Sunday, August 27, 2017

How I Got The Shot: VIA 78

VIA 78 at Jeannette's Creek, Ontario
This is VIA 905 leading a four-car VIA 78 at Jeannette's Creek, Ontario on August 14th, 2017. This post will explain how I got this shot. I will explain how I planned to catch the train, and how I decided where to catch it. I hope you can get a tip or two to help you improve your own photography.

Planning Ahead of Time

I was working in the Leamington, Ontario area on August 14-16 and I hoped to catch a VIA train passing by one evening. You may remember I was there around the same time in 2012 and caught VIA 78 leaving Windsor. This time I wanted to see a VIA train "en route".

Which Train?

I didn't care too much about which direction the train was going, although I would have preferred a westbound given that I was photographing in the evening. I looked at VIA's schedule page for the Toronto-London-Windsor schedule and the Windsor-London-Toronto schedule.

Here's the eastbound schedule. I could link to the PDF but it'll break soon when they switch to a new schedule.
VIA schedule Windsor to Toronto
Looking at this schedule, the only train that passes between Windsor and Chatham in the evening is VIA 78.

What about westbounds?
VIA schedule Toronto to Windsor
There were two westbound evening trains, VIA 75 and 79. Clearly VIA 79 is too late for photography - it would be dark - and VIA 75 would be pushing the light as it would be after 9 PM.

VIA 78 was my best bet.

Now Where?

I did a fair bit of work with Google Maps looking for a location. I considered the area between Tecumseh and Chatham as a reasonable area to reach after work and before VIA 78 went through.

The railway skirts the south edge of Lake St. Clair. That looked very attractive to me - a lakeside train photo? Yes please!

However, a lot of Street View viewing showed me that the railway isn't actually next to the lake, and there always seems to be a row of houses and/or trees between the railway and the lake. Not so attractive.

On a previous visit, I had tried to catch VIA at Belle River just NW of Saint Joachim on the above map, but missed the train by "that much". I didn't really like the location so I didn't want to return there.

After poking around on the map, I kept coming back to Jeannette's Creek.

The circled areas were of particular interest, mostly because of their proximity to water.

So, the decision was made... Jeannette's Creek.


VIA 78 was scheduled to leave Windsor at 17:45 and arrive in Chatham at 18:32. I looked at where Jeannette's Creek was in relation to those two, and it's about 60% of the way to Chatham. A little math says it should pass through at around 18:13... assuming a constant speed between the two cities. Good enough.

Planning in Real Time

After work, I booted it up through Tilbury on highway 1 to its termination at highway 2, then headed right into the tiny town of Jeannette's Creek. I decided to get trackside ASAP and start checking locations in person.

Location 1 - Mile 75.39

I was trackside at 17:35 at mile 75.39 of the VIA Chatham subdivision, on the Jeannette's Creek Road crossing - the third green oval from the left in the map above.

Here's the view to the east at the crossing.

I didn't take a photo toward the west. The sun was right in the way and I could tell right away that shooting an eastbound train here would not be good.

I did notice that the east-facing signal had a blinking yellow signal over red.

That's... maybe... Advance Clear to Stop? Rule 415?

I'm sure someone will correct me.

Anyway, it didn't tell me anything I didn't know. A train was coming... sometime soon.

I decided to try the marina crossing - the second green oval from the left on the map above.

Location 2 - Mile 76.2

This one was really problematic.

From the Google Map view, it looked good as it had a bridge over the Thames River tributary and could be interesting. However, in person there were several problems.

First, the area around the crossing was clearly marked as private property, so I couldn't get anything but a head on shot without trespassing.

Second, the more-or-less head-on east-facing shot above was directly into the sun. The photo above looks OK but that is an HDR shot, combining three photos into one to get the most range without any blown pixels or really dark shadows. You can't do HDR photos of a moving train.

Without HDR, the best I could have done would be something like this.

That has deep shadows and the train would be mostly shadowed. Not good.

I even went around to the crossing at the other end of the bridge to look at the going-away photo, and it wasn't any better.

That's a big nope.

Location 3 - The Keeper

I went to the third location, where the track crosses highway 1 - and the creek - just east of Jeannette's Creek. I arrived at 18:07... time was getting short!! I had to set up quickly.

The biggest plus of this location was that I could get a side photo of the train. There isn't much room on the road bridge so I didn't want to stand there. This perspective has a lot of "foreground clutter", so I walked down the bank a bit and set up there.


All right.. tripod set up with phone on it.. check. Camera settings.. check. Test shot.. check. Ready at 18:14.

Planning Pays Off

The crossing bell started ringing at 18:18. I started the video recording on my phone, and scrambled up to the bridge deck to get into position. I fired off another test shot as the gates came down, then VIA 78 rocketed into view.

Oooh! A Canada 150 wrap!

I banged off a couple of shots as the train zoomed through the crossing.

Here's a bit of a closeup of VIA 905 with the "Canada 150" wrap... my first wrapped P42.

Next shot was the lead shot in this blog post, then I snapped a photo of each of the four cars in the consist:
  1. VIA 4007 (VIA 1 business car)
  2. VIA 4006 (VIA 1 business car)
  3. VIA 4113 (economy coach)
  4. VIA 4110 (economy coach)
Here's the last two:

Keep in mind that the train was zooming along at a good pace. The time between the first photo (the train approaching the crossing) - and the one above (with the last two on the bridge) - was 9 seconds. The VIA Rail tracking app said the train was going 124 km/hr!

Camera Settings

I'll interrupt here to talk about camera settings. I knew the train was going to be fast, so I wanted to ensure a high shutter speed to freeze the action. Given the lighting conditions, I ended up picking 1/800s for the shutter speed, an aperture of f/6.3 and ISO 200.

Normally I want to shoot at the lowest ISO possible for my camera, ISO 100, but that would have meant either slowing the shutter down or opening the aperture up and losing some depth of field. So I compromised and used ISO 200, which doesn't have much noise.

I normally use an aperture of f/8.0 when photographing trains to get good depth of field. I knew I'd be shooting mostly side-on, so depth of field wasn't as important as it would be when shooting a long train stretching off into the distance, so f/6.3 was a good compromise.

The End

There really wasn't a good "going away" opportunity here. There's a lot of shrubbery along the right-of-way and this is the kind of shot you get.
You must return here with a shrubbery or else you will never pass through this wood alive!
I did get a "whole train" going away shot but it was really far away.
Just a little bit obscured
That was it - 24 seconds from first sighting to disappearing in the distance. ZOOM!

I walked down to my phone on the tripod and shut it off. Here's the video - very brief!

I was very pleased with how the shoot turned out. My advance planning and the scouting around for the best location worked out.

After that, I went back to Leamington for the evening. I walked along the beautiful waterfront - it's been really nicely done - and took a photo of the lovely sunset.

See Also


carol fun said...

I love your pictures... trains are a weakness of mine. I'm impressed with your pre-planning to get the best shot. It shows that nothing good ever comes easy, doesn't it? Thanks for sharing. I enjoy your blog!

Steve Boyko said...

Thanks, Carol! Trains are addictive, aren't they? :)

Good things are worth spending time on!

DaveM said...

The shot turned out well. I always admire a good set of plans when prepping for a shot. :)


Oliver Jones said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve Boyko said...

Thanks, Dave! A little planning goes a long way :)

Jenn said...

Awesome! That 2nd photo of the train crossing the bridge is looks like it is turning onto the road.

Steve Boyko said...

Thank you, Jenn! Glad you liked it.

Michael said...

Ahh, very much like where I am from. Like the prairies, only more trees. I like that you chose a spot where you not only got a shot of the bridge over the creek, but also a shot of the crossing and the road. That shot was from an interesting angle.

Steve Boyko said...

Thanks, Michael! It was a happy accident to get the crossing shot.. I was only thinking of the bridge. :)

Unknown said...

Great post, Steve. It is nice to learn about camera settings, especially the low light conditions which are always challenging.

Unknown said...

Great post, Steve. It is nice to learn about camera settings, especially the low light conditions which are always challenging.