Thursday, February 12, 2015

Photographing railroad models, Part 2

In my first post on railroad model photography, I commented in general about what is needed for such photos (you can read that post it at this link: ), including the basic three principles, which are these: minimum lens aperture, solid (usually tripod) support for the camera, and good lighting. These basics would apply whether you are photographing a flower, a grasshopper, or an HO scale freight car.
     There are two Kalmbach books having to do with model railroad photography, which I have found informative. Both are out of print, though readily available on the Internet in used condition from ABE Books, Amazon, Powell’s Books, and others. This is another place where Google is your friend. Just use the book title or authors to search, and you will find a bunch of sources, most at pretty attractive prices.
     The first of these is really a superb book, despite having only a single chapter about model railroad photography. The entire book is packed with ideas and clear illustrations of what to do and what not to do. It was first published in 1984 and is by Sheperd Paine and Lane Stewart, entitled How to Photograph Scale Models.

     The second book is entirely about model railroad photography, published in 1991. Though it is mostly about pretty advanced methods and equipment, the descriptions about the choice of the shot you want, and how to compose it, are very valuable. The four authors, big names all, each discuss their own philosophy and approach, quite interesting to read, and they provide numerous illustrations of how the photographs were composed, lit and photographed.

     Both the books shown above are totally about film photography, but the great majority of their advice about composition of photos, lighting, and so on, is entirely appropriate and useful for digital photography.
     A third book, long out of print, that has taught me a lot about this kind of photography is another title by Sheperd Paine, How to Build Dioramas, issued in two slightly different editions by FineScale Modeler (Kalmbach Books), and often though not always available used on the Internet.     
     If you prefer explanatory material which is explicitly about digital photography, you can download a free PDF from FineScale Modeler on this topic, from this link:

This piece is actually from the May 2006 issue of FineScale Modeler magazine, and offers considerable sensible advice for anyone just starting in digital photography.
     The equipment I use most often for model photography is not very sophisticated. My digital SLR camera is a Canon XSi model, now discontinued (this is usually classified as an “entry level” SLR), and many times I pair it with a tripod that is truly ancient, a Star D from Davidson (it must be over 30 years old). Shown below are the two together.

The lens you see here is the 18–55-mm zoom I use for most model photographs. I also have a 60-mm macro lens, but it only comes into play for really close-up photos, or when I need greater depth of field; it’s capable of /32 minimum aperture.
     There are a lot of miles on this old tripod; I used it for a lot of film photography with my former Canon SLR camera, a classic AE-1, with a cable release for the shutter. (Today I occasionally use the electronic equivalent of the cable release, what Canon calls a “remote switch,” whenever exposures get a little long.) But the joints in this tripod’s extension legs are getting worn, and I have a newer alternative, which I’ll show in future posts.
     This summarizes background for the model photography side of photographic technique. Next I will present some examples.
Tony Thompson

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