MODEL TRAIN PHOTOGRAPY

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by matthew_bushong, Aug 5, 2010.

  1. I have a Nikon D80 with a Nikor 18-135mm lens. I really enjoy the camera and want to use it with one of my other hobbies...model trains. I have done very little photography with it in the manual mode. I wonder if someone could give me just some general settings...to start with...in the manual mode to photography my model trains...with a good depth of field.
    For now, I just want to work with lens I have.
    Tnx for any help.
    Matt
     
  2. 1. Use a tripod.
    2. It's not known what lighting you have (i.e., window, ceiling, model train headlight?) to work with.
    3. Since you are using a digital camera, you need to tinker with the exposures to get the image captured to your liking. It's your photography...
     
  3. It will depend on the light you have and if you want a shallow depth of field or a deep one (what do you consider a "good" depth of field?). I would heartily recommend either buying or reading on google "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson (personally, I think it's worth buying just to have on hand as a reference). I learned a LOT from that book. In the mean time a method I've used a couple of times when I'm not sure where to start is to take a test shot on auto and see what settings the camera chose and then just experiment from there.
     
  4. Matt,
    What I do not find in your question : What size/scale modeltrains do you want to shoot ?
    E.g. do you need to shoot "Makro/Close-up" .....?
     
  5. You dont have a lot of DOF in macro, only way is a LF camera where you can increase DOF by swinging or tilting.
     
  6. Mag,
    Assuming this is about small modeltrains and makro is called for :
    Not the only way, you can also use a technique called "Focus Stacking" , not easy and a lot of work, but with the right softwar its do-able....
    Link for tutaorial on this : http://www.wonderfulphotos.com/articles/macro/focus_stacking/
     
  7. Without knowing exactly how your train set is lit, suggesting exposure settings is meaningless. Generally, to get best depth of field, use the shortest practical focal length on your zoom lens, and the smallest aperture you can without getting diffraction unsharpness. Adjust the shutter speed as needed to get the proper exposure.
    If the resulting shutter speed is too slow, raise the ISO and meter the exposure again. The lower the ISO number the better the image quality will be. If the shutter speed is slow though to result in overall blurring, use a tripod. If the train is in motion and it is blurry, you'll need to raise the shutter speed or add light to the subject to allow use of a faster shutter speed.
    If you don't understand any of the terms above, you can use google or wikipedia to look them up. See your camera's manual on how to set the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and how to use the camera's internal exposure meter.
     
  8. I remember somewhere that there's a kinda formula that ties in the focal-length of the lens and the scale of the model to make it look more 'realistic' and less 'model-like'. Obviously this is a perspective thing, but can't remember much more than that. I guess if one is slice stacking, the use of a much longer lens from further away will reduce the amount of perspective for-shortening frame to frame. A wide angle lens would make each frame very hard to align if the models were taken at 45 degrees. I have read that people use the 'change focal plane' via a rack with fixed focus OR leave the camera fixed and change the focused distance...Sounds like a bit of a trial is needed.
     
  9. You need loads of DoF for model trains. I haven't shot them digitally yet (I have a whole load of them in O scale, though), but I think the 55mm length on a tripod would be great, but a very wide lens that focuses real close would be great, too.
    Do some tests to see how far you can stop down without getting too much diffraction (it varies from lens to lens) and shoot there.
     
  10. Oops, forgot to mention that a tripod is a total must in this case, and off-camera flash or real sunlight might help a lot, too.
     
  11. Matthew,
    How I would approach this is take various shots in the areas you are most interested in while is either "A" or "P". Then look at the exif data and replicate that in manual. This is your starting point, you can have a lot of fun playing around with the different settings to see what you like best. This is the wonderful thing about digital. Go take a hundred pics just for learning sake.
    And because we love this as a hobby it costs us nothing but time. Shoot away!
    phil b
    benton, ky
     
  12. This is also a place where a tilt/shift lens has utility.
    Ever wonder what somebody would ever use a medium telephoto tilt/shift lens for? Well, this is one sort of thing.
    Caution, T/S lenses are not cheap.
     
  13. I would say the lighting is more critical than anything assuming your existing lenses can focus close enough.
     
  14. Thank you to everyone for the great responses. A lot of good info and resources. I photograph O Scale trains.
    Matt
    00X1GL-266789584.jpg
     
  15. If you want a couple more likes, try indoor and outdoor tutorials by a national contest winner. The popular software for stacking to achieve great depth of field is Helicon Focus.
     
  16. Another important point -- keeping your point of view low (6 scale feet or less) from the "ground" can help realism immensely. This is also why some folks like very high layouts.
    Often smell sensor point-and-shoot cameras are a plus for model railroad photography, since they have great depth of field. Nothing is moving, so you can run them at the lowest sensor sensitivity and avoid their noise problems. They also are great for getting a low point of view.
    Key is lots of light, with one strong key light, and gentle enough fill light that you don't get multiple shadows. You want it to look like sunlight.
    Here is a published shot I took in 1986, which shows the one key light idea, although there's a bit too much shadows from the fill. We were shooting with Kodachrome 64 and blue photo floods, I think three of them. (For context, here's the page it is linked from.) I probably shot this with my 135mm f/4 Macro-Topcor.
     
  17. When I was a kid about 60 years ago, I loved model railroads but lacked the resources to get into it except for building some box cars from kits. But I spent hours pouring over "Model Railroader" magazine and some of those old layouts and photos of them were fabulous. They probably have a web site today and can recommend back issues or books on the subject of photography. I can tell you one thing right away. Your 18-135mm lens is not going to hack it. If you want to keep your investment costs low, I suggest getting an old manual focus AI macro lens. It won't meter with your D80 (unlike a D200 or D300) but with the histogram, you can home in on the correct exposure. I would also recommend the SB600 flash gun, for bounce flash. Good Luck.
     
  18. Do yourself a favor and take a look at this story:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwOJfHwGJ1U&feature=fvsr
    Any equipment advice you get on this forum will make it laughable. Some of Mr. Smith's photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24796741@N05/sets/72157604247242338/with/2346008881/
    I would think you could easily adopt his techniques to your train layout.
     
  19. Michael Paul Smith's photos are simply amazing. Tito, thanks for the links.
     
  20. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    One thing we always know is that with perfectly still subjects and good lighting, you don't need expensive cameras to capture fine images for web display. But regardless of the type of camera and lens, the photographer's skills matter. Michael Paul Smith's images is a very good example.
    The problem comes if your subjects are moving quickly as in sports or action, dim light, and you want to make good mid to large-size prints.
     
  21. It is really easier if one uses a shorter focal length; thus with a given fstop one gains more DOF.
    This *points* away from LF; MF.
    It is ok with 35mm
    Matthew:

    ***TRY your zoom lens at the 18mm and shorter settings; with gobs of light; so the lens is stopped down a lot to grab as much DOF as possible***

    *** Use a tripod; experiment

    It is far easier with a cropped FF camera; or even a small P&S digital camera.
    With Nikon Full frame and film; I use to use my old 16mm F3.5 fisheye lens; or my LTM VC 15mm F4.5 lens on a Bessa R.
    With digital and my cropped 1.5X digital Epson RD-1; the 15mm F4.5 VC lens; or 16mm F3.5 Nikkor with novaflex adapter gives a lot of DOF; when one stops down.
    These are shot with a 5.5mm F2.8 on an Olympus P&S from 10 years ago; one gains a wide DOF with no real fancy swings. Most of these shots are wide open at F2.8; and one has gobs of DOF

    It happens naturally since one has such as short lens. The second shot below has focus on the shutter blind; that goes out of focus by the slit; but it extends to the shower/tubs drain. One has about 4 feet of focus with a dumb grabs shot; showing a repair/cleanup of a salt damaged camera.
    With a "DUMB" digital P&S camera like my old Olympus D360L; it is use to record repairs of "stuff"; and with about ZERO effort all is in focus. This happens because of its 5.5mm F2.8 lens as its normal lens. It is actually a vast overkill for web use; it is a 1.3 megapixel camera. There is no way that a LF rig with tilts can get this DOF.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    With Regular FF Nikon and cropped Nikon; *try* you shorter zoom setting with your train stuff. You need enough light so the lens is stopped down; to grab a decent DOF.
    Eon' s ago I shot some model stuff with my 35mm F2.8 Nikkor-PC on a 4x5 camera; and used my digital scan back. I tilted the lens in the homemade mount to grab more DOF. This is rather the hard way to do things; slow poke scan back; models about to catch on fire with gobs of light; screwing around with tilts.
    [​IMG]
    The answer with closeups and macro may be not what you want to hear; ie it is easier with my Dumb P&S 150 buck Walmart Nikon L6 digital; or ancient P&S olympus D360L.
     
  22. As a cost issue; it is probably far cheaper to just use you current zoom lens a the shorter focal length settings; and use gobs of light to get the lens really stopped down.
    http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html
    use your Nikon D80; lens at 18mm and if one focuses at 2.5 feet;
    one has a focus from 1.83 to 3.95ft at F8 that still is not a lot
    with F11 one has a range from 1.65 to 5.2 feet
    with F16 one has a range from 1.44 to 9.43 feet
    By comparison; my 5.5mm at F8 is in focus from 1.39 to 12.5 feet; ie the small format needs 2 f stops less light for the same DOF as the 18mm on the D80 t F16.
    Even wide open at F2.8; the dumb 5.5mm on the P&S focuses from 1.95 to 3.49 feet; that is close to the Nikon D80 with a 18mm working at F5.6; ie focuses from 1.98 to 3.38 feet when the lens is focuses at 2.5 feet.
    With a modern P&S digital that is say at least 6 megapixels; just using it in macro mode with a lot of light will have a huge DOF one a train set.
    The bigger formats make ones job harder; one needs to stop down a lot.
     
  23. I recall an article where the author mentioned taking an older normal lens and replacing the diaphragm with a disk with a pinhole, to increase the depth of field.
    It was a rather extreme method, I believe the article was in Model Railroader magazine in the '70s. But the pictures printed with the article showed increased depth of field.
    Paul
     
  24. Take a look at this photographer work http://www.olivobarbieri.it/ he does the opposite, aerial photos with tilt and shift lenses, things look like toys, and the particular deep of field blur gives a dramatic effect (it can be imitated with photoshop)
     
  25. Matt,
    I've shot quite a lot of model train photos, and been published in several of the modeling magazines, so here's my thoughts:
    You MUST use a tripod, and a good one. The flimsy ones that are sold at places like wal-mart or ritz photo just aren't stable enough. With a tripod, you will need a means of remote release if one is available for your camera (ah, the days when a simple three dollar cable release would work on any camera!). If one isn't available, use the camera's self timer.
    Light. Lots of it! Big honkin quartz lites are best. Those quartz work lights sold at home centers can work well, but may need some diffusion. Remember, you will want to stop down as far as possible for good dof.
    Realize how lucky you are. O scale is so big that you probably won't need to fool with software like Helicon Focus.
    Bill Pearce
     

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