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Photography through windows...


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#1 RCrierie

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 08:16 PM

I know about the "Bring some windex along" trick; along with cleaning the window on a specific vestibule so you can use it as a photography hangout.

But are there other useful tips like a polarized lens to reduce window glare?


Amtrak Mileage:
1,800~ miles on 91/92 Silver Star -- WAS to ORL and ORL to WAS.
1,200~ miles on 50/51 Cardinal -- WAS to CIN and CIN to WAS. (with Great Dome)

#2 the_traveler

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 08:29 PM

Place the camera/lens right against the window.
Take it easy .......

Take the train instead!

#3 RyanS

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 08:35 PM

Great idea for a thread, I was considering starting one on the topic to pass along some of my pictures.

When taking the picture, the biggest thing to avoid is reflections off the windows. This is easiest in a room, where you can keep the lights off. In coach, it'll just be something that you have to deal with.

I haven't seen much of a difference using a polarizer, and in some cases (I haven't tried this on a train) the glass can have polarized tint that can seriously degrade your image if you try to shoot with a polarizer. Try looking at a LCD while wearing some polarized sunglasses - as you rotate your head, you can see the impact. If the polarization is at right angles, you can actually block all of the light.

The biggest thing is to keep a high shutter speed so that you can prevent motion blur. After that, most of the magic is in post processing.

Here's a shot that I took in Wolf Point, Montana on the Empire Builder straight out of the camera:
Posted Image

You can see the obvious tint on the window, along with a reflection to the right of the flags in the sky.

After adjusting some levels (I use Aperture and 95% of the time just hitting "Auto Levels" clears everything up), and retouching the sky to get rid of the reflection, you get this:
Posted Image

You can see that the sky looks blue, not a dirty hazy color. The falloff in light at the right edge of the frame comes from the tint on the window and shooting at an angle - if you shoot at a right angle to the glass you won't get that.

In brief:
1. Clean Windows if you can.
2. High shutter speed to reduce motion blur.
3. Shoot at a right angle to the glass.
4. Try and avoid reflections - keep the lights off in your room and Dave's suggestion of getting the lens close to the glass also helps.
5. Fix what you can in post processing, you can really make a picture pop and get rid of the haze/color issues from the tint.

Edit:

Here's another picture that I took - I combined the Master and Final Version in Photoshop so that you could see the difference that setting the levels right in post processing makes. Getting the blacks to be black and not "dark gray" makes a huge difference.
Posted Image

Edited by Ryan, 07 June 2011 - 08:44 PM.

TrainSig.jpg

#4 ColdRain&Snow

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 09:58 PM

I had spotty windows (outside) last week, but found that manipulating the zoom level a bit kept the camera focused on the scenery outside rather than the spots.

#5 Devil's Advocate

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 10:28 PM

But are there other useful tips like a polarized lens to reduce window glare?

As Ryan said I would not use a polarizing filter in any situation where you're shooting through tinted windows or multi-pane safety glass as it will interfere with the intended purpose. Exceptions include lower level entry/exit door windows and the upper door window on the last car of the train. In general you should restrict polarizing filters to outdoor photographs on sunny days. Some people have been known to open the in-door windows on the lower level and take a photo through the opening. However, if the train is at speed the wind noise is likely to attract attention and I would presume that Amtrak staff would not look kindly on such an action.

1. Clean Windows if you can. 2. High shutter speed to reduce motion blur. 3. Shoot at a right angle to the glass. 4. Try and avoid reflections - keep the lights off in your room and Dave's suggestion of getting the lens close to the glass also helps. 5. Fix what you can in post processing, you can really make a picture pop and get rid of the haze/color issues from the tint.

1A. Select a lower level seat/compartment if you can. Hard to clean the uppers.
2A. Larger aperture (lower f number) to accommodate higher shutter speed.
3A. You can also carry a lens hood or matte box that can be held against the window.
4A. Cover reflective areas with dark matte cloth or other non-reflective material.
5A. Use RAW file format if possible for additional control during post-processing.

Any views expressed are my own and do not represent the views of my employer, parent companies, partners, or subsidiaries.

Over 50,000 people just like you recently signed a petition to expand high speed passenger rail in the United States of America.

Long live The Coast Starlight, The California Zephyr, The Empire Builder, The Southwest Chief, and The Canadian.


#6 RyanS

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 06:38 AM

Great suggestns, Dax. The only thing I'd add is that I'd go for am higher ISO before opening up the aperture to keep a wider depth of field and higher shutter speeds.
TrainSig.jpg

#7 jis

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 07:04 AM

I can program couple of settings in my camera. For taking pictures from a moving train I have a setting that is high speed, shutter preference with high ASA setting. Yeah, the picture is a little grainier, but I can capture moving things as if they are standing still, and also it automatically gives bigger aperture under most circumstances, which reduces the depth of field thus blurring out any of the inevitable smudges on the window-pane. but what Ryan suggest works too. It is just that over the years after trying various combinations I have settled on this one.

For more controlled environment I have a lower ASA setting to reduce graininess, and that one is aperture preference, so that I have good control over depth of field. And you all have seen enough pictures of mine posted here before, so I won't post any for just this discussion.

#8 ColdRain&Snow

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 10:54 AM

And you all have seen enough pictures of mine posted here before, so I won't post any for just this discussion.

If you or the other posters would be so inclined, it would be neat to see some of your favorite shots from the train. Though my train photography is a work in progress, I am finding that it gets a bit better with each trip. I still have trouble shooting the train at night during stops, as well as maintaining photo quality when using higher zoom levels. Any words of advice from the maestros?

#9 Devil's Advocate

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 11:24 AM

I still have trouble shooting the train at night during stops, as well as maintaining photo quality when using higher zoom levels. Any words of advice from the maestros?

Can you go into more detail and/or provide some inline examples?

Any views expressed are my own and do not represent the views of my employer, parent companies, partners, or subsidiaries.

Over 50,000 people just like you recently signed a petition to expand high speed passenger rail in the United States of America.

Long live The Coast Starlight, The California Zephyr, The Empire Builder, The Southwest Chief, and The Canadian.


#10 jis

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 11:33 AM


And you all have seen enough pictures of mine posted here before, so I won't post any for just this discussion.

If you or the other posters would be so inclined, it would be neat to see some of your favorite shots from the train. Though my train photography is a work in progress, I am finding that it gets a bit better with each trip. I still have trouble shooting the train at night during stops, as well as maintaining photo quality when using higher zoom levels. Any words of advice from the maestros?

OK Here is a set of pictures I took from the Empire Builder while traversing the Columbia Gorge. All taken through either my Sleeper Bedroom A window or through the rear vestibule window. Includes examples of widest angle possible as well as fully zoomed in. Camera is Nikon D40X with Nikkor AF-S 18-200mm VR Zoom Lens in dynamic VR mode using the first program setting that I mentioned above, and no post-processing of any sort other than whatever the camera does automatically when the picture is taken. The train was moving along at its usual speed for all the shots.

And here is another set, this time taken while traversing Canada by the Canadian around Thanksgiving. Lots of relatively poor lighting condition pictures, taken from a moving train, and a few night pictures taken while off the train at Sioux Lookout.

Enjoy.

Edited by jis, 08 June 2011 - 11:42 AM.


#11 ColdRain&Snow

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 01:19 PM

I still have trouble shooting the train at night during stops, as well as maintaining photo quality when using higher zoom levels. Any words of advice from the maestros?

Can you go into more detail and/or provide some inline examples?

In a photo like this...
Posted Image

...especially if you look at the third locomotive, the picture quality is quite grainy. I took it from the Portland sleeper, so I zoomed up to the front of the train to capture the engines at work. My camera is nothing fancy, the Panasonic FX75 (mid-range point-and-shoot), so maybe it is just a lack of processing power that would be improved with a more powerful processor in a better camera? I find that most of my heavily zoomed shots exhibit this graininess yet many shots on the train need to be zoomed.

Though I have better examples at home than this...
Posted Image

...this is the main problem I have at night. All light sources and reflections at night are bathed in this yellow hue. What are the best settings to use when shooting at night? I've seen some stellar photographs of Amtrak trains at night where the light is bright white and the contrast is crisp, but such nice shots continue to elude me.

Thanks Jis for the links. I look forward to checking them out tonight! And thanks for the interest Texas Sunset as any tips will certainly help my sophmoric photography.

#12 MrFSS

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 02:24 PM

A very quick use of Photoshop can fix some of the "problems" you mention. The biggest, IMHO, is that modern digital cameras are not using the more pleasant to the eye 2 to 3 cropping ratio. What many of them use is almost square. Look at the new HD TVs - all are much wider in the screen than the height. So, a quick 2/3 ratio crop is done. Then, the Photoshop horizon straightening tool (on the first picture relieves the train from climbing that impossible grade created by not holding the camera level (we all do that witout think about it.)

Light and contrast filters plus a noise reduction filter give a nice effect.

Posted Image


Again, cropped and contrast and light adjusted. Some of the literal garbage in the lower right of the picture cloned out as well as the noise reduction filter applied.

Very good pictures you took enhanced a little.

Posted Image

#13 ColdRain&Snow

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 02:55 PM

Wow, that really made a difference. Thank you for showing me that. Admittedly, I have not taken that next step to start using Photoshop. iPhoto has some native but very limited utilities including one called Enhance which tries to correct fixable issues, but it is a lightweight makeover. Even so, I still find that 90% of my pictures look nicer after using it, so that tells me that better work needs to be done during the actual picture taking. :o

#14 GG-1

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 03:00 PM


I still have trouble shooting the train at night during stops, as well as maintaining photo quality when using higher zoom levels. Any words of advice from the maestros?

Can you go into more detail and/or provide some inline examples?

...especially if you look at the third locomotive, the picture quality is quite grainy. I took it from the Portland sleeper, so I zoomed up to the front of the train to capture the engines at work. My camera is nothing fancy, the Panasonic FX75 (mid-range point-and-shoot), so maybe it is just a lack of processing power that would be improved with a more powerful processor in a better camera? I find that most of my heavily zoomed shots exhibit this graininess yet many shots on the train need to be zoomed.

I feel the worst feature of digital cameras is the "digital zoom" What happens when you use this "feature" the pixels are duplicated, causing the lack of sharpness. If at the maximum optical zoom lack of sharpness may be a result of either poor lens design or (more likely) camera movement

...this is the main problem I have at night. All light sources and reflections at night are bathed in this yellow hue. What are the best settings to use when shooting at night? I've seen some stellar photographs of Amtrak trains at night where the light is bright white and the contrast is crisp, but such nice shots continue to elude me.

Many Digital cameras have settings for "white balance" try different settings until you find what you like. If your camera does not have any preset "white balance: settings, be sure to record the settings so that you can go back to the original settings, also to recreate settings that you like.

Good Luck and Aloha

Eric aka GG-1, Aloha, Mahalo = Thanks

Picture Galleries Posted Image

#15 Devil's Advocate

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 03:14 PM

If you look at the third locomotive, the picture quality is quite grainy. I took it from the Portland sleeper, so I zoomed up to the front of the train to capture the engines at work. My camera is nothing fancy, the Panasonic FX75 (mid-range point-and-shoot), so maybe it is just a lack of processing power that would be improved with a more powerful processor in a better camera? I find that most of my heavily zoomed shots exhibit this graininess yet many shots on the train need to be zoomed.

Processing power is probably not the issue here. First and foremost you're going to have suffer some blurriness due to the inherent limitations of shooting through a window and from using a long zoom. There's not going to be much you can do about the zoom from the end of the train or about the window. At least not without breaking Amtrak's rules or attaching some private varnish on the tail end. What you can try changing next time is to use a slower shutter speed and a larger aperture to go with it. I'm not sure how fast the train was moving when you snapped this but it looks like there should be enough ambient light to try some slower settings next time. Also, be sure you're not allowing your camera to make use of any worthless "digital zoom" option.

This is the main problem I have at night. All light sources and reflections at night are bathed in this yellow hue. What are the best settings to use when shooting at night? I've seen some stellar photographs of Amtrak trains at night where the light is bright white and the contrast is crisp, but such nice shots continue to elude me.

Night shots benefit the most from a fixed and stationary camera. You can either use a tripod or simply prop your camera on something stable and stationary before setting it for a delayed exposure at a slow shutter speed. We're talking very slow, up to and including the slowest possible shutter speed your camera can provide. The yellow, orange, and green hues you tend to see in night photos are generally not that far off from the "true" nature of artificial illumination. In fact you can often generalize what the source of the light is (mercury, sodium, tungsten , etc.) just from the hue that it emits. However, you can adjust these hues by modifying the internal white balance settings or through post processing (especially of RAW files) to create an image that is less true to the source but more appealing to the eye.

Edited by Texas Sunset, 08 June 2011 - 03:21 PM.

Any views expressed are my own and do not represent the views of my employer, parent companies, partners, or subsidiaries.

Over 50,000 people just like you recently signed a petition to expand high speed passenger rail in the United States of America.

Long live The Coast Starlight, The California Zephyr, The Empire Builder, The Southwest Chief, and The Canadian.


#16 Tracktwentynine

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 03:28 PM

Good points, everyone. I;ll have to look into the Photoshop tricks.

I would add to the list of suggestions for shooting through glass:
  • Do not use the flash. I've always thought this was obvious, but every time I take the train, I see people shooting through the windows with the flash on.
  • If your camera doesn't have an easy to manipulate manual focus, I'd suggest setting your camera's focus for infinity. That will prevent the camera from focusing on the glass (or the smudges on the glass).
Another trick that I've seen used, but never done is to create your own shadowbox (for lack of a better word). I once saw a photographer shooting through the windows of the John Hancock Center observation deck using a piece of black fabric suction-cupped to the window. It had a hole for his camera lens, and I presume eliminated the reflective glare.

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#17 RyanS

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 03:32 PM

iPhoto has some native but very limited utilities including one called Enhance which tries to correct fixable issues, but it is a lightweight makeover. Even so, I still find that 90% of my pictures look nicer after using it, so that tells me that better work needs to be done during the actual picture taking. :o

Instead of Photoshop, I'd highly recommend Aperture... It's like iPhoto, but better. Better management of pictures and more options for post processing. Photoshop's really the next level beyond what you really need for tweaking photographs for best results. I've found (and I'm sure that there are a million other things that you can do with it) that Photoshop's really better for taking multiple pictures and combining them into one image (like the side by side comparison that I posted above or my signature picture).

Aperture is also a good bit cheaper than Photoshop, I believe.
TrainSig.jpg

#18 RCrierie

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 06:30 PM

My camera is nothing fancy, the Panasonic FX75 (mid-range point-and-shoot), so maybe it is just a lack of processing power that would be improved with a more powerful processor in a better camera?

I went and looked up your camera. It's got a 1/2.33 inch sensor.

This equates to a sensor about this big:

Posted Image

(this is actually for a 1/2.5 inch sensor; but you get the rough idea)

This is what my current camera -- a Rebel XSi with a APS-C sensor; the lowest level of a DSLR you can get -- carries:

Posted Image

(Sensor sizes are all to scale).

It results in image quality like this

Posted Image
Canon EOS Rebel XSi photograph using APS-C (332~ mm2 sensor)
1/60 second exposure, f-stop of 4.0, focal length of 24mm
ISO 400, with built in flash unit operating.

versus:

Posted Image
Casio EXILIM EX-Z60 photograph using 1/2.7" (21.2mm2 sensor)
1/60 second exposure, f-stop of 3.1, focal length of 6.3mm (35mm focal length is 38mm)
ISO 100 or 200, with built in flash unit operating.

Granted, the EX-Z60 is pretty old and crappy now; but there are physical limits to how well your point and shoot can do.

Basically P&S do just fine in bright sunlight; but if you bring them indoors or put them in very difficult low light situations, they just horrifically fail.


Amtrak Mileage:
1,800~ miles on 91/92 Silver Star -- WAS to ORL and ORL to WAS.
1,200~ miles on 50/51 Cardinal -- WAS to CIN and CIN to WAS. (with Great Dome)

#19 ColdRain&Snow

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 07:56 PM

Lots of enlightening information above, thanks everyone. I was surprised to see just now that my camera presently costs half of what I paid for it 6 months ago - not mid-range anymore! Sounds like an investment in a better camera and a copy of Aperature might be a helpful step to take. In the meantime, I will check into tweaking some of these settings as suggested and see if I can't produce better pictures.

#20 Devil's Advocate

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 08:03 PM

Instead of Photoshop, I'd highly recommend Aperture... It's like iPhoto, but better. Better management of pictures and more options for post processing. Photoshop's really the next level beyond what you really need for tweaking photographs for best results.

IIRC Aperture was originally priced similarly to Photoshop. Something like $400 per license upon initial release. Since then it's been dropping in price over time. If all you want is a non-commercial license for personal use you can buy Aperture today for $80 through the Mac App Store. If you want to use it for commercial projects you still need to pay the full $200 for the conventional version. You can also download it as a 30-day free trial to make sure it's the right application for your needs before forking over any money. If you're already familiar with iPhoto this is probably the easiest route towards more control. Unfortunately you probably won't be able to use Aperture's built-in RAW file manipulation due to the limitations of your camera. I did some quick reading up on the Panasonic FX75 and it looks like the main problem is lack of fine-tuning and other user-configurable options and formatting more than raw processing power. You might want to consider buying a DSLR if you want more real-time control. I purchased a Canon 350D/RXT new back in 2006 and it still gets the job done with a worthy sensor and all the controls you need to get what you want out of it. I'm not about to start submitting photos to commercial operations but for personal use it works fine and allows for plenty of experimentation when you feel like digging in a little deeper. You should be able to pick up a used DSLR like mine for pretty cheap. Spend the bulk of your money on a quality used lens to pair it with and have at it.

Any views expressed are my own and do not represent the views of my employer, parent companies, partners, or subsidiaries.

Over 50,000 people just like you recently signed a petition to expand high speed passenger rail in the United States of America.

Long live The Coast Starlight, The California Zephyr, The Empire Builder, The Southwest Chief, and The Canadian.




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