View Full Version : Night Photos

11-14-2003, 08:39 PM
There seems to be an increase in night shots lately,
which is another incentive for me to view all of the photos
posted to RailPictures.Net every day.

Indeed, my limited experience suggests that night
shooting is vastly more challenging than daytime photography,
since composition becomes more critical and
selecting the correct exposure is for me at least
a matter of trial and error. Therefore, I have
been very impressed with the recent submissions of
Mark Wurst, M.J. Scanlon, Brian Schmidt, E.M. Bell,
and S.A. Tish, to name a few, who have brought a genuinely creative and
artistic perspective to rail photography after sunset.

So perhaps these fellows and others could share some
tips and advice for those of us who are novices or those
who have thought about night photography but never tried

Dave Kerr

E.M. Bell
11-14-2003, 10:41 PM
Well David, thanks for the kind words...your checks in the mail :wink:

I could feed you 37 and 3/4 pages of technical bull fodder about night photography, but (at least for me now) comes down to one element....dumb luck :) I get a hair up my tookas once in awhile to go out and spend the night watching trains, and try a few night shots...and every time I wind up shooting a whole role of film to get "maybe" one or two shots that I like. The most basic things you need are a tripod and cable release for the camera. I try to choose a location that I can get more than just the streak of light of the passing train (IE..signals, tree's ect), and where I can use ambiant light or the lights of the passing train to briighten up the scene. After finding that location, I will just sit and wait, shoot mulitable trains at different angles, playing with F-stop and length of time the shutter is open. I am lucky enough to be close to a rail line that is busy 24 hours a day, so its no big deal to wait them out to play....but this might not be an option in some areas...

Shooting stationary objects such as loco's, signals ect is about the same..bracket your expousers and shutter speeds and see what develops. . The biggest problem I have had with night photography tends to be color shift due to the extra long time the shutter is open. What ever the primary light color is in the scene tends to wash out the entire frame at times, but that can be corrected in photoshop or other image editors. The biggest problem I have had with that is sodium vapor lights (like you will find in yards ect), that tend to turn everything a greenish yellow color. I know of at least one person that devised a series of lens filters to overcome that.

EVERYBODY had different ways of night photography, and my only advice is to go and play, see what works, what doesn't and develop your own style. Dont be afraid to try new things, thats half the fun of it!! You have started a very interesting thread here, and with the mass of great photogs on the site, I cant wait to read more responses.

Just for the record, here is my most favorite night shot...and for that matter, one of my most favorite images I have ever lucked into taking...and it only took a roll and half of K64 to get it....


11-14-2003, 11:23 PM
Night time photography: the reward of a succesful shot is very high, regrettably the amount of pics that end up in the bin as well.

You already seemed to have mastered the skill quite well, may I say so. For instance your pic of a train on Rockville bridge (http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=37683) abd your excellent pic of the Aurora Borealis (http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=37641).

If my pics don't show up, you can check them out at http://b7e7-pictures.4t.com/photo3.html. This website is still a work-in-progress, so you may find pages missing!

As kd4jsl, who is probably a lot more experienced than me, already mentioned it is to a large part down to luck. Especially if you want to shoot moving trains as there is literally no margin for error. Shooting a moving train from far away will give the best result as the motion seems less fast from a distance. Therefore your lense will have to move less rapid.

There are a few pointers I can make. First, always make sure your camera is not pointed at a bright light. This includes street lightning, lights from passing cars etc. If you are near a road you are best to stand in the shadow of a buidling. If there are no building than bringing a firm piece of cardboard or wood might do the trick of shielding the camera from light. If you let any light in there can be two consequences:

1) You get a "sunbeam" in your picture. Sometimes it is white, sometimes it is blue. I believe this has to do with the kind of light. Tube lightning, for instance, always leaves a blue "beam". Check for instance the picture I included of my local church. Note that on the same pic you can see that a car drove by, leaving the mark of his front and tail lights. The light was never directly aimed at the lense, as I stood in the shadow of a buidling. had I moved the camera 20 cm further to the road the pic would have been a goner.

2) You can also get a very overlit picture. This will immediately ruin your pic and make it unsharp. This is a lot worse then the "sunbeam" as the beam can actually add to the picture. In the picture of the church I think the beam looks quite good.

Shot at 1 'o clock at night (duh). You can see more in this picture then that I could actually see when I made the picture. In particular the colors are much more lifelike! At night the trees where just a big black blur, here you can actually see the leaves are green! One of the main advantages of the digital camera. With a film camera this shot would have been much harder, if not impossible.

Water can be a great way to add effects to your picture. You will most likely be using a longer shutter time, and this will give odd effects to the water. All reflections from lights can be clearly seen in water, except for rough water. Check the picture of the English House of Parliament. You can clearly disinguish the building in the reflection.

Note the doubledecker bus on the bridge. I waited for 20 minutes to get this shot, I wanted to get the bridge (mostly) empty with the exception of 1 or more of those typical busses.

Use a stable surface when shooting ANYTHING at dark. A tripod is best but if you don't have one anything else will do. Look for a railing, a low wall, a fence, the top of your car etc. If you want to shoot a moving train it would probably be best to get a monopod. With these you will prevent vertical shaking, but horizontal shaking will still be possible.

The tripod reveals details you could never ever get by hand or by placing the camera on a sturdy surface. Note for instance the flag, the Shell logo is, vaguely, recognisable.

Experiment. You have a digital camera (I read at your photos), so wasting 20 pictures does not matter. Its not like you have to pay for them! Just shoot 50 pictures of the same stationary train/house, each with a different setting. At home take your time to compare the pics, see what worked best. This won't take long. 80% Off your pics can be binned right away. This will tell you what to do and, more importantly, what not to do for your nect shoot. That is one of the main benefits of digital photogrpahy!

After shooting something like 60 shots at different settings, I managed to salvage 7! Even though BA and BAA managed to make the conditions very hard, I got a very cool shot!

When the light differences are very bad, the results are likely to end up likewise.

The huge billboard on the top of the building was a lot brighter then the others. The result is that light beams can be seen pointing out. Even though the billboards are overlit, the surrounding area is underlit. I don't really like this pic. Or the other 30 I shot at this location.

All shots made with a Sony F717 with a tripod. The concorde shot was not made with a tripod but with a sturdy surface while standing on a very narrow ridge just to get a higher position. Must have looked really funny to spectators! :D

Lord Vader
11-15-2003, 05:18 AM
Luck??? You're welcome! :twisted:

E.M. Bell
11-15-2003, 12:52 PM
Luck??? You're welcome! :twisted:

uh..well JEL, I reckon you did have something to do with that shot :) shall we call you a creative consultant?? Location manager?? :wink:

Lord Vader
11-15-2003, 02:00 PM
Naw, just happened to be there :-) Did the same thing with 765 a few years before at that very spot, but didn't have the cool moon in it. I'll dig out my shots of 261, as I messed with some filters that gave it a funky look.

11-15-2003, 02:25 PM
Well let me thank Dave Kerr for adding me into a group of fine photographers. Thank you.

I'll have to agree with E.M. Bell....

I could feed you 37 and 3/4 pages of technical bull fodder about night photography, but (at least for me now) comes down to one element....dumb luck :)

Mostly it's a lot of trial and error. Since I've gone digital experimenting with photos has become a little easier. I'm definitely not paying for a wasted roll of film anymore. :)

When shooting the UP 5640 at NS Forrest Yard
I had to take ten shots before I got one that a car didn't pass in front and leave streaking taillights.

Dumb luck came into play while shooting downtown one night. I knew that the spotlight from the UPRR Police would make for an interesting shot.
But I didn't realize the ghost like image I would get from three empty flat cars as the train went by allowing the other trains on Broadway to be seen.

I'm not up on the use of night filters but with the short days this time of year I suppose I have plenty of time to experiment.

Once again thanks for the compliment Dave. It's greatly appreciated. :D


11-15-2003, 08:41 PM
Thanks for the compliment Dave. People liking my pictures is what makes it worthwhile to take them :)

I have to agree with the factor of luck on getting night shots. Just have to experiment and see what works. I find usually for every 1 good night shot I get there are usually 8 bad ones. Just takes luck and experimenting for the most part.

S.A. Tish

11-23-2003, 08:09 AM
My night shots have been with a tripod and ambiant light, a tripod and flash, or with flash.
Would like to try some simultaneous flash photos a la O. Winston Link. I only have 12 flashbulbs and nothing to fire them with. Does anyone know if they still make flashbulbs and appliances. I found the ones I have in the attic of a house where we used to live.
Is there a way to connect and simultaneously fire multiple regular flash units?


12-27-2003, 09:34 PM
Let me aadd my 2 cents worth here. I always carry a small LED flashlight and a big Mag Light with me. The LED light is useful for brightening up reflective lettering, stripes, etc. without making them too intense like a flash would. It is also great for checking camera settings in the dark. I use a 4-D cell Mag Light as a fill on particularly dark areas. I move it up and down or side to side during a 16 sec. exposure to ensure that there is not a "hot spot" On stationary objects I will try esposures with and without additional light to see the difference.

tbookout82: you might look into radio controlled slaves. I suspect that your return on investment might be rather low if you go that route.

02-17-2004, 11:42 PM
I should be doing taxes right now, but...

My biggest suggestion for getting to know night photography is to take notes - especially if you're shooting film. Here's a couple of pointers that I have found out through my own trial-and-error:

* For both film and digital, don't go over ISO 400. Don't go below ISO 100.

* For urban/suburban areas (mild level of ambient light), hover between f4 and f5.6. You'll probably need at least 15 seconds but no more than 2 minutes of exposure.

* For out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere locations (w/o moon), open 'er wide open!!! f3.5 to 2.8 is the tightest you'd want to go - if you have F1.8 or 1.4, use it. Exposure time will range from 2 minutes to 2 hours. With these long exposures, however, keep the image area free of signals, streetlights, etc, as they will burn in. What you're going for here is star trails and "trains going away" effects. Use a wide angle lens for the greater depth of field, since its a pain in the butt to focus in the dark.

* For yard light shots, use the camera's meter. This will work for bright moonlight as well for the mid to upper end cameras (Mr. Starnes has had some excellent results with this).

Here's a trick that I'm still trying to master - the "night train coming at me" shot. I've tried this once, with marginal results. Your camera has to have a multi-exposure function, and you have to have a rock-steady tripod. Set the camera to take the first exposure at f22, for the oncoming train (in other words, close it down for the bright headlights). After the lead units pass, close the shutter, reset the f-stop to, say, 4, and re-expose the passing train and other ambient light sources for another minute or two.

Other factors to remember - snow and overcast skies will reflect city light, so consider using the camera's meter if there's enough of it. Try firing a flash as the train passes (if you're close enough - and be sure to be at a slight angle so as not to blow out any Scotchlite).

The bottom line, as just about everyone else pointed out, is experiment. But be sure to remember what worked for you, so you can go out and do it again.

Mark 8)
wurstm@comcast.net [/list]