Composition: Ideas, how-to, etc.

HemiAdda2d Oct 4, 2021

  1. HemiAdda2d

    HemiAdda2d Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Allow me to start with the fact that I'm very much an amateur in some ways, and while I have a style that I call my own, I feel like I'm in a rut of the same shots all the time. I pretty well have the rule of thirds down, but leading lines, vanishing points and other compositional styles are not old hat yet. While I have been shooting trains for 20 plus years, I have only about 4-5 years of experience doing stuff a notch above snapshots. I find myself redoing views, sometimes for a better result because I flubbed the last one, or just because I can't think of another view at that spot.

    Studying composition books that explain how compositions should work doesn't always readily translate into railroad photography, at least in my mind. Sometime the bowl of apples or urban art can be substituted for a train, and sometimes not, at least the way I would understand it. What books would you recommend I read for a railfan perspective on photo composition?

    How do YOU compose a shot, any given shot, at any given location, and why do you choose the composition that you do?
    One way we can do this, is show a snapshot of the area. The spot would you shoot, can be a google streetview angle (although such doesn't exist off the paved roads in North Dakota), or whatever you have, even a cell phone camera shot. Explain where you'd want the train, what angle you desire the light to be, and why. What time of day is best? Is proper lighting on the subject possible, or is indirect light or an overcast day desirable for one reason or another? Why choose a glint shot over a traditionally-lit view? What composition rules would you apply in this spot and why?

    The way I figure it, we can learn from each other.

    I'll start.
    I've done a ton of photos at Soo Tower, in downtown Minot. It's close to home, easy to reach, and relatively numerous angles are possible.
    Here's the basic layout. The CP is single track, BNSF is double track, with the Amtrak depot.

    Soo Tower.jpg

    From the Amtrak parking lot, mornings are best on eastbounds, but westbounds are possible too. A westbound passes under the Soo Tower signal bridge. I don't do this one much now as it's a bit overdone and Amtrak employees sometimes give me grief.

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    Opposite the tower is a vacant lot that MOW vehicles use from time to time. It's good on westbounds in summer, such as this transfer.

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    Another classic, overdone view is from the library lawn, on Amtrak. The light here when the train is on time is decidedly backlit with a touch to the south side of the train. The nose is never lit well when the train is on the advertised.

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    Looking the opposite direction at the CP from the same lawn position, we see a CP eastbound in the fog. Not a bad shot, but I haven't tried to get a well-lit eastbound here in some time, maybe it's time again.

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    Also from CP and on an earth embankment below a local furniture store, a CP eastbound winds thru the Soo Tower plant.

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    At night, Amtrak can be shot at Soo Tower. I bagged a time exposure of the #8 as it drifted to a station stop. Access west of the interlocking is poor, and lighting on Amtrak 8, even on time on the longest days of the year is nil at this spot. In fact, when the summer solstice leaves us in sunset skies as late as 2230, Amtrak is backlit here, but the north side of the diamonds shot (transfer) might work on 8. Will have to try that next June...

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    Westbounds on CP here are very nose-lit, but blue hour makes that less of an issue. From the library lawn, the heavy snow in the headlights was a nice bonus element in this one.

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    The Soo Tower plant looks more complicated when you telesmash it, such as this long 400mm view from the Amtrak platform. Like before, I minimize doing this one as being on the platform can cause trouble. The sunset glint was a nice element.

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    There's a dirt lot north of the track just east of the Amtrak depot. It has a nice ballast pile from which to gain an extra 5 feet of elevation. Here's a view of an eastbound with the 1904-built GN station in view.

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    Right at the signal bridge from the library lawn, an ultrawide angle lens can be used vertically. Wintertime leaves this part of the train lit from the side:

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    West of Soo Tower on CP, an eastbound takes a flashing yellow signal. The overcast snow day allowed this shot, which would not be lit properly, but the embankment on the ROW puts the shooter several feet below the train, not an optimal shot, although an ultrawide could be used to exaggerate the train from down low.

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    A westbound during blue hour can be used if you can bag the signal. From the library lawn (again):

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