How to Photograph Your Next Train Journey
Originally published on Amtrak's blog & on PassionPassport.com
Train travel offers a special kind of ambience, no matter the final stop. On your next train ride, instead of putting your camera away, keep it by your side to document the unique aspects of your journey.
This guide will help you plan how to best document your next train ride — just remember, getting there is half the fun!
STARTING THE JOURNEY
While others rush to get on the train and wait in their seats, take your time observing the departure rituals. Point your camera at the train itself, watch as others board, and keep an eye out for the station’s unique details.
Note which direction the light is coming from, adjust your ISO accordingly, and increase your shutter speed for action shots. But don’t forget to hop back on the train in time to leave!
ON THE TRAIN
Once the train has pulled out of the station, focus your attention on the inner happenings of the compartments. Many read, some play cards, others chit chat — the ways passengers pass their time is varied and always photo-worthy, so take notice when your fellow travelers are doing something interesting.
Dining cars are also full of photographic opportunities. From the food itself to the people eating it, and the design of the interior — capture this part of the journey, then grab a snack for yourself, too.
The details are what make a journey memorable. Whether you’re traveling on a commuter train or staying in a roomette on an overnight journey, don’t forget to snap shots of the accommodations inside the train. These shots will add context and interest to your collection of train photos. While others may not notice the chairs, tables, doors, or small details that surround them, make sure you do!
It can be easy to hide behind your camera and the relative anonymity it provides, so challenge yourself to meet your fellow passengers. Trains are full of people — young and old, commuters and vacationers — why not say hello?
Your fellow train travelers are just as interesting as your surroundings. Introduce yourself, strike up some conversations, and ask to take their picture. Use a wide aperture and high shutter speed to capture a shallow depth of field in your portrait shots, and always consider the lighting as well (it’s constantly changing on a moving train!).
OUT THE WINDOW
Trains often provide what other modes of transportation can’t: stunning views and the opportunity to capture them.
Visit the observation car to watch the landscapes slip by. Photograph the observation car in the early mornings or late afternoons to capture both interior and exterior scenes (or, manually adjust your camera’s aperture so that both views are well-lit).
When shooting through the windows, get as close to the glass as possible, and shoot straight ahead to reduce glare. Use a wider aperture and faster shutter speed to avoid blurring your subject matter. If you step back from the window, you can experiment with their reflections as well.
CLASSIC TRAIN SHOTS
Naturally, you’ll also want to photograph the journey itself. Look for ways to safely snag shots of the train tracks while waiting to depart, or head to the back of the train and see if you can photograph out of a rear-facing window.
The last compartments on the train are also great for another type of classic train shot: the “around the bend” photo. As the train takes a turn, find a window and get ready to shoot. Make sure you know which direction the train will be turning and find a spot on the corresponding side.
For “around-the-bend” shots, you’ll want to be as far back on the train as possible in order to capture more of the train in your photo. Increase your shutter speed to produce crisp images without the blur caused by the train or shaky hands.
Train travel is associated with a certain romantic atmosphere, which is guaranteed to find its way into your photos. Keep your camera out and enjoy the ride!