How to Take Better Train Travel Photos

For an Internet Rail Travelogue, and for Personal Use.

By Carl Morrison at - -

(The photo examples are best viewed while online, since some references are to photos on other web pages of mine.)

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18.  The Challenge of Shooting Through Train Windows.

When you board the train, select a seat that has a large window, some seats have the window post beside the seat.  If it is a double-level car, select a seat on the upper level.  It is higher,  you can see past lower obstructions, and the windows are usually cleaner being farther from the ground. 

Find out ahead of time which side will have the best scenery, then select a seat/room on that side.  For example, traveling north along the coast on the Pacific Surfliner, you will want to be on the west/left side of the train.  Since you cannot always be sure about this, if you find your seat/room is not on the ocean/scenic side, go to the Parlour Car (for sleeper car passengers only), or the Signtseeing Lounge Car (for coach and sleeper passengers), and get a second-level seat on the scenic side.

Try and position yourself on the side of the train so that the sun is not in your face, or camera lens, thus eliminating lens flare and silhouetted objects and properly exposed sky.  If you are in the lounge car, this simply means moving to the shade side of the car.  If you are in a sleeper, and the window across from your romette has closed curtains, go to the stairs and stop on the first landing for a stand-up window from which to shoot.  Going to the lower level, there is a window in the top of the exit doors, but it is usually very dirty, so try and shoot from the upper level. 

Making good use of my rotating polarizing lens, both these shots were taken hrough an Amtrak window as the train went around bends in Glenwood Canyon

As for the glass, position your camera lens as close to the window as possible to eliminate any reflection of the lights or other objects in the room.  A good filter to eliminate glass reflections is a rotating polarizing filter.  This filter is also good for increasing the contrast between white clouds and blue sky.

Remember to force your camera's flash OFF, or you'll not only get a reflection like the sun in the window, or you will nearly blind yourself!

 The Challenge of Shooting from an open vestibule or rear platform.

If you are on a rail car with open windows, vestibule, or rear platform, or an open rail car (other than Amtrak) you can usually lean out, or hold your camera out to take pictures forward, or backward.  I recall on the Expresso Maya in Mexico, we were going through sections of single track where the sapling trees actually scrapped the sides of the cars.  You could easily have your camera knocked out of your hand, even break a hand, or worse, be struck in the face with a 1-inch diameter branch!  After getting my hand whacked once, I began to use the open vestibule window as a mirror to look forward to see if we were approaching trees before I stuck my camera out.  Even then, having your face outside a traveling train is dangerous, especially to your eyes.  Take goggles, or at least sunglasses to keep the specks of dust, or cinders if it is a steam train, out of your eyes.  With that polarizing lens mentioned above, it would be the protection for your expensive camera lens.  If you do not have a polarizing lens, at least get a UV filter, just for the protection of your camera lens.

Move around the train, from car to car, and keep looking for a better vantage point.  If you are going through tall trees, you are going to want to be in an open topped car to shoot up.  If you see a spot that looks perfect, but it is occupied by another photographer, either ask if they'd mind rotating in that spot with you so you both could get some shots, or, if not, return later and that person will probably have moved on.

Modern rear platform on the McKinley Explorer

Classic train rear platform, in LAUS in 2007.
Report on the McKinley Explorer (above), full dome 2-car unit, with photos taken from its rear platform at:

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