How Can I Get My Camera To Work Better When Railfanning?

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HO Scale MILW

A Normal, Regular, Train Fan
I know this isn't a model railroad subject, but I'm still curious. I use a Cannon Powershot SX200is, and it takes pretty good photos in evening, golden light with clear skies, but not so much any other time of day or with cloudy skies. I've tried many settings, such as Auto, AV (aperture priority), and Landscape. All seem great in the clear skies in the evening, but not at all any other time of day. Especially when I'm photographing in the shadows, all the trains seem dark. Does anyone know how to get the beautiful photos you see online, without spending hundreds/thousands of dollars?
 

HO Scale MILW

A Normal, Regular, Train Fan
Screenshot 2022-11-22 4.18.21 PM.png

For example, here is a image of a BC rail unit I took about a month ago, as you can see, the shadow really took away from the overall photo. This is after editing and altering the photo.
 

timlange3

Active Member
For this particular shot you would want to control the shutter speed, shutter priority, and let the camera pick the aperture so as to get the whole loco in focus. Doing this may make the sky too bright so you may still have to do post editing. I had used a Powershot for many years and took many good pictures, the camera is quite capable. Go around the house (outside) and take a lot of pictures and change the settings, this will help you figure out what to do when further afield. I still bracket my shots, for me to shoot this picture I would take about dozen shots using different shutter speeds. Of course if this is a motion shot, you probably only get a change for one or two shots! :-(
 

ctclibby

Well-Known Member
I do not use Cannon stuff; that said: I have found if you are trying to take a pix up close and personal like your above image - your gonna have problems with anything that is mostly black, even more if it is moving. It is one of the problems with us Rail Fans - we take pix of big stuff that can be moving and whatever camera will meter the whole frame ( average ), and since the background is pretty light - your subject comes out dark. You would need a heck of a flash to do a 'flash fill' , not something that I would want to carry around.

No idea if you can change the 'metering area' on that camera, check it out. With Pentax, I can change the metering area ( and focus ) to a smaller area of what I want; and like Tim said, bracket, bracket ... bracket. I used to bracket with chemical cameras; thank the power that be for digital. Also, is that Cannon AF? It looks like your focus was a little soft; maybe that is what you wanted, maybe not.

Oh, and while ima thinking about it, if your camera will take 'Raw' you can use Dark Table for changing almost everything instead of [insert your favorite here] editor. Dark Table does not do so good on Jpeg's, but does have some things you can do.

Later
 

HO Scale MILW

A Normal, Regular, Train Fan
No I was using manual focus, and even though I have been to this location before, I was still too close to the train. I would have thought I woulda learned by now! Thanks for all the info and I'm going out rail fanning tonight to see what I can do!
 

ctclibby

Well-Known Member
No I was using manual focus, and even though I have been to this location before, I was still too close to the train. I would have thought I woulda learned by now! Thanks for all the info and I'm going out rail fanning tonight to see what I can do!
Ok, so how can you be to close to a train :oops:
 

troyphoto

Snarky Old Fart (in training)
30+ year pro photog here:

The dirty little secret about the light meter in your camera: It thinks in B&W terms. Picture a scale from 0 to 256. 0 is true black. 256 is true white.

Your light meter wants to balance the scene to make all tonal values a true middle grey.

It did that with the black loco above.

Shooting dark tones in shadows averaged with a bright sky above = getting a grey (in this case blue) sky and a dark loco. To the light meter that averages to your middle grey value.

YOU have to train yourself to think in those terms.

My suggestion is to dig out the manual and look for "Exposure Compensation" settings. On the back of the camera is the +/- button (that will open up a menu option on the back display. (circled in red here)
Screen Shot 2022-12-19 at 10.44.41 AM.png


If you want to "open up" the shadows (see more detail), then you'd use the Exp Comp setting to the + (positive) side.

If you want to bring down the highlight (see more color in the sky) you'd go to the minus/negative side of the setting.

Unfortunately, you get to choose ONE and only one of those options. The difference between the light values in the shadows, and the color in the sky is too great to capture both equally well. The easiest way to get that is to do adjustments in photoshop. Or take two pics, one set for exposure in the dark shadow area, and the second set for the bright sky. Then combine them in post-processing.

I had to spend a ton of time editing images in PhotoShop after a wedding with outdoor portraits because the brides wanted both light in the shadows and nice blue skies at midday.

The other question to ask when looking at a scene, is "Where is the light coming from?"

In the example above, there isn't direct light falling on that side of the engine. There's a lot of reflected light, and it's always softer than direct light. And, if you shot that in the morning or evening, that light is always softer.

Hard light helps define details by having a stark difference between highlights and shadows. that's why pics in direct sun of a person often show all the age lines, crows feet, etc. Put the same person in the shade, take their photo again, and the soft indirect light doesn't have as much of a sharp highlight to shadow ratio. That helps hide the details that are still there.

The loco above is probably very happy that you got her good side in soft light, to hide all of those age spots, and harsh lines. ;)
 

bigfoot13

Well-Known Member
Try setting bracketing. This goes along with what @troyphoto said. But it will take 3 photos instead of one. One above and below the set exposure compensation. You may not get the exact framing you want if the train is moving but it help me better understand when and how to use exposure compensation.
 

HO Scale MILW

A Normal, Regular, Train Fan
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Screenshot 2022-12-22 12.53.06 PM.png


Also while on the railfanning subject, here are some photos I took at the IRM (Illinois Railway Museum) earlier this summer, of my personal favorite locomotive there, Iowa Pacific 515. IRM was donated 515 last year in December after the bankruptcy of Iowa Pacific Holdings, with current plans to *sadly* repaint 515 into its original CNW Yellow, Green, paint scheme. Personally I love the the current paint scheme 515 has, in Iowa Pacific's main Illinois Central inspired paint, but it is not up to me what happens to this unit.... As of the Museum Showcase Weekend, this unit is operational.
 

cv_acr

Well-Known Member
Especially when I'm photographing in the shadows, all the trains seem dark.
That in itself is one of the problems.

If your subject is in strong shadows, on a sunny day, it's going to be pretty dark. If you get the exposure up to brighten it, you'll blow out the sky or any other light coloured objects.

(I mean, see how dark the shadows are on the sides of that CN train in a post further down this thread that is nicely lit on the nose.)

Also make sure you're taking photos with the sun (more or less) to your back. You want to be on the sunny side of the subject, and not be photographing the shadowed side.

In any case, shadows are going to mess things up.
 

regme

Active Member
Further to what Troyphoto posted about the light meter in your camera.

Your camera is stupid, your the one that decides what you get out of the photo.

When you look at a scene you have to consider what is the most important thing you want to capture.

The next thing is the dynamic range of that scene, the human eye can see about 10 stops (I think) your camera 4 to 5. So what you see and what you camera sees are two different things. Also when printing, paper has a dynamic range

Getting the right exposure is also dependent on the dynamic range, you might get one part right and the other is not, so chose what is important and let the rest slide of course you stack the exposures in post processing to get a greater dynamic range.

Hence, I never use the auto function to get the correct exposure.

A few thing you can try:
get a grey card - this is what the camera's light meter wants to see, place the grey card in the light you want to photography, meter of that, then shoot.

Setup up and black piece of card/paper, with you camera on a tripod, meter on the card take the shot, now open up the aperture by 1 stop and take another shot and repeat for 3 stops, do the same thing the other way. See which setting gives you true black, you might find opening up by two stops maybe right.

Do the same with a white card, you might find closing by 2 stops maybe right.

So something in shadow needs more light and something in the sun needs less you have to balance that.

A rule of thumb is the sunny 16 rule, used on sunny days, set the aperture to f/16 and your speed to what ever your ISO setting is, is your ISO 100 your speed is 1/100, then you can adjust from there depending on what you want.

That said some cameras will give you a high dynamic range, just have a look a your phone's camera for example. Try using both and see what you get.

Well enjoy.
 




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