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Shots from the Train - Photography from a Moving Train
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Because I am always looking for ways to practice photography in my daily life,  I typically have a small M43 camera in my bag. This lets me carry something that can get great images without a lot of extra bulk and weight. This allows me to do some street photography in the city or capture an interesting moment in the office.

Recently I began taking the train to San Francisco four days a week. One day, while looking out of the window of the train, I noticed some interesting scenes passing by and decided to try capturing a few and see what I could do with them. This is one of my favorites so far.


Sunset with Clouds

Sunset with Clouds

When I captured this shot, I was southbound around San Mateo, California. This evening was particularly nice for the sunset because it was a rare time that we have had clouds in the recent past.  I think it would have been a little better a couple minutes later as sun got closer to the mountain top, but when shooting from a train, you cannot stop and wait.

Tips to Try

Thus far I learned a few things that help minimize the problems of shooting through a dirty window while traveling on a moving train.

  • Try to position the lens flat against the window – I found this reduces glare from the inside of the window. It reduces your ability to pan, but it does help remove unwanted artifacts. Staying close to the window will also keep scratches and dirt on the window out of focus and basically unseen in the final image. This image was shot with the lens touching the window, but I had to angle the camera some to get the framing I wanted. Fortunately, it was reasonably dark in the train, so the interior glare was not a problem.
  • Take a lot of shots – Generally, I am not a fan of the, “spray & pray,” method of shooting, but in this case you are literally facing a lot of moving pieces and taking several shots at and around the decisive moment really improves the chance of capturing your image.
  • Plan you shots when possible – Because the train is moving (often fast), it is very difficult to look through the camera while identifying nice scenes. To make it easier, I actually use some rides to just select points on the trip that I will use to shoot on a future ride. I try to note things in the scene, time of day/date, location of the sun, color and anything else that may influence how I setup for the shot. Then I can be prepared on a later trip to get the shots. Obviously, this will not work for all shots. Sometimes a one time confluence of people, items and light come together and you want to capture it. The shot above is an example where this is true, so always be ready if you see something that is screams out to be shot.
  • To get more unique views of buildings and other structures, get a seat on top floor if you train car has a double deck. If you want a more natural view of the street and passing people, get a seat on the lower deck.
  • When possible get a solo seat so no one sits next to you.

This image of the Baker and Hamilton building is an example of a shot where being on the train gave me a great perspective of a classic building that cannot be captured from the ground.


Lines & Pole Removed

 Photography from the Train

So far, photography while riding two hours per day on a train not only makes the trip seem to pass more quickly, but it also opened up to a lot of time to be creative and is forcing me to think about how to get great images within the constraints of being on a train. I am considering doing a series of shots from the train and I will update my blog as I develop better techniques.


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