Off The Rails

· 13.April.2019

Last month I explained how I find my locations. You can read that feature here. This month I want to share some ideas for picture and lighting style to use on location. I’m going to use railways as my theme. I’ve been shooting at abandoned railways for many years and this post brings together my combined thoughts.

Safety first – It is vital that we keep away from active railways. The dangers may seem obvious but sometimes a railway that looks abandoned has the occasional goods train on it so check out your facts before shooting. Do a hazard assessment too. There are often pits for train repairs or oil soaked sleepers that are very slippery when wet. The locations that I have used here are in Bristol and are used on weekends in the summer for tourist steam train rides. The locomotives are locked away on weekdays and over winter. The 1km track is not connected to a bigger network. The keepers of this line are kind enough to leave a selection of rolling stock out that I occasionally use as backgrounds and props.

01. Natural light and a bit of post processing is all you might need to get the most from a dramatic abandoned railway location.


If the sun is out I shoot into it and use it to backlight my subject. I keep in mind that the sun tracks the sky at 15° per hour so if a location I want to shoot is still in the shade I can work out a good time to shoot it. Natural light is my go to look. If the sky is flat grey I make the effort to find top cover, (see series 5 below).

02. Hard light is my friend and a barefaced Speedlight is Ideal to create shots like these. The rivets (bottom Right) were beautifully lit with Arizona sunlight.


3. If you like colour you might want to give this trick a go. I put a CTO (colour temperature Orange) gel on my Speedlight, then set my white balance to 3400 Kelvin and voila! the unlit background goes blue. The correct value would be 3200 k but I like to have a little warmth in my subject to counteract the blue.


4. The photographs don’t have to look real. Studio lighting styles work really well in locations like this. The rusty wheels came out a treat when lit with a pair of Speedlights.

My lighting kit for urban shoots:

  • Godox AD200 Speedlights triggered by the Fujifilm Pro trigger from Godox
  • 2 Matthews folding lighting stands or Lastolite Jupiter stands

My camera kit of choice:

  • Any X series camera with the excellent 18-55mm lens
  • Or my GFX50s with the 32-64mm zoom and a 110mm lens

Tunnel Vision
5. Cutting out the top light by shooting under bridges or in tunnels (left and bottom) can give a lovely ambient two point lighting look without having to rig any lights. Top right: I shot this in a coal mine that had recently closed in Belgium. Some locations are worth the effort to find.

Stay inspired, most of all get out and take pictures. I’ve returned to the same locations many times, each time with a new idea or look to shoot. This keeps me on my toes and rewarded with fresh new photographs. In the Northern hemisphere we are emerging from winter and the days are getting longer. Now is the when I start to shoot urban locations.