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Shoot steam trains at stunning locations

By Michael Topham


17 March 2011 15:45

Photographers: Michael Topham & Andrew James

Even if you’re not a steam buff, there’s a certain buzz that comes from photographing steam trains. Photographed at the right location in the right conditions the results can be spectacular. To give you an insight of how we achieved the shots on this page, here is an account of how we found out about a steam train crossing Britain’s largest masonry viaduct and set out to capture it in all its nostalgic glory.

1 We visited to find out if a steam train was due to pass a station or location near us. This website clearly outlines dates, times and information about steam locomotives used on charter trains. As luck would have it, the Lincoln IMP was scheduled to steam through the stations of Corby, Kettering and Oakham on Saturday 12th March, passing over the viaduct at Harringworth on its way. A quick visit to the website (a forum for steam train enthusiasts) and a quick post in the ‘What’s New’ area of the site soon had people recommending some great locations.

2 After a bit of research on Flickr and Google maps, we headed out to take a look at the location. Bearing in mind the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, we realised the sun would be right up the train’s backside at midday(!), so Saturday would be a case of working with the conditions to get the best shot possible.

3 We arrived a good hour before the train was due, on the off-chance it arrived early. It didn’t. Andrew set-up his shot using a 70-300mm from the western side of the viaduct, working into the light and I worked on the eastern side from a lower vantage point, using a wider 24-105mm lens. This way, we’d get two different viewpoints on the train, rather than the same shot in both cameras. While it might have been pleasant to stand and chat during the wait for the train to arrive, working from two different angles meant we could get a greater variety of interesting images.

4 Minutes before the train was due to cross the viaduct a couple of light aircraft flew over, giving us early warning of its arrival. It then came into frame, chuffed across the 82 arches, and puffed into the distance all within the space of 40 seconds. We both took numerous shots and the few you see here are examples of what you can achieve from two different locations.

5 We’re not steam buffs (ok, I might have to admit I have a soft spot for railways) but this goes to show with a bit of research and preparation you can get great railway shots from almost anywhere in the country. So what are you waiting for? Find out when a steam train is coming to a station near you and get out there – you might just get the bug. I think Andrew’s got it now...