What is going wrong

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Abilene Ks Railfan

Active Member
Been scratching my head over what happens sometimes when I shoot in sunny conditions. In this shot the sun was behind me, time was about 5 pm local.


Here's the photo info:

Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T2i
F-stop: f/5.6
Exposure time: 1/2000 sec.
ISO speed: ISO 400
Exposure bias +0.7 step
Focal length 27mm
Metering mode: Pattern
Exposure program: Aperture priority
White balance: Manual

Am using a UV filter as well.. What should I be doing different in sunny conditions?
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It looks like it's just a bad sun angle. The sun may have been behind you, but it was angled just enough to place the side of the train facing you in shadow.


New Member
It's hard to say not knowing how your particular camera likes which settings, but I'd start with a lower ISO. If it's a sunny day, I'm usually shooting at 100. Only in low light do I go to 400, and if I'm above that it's because I'm shooting indoors with no flash. You could try a polarizer as well to cut down glare if you're out mid-day a lot, but you'll have to experiment to see how your camera likes that kind of filter.

Based on your image, it's a little difficult to see exactly where the sun is, but it looks like 1) it's over your right shoulder, and 2) it's a bit high in the sky. I'm guessing #2 by the shadow on the snowplow, where the top half is in shadow and the bottom half is lit. That suggests to me that the sun is still very high in the sky, which unfortunately, isn't a great position for good lighting. Ideally you'd like this shot to have the sun behind your left shoulder, which would illuminate the side of the train with a warmer light, and low enough such that there aren't any downward cast shadows such as below the ditch lights. I don't know how full a critique you're looking for...but the horizon also appears to be slightly unlevel, the image looks tilted to the right just a smidge.

Not many people realize how difficult it can be to get high quality train pictures-- you can't move the subject around looking for the best light, and you often have to pick a spot, wait for the train, and then get maybe 10-20 seconds to shoot some pictures. Only then will you see how they came out and whether your spot and the light was good or not. I used to live along the IC main line in downstate Illinois where the tracks were straight as an arrow; there were stretches of the year where it was almost impossible to get decent pictures because the sun angle relative to the tracks in the morning and evening were just not conducive to good pictures. And there were no curves near where I lived where I could get a different sun angle on a train.

On the positive side, your image composition is good and sharp, and you've got a good camera. I'm glad to see pictures here of any quality, so keep it up.

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
What exactly is it in the photo that is not to your liking? If it is the sides of the engines being dark because they are in the shadows, the only way you can change that is by changing your position. Trying to lighten that section by adjusting your camera settings is only going to over expose the rest of the photo that is in the sunlight.

If you have the advantage of frequently catching a train at the same location about the same time of day, return there as often as possible and experiment.

Here are my default settings for shooting trains using my Canon 5D Mk III, 7D Mk II, and 1Dx Mk II. I shoot in .jpeg so that I spend minimum time doing post processing.
Mode: M
Shutter: 1/1000
Aperture: f/8.0
ISO: Auto
Metering: evaluative
Picture style: landscape
White balance: auto
Autofocus: AI servo

My changes will primarily be to the aperture setting and/or shutter speed in order to get the ISO as low as possible. I may also adjust the exposure compensation based on the available light, angle of the sun, back lighting, etc. I cannot adjust the exposure compensation "on the fly" when shooting in M mode on some of my cameras. If that is the case, I will usually switch to TV mode.

Here is a trick I learned from a fellow bird photographer. Take your first shots in P mode to see what the camera thinks are the best settings. Look at the photos and the camera's settings, then switch to one of the other modes and make adjustments to the settings as you see fit.

Can someone comment on using the histograph to adjust the camera settings?

One final suggestion: join Bob's photography forum for info on photography in general. Membership is not limited to residents of the PNW.
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Forum Host
Staff member
The problem here was the location of the sun. On a sunny day, the light is brighter, and that also means shadows are deeper. You were, just slightly on the shadow side of the train. The nose is well lit and properly exposed. Even the shadows are fine, they look correct.

Having the sun behind you is only part of the challenge. It also needs to be off to the side a bit to illuminate whatever object you're shooting? Object on the right? Sun has to be over your left shoulder. Object to left, your right shoulder.

Viewing the shadows here, the other side would have been slightly better, but they're almost directly straight on. The only option there is to shoot at a different time of day when the sun is in a different location.

Another issue? The photo looks a bit "flat". Cameras and software often default to a 'neutral' look. That is because they're tuned for portraits. You don't want somebody's makeup nice and bright, making them look like a clown. So they keep it mellow, and allow you to crank it up in post if desired.

I made a few subtle adjustments. I couldn't fix the shadows, but I did make things a bit brighter. I adjusted the color just a touch to bring up the UP Armour Yellow, and bumped saturation.

It's maybe a bit TOO saturated now, but the goal was to show the difference that makes, and when I did it subtly, you couldn't see the change unless the images were side by side.

So, short version: Watch your shadows and remember an image straight out of camera may be in need of some adjustments in post processing to bring out the colors and saturation you saw when you took the image.

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Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
Canon cameras tend to be set a bit "soft" out of the box. You may want to bump the sharpness to the max like I have done with all three of mine. Here is how it is done on my 7DII. I do not know how it is done with your Rebel, so you may have to experiment.

Click on picture style. In my case it is Landscape.
Once on Landscape (or whatever your setting is), hit the Info button, which will give you the following settings to adjust:
Color tone

Adjust sharpness to the maximum: + all the way to the right of center. I keep all of the other settings dead center. It is your camera and your photos, so feel free to experiment with the other settings as well.

We started a brief discussion on the PNW Photo Forum site (which I recommend you join) about equipment. Many of us have succumbed to the $lippery $lope of upgrading our equipment over the years. Here is what I have done and my recommendations. Please bear in mind that I know nothing about your personal finances or what place photography has in your life in terms of priority $pending.

All things being equal, better equipment will yield better photos, especially under less than ideal lighting conditions. . I have upgraded both cameras and lenses over the years. I have tried to do so wisely by purchasing used equipment whenever I can. With manufacturers constantly releasing new models of cameras and lenses, this can yield big $aving$ as many photographers sell or trade in perfectly good equipment in order to have the "latest & greatest" in their arsenals.

If/when you decide to upgrade, I recommend the following in the Canon line.

Camera: 5D Mk II. You will eventually want a camera with a full frame sensor. The Canon 5D line is now up to the Mk IV. The Mk II still an excellent camera for photographing trains and landscapes even though it may be 100 years old in camera years. As such, you can pick up a used one for a song.

Lens: 24-105L telephoto zoom. They say you date a camera but marry a lens. My opinion on lenses is spend the most that you can on a a high quality lens that you can pass on from camera to camera. As such, I purchase Canon's "L" series lenses (the ones with the red ring around them) and stay away from the EF-S lenses, which can only be used on cameras with crop frame sensors. I prefer zoom lenses as they allow me more leeway composiing shots in the field.

My favorite lens for railroad photography is the 24-105L wide angle zoom. It has been upgraded over the years with the current model coming in at $1,000.

Older models which are fine for photographing trains can be purchased used for much less.

There are my recommendations, for whatever they are worth.
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Forum Host
Staff member
Canon cameras tend to be set a bit "soft" out of the box. You may want to bump the sharpness to the max like I have done with all three of mine. Here is how it is done on my 7DII. I do not know how it is done with your Rebel, so you may have to experiment.

There is another option of course. Shoot in RAW. That way, the camera isn't making any choices for you. It also means your images have far more detail and dynamic range. When the camera makes a jpg, it throws away a lot of data. So I always shoot in RAW and suggest others do likewise.

You will, of course, need a program that can handle RAW images. That used to be a big deal. These day it's not. You likely got one with your camera. Lightroom and Photoshop do it of course, but there are many other imaging programs out now that also can work with RAW. I'm pretty sure there are even freeware ones, but I'm not 100% certain of that.

Here's a sample, conveniently enough, it's even a train photo.


Abilene Ks Railfan

Active Member
This was taken in Landscape mode, with sharpness maxed out and other settings dead center. The editing program I use, PhotoScape has a RAW converter

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Forum Host
Staff member
Try shooting in RAW then, there’s really no reason not to give it a try. As for that photo, it looks OK. It’s dull, but that’s how cloudy days work.

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