Night trains

Landscapes are what originally drew me to photography. However, I find myself liking urban scenes more and more. Now that digital photography makes it easy to process a photograph and change its mood completely, I find many urban photographs very appealing and I like experimenting with my own photographs to see where the processing will take me. Not to mention that for city dwellers like me, it is much easier to get in the city centre than the mountains.

So it was that as part of my “get in, shoot and get out” photography projects, I recently decided to photograph the rail tracks from an overhead bridge at night in the fog. A few nights later the weather complied and after putting The Baby to sleep and getting The Wife’s permission, I left the house at around 10:30 pm and went to a bridge near the central train station in Munich to photograph rail tracks and trains. This was the first time I was trying to photograph trains in the night, so I wasn’t sure what I was going for. I set up the camera at a location over the rail tracks and shot some experimental photos to help me configure the camera settings. I then waited for the trains to pass; they proved to be particularly uncooperative, passing to the left and right from me, but never completely underneath.

Rail tracks - Trains - Night - Munich

Blend of two shots, one with the train on the right and one with the train on the left.

I chose long exposures (around 10 seconds), which resulted in completely blurry trains. Now that I look at the photographs I am thinking that maybe some faster exposures where the front of the train or other train features such as windows would be clearly visible wouldn’t be bad. For the picture above I combined two photos, each with only one train left and right. The lighting in the two shots was identical so it was easy to blend them. During post processing I also increased saturation and accentuated reds and yellows in different areas of the photograph.

After taking several photos there I moved to the left where there were some steel steps leading down to the tracks probably for use by the railway employees. I liked the lighting and the way the steps led the eye to the tracks. I set up the camera and took two different angled shots the best of which you see here:

Steps - Rail tracks - Night - Munich

Hands down, one of my favourite photos of all time.

I processed for B&W and spent some time to selectively accentuate light and shadow areas. I also gave the whole photograph a very light copper tint. But all in all what you see is close to the original. While I was there, an employee came up the steps and left, probably going home after a hard day’s work. Unfortunately the camera settings didn’t allow me to get a photo while he was coming up the steps and I didn’t dare ask him to go back down and model for me. But I am thinking that maybe I can return to the location and ask a friend to model as a rail worker.

In the meanwhile, a few meters to the right, there was an underground tunnel surfacing just before the bridge and trains were coming out every few minutes. So as a final shot I decided to move in front of the tunnel (still on the bridge obviously) and try and photograph a train as it emerged from it. After a few minutes I was ready and waiting; and waiting; … and still waiting half an hour later. No further trains emerged (it was after all 12:30 am by that time). After half an hour’s worth of waiting I decided to go home and to bed. Here is the shot without the train:

S-Bahn Tunel Munich

I liked the lighting and the graffiti on the walls and was hopping to catch the train just as it emerged from the bend.

So this was another short photography project for those that can’t afford the time to camp in the wilderness for two weeks waiting for the perfect shot. I found it very interesting and I am surely going to go back and experiment more with different compositions and shorter exposure times. And who knows, maybe next time I will be lucky enough to catch that elusive train coming out of the tunnel.

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