pick-ups, deliveries, and paper work issues really make the experience engrossing.

8. What model would you love to see?

I would really like to see a model of the caboose I scratch built many years ago. Also an HO loco model that doesn’t need so many adjustments to make it respectably prototypical would be fantastic. (She nailed it here.)

9. What projects are you working on?

Currently I am working on laser cut hooks, shackles, binders, switch machines and card boxes for sale… And lighting and wiring on the plywood BNML. Fascia is next.

10. Is there anything better than Allagash Lemon Cake after running trains?

Allagash Lemon Cake is fantastic and my wife hasn’t messed it up, but there are things which are better. (Oh yeah? Name two!)

Steve here. Thanks, Dana, and thanks again for the delicious Allagash Lemon Cake!

If you want to get in touch with Bill, you can find him here:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Flickr of Interest

I was talking with a friend last night via Facebook messaging about photography and where we share it. He's a fan of Flickr and I'm... not. I found it funny that he, a young fellow, likes Flickr while this old guy likes Instagram. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around!

I'm pretty social online, but I spend the majority of my social time on Facebook and Instagram. I'd like to like Flickr more, because there are some super talented rail photographers on there, both seasoned and up-and-coming, like George PitarysMatthew RobsonGeorge HamlinHal ReiserMichael BerryPhil RossCaleb WentzellMatt Landry, David Gray and Julien Boily.

Flickr on a desktop computer is OK. It's the mobile version that I don't like, and here's why. Maybe I'm just using it wrong...

Comment Nagging

When I see a photo I like, I usually click the "like" or "favourite" or whatever the "this is cool" button is on the site I'm viewing. When I really like it, I'll leave a comment. I think this is a good way to show the photographer that you really appreciate the photo.

On Flickr, like many other platforms, it will notify you whenever someone else comments on the photo after you. The difference with the mobile version of Flickr is that there seems to be no way to turn that off. On Facebook or Google+ you can disable further notifications easily from a mobile device, but there's no way that I can find to do that with the mobile Flickr. You have to remember which post is nagging you, then go to the desktop version and turn it off. Who's going to do that?

What ends up happening is that I don't comment on Flickr photos much, to avoid being nagged by the mobile version. That's a shame, because contributors deserve to get notice, and although my one comment isn't much, every little bit helps.

Multiple Photos in One Post

Like other platforms, Flickr allows you to post multiple photos in one post. The problem with Flickr on the desktop is that only one of them is really visible and the others are tiny thumbnails.

I'll use David Gray as an example, just because he happened to be near the top of my Flickr feed when I wrote this post. Check out his blog, Going Trackside, and his YouTube channel!

Here's a recent post of his on the desktop version (see it on Flickr).

Here if you click on the star icon like I did, you are liking the big photo. You can click on the other photo icons to see them. It works OK. The difference between this and Facebook is that you are liking the one photo, not the post of photos like Facebook. It's a difference in platforms, where Flickr is photo-centric and Facebook is post-centric.

Here's the mobile view of the same post.

The problem here is that there is no way to easily "like" the post or photo. You have to tap "View All 4 Photos", then you see all four photos, then you have to tap one of them, THEN like it, then back out again. Four additional actions.

Compare that to Instagram, where everything scrolls by in one feed. You see a photo, double-tap on the photo itself to Like, scroll on. It's super quick and easy to use.


I know it sounds like I'm whining, and I am, but I want to point out that mobile versions should be designed to be super quick and easy to use or people won't use them.

If you do use Flickr, I'm there as traingeek. :)

Tell me why you like Flickr and why I'm wrong...

PS - good article here: Good Riddance, Flickr

Monday, December 14, 2015

Chasing Down the Glenboro

In early September I found myself out at Diamond, looking for a little train action. When I arrived there at 11:15 AM I found a CP train waiting to go south on the CP Glenboro subdivision.
CP 8610 waiting at Diamond

The train, as it were, was two CP locomotives and zero cars. CP 8610 and 8917 were patiently waiting for their turn to cross the diamond. They waited... and waited...

Half an hour later, a westbound CN train rolled into view, led by CN 2302 and CN 5656.
CN 2302 at Diamond
The CN train rattled and banged across the diamond. I tried my timing to capture the CP train between two freight cars. After numerous photos I did manage to get it.

You can see that the CP crew had opened the front door by this point, maybe to let a bit of air in.

After the CN train passed, the CP crew got the light to cross the diamond and they did so just after noon.
CP 8610 and 8917 crossing highway 427
The chase was on!

I decided to continue west on 427 then head south on 424 to meet up with highway 2. The track crosses 424 near the community of Springstein. At one time there was a CP siding in Springstein, together with a post office, school and church. It still has a church but otherwise it is a collection of houses.

I was able to get there ahead of the pair of "toasters" to capture them approaching the highway crossing.
Toasters in Springstein, MB
After that, it was a simple matter of getting on highway 2 west toward Starbuck. I arrived well before them and had a quick look around. There were no cars at the Pioneer grain elevator so I knew they weren't going to stop there. I decided to try to incorporate the two model grain elevators into the shot so I walked around a bit to get the right angle. Soon the locomotives rolled into town.

As it happened, they stopped at the highway 332 crossing for the conductor to flag them through, so I had time to grab a quick shot of the locomotives and the elevator before getting back to my planned shot.

Here's the shot I had planned.

Back in the car, and off to the next spot...

I couldn't resist trying to grab the locomotives on the curve out of town, with the elevator behind them. In retrospect I should have gone just a bit farther so the elevator and the engines were closer together.

The next spot was Fannystelle. Again I arrived well before they did, so I had a few minutes to decide what to incorporate into the shot. I decided to try to include the Stevens Lumber building. Here's my attempt.

I'm sure the crew were sick of seeing me by this time!

Here they are passing the Viterra elevator in Fannystelle. Notice that there are railway cars spotted near the elevator. I believe there were 4 or 5 BNSF grain cars there, but the CP locomotives carried on without stopping.

I decided to grab them between Fannystelle and Culross, and I framed up the handy hay bale to include in the shot.

That might be my favourite.

I wanted to get the locomotives with that nice white Paterson elevator in Culross. My 18-55mm lens was not quite wide enough but I did manage to fit the whole elevator in. Barely.

The problem here is that the highway was right at my back so I couldn't go back farther without standing in the road, and that's not terribly safe!

Elm Creek was next. Surely they were stopping at the Cargill elevator there!

Nope... they rolled right past the giant fire hydrant in Elm Creek and through the town.
The Elm Creek fire hydrant really is that big

I guess they were going all the way to Rathwell. I gave up the chase at this point (13:05) and photographed the new-to-me Cargill switcher in Elm Creek.
Cargill switcher and grain elevator
That green structure to the left of the elevator proper was added recently, and I believe a track or two were also added.

CRGX 602 is an SD38, originally a Penn Central unit.
CRGX 602 in Elm Creek, MB

It's new to Elm Creek, presumably acquired after the expansion of the Cargill facility there.

That was the end of my chase. Here's the map showing where I chased. For most of the trip, highway 2 runs very close to the Glenboro subdivision.

That was fun! :)

Monday, December 07, 2015

CP and CN for the Holidays

Both CN and CP ran special trains for the holiday season in Winnipeg in the past few days. CP ran its Holiday Train again (for the 17th season) and it was in Winnipeg on Friday December 4th. CN ran its employee special train over three days, beginning on the 4th - so on Friday we had both railways running Christmas holiday trains. I only saw the CP Holiday Train but other railfans saw the CN trains.
The CP Holiday Train in Meadows, MB by Jack Hykaway

The 2015 CP Holiday Train

It was a mild but windy night on Friday night, and I was out early to catch the train coming to its parking spot by Panet Road. I decided to shoot it just east of the highway 59 overpass. I parked close to the scheduled stopping point and walked to the overpass. I looked around a bit and decided to go up on the "shoulder" of the overpass to get a bit of height.

I set up my tripod and started fussing with my camera to lock in the focus in the dark. As I was doing that, my tripod blew over!

I guess it was good that I didn't have my camera on it yet.

I lowered the tripod and kept my leg against it to stabilize it. I was using my 50mm f/1.8 lens because it's the most light sensitive lens I have. I put the lens in manual focus - since it's a prime lens you can't zoom anyway - and the camera in manual mode.

Soon the train came into view and rolled on past my lens.
The 2015 CP Holiday Train

Once it passed, I walked back to the main scene. There was quite a large crowd and the performers sounded great. I dropped off my donations to Winnipeg Harvest (a great organization my family and I support) and took some photos.

Here I was using my tripod like a "selfie stick", holding it up over the crowd after setting off the 2 second timer and hoping for the best.

The performers were Devin Cuddy and Kelly Prescott.

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

There were quite a few people up at the head end, and as usual it was difficult to get a clear shot. The CP Police and other CP personnel were very much in evidence, keeping people from standing between the rails and unfortunately also standing in the shots. I didn't fret too much about it this year.
CP 2323 and the Holiday Train in Winnipeg

Jack Hykaway caught it both before and after Winnipeg - in Whitemouth as it rolled on by, and by the Meadows grain elevator Saturday as it headed toward Portage la Prairie. Check out Jack's YouTube videos!

So that was CP. The consist (courtesy of Jesse McLaughlin) was:
  1. CP 2323 (GP20C-ECO)
  2. CP Box Car 220305 Lettering Light Car (Canadian)
  3. CP Box Car 220009 Lettering Light Car (Pacific)
  4. CP Box Car 220592 Lettering Light Car (Holiday)
  5. CP Box Car 220219 Lettering Light Car (Train)
  6. CP Box Car 220127 Decoration Light Design Car
  7. CP Box Car 220300 Decoration Light Design Car
  8. CP Converted Box Car (Generator) 220458 Decoration Light Design Car
  9. CP Box Car 220508 Decoration Light Design Car
  10. CP Stage Car 42901 
  11. Dominion (ex-CN/VIA Coach)
  12. Banffshire (Stateroom)
  13. Killarney (Dining / Observation)
  14. Van Horne (Lounge / Observation)

The CN Christmas Train

The CN Christmas train ran from Symington Yard to Waverley Street and back, twice a night at 5 and 7 PM. I didn't get out to see it but Taylor Woolston did, and took some great video of the train at several locations.

CN wins on the power department with E9A CN 103 accompanying CN 5755 and the four VIA coaches (8139, 8144, 8118 and 8116 I'm told). It also had a caboose, Operation Lifesaver CN 77014.

The CN train was only for employees. I understand the CN train is only going to a few locations - Saskatoon and Edmonton, maybe? It is also raising money for charity. Last year it was for the Christmas Cheer Board, an organization my family supports.

Did you get a chance to see the CP or CN holiday trains?

Extra: Check out this super cool drone video of the US Holiday Train.

Further reading:

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Hudson Bay Railway For Sale

The Hudson Bay Railway in Thompson, MB
The CBC is reporting that Omnitrax is going to put their Churchill railway line (the Hudson Bay Railway) and the Port of Churchill up for sale. The president of Omnitrax Canada, Merv Tweed, has stated that the port and rail line will be sold together.

A sharp decline in grain shipments this year, and "expressions of interest on it in the last three to six months" led to the decision to put the pair on the market.

OmniTrax bought the railway line between The Pas and Churchill in 1997, the same year that they purchased the Port of Churchill. The line spans 627 miles and the Hudson Bay Railway interchanges with CN at The Pas and with the Keewatin Railway Company at Sherritt Junction.

VIA Rail's Winnipeg-Churchill train operates over the Hudson Bay Railway between The Pas and Churchill.
VIA Rail's Churchill train in Thompson, Manitoba
It remains to be seen if this is a serious attempt to sell the line/port, or a tactic to gain more government funding of the line or port. To me, this quote from Mr. Tweed is particularly telling: "If governments want that [the railway as a social service to the north] to continue, which I believe they do, then I believe they should be a participant in the costs of that and we've explained that very clearly to them. We've shown them the costs of doing business in the north and we hope they respond."

UPDATE: The port and rail line have been tentatively sold to a group of First Nations, who are looking for government assistance.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday

Normally I don't pay any attention to Black Friday* but this year was different. Since I'm on the prowl for a new lens, I wanted to see if it would go on sale today.

It had been listed for $969.99 on Henry's, which is about $80 off their normal price. I wasn't excited about that price so I was holding out for better. I had pretty much resigned myself to trying the Boxing Day sales, but maybe, just maybe Black Friday would come through.

Just before midnight I checked the Henry's web site again.

Another $120 off! (With tax it's $960.49, free shipping)

I didn't wait very long before clicking BUY NOW on that one! The confirmation email came quickly and now I just have to wait for it to ship. I should have it before Christmas...

If you look for the lens on you'll see links to other retailers who are selling the lens for the same price. I saw that Canon itself was selling for that price, as was Best Buy and a few other places. I want to support Canadian companies so I chose Henry's, also because they have a store in Winnipeg. Sadly it was web-only so I couldn't get it direct from the local store.

By the way, if you live in the US and are interested in Lightroom and/or Photoshop, this is a steal! The Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan (Photoshop CC + Lightroom) is on sale for USD $6.99/month... this normally costs $9.99/month so it's 30% off. Snap it up, as this doesn't go on sale often! (that's an affiliate link, where I earn a small commission for anything you buy while you're on Amazon, at no additional cost to you)

* Black Friday is a recent North American tradition of sale prices and ridiculous shopping crowds, which apparently originated in Philadelphia in the 1950s but only became widespread in the late 1980s. I like that it has become more and more an "online" thing.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Quick Concert Photography Tip

I saw Styx here in Winnipeg this past Tuesday night, and they rocked. I've been a Styx fan since Paradise Theatre but I had never seen them in concert until now. Even though it's not quite the original line-up (since Dennis deYoung has been gone for over 15 years), the addition of Gowan as lead singer was a great choice. They were awesome.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about concert photography. Like many people at the concert, I took some photos with my phone (SLRs not permitted) and I wanted to give a quick tip.

The #1 Problem

If you look at concert photos taken with phones, the #1 problem with them is that they are over-exposed. Concerts are full of a lot of darkness and bright, bright lights. Your phone / camera tries to judge the correct exposure, and in my experience it usually over-exposes the scene.

The opening act at this concert was Streetheart, a good old Winnipeg band. I snapped a few photos with my camera and it was pretty clear they were over-exposed. Have a look at poor Kenny Shields' face - or lack thereof.

These shots were so over-exposed that their faces have become pure white with no detail. There's no recovering from this in post!

The Fix

When your camera is getting the exposure wrong, what can you do?

You really have two choices:

  1. Tell your camera exactly what exposure to use; or
  2. Use exposure compensation

Specifying Exposure

To control the exposure on an SLR, you put it in manual (M) mode and specify all three parts of the exposure triangle: aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

On a camera, you may be able to do it with the built-in camera app (not on an iPhone!), or you can use a different camera app. I downloaded the excellent Manual iPhone app, which gives you pretty complete control over the iPhone's camera. The interface is a little busy, as you might expect, but it is a great app for controlling your camera.

Exposure Compensation

The other option is to use exposure compensation. Here you are basically telling your camera to determine the exposure, then bias it up or down by a given f-stop amount. This is what I recommend for concert photography, given the wildly varying light conditions.

On an SLR it is pretty easy to use exposure compensation. I won't get into that here.

The built-in iPhone camera app does do exposure compensation, at least on iOS 8 and above. Here's a great tutorial.

The Manual app I mentioned above also does exposure compensation.

How Much?

As a rule of thumb for concert photography, I recommend -1 to -1.5 stops. You'll have to experiment to find out what works for you but I think you should err on the side of too much compensation to avoid the blow-out seen at top.

Other Issues

The other major issue with concert photography using your phone is being too far away, but there's not much you can do about that. You can crop tighter but you need a lot of megapixels in your phone's sensor to make that work. I find that I can't crop too far with my iPhone before it looks bad. Check out how pixelated Gowan is here.
Pixelated Gowan
This is how much the above photo was cropped. I was in row 7, so I was relatively close to the stage, but it's a lot to ask of a tiny phone lens.

Oh - and don't zoom with your phone unless it actually has an optical zoom. When you zoom, you're losing pixels because for most phones, it's a digital zoom. You're basically cropping in-phone so you are losing resolution. I really don't recommend it.

I'll leave you with a few of my favourite photos from the concert.

During "Light Up" they asked everyone to turn on their phones

James Young and Tommy Shaw rock out - note how Tommy's face is a bit over exposed

Styx rocking out

Near the end they fired off a ton of confetti

This is my favourite photo from the concert!

Styx taking a bow

Styx drummer Todd Sucherman
I hope you've enjoyed reading this and seeing the Styx concert photos. Learn how to use exposure compensation, and better yet, manual mode!

More reading: