Model train photography

Mark’s been in touch with another useful tip, this time on model train photography:

“Hi Al.

Here is another quick modeling tip.

One of the greatest pleasures of model railroading is being able to capture our work in photographs to share with family and fellow modelers.

With most scales, noticeably HO, a longer train (or even a large engine) will be in sharp focus at the front with the rest of the model blurred.

To overcome this problem, a number of photos (or “stack”), can be taken at different focus points along the train and then combined into just one single photo.

The key is to keep the camera on a tripod for stability and have a remote shutter release so ALL photos are stable with just different focus points.

This “stack” can then be used by any good photo program (I happen to use “Helicon Focus”) to convert the stack into one single photo.

The attached photo was accomplished in less than two minutes using my iPhone, a remote shutter release (such as the Camera 360 IOS) and the Helicon program.

The front of the engine is about 4 inches from the camera while the sky line at the rear is about 14 feet away.

The photo would be in even sharper focus with 10 to 15 focus points to work with but that would have taken another minute of two and I’m lazy so I used just 7 points for this photo. 😉

There are some very minor drawbacks to this procedure and I’ll be happy to address them if there is any interest in this type of model train photography.

Keep your rails shiny!

Mark <><" Model train photography

Now one form the archives:

“I have been watching and enjoying and learning from you emails for over three years now.

I signed up to get them when I was in the planning stages for my layout.

I spent three years working on it when I could and had some money to spend.

Now it is coming down so we can downsize to a smaller house.

So I asked my son to help me make a movie of the layout so I could remember it. I don’t know what space I will have for it in the new situation but I will build another layout.

Well the video turned out to be a great father and son project.

We had a great time making it while he was home from college this summer.

I saw that you don’t get many large guage train videos so I thought this might work for you.

Thanks for all you do.

Sanford, Florida, USA”

Latest ebay cheat sheet is here – and still going strong too.

I did wonder how Mark got his pics so crisp and sharp. Now I know!

And it got me thinking, if there are any more model train photography tips out there, please do send them in.

And don’t forget the guide if you haven’t taken the plunge yet.

Course I’m biased, but it’ll save you a small fortune and many, many hours of mistakes.

Please keep ’em coming, folks.

Big thanks to Mark and Greg.



48 Responses to Model train photography

  1. Dave G says:


    Dave G

  2. Steve Roberts says:

    Great – what a civilised office. Nice – very nice Steve R UK

  3. Smokey says:


    Really enjoyed your video. Loved the video effects and background music. You and your son did a great job!

    Brought back a fond childhood memory of a rainy, autumn Saturday afternoon in ’69; my brother and I dragging the Lionel set from the crawlspace, setting it up on the basement floor while listening to the local AM stations on the “new” GE transistor radio my parents bought me for my 10th birthday, then running trains until dinner time, taking turns as engineer and switchman (we had manual turnouts).

    Thanks for sharing,

    Gary, Indiana, USA

  4. Gary Stewart says:

    Greg in Fla knows how to use a video camera. All would-be shooters study and learn!

  5. darrel says:

    Awesome (not a word I use often), and an epic soundtrack ( another much overused word), many happy memories and time to do it all over again, happy times

  6. kim says:

    wow that’s pretty cool that. great job . I was terrified at a few point’s them train’s going so fast on the curve’s may jump off .Be the end of the train.The truck is it on a slot car track? great work

  7. Jimbo says:

    What a way to enjoy your trains. Set up the track and RUN!

  8. christine says:

    Nice office layout, should slow down the trains, too fast.

  9. Mike Street says:

    Great office, how ever do you get any work done?
    Mike S

  10. Tom Durham says:

    Great creations…layout and video. Have the trains but train loving grandson two thousand miles away. Lucky Greg and Alan. Thank you.

  11. rick says:

    Great layout and production! Just waiting for the Enterprise to come back in time and swoop into the video at some point (music from Star Trek).

  12. loren ebert says:

    this brings back memories of the set that my father had got me for Christmas
    back in 1950.i don’t have it anymore,but i’m trying to get started in ho scale now.
    It’s hard when your on social security and short on space

  13. Rod Mackay says:

    Lovely job Greg, a very nice family project. I can’t say I’m a fan of the “toy train” marques such as Lionel, with the sharp curves, third rail and crude wheels, but I have to admit I’d love to have a play! The sheer mass of those trains, they always seem to start on cue and you can do a bit of a heavy shunt without everything falling off the track, it certainly has stacks of character. Good luck with the new home.

  14. Barry Pearlman says:

    These magnificent pictures reminded me of some tips that I got at the local camera shop, and one I developed out of necessity. They are for still photography.

    Most quality digital cameras come with a sports mode; a rapid succession of shots (several a second) taken rapidly intended to stop things “in their tracks”. (Pun intended. Sorry, but I couldn’t pass that one up 🙂 ).

    In my case, my hands tremble at times and I am the one moving, not the subject being photographed. One of my best pictures using this method is a photo of a helicopter taking flight. The blades are stopped and clearly in focus.

    The second tip, also from the seminar mentioned above, concerns lighting. Try not using flash. The electronics in some of todays cameras is fast enough to focus the shot, adjust the aperture plus shutter speed of the shutter of the lens between the time you push the button and the camera snaps the picture.

    This will help prevent reflections from shiny items that you don’t want to appear shiny and also make the camera stop motion.

    Take lots of shots and pick the best one; digital film is cheap!


  15. Thomas Meleck says:

    Fantastic video. It’s great what you can do with simple 027 trains. While not exactly “O” scale, they’re not exactly “S” scale either. They’re LIONEL scale trains without a doubt. They’re their own world. Thanks. Great music. Matching the “Peanuts” theme with the Toonerville-like Lionel trolley was totally fitting. Thank you.

  16. Appookta says:

    Please tell us the drawbacks to your multi-image technique.

  17. great stuff
    and the Lionel layout around the ‘desk’ is brilliant!!
    keep em runnin fellas

  18. Jim McQuillen says:

    Brings back memories from our 027 Lionel! The search light car was one of our favorites. One of my brothers has the set. I’ll have to see if its still functional.

    Now on to the subject at hand… Some of the pieces of architecture appear to be molded. Are they or is it just an example of fantastic wood workmanship?


  19. Marklin ed says:

    Love it, who knew your office could be so much fun. do yo u get any work done???

  20. mark loos says:

    There is no drawback at all with the technique. The minor problem is with the IPhone only. No problem at all using SLR Digital Cameras. The issue is separate focus and exposure. The problem with that common trick is that the iPhone sets both exposure and focus with the same tap. If your foreground subject is also dark, you can end up over-exposing the photo. To solve that problem, install a better camera app – popular favorites include Camera+ ($2) and Top Camera ($3). Using either of these apps, you can tap separately to focus and specify where to set the exposure. The end result: You no longer have to live with under- or over-exposed photos just because you chose to set the focus point. I did not use an app in the photo you see as the exposure was satisfactory without it. Mark <

  21. TJ says:

    Alan and Dad, Fabulous video!!! Simply the BEST sound track!!!! I am now a hunt for that version of “The A Train”. Want to say more, but I have to go watch it a few more times. Musical credits please. All the best, TJ.

  22. Jim MacLean says:

    Hi Al. Jim from Cape Breton, Canada here. I wonder if any of your followers could explain how to send a 3-5 minute train video to you. I keep getting a message that the video takes too much space to send. Thanks. Jim.

  23. Creig says:

    That was the best 12 min’s i spent this week, thank you, for the wonderful video, i’am not normally a fan of set track, but wow, u used seemed to have used every bit of space out of that room.
    So sad that it must come down, Imagine, if you had actually started to scenic it all, would of looked, a picture, i hope u manage to get some more space, with ur next move.
    Please keep us updated in the future 🙂

  24. John Reynolds says:

    Very nice, very professional, very fun!

  25. ian impett says:

    interesting for photographers, a good ide3a to store

  26. David Adinolfi says:

    Great layout and video. I especially enjoyed it because it featured Lionel trains.

  27. Austin Wilson says:

    Love the tips from Mark and what a stunning train video. Loved every second of it. Makes me want to go play with my trains.

  28. Mark J says:

    It’s been a difficult week,, and I’m not a fan of Lionel. That said, your video left me grinning from ear to ear. I connected my tablet to the tv for even more enjoyment the second time around (and 3rd, 4th….). Thank you for bringing me a smile this week. Great fun. Good luck with the move.

  29. Mike DeMuyt says:

    Loved it, loved it, loved it!!!!!! Alan your video was fantastic from beginning to end. The music was really icing on the cake! (good choice Dad) I had to laugh
    when I saw that keyboard stuffed under the layout and the computer in the room, for I too share my train room with the same items. At any rate, thanx for sharing, it truly was a most enjoyable.
    Mike D.
    Kendallville, In.

  30. I also use focus stacking but with Photoshop not Helicon Focus and using a DSLR with usually with a 70 – 200 zoom lens. Question, how do you get different focus points using an iPhone. Also assuming this involves touching the screen what tripod do you use, smartphones aren’t exactly steady on a tripod.

    Note: Ken Patterson does this for producing advertising and has explained it in one of his What’s Neat columns in MRH

  31. Morning from Buffalo, would love to see the track plan for your layout. Really nice job. Thank you.

  32. THOMAS says:


  33. john thorogood says:

    OK…… How did you manage to get the train to do a prefect barrel roll and still stay on the tracks?????

  34. Brian Rockey says:

    Thanks to both. A cracking video – great music and some clever techniques.
    Brian, Wokingham, Berks

  35. Rich Wentzel says:

    Fantastic! I love the set them up and run idea. No fancy scenery, no extensive wiring just the basics. The video and music brought back many memories from my youth. My O27 trains are comprised of two eras. My pop pop bought a used set in 1920 for his stepson and my dad got a new set for our first Christmas in mom and dad’s home in 1955. Still have them but they are in storage since the 1980s.

    Now I do have a question. Who is the performer doing “Take the A Train? I’m guessing it is from a band led by a trumpeter. The dude has a great set of chops for sure.

  36. Guy Boyling says:

    Really good fun Well done the Barkers

  37. jack masarie says:

    Great to see more “O scale”. and a GREAT family project.
    Shlack in Greensboro, NC

  38. Marklin ed. says:

    Alan GREAT GREAT GREAT. Your video put a wonderful smile on my face THANKS
    Marklin ed NY

  39. Dwight in Toronto says:

    Great job with the Lionel set-up. As others have said, 027 tends to be more toy-like than model railroading per se, but it’s sure nice to see them run; a pleasant change from the super-detailed miniature worldscapes most others strive for.

  40. Erick says:

    Good Job.

  41. William says:

    Totally awesome and with great music too! But will he get any work done?

  42. Great job on both parts.

  43. Dave Karper says:

    I really feel sure Duke Ellington recorded “Take the A Train.”

  44. Brian Olson says:

    Great tips , especially mounting camera on a stable platform. LIke a lot of folks I take all my pictures and videos using my iPhone. All sorts of ways you can get stable shots high and low.

    I like to experience using the on screen focus feature on my phone to get “depth of field” shots.

    Ultimately, experiment and have fun. We all now have television studios in our pockets!

  45. Mr. Ron from So Mississippi says:

    I’m not a great fan of Lionel trains, yet I thoroughly enjoyed the video presentation of your layout. I dont see how you can get much work done surrounded by your amasing layout.

  46. Roger Stevenson says:

    It appeared to me that there was a mixture of 027 and 0 gauge on the layout. The tracks and switches have certain telltale signs about them. My current, in boxes, layout is all 027, but I am thinking seriously of doing some 0 gauge additions. I would love to see more detail from Greg about his track plan and how he combined the two systems.
    Roger in Vancouver, WA

  47. Jeff Frazier says:

    TO BIG AL; Sir I have been receiving your Blog & emails for over 3 years, Always a TREAT to start my day off with your posts!! You are the BEST & I Thank you for all the Tips, Pics & Videos. You do AA GREAT Thing here Al, & We are so Lucky to have you!! Keep up the OUTSTANDING WORK SIR!! Jeff from San Diego, Ca. VETS HOME!!!

  48. robert dale tiemann says:

    very good

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