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Model Railroad Photography

GNRR 6576, a GP9, heads south past a track inspector stopped on a siding in a Hi-Rail truck, who conducts a roll by inspection of the train.

Photography is a gratifying art form practiced by many skilled professional and amateur photographers. Their photos inspire us and capture a person, scene, or event in a way that words can’t. Everyone has a favorite photo that they enjoy, from family photos of loved ones to those of special places or events, each one evokes emotions and brings back memories of times gone by.

When you combine the hobby of photography with model railroading it can really enhance your modeling and present our models in a realistic manner. Photos allow you to see details normally missed when viewed in person and can be an excellent aid in weathering projects. By taking photos at certain angles and backgrounds they can help our models look more realistic. Photographs also allow viewers to experience your layout or models even though they may never see it in person.

The difficult question to answer is, what makes a good photo? Numerous books have been written that outline ways to improve your skills when taking photos. Taking photography classes is one way to learn about what makes a good photograph even better. In addition, YouTube has an abundance of videos on photography and photo editing that can also improve your desire to take better photos. Composing a good photo involves proper lighting, depth of field, focus and composition.

Lighting is one of the most important factors when taking photos. Many professional model railroad photographers take model photos outdoors to get the best lighting. Nothing comes closer to replicating natural sunlight other than the real thing. For my latest photo session I took my staging cassette that has scenery applied and a few models outdoors to take some photos.

When looking for the “perfect spot” to take a photo using the staging cassette it has to be clear of out of scale distractions like trees and structures in the immediate background. The best locations for photos are areas that have no obstructions or those that have a distant tree line, but are unobstructed for a few hundred feet between the models and the background. Photos should also be taken with the sun to the photographers back and the model well-lit by sunlight without distracting shadows.

To take the photographs seen in this blog post, I went to a local park that has a paved parking area next to a lake. The staging cassette was placed on a pair of saw horses and positioned with a desirable background and the sun to my back. I moved the cassette and the camera mounted on a tripod around until I had the scene framed properly in the camera viewfinder. A small piece of foam with a few SuperTrees inserted in it was placed directly behind the staging cassette to block the view of any unwanted background scenery. Once I had the scene composed the way I wanted, I took multiple shots using a timer and slightly different angles in the quest for the ideal shot. The locomotive head lights were added later in Photoshop.

Even if you don’t have a layout you can take photos of your locomotives and rolling stock by building a small diorama and practice the art of photography. The photos will help you improve your modeling and are a great way to share your models with others.

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