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Active Member
What kind of night railroad photography are you looking to do?

Long exposures with blurred lines or do you want to see the actual locomotive?

Long Exposures - You need a really nice sturdy tripod and a shutter release cable. Also shoot in raw so you can correct your white balance.

If you want to actually photography a train at night and have it clear and sharp, you only have a couple options.
1 Find A parked train and shoot a long exposure (see above)
2 Buy a new camera with a really High ISO and buy some fast glass, may be an F1.8 or even and F1.4 and find spot with some light nearby. Also pick a spot where the trains will be moving slow and pan the camera with train.
Either way, shoot in RAW so you can adjust your white balance.


model railroader/railfan
thanks for the info. im still an amatuer at good photography and just for kicks tried shooting at night with a point and shoot, sony cybershot.

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
Buy a new camera with a really High ISO and buy some fast glass, may be an F1.8 or even and F1.4 and find spot with some light nearby.

At the risk of sounding like a camera snob, I must agree with Brad. A simple point and shoot (p & s) camera is fine for shooting landscapes and trains under ideal lighting conditions, but at some point you will want to move beyond basic photography.

For more advanced photography, you will need a digital single lens reflex (dSLR) camera and good lenses.

Here are examples of Canon dSLR cameras and their prices:

The f/1.8 and f/1.4 lenses Brad mentioned can be expen$ive:

Until you transition to dSLR equipment, I suggest working on basic composition and lighting with your p & s. Pick a sunny day and a location where the trains are easily visible and (due to the delayed shutter release of a p & s) moving fairly slowly. That way you can relax, set up your shots, and you don't have to settle for "grab" shots. You can find examples of such locations in Brad's many threads in the Midwestern US photo section.
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Photo Critiques Welcome
Three things minimum you need. 1) Tripod. 2) Ability to take control of the exposure. 3) Manual focus or ability to lock the focus.

Shop for a tripod and if have the means get a good one. The $49 jobs at Walmart are o.k. for shooting the whole family at Christmas but they are usually to springy for long exposures. You don’t need a $500 carbon fiber tripod but something with some rigidity. Go to the store and set one up fully extended. Push on the head like you had a nice camera on it and see if it flexes. It’ll be over $100 easy, but a good one will last. I’ve got a Manfrotto/Bogen 3001 that is over 20 years old. It's in the car where ever I go.

Take control of the exposure. I looked at a couple of the photos you posted and they were Program Auto with Multi Spot metering. The camera doesn’t know what to do with the scene and is under exposing. The first one is F5 at ½ sec and probably needs a couple more stops. A manual mode (best) or exposure compensation will let you determine what to do based on what you are seeing. DSLR’s will do a better job at metering but they too need the shooter to make the final call. The top end point and shoots come full featured but at that price point you into the DSLR range too.

Auto focus is an optical process. In basic terms, like a person manual focusing, the camera is looking for an edge or line to determine correct focus. That’s something in short supply at night. You have a couple options. Carry a nice bright light and light up the focus area. Swing the camera over to a well light edge. In either case you don’t want the camera hunting around trying to autofocus as you release the shutter.

You’re camera probably has a self timer so at Christmas you can dash around and get in the family photo. Use it to trip the shutter so you’re not shaking the camera. A remote release is best but the timer works too.


model railroader/railfan
thanks for all the info, i do have a tripod, and i now use our family's much better camera,(not just a point and shoot),

Tacoma Tom

New Member
Night photography is a lot of trail and error. You need to start doing the easy shots first. Get a tripod and go somewhere where it is well lit at night like a train station. Once you get a feel for your camera you will know what you can get away with. At least if things are not moving you will not get the blur. You also never want to push the shutter button with your finger on night shots. It can move the camera. Set the camera on self timer and let the seconds tick down so you get a photo with no camera movement.

Although I take loads of night shots of trains, nearly all of them are standing still. Photographing a moving train at night is extremely difficult. You camera wants to slow the shutter speed way down. It can be done if you scout out the right location that has plenty of light. If you have some park locomotives on display that would be a good place to start practicing.

Also don't be afraid to take a lot of pictures. Last time I photographed the inside of the Cascade tunnel I took around 270 photos. Out of all those photos only around 80 were good enough to save. Like I said it's trail and error.


thanks for all the info, i do have a tripod, and i now use our family's much better camera,(not just a point and shoot),

What everyone else said, but I want to accent the Manual exposure or fixed settings control.

All of your sample images had the headlights telling the camera, "I'm in bright light" and the train is nothing but a dark shadow. Even in the daylight a car or train headlight can ruin the exposure.

I'm not certain if anyone added this, a high power strobe will work wonders, more than High ISO sometimes? The on camera flash on most cameras is good for about 12 feet and then it falls off fast.

There are many less expensive Bridge cameras that have manual settings. If you can't spend the money, get a bridge camera. G12 and up are fine cameras, have full manual, are pretty much feature wise, like a DSLR without a changeable lens. Most have a nice zoom range. They are between "pocket" cameras and DSLRs. (unless you have huge pockets.)

But you need Manual Exposure Control because of reflections, Sunsets, headlights, and back lighting. I'd say that's an important feature.

It costs nearly nothing to take 50 photos, instead of ten. Experiment and use the delete key.

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