View Full Version : Thoughts and Questions

07-27-2004, 05:02 PM
It's been kind of a dry spell for my efforts lately. Lots of rejections. I never appeal. I'm new to this hobby. I trust the editors. And I'm proud of those pics of mine they've accepted. (23 so far, if I'm not mistaken.)

I traveled from New York to Georgia and back in the past two weeks, and just one out of 150 photos from the trip made the grade here at railpictures.net. I may have submitted 30 photos out of the total. The other 120 were hopeless. I didn't need any help figuring that out. I'm feeling pretty incompetent, to say the least!

The adventures I've had trying to get good photos were probably more interesting than the pictures I might have actually gotten, had I known what I was doing. Rail photography for me has been a real comedy of errors! I mean, I've tumbled down embankments, run out of battery power deep in the woods, and filled my memory card just when an unusual train appeared. The camera itself derailed photo ops repeatedly. It tends to go into sleep mode at the exact moment a train comes into view.

I'm at fault, too. I've forgotten to take the lens cap off. I let wisps of my own cigarette smoke mar what would have been great photos. I often fail to determine which side of the train is in the sunlight. I forget to set focus, or I change focus inadvertently when I mean to change only the zoom length. There comes a time when one must commit to a shot, when it's too late for any fine tuning. I've missed shots trying to make an adjustments with just seconds to go before a train passes.

Another mistake I make is admiring my own work on the camera's LCD. More than once I was checking out my results when an interesting train came into view. By the time I switched the camera back to recording mode, it was too late to get the shot! I must've sounded like Yosemite Sam to anyone within earshot when that happened! That's how I missed the first appearance of Metro-North's new M-7 m.u.'s. on the Harlem Line.

Earlier in July, a newspaper reporter tipped me off that the new M-7's would handle the 5:47 p.m. train out of Grand Central the next day. 24 hours later, I was waiting by the tracks. Many regular commuter trains passed by. Of course I took pictures, and I got some good ones. But I switched to playback to see them just when the M-7's appeared. So I got a picture of the new M-7's on their second day of service!

I found out when the RNC Special will be passing my area on the Hudson Line in September. I doubt I'll be able to get anywhere near the tracks for that event. (Can you believe the RNC Special's schedule is on the World Wide Web, but some people think my photos of the humdrum daily afternoon express to Wassaic compromise security?)

One day, I left my tripod at a station in The Bronx. It's a good tripod. It was a gift. I had to get it back. I drove 10 miles to retrieve it - and I succeeded - against all odds, frankly, when you take into account where I left it. I could have been summons for road rage thar day.

And never mind too that I was confronted numerous times by the police, bitten by ants after sitting on a tree stump, and seriously sunburned. I even managed to aggravate my family and friends. They said I was acting like I was possessed!

But good pics was what I was trying to get, and my failure has got me asking questions.

I got a bargain basement price for my camera. It readily takes good snapshots of stationary subjects that aren't too far away. But lately I'm thinking that's all it can handle.

Is my camera too basic to produce an wide variety of railroad photos? I have a Minolta DiMage S-414 (The MSRP is $350, but I paid just $85 for it from Target). The S-414's primary specs are: 4.0 megapixels; 4x optical zoom, auto and manual focus; maximum shutter speed 1/1000; and a choice of two aperture settings in either wide angle and telephoto mode.

I have never owned a sophisticated camera, and this is the first camera I've owned that has any sort of manual controls.

Here are some of the things I've learned since I started taking photos last June:

Auto focus is too slow. By the time the camera figures out the right focus and aperture settings, it's too late. The train is half way or more across the screen. And the AF system often locks onto something else besides the train.

My camera can't seem to handle hazy, overcast days either. The shutter speed has to be slow to get the right exposure, which in turn produces a blurry subject. I can use a higher ISO, but that makes my pictures grainy.

Yesterday's weather was great. There was plenty of sunshine and the skies were clear and blue for the first time in weeks. I picked a new spot where trains pass on a sweeping curve. They were traveling at 40-60 mph andf the roadbed was bathed in a soft afternoon light. I had high hopes for producing my best pics ever!

I used shutter speeds between 1/500th and 1/1000th of a second, and an ISO setting of 64. These were the fastest speeds I've ever used, but I got blurry results. Why? Is 1/1000th of a second fast enough? The camera was on a tripod! Was it the aperture setting? Yesterday I tried both f8.0 and f3.6. Is it because the lens was at maximum optical zoom? Do you guys with better SLR's concern yourself with apertures? Do you use filters? How the heck are you guys so good?

Is the only answer a more expensive camera? How are better cameras able to let in enough light at higher shutter speeds?

Maybe yesterday's location is just too demanding for my camera. Could it be? If so, I won't waste any more time there. While the location offers a wide, unobstructed view of the railroad, without zoom it is somewhat removed from the the tracks, unless one stands on the bridge directly over the rails, which results in a "Bad Angle." I am not sure about this, because there are photos by others on this site that were taken around Cajon Pass and Tehachapi Loop, for example, which show all or most of an entire train in detail, and from pretty far off!

What are typical settings for motion shots? Is my "advanced digital compact" camera even capable of making crisp motion shots? And what about this topic of not using "infinity" in zoom mode? Was that why yesterday's shots came out blurry? I set focus to infinity. I wasn't able to get as close to the tracks as I would have liked.

Does shooting at the maximum digital size short of .TIFF help solve pixelation after cropping and re-sizing? Should I shoot in .TIFF and then convert to JPEG during editing? I've never yet shot in .TIFF because until only last week I was using a 16 MB Compact Flash memory card.

Almost all of yesterday's pics required some magnification in Photoshop. As a result, pixelation was a problem, as was Moire patterns. It seems when I magnify and crop an image the Moire patterns disappear, but the end result is pixelated.

Do photographers often enlarge details and re-color loco numbers, etc. and washed out areas? Do people commonly use the Sharpen or Sharpen Edges Photoshop filters? The more I study the most appealing photos I see, the more I begin to wonder how much editing was involved in making them. It seems like anything more than a few simple adjustments harms my images! Cropping, re-sizing, and zooming is like a prescription for graininess!

Is there a way to see the final image exactly as it will appear on someone else's screen? Sometimes I get a "Too Grainy" or "Too Dark" rejection, but the image looks bright and clear on my screen. On a few occasions, I submitted shots I really liked and believed would meet with approval. Even though I pointed out in the submission form that they taken at dusk, they were rejected for being too dark.

Generally, when I lighten pics, it seems to cause graininess. I do CTRL-J, then SCREEN, and then I adjust the opacity slider in the layers palette window. Do some photogs shoot dark exposures to capture details, and then lighten all or selected parts of the image later at home? Does that clear up graininess?

It seems every new photo location I visit has nuances which need to be learned through trial and error. Many of my pics turn out to have obstructions I somehow don't see, even though they were right in front of me. Hanging wires are the worst. Then there are other typical foreground obstructions like passing or parked cars, shadows from overpasses, billboard signs, trains going the other way. How can I shoot the New Haven Line from anywhere but trackside, for example? Its catenary wires kind of limit it to wedge shots.

Yesterday I realized that the reason some of my best photos turned out overexposed was because I selected what I thought was the best aperture and shutter speed before the train arrived. But the commuter trains I am shooting have unpainted silver bodies and they reflect an enormous amount of light back at the camera. It tookme long enough to figure that out! The train was overexposed, but the backgroundlooked great in test shots before the train came. D'oh! But now, when I increase the shutter speed, the background becomes too dark!

I'm obviously not an expert, but is it possible my camera does not possess enough features to produce an evenly lit, well-focused photo at any other time but when it's ten or 20 feet away from a stationary subject on a sunny day?

Here in New York where trackside security is high I find myself searching for legal track level vantage points. Yesterday I shot from a secondary road bridge that crossed the tracks at an angle. Some of my better shots were taken almost directly above the tracks. I had to hold the camera on the other side of a wrought iron fence and frame the shots using only the LCD. Just to do this, I had to pass the camera sideways through the bars and risk dropping it to the roadbed below. But it was the only way to free the lens' view from obstructions. Not surprisingly, these pics got rejected for "Bad Angle." I am beginning to think that any "War Time" RR pics from should be saved because of the time and place they were shot. Let me tell you, there aren't too many nearby locations that meet both my camera's and the police's requirements!

Judging from what I described about my camera, is it good enough for train photography? In other words, is it me, or the camera?

Railpictures.net features some of the best photos I've ever seen.

As for me, I've rambled long enough! If you've read this far, thanks! If anyone has tips or comments on any of the many topics I brought up, feel free to reply here or by e-mail!

Dave S.
Mount Vernon, New York

07-28-2004, 04:43 AM
Well, this is a good topic, and probably the best place you could come to for answers and suggestions. You have exactly what you need for this hobby and more specifically, this website: the right attitude. Based on your post, you've had your share of trials and tribulations and your share of heartaches, but you keep plugging away and you keep trying to make yourself better, all without complaining or attacking the screeners. Attitude and determination can carry you far, and you have ample amounts of both.

All I can add or suggest is to keep plugging away. Like you, I am awed by some of the shots I see on this site. Their quality is my goal, but I am realistic in the fact that I am limited by my equipment. I will never get Moe Bertrand-like quality with my Nikon CoolPix 2100, but like I've said before, if I can get photos accepted with a 2 megapixel point and shoot, anyone can get their stuff accepted.

But the secret is, know the limits of what you carry. Like you pointed out, overcast days, to include dawn or dusk shots, are beyond my camera's ability. Distance shots are the same. If you notice, most of my shots are right next to the rails. It sounds like you don't have the luxury of where you live to get right by the tracks, but perhaps a short drive away from cops and paranoid citizens will allow you the freedom to get trackside.

Another thing that might help out is not to wait for trains where they are at full track speed. Seek out spots where they have limited speeds such as yards or passing sidings. It might take a little scouting to find these slow-down points, but you'll find that it's well worth it.

Sorry I can't help on camera specifics or photo-editting, but I just wanted to pass on some of my 'secrets.' Best of luck and hope someone can help out with the technical stuff!

Chris Starnes
07-28-2004, 03:41 PM
Chris made some very good points. It takes quite a bit of time to develop your own style of photography....so just give it some time and keep trying.

07-28-2004, 04:58 PM
Hey, thanks for the encouraging words!

I was going to buy the Nikon Coolpix 2100. It was on sale at Overstock.com for $98.00. Maybe the Nikon 2100 has only 1.97 Megapixels, but it has a maximum shutter speed of 1/3000th of a second, and an aperture range of F2.6 to F4.7. My camera's specs don't come close to matching the 2100's specs!

My camera does have twice as many Megapixels, but I learned after I bought it that Megapixels aren't so important if you're not going to make prints greater than 8"x10" in size. I thought for sure you were using a Canon rebel or something. I'll bet you can get clearer shots of trains at speed with that Nikon than I could hope to get! I even tried to sell my Minolta to my friend Jerry and buy the Nikon myself from overstock.com. I think it may be the best digicam on the market in the $100-$250 range.

Lately I been thinking about the $300 Pentax Optio 555 - maximum shutter speed 1/4000, aperture range f2.6 to f4.7, and a 4.9x optical zoom. Would that do the trick? The Minolta Z-1 and Z-2 are attractive too, with their 10x zoom capability and their relatively low MSRP's. But their maximum shutter speed is 1/1000th of a second, and they don't have any wider aperture range than my present camera. The Z-3 due on the market soon may be the answer. Of course, $2,000 to spend on a new camera would be the best option!

My Minolta sure beats the Olympus D-560 I was using before. That thing had the worst shutter lag imaginable. Good price, sturdy and reliable, but absolutely useless for train pics. Gotta make the best of what you got. The Minolta was a good deal at $86.00. And Maybe I'm wrong. Didn't you say you avoid shooting fast moving trains with your Nikon too? I should think 1/3000th of a second could stop a TGV!

Thanks for your encouragement too, Chris S.! It's not every day that one gets a nod from the Big Boss Man!


07-29-2004, 03:08 AM
Didn't you say you avoid shooting fast moving trains with your Nikon too? I should think 1/3000th of a second could stop a TGV!

Ha! Be careful when you start getting wrapped up in all the specs surrounding a digital camera! I think they throw all that stuff out there just to make their product seem better. It's like a car salesman listing off all the options on a car and he includes the steering wheel and tires with the list. It sounds impressive, but in reality, it might not be.

For example, the CoolPix does say it has a shutter speed of 1/3000 of a second, but I have absolutely no control over that. You can't adjust the shutter speed on the CoolPix; it's all automatic. Most of the shots I take are anywhere from 1/100 to 1/300 of a second. The highest one I ever saw was ~1/550 of a second and that was because I was sitting in my car, shooting across the passenger from the driver's seat, and right at a train running into the sun. I assume the shutter speed was so high because I was in shade and the subject wasn't. For my railfanning, I have too much pride to carry an umbrella with me so I have shade so I can get a higher shutter speed!! That would definitely attract cops to see some dude holding an umbrella on a sunny day taking pictures of trains!

Anyhow, I have taken photos of trains at track speed with the Nikon, but the conditions have to be perfect and I have to be nearly perfect when I decide to press the shutter. I need to have alot of sun on the nose to capture one going 40+ MPH. Also, and this may help, I use the 'Sports' option on my camera which cuts down on focus time and shutter lag whenever the subject is in motion.

I thought for sure you were using a Canon rebel or something.

Thanks for the compliment! Someday, I hope to get my hands on a Digital Rebel!

07-29-2004, 03:38 AM
Well, there you go. The 2100 is automatic? I resisted beginning to learn the technical aspects of manual shooting, but after my experences with the completely automatic D-560 I realized I would have to get a camera with manual controls. You know, the review of the 2100 at www.dpreview.com says the camera has both automatic and manual controls. It's semi-automatic, I guess? That or I have confused your camera with another model. Wouldn't be the first time I was confused! But thanks for the heads up. All things considered, it's pretty hard to find a cheap digital camera suitable for the demanding world of rail photography.

well, I'm off to Boston for the weekend. More photo ops in the field - if the DNC doesn't make rail photography impossible!


07-29-2004, 03:55 AM
the review of the 2100 at www.dpreview.com says the camera has both automatic and manual controls. It's semi-automatic, I guess?

Here's what I have control of in the 'manual' mode:

1) Image quality (fine, good, etc.; it's just how much compression is used)
2) White balance
3) Exposure balance (which indirectly affects shutter speed, but is tied in with other areas.)
4) Date imprint
5) Continuous shots
6) Best shot selector (picks the best photo in a string of 16)
7) In-Camera sharpening (I prefer to edit on the desktop, not in the camera)

Obviously the flash and the ability to pick some scene assist modes (i.e. you can pick the 'sunset' option which interprets the colors in a sunset differently than the manual mode would. There's also a preset option for 'overcast', but it's a complete joke).

So, yeah, there are some manual controls, but I can't directly change what needs to be changed (shutter speed, etc.).

Don't get me wrong, I love this camera. It's been halfway around the world and in the harshest environments (Iceland, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Mississippi :lol:) and it's performed like a champ in every one of them. It's just so easy to throw in a pocket and take it with me. I bought it pretty much for that fact alone, and I got it before I got into railfanning. It just took a while for me to figure out how to adapt it and myself for railfanning. Take a look at my photos on this site, especially the first several, to see the quality of when I started and how long the time spans were between accepted photos.

I'd love to have a Digital Rebel, but believe me, that piece would never make it back to the Middle East with me. But you can guarantee my trusty CoolPix would make the trek! :lol:

07-29-2004, 08:04 AM
I just had another look at your photos. The Nikon 2100 must be one of the better automatic cameras. You've gotten some good pics. Of course, i don't know how much editing you did, but it doesn't matter. The camera obviously gives you plenty to work with.

Most of the features you listed as 'manual' controls are available to me too, and in both maunual and automatic mode. I have the same presets, except for an 'action' mode.

Thanks for the encouragement again. are there any Saudi RR pics in your collection?

It's four a.m. I gotta get off the PC.

Be back Tuesday!


07-29-2004, 10:08 PM
are there any Saudi RR pics in your collection?

HELL NO!!! I'd rather take my chances in E. St. Louis than Riyadh...

Ken Carr
07-30-2004, 03:11 AM
Well my AE-1 made it though Saudi in 90 and Kuwait in 91

08-03-2004, 09:39 PM
Man E. St. Louis is a scary place! I once got shot at trying to get some shots of a KCS train that turned out to not even be close to RP.net quality. It'll be along time before I go there again. Dupo, IL, maybe, but E. St. Louis? Not a chance in hell.

08-04-2004, 04:48 AM
Dupo, IL, maybe, but E. St. Louis? Not a chance in hell.

Dupo's perfectly safe. I don't think I've even seen another person (well, one other railfan and not counting people driving by in cars) when I'm along the lines. I've never felt any threat there.

Cahokia/Maplewood Park is safe too, just stay near the airport and the tracks and things are fine.

Centreville is getting close to the war zone of E. St. Louis, but you can get at the east mouth of the old Gateway Western yard.

Addison is where the NS main comes in and that's far too dangerous for my likes. I snuck in there one weekday morning to get an up-close of an NS Dash 9, and it wasn't worth it and I'll never go back...unless I see an SD80MAC (only in CR paint) when I drive by on I-255.

North of I-64, Madison is sketchy. The entrance to the Madison Yard is shady, but I've jumped out and shot an ex-CR Dash 8 there. The engine shops are safe; the road leading to it also houses a church. Other than there, it's shoot at your own risk.

Granite City seems okay. I've been there a little bit, but haven't noticed a real threat.

Next to Dupo, I prefer the likes of O'Fallon, Shiloh, and New Baden, where the only people to approach you are nice and they ask things like, "You're not going to jump in front of the train are you?" :lol:

I've yet to venture over to the Missouri side, but I want to get a shot like warren's by the Arch...

chris crook
08-04-2004, 09:35 PM
Chris made some very good points. It takes quite a bit of time to develop your own style of photography....so just give it some time and keep trying.

DNS860, This place is great, but it is not the be-all end-all of railroad photography. Sometimes you may do things that are good shots, but don't fit what they are looking for here. So you have to keep an open mind about being rejected too, but it appears that you already have one. Do your own thing, try new angles, and get a second opinion from someone you respect. You mention that most of the shots on the NEC are wedge shots. Some people like that, to some people that is the pinnicle of railroad photography-and it has worked great since Lucious Beebe. Don't be afraid to try something new just because it may get rejected here. But at the same time, there are some great photographers here, so there is much to be learned from just browsing, as I often do at work when I have no 'official business' to take care of.