Dissection

I’ve been meaning to post an image and dissect how I go about the mechanics of the shot. I’ve been lazy and chosen a recent image, taken of a pair of locos while attending the London Festival of Railway Modelling at Alexandra Palace at the end of March.

The locos here are owned by Richard Carr, which is purely a namecheck as it’s not really relevant to this post!

Why does this image work? Why does it give every impression of being a photo of real, full-sized locomotives, and not things you can carry under your arm? Well, let’s see…

The first thing you’ll notice is how the perceived eyeline is about where it would be if we were standing in front of the real locos. You immediately get an impression that these are large machines, where you have to climb up to gain access to the cabs or change lamps on the brackets.

The lens I used was my 10–20mm Sigma wide angle, and the models are approximately 10cm from the lens. I was careful to place the centreline of the lens so it was almost aligned to solebar level, and in this case looking slightly upwards as well, in order to emphasise the height of the locos.

Secondly, notice the lighting. It’s not harsh, it’s throwing soft shadows. In fact, it’s the ambient hall lighting which required a 10 second exposure at ƒ/22. To help things out, I used a simple reflector to throw a little light into the bogies so they didn’t come out as too dark and shadowy. As previously, I set the camera up to Av (Aperture Priority) mode, so that I set the aperture and the camera’s electronics worked out the required exposure.

To be completely honest, I really didn’t need to use such a small aperture. I could perhaps have used ƒ/11 or ƒ/16, but ƒ/22 is so ingrained into my working methods it felt the most natural. Also, the combination of this wide angle lens and small aperture meant the actual focal point wasn’t very critical. I’d have paid more attention if shooting a more three-quarters aspect.

The practised eye will immediately spot the small scale telltales, such as the unpainted (as yet) chairs on the track, and the slightly odd reflection in the right hand loco’s cab window. However, I think it’s fair to say that most often the reaction on seeing shots like this is “Is that a model?”

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