Monday, February 7, 2022

Experiments in layout photography

 Like everyone who reads the model magazines and sees gorgeous layout photography, month after month, I often get the “itch” to make better photographs of my own layout. One way to get great angles, close to what an HO-scale photographer would get, is to use a cell phone. It’s so much smaller than an SLR lens, as I have written before (you can see that post at: ).

I’ve gone back onto the layout recently and tried some new angles and some new subject areas.  As with any photography, lighting and framing of the desired image is essential. Back in 2015, I wrote a post about this background (see it at: ). The great advantage with any digital camera, including a cell phone, is that you see right away what you captured, and can immediately correct anything undesirable.

One subect that I enjoy photographing is the Common Standard 22 depot at Santa Rosalia, at the end of my branch line, with a couple of railroad crewmen in the photo. The structure is an American Model Builders LaserKit. I wrote a four-part series about building it, a most satisfying project (here’s a link: ).

Another area where I think the modeling supports photographic opportunities is my winery building (adapted from an old Magnuson kit). Here is the loading platform, with a 6-compartment wine tank car alongside, with Nipomo Street in the foreground.

An additional scene often photographed is at the scratchbuilt Shumala depot, with three individuals having a conversation on the platform. Building this structure was the subject of one of my ”Getting Real” columns in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the issue for November 20212. The issue is still available to read online or download, for free, at: .

Further, here’s a view across the team track at the town of Ballard, with the depot in the right background. Two individuals are loading a box into a truck, likely part of the cargo shown on the freight platform alongside the house track.

Finally, here is a view looking up Alder Street, at its junction with Pismo Dunes Road, where the Union 76 gas station is located. I wrote a series of posts about this kitbash of a City Classics kit; you can retrieve them from the concluding post (which is at: ). In the background at right is the Phelan and Taylor packing house, and in the left background is Caslon Printing. This is the far end of East Shumala on the layout.

These few shots do show some potential for good points-of-view on the layout, and the lower perspective available with a cell phone camera, is more like a bystander photograph than the usual “helicopter” layout view. I intend to continue with these efforts.

Tony Thompson


  1. Hi Tony, I have found that it's also useful to have a small mirror that can fit into areas that the cellphone (or DSLR) can't. Nowadays, cropping and reversing the image is trivial. Also, depending upon your brand of cellphone, there are apps that will do automatic focus bracketing so that you can later focus-stack the images. I use CameraPixels on my iPhone.

  2. Good point, Jeff, I forgot to mention a mirror, which I have experimented with a little. And I got the CameraPixels Lite app for the iPhone, and am learning how to manage it.
    Tony Thompson