Stopping a train...

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BobH

Administrator
Staff member
My challenge, should I choose to accept it, is to get some good shots of the Washington Park & Zoo Railway in Portland.

The tricky part? Do it at night, while the train is moving and have the Christmas lights that cover the train cleary show up...

Still photos in the station are easy, see my Zoolights thread. No problem there. It's trying to capture the train under way that is very difficult. I got some decent shots during "Golden Hour" those few minutes of dark blue light at sunset. But when it gets truly dark, things get challenging.

My best effort so far:

BH2_5142.JPG


That's 1/2 second with a flash to provide some fill. My ISO was only 250, so I guess I can bump that and drop the shutter speed.
 
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BobH

Administrator
Staff member
The traditional technique of using "rear curtain sync" on moving objects isn't working for me. If I put in enough flash to make the train distinguishable, then it blows out the Christmas lights.

The problem is obvious. I've got a mostly black object, at night, moving, and outlined with fairly dim lights. High ISO will only do so much. Hmm... guess I should have slapped my 50/1.4 on to help things out.

So far I've only come up with one way to really get the shot, and it involves "Ok, so park the train there while I get the photo..." Anyone got any better ideas I've not thought of?

View attachment 1692
 

jakewatrous

Super Moderator
Staff member
Just a few ideas:

First you need to figure out which shutter speed will freeze the train to your liking. You might play around with your rear flash and exposure in addition/instead but it will tend to overpower the lights on the train.

I think you are on the right track with the faster lens. You definitely need to bump up your iso, but if you do make sure you are shooting raw so you have more room to tweak the image.

One other idea might be to shoot the train during the blue "hour" and then combine with an exposure made in the dark when the train isn't present.

Best of luck.
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
Thanks for the feedback Jake. I was able to get an acceptable (the key word being "acceptable") image during "blue hour". See the following:

BH1_5861.jpg


That's 1/30th of a second, f3.5 and ISO 1600. I won't be making any poster size prints of this shot, since it has motion blur. Fortunately the train was moving pretty slowly since it's a crossing.

This type of shot would be fine, except for one problem. Years ago, when I was working as a "train wrangler" for a Hollywood Film, we spent all day getting ready for a shot as "Magic Hour". The camerman grumbled "It's more like Magic MINUTE, since that's all the longer it lasts..."

He was correct, that perfect light is fleeting. The train makes one circuit around the loop every 20 minutes. I can pick one location per trip, due to the layout of the line and the logistics of getting through a crowded zoo. So, I get one shot during magic hour, or maybe two if the light is just right and lasts long.

I don't really need to worry about the background, the train is what I'm after. A bit of fill flash will provide enough location to take care of what I need there. My challenge, which may well be impossible, is freezing the motion after dark.
 
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BobH

Administrator
Staff member
Love the first one with the bold streaks of color. Looks great on the new screen.
Thanks Arline, I like that one too, since you can pretty easily tell it's the steam train, but I keep hoping to get something better.
 
Bob:

The last one looks pretty good.

About the pan head, you might want to reconsider. From the Pan Master over at Railpictures.net, Mitch Goldman, comes the recommendation of follow through. Sort of like spray painting a wall. You want to follow the subject in a parallel plane, rather than rotate the camera. The pan head may get you a small portion in focus, but the rest will likely be motion blurred. A good hand held pan technique will get most of the moving subject in focus. Old Steady Hand Mitch can pull off a good pan at 1/6th of a second. I've managed a decent pan at 1/8th.

The attached is 1/8th at f4.5 (as fast as I have) and ISO 1600.

An alternative would be the new Nikon or Canon with 32,000 ISO :p
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
Nice shot Steve, even if it is a funny looking locomotive... Coincidentally, I'll be engineer on #10 tomorrow (11/29)

How do you manage the "parallel plane" bit though? I'm guessing your panning style involves following the motion while rotating your body, a bit like a duck hunter tracking a bird. If so, you're still rotating, right? (Sorry, my engineering background means I'm picky about stuff like that...)

In any case, I can see how hand held motion might be smoother, and it would definitely be easier. If I get back down there again, I'll give it a shot.

An alternative would be the new Nikon or Canon with 32,000 ISO :p
Heck, why don't I go for broke? (in more ways than one...) ProPhoto is right on the way. I'll stop in and pick up a D3s. It has an insanely high ISO of 102,400.

That would be like 6 stops faster... Yep, that should do the trick!

Unfortunately, there's another high number attached, over 5K, and that's not megapixels I'm talking about, but rather megabucks. I really would love to have one, but $5K for body only is a bit of stretch.
 
Nice shot Steve, even if it is a funny looking locomotive... Coincidentally, I'll be engineer on #10 tomorrow (11/29)

How do you manage the "parallel plane" bit though? I'm guessing your panning style involves following the motion while rotating your body, a bit like a duck hunter tracking a bird. If so, you're still rotating, right? (Sorry, my engineering background means I'm picky about stuff like that...)
That shot was supposed to be a pace shot, but somebody pulled in front of me and frankly I don't recall if my truck was moving or just the camera. But as Mitch has explained to me, a well done Pan shot has the same characteristics as a pace shot. I.e. the plane of the lens is parallel to the plane of the subject, and of course moving at the same speed. Any rotating of the camera while the shutter is open will result in one or both ends of the image being somewhat or greatly motion blurred. I guess you could also think of Wax on Wax off!

I don't have a panning style, I still working on one. But I don't think the duck hunter analogy will resemble what I'm gunning for. :p The end of the rifle's barrel creates an arc and that what you're trying to avoid. Rather try keeping the barrel (or lens) flat against a piece of glass.
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
Steve, you're right about the arc and resulting focus loss, that was exactly the reason for my question.

So, I'm trying to picture the motion you describe... Do you move the camera across in front of your face, or do you move your whole body?
 
In the pan/pace shot above, I was using the 40D's live view function. So the camera was at "arms length" and I was trying to move the camera, hands and arms in a straight line.

Now that you mention it, I've not ever got a good explanation of that part of the technique from Mitch. Maybe I should ask him. :eek:

Since I don't have this down very well myself, I'd guess I'm doing some more along the lines of rotating the camera, with a little body motion. It's something I need to work on more.
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
In the pan/pace shot above, I was using the 40D's live view function. So the camera was at "arms length" and I was trying to move the camera, hands and arms in a straight line.
Well hey, lots of luck with that! If I hold my camera at arm's length and try to move it smoothly, I'm guessing the result won't be pretty.

Now that you mention it, I've not ever got a good explanation of that part of the technique from Mitch. Maybe I should ask him. :eek:

Since I don't have this down very well myself, I'd guess I'm doing some more along the lines of rotating the camera, with a little body motion. It's something I need to work on more.
Yeah, I'm interested in the technique too. I totally understand what you're saying, by keeping the plane of sensor parallel to the object's motion, you won't get any blur as the outer parts of the lens rotate relative to the object. Makes perfect sense, and I've done it from a moving vehicle. So, the technical portion I understand...

It's the "Just how do you do that?" part I don't get. :)
 
Bob:

I've invited Mitch Goldman to visit us and perhaps give a brief tutorial (or something along those lines).

Perhaps we'll hear from him soon.
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
Sounds good, but in the interim see if he can explain it to you a bit. I've got until the 12th to perfect my technique. :) OK, forget "perfecting", I'm just looking for something that works reasonably well.
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
As my gear got better, so did the photos... This is what I had in mind.

BH2_5275.JPG
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
So far I've only come up with one way to really get the shot, and it involves "Ok, so park the train there while I get the photo..." Anyone got any better ideas I've not thought of?
And... The "Park the train right there" approach also worked well. Sometimes it helps to have connections. :)

BH1_7053.jpg
 

Bill Anderson

Super Moderator
Staff member
As my gear got better, so did the photos...
I hate to sound like an equipment snob, but I have found that to be the case with my photos as well. High end equipment also allows me to take /keep photos that I would otherwise pass up/delete.
 

BobH

Administrator
Staff member
You’re not a snob, you’re a realist. Gear matters. We’ve all heard the joke about “Great photo, you must have a really nice camera!” to which you reply “Great dinner, you must have a really nice stove!”
Well, guess what? Most good cooks do have a really nice stove. Sure, they can also outcook me while using my Lowe’s special, given the choice, most use top end stoves and cookware. The same for press photogs. They’re not rocking big lens to look cool. They really are better.
 
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