Ok, I’ve struggled with taking good shots on trains for a while now. The biggest problem is that by the time I know I have bad results it’s just impossible to go back and try to fix the problem.
Recently, on a trip between Bergen and Oslo in Norway I nailed the shoot and ended up deleting only one third of my shots. There’s no way you won’t mess up a lot of your shots when shooting from a train or fast moving car, but with these tips you can make the percentage that are keepers so much higher.
First of all you have a choice between noise and blur. You need to bite the bullet on this – you can get sharp images but you might have a bit of noise. Personally, I actually like some noise and I think it’s fine. But, if you can’t live with some noise it might be as well to pack your camera away and just enjoy the trip.
Second you need a small aperture so you get a lot of the image in focus. I shoot at 7.1 or 8 which is pretty small so it requires a corresponding high ISO to compensate. So, I dial up the ISO to 1600 and sometimes 3200. That is very sensitive but it means I can capture at speeds like 1/2000 of a second or even much faster than that – and that freezes the motion.
Third, you need to use manual focus. Unless you have a stupid fast focus on your camera it will get caught trying to focus and refocus and you won’t ever get a shot as the train moves. The autofocus will be confused by things going fast close like trees, tall grass and power poles. If you manually focus you can work faster and ignore distractions. I have to say, I practically NEVER shoot manual so in shooting manual in this situation I’m doing this because there really isn’t any alternative to doing so.
Fourthly, the grass is always greener on the other side of the train. You will always think your side of the train has nothing interesting and it is all on the other side. This probably isn’t the case so don’t keep running back and forth across the train. Instead, focus on what is on your side of the vehicle, learn to anticipate what you might see so you can react to it instantly when you see it.
Fifthly, I like to sit facing backwards so things move away from me and in a window seat of course. YMMV on this.
Once you are set up, find a direction to shoot that minimizes the reflections from the train window and inside lighting and start shooting. Accept the fact that trees and poles will mess up a lot of shots but if you take more than the usual number of pictures you will get a good number of good shots. Also accept that you will miss more than you capture depending on the situation. On my trip across Norway trees, power poles, tall grass and numerous tunnels played havoc with my shooting but the skies were wonderful and I did nail some really great shots and i felt way more in control of the shooting than ever before.
So, next time you are. on a fast train traversing a continent, set your camera up and enjoy the shooting experience.