Issue 147    Sept 1st   to December 1st 2020

Steam railways update – by Tony Bartlett


The Editor has asked me say something about how I produce the images for these articles and for the Steam Special section on the web-site – in the absence of the usual report!

People have been photographing railway subjects for 150 years or more – for our purposes here I shall concentrate on action shots of trains hard at work. This provides a stern test of the camera and the photographer, with the extra pressure of knowing that you have to get it right first time. I shall cover composition and technique, with reference to my most popular image in recent years showing the British Pullman at Bridge 99 on the canal:

Composition – conventionally you aim to take an angled view between head-on and side-on, showing as much of the train as is visible. You should zoom in close to concentrate on the train, or take a wider view to bring in the location. In this case I had already taken a telephoto shot but, being aware of the Bruce boat passing under the bridge, I zoomed out and waited as long as I dare (before losing the front of the train) to get the spontaneous response of the boat crew.

Technique – the challenge here, as for any fast moving subject is to arrest the motion to produce a sharp image of the train. You can either follow the train with a slow shutter speed (1/60th) (panning) and lose control of the composition, or hold the camera steady with the image framed as required and use a fast shutter speed to avoid blur. In this case I zoomed out to 38mm (medium wide) and increased the shutter speed to 1/1000th (while the train was approaching!) On a bright day the chosen aperture of f/7.1 gave a sensitivity auto-setting of ISO400, giving low image noise. Needless to say you need to be confident and in control of your camera to produce reliable results – and this comes with practice, which can be readily obtained covering the many freight trains we have on our line. These will be travelling at nearer to steam train speeds, which will help in getting the timing right.

Having got your treasured shot of a steam train, it should be remembered that no matter how good it looks on the camera-back (or mobile phone), it could be improved with sensitive editing, even with just the basic tools like those which come with phone cams. You never know where your ‘masterpiece’ will end up – this one has appeared in a number of publications, is available as a jigsaw from the loco owners, and can be seen as a large-scale print on the interpretation board at the Bridge 99 site near Crofton.