Thursday, 20 January 2011

Fake Himalayas, Photoshop and Marmite

60026 arrives at Cement Quay Old Wharf with a and empty short rake of MFA high sided box wagons. The loco will uncouple and run around the train before propelling it under the screen for loading. Click to enlarge.

 When photographing a model railway for publication it is generally desirable to replace the garage or office wall with some kind of wishy-washy pale blue, grey or white background in the event of the layout having no or a very low backscene. This I’m sure most will agree quite acceptable practice, for even 100 years ago such photographs would be tidied in such a manner by painting out part of the negative. The only way to avoid this would be to make sure that the camera always points downwards, which to be honest is likely to be a very dull experience for the reader.

In the olden pre-digital days, for those layouts without backdrops, large rolls of pale blue coloured paper or cloth would be suspended behind the layout during the shoot; this could prove quite a slow process due to space and the ability to light the cloth or paper evenly. These days we can use photo editing software to achieve the same if not better result allowing the photographer more time to concentrate on new, creative angles and good lighting.

This is all good news all round, but I’ve noticed increasingly on the printed page a tendency for all sorts of non-layout things starting to appear behind or even in front of layouts, frequently this is in the form of actual landscapes pasted in, making it possibly quite tricky for the reader to work out what’s really there - or more likely not. Personally I won’t take this route because is not about me and how clever I may of may not be at photo editing, but about showcasing the layout and all the hard work that’s gone into creating it. And then, what is the exhibition goer going the think when they finally see that their favourite layout in print doesn’t have Chatsworth House or the Yorkshire Dales really lurking in the background in full focus?

However, recently and possibly controversially I add a little ‘clag’ to steam shots, though I hasten to add that I always make available a set of photos ‘without’ and leave the editorial team and layout owners to decide which set of shots they want to use (which surprisingly has been a ‘yes’ to clag most of the time). It’s a bit like Marmite I guess, you either love it or hate it? And I’m sure most readers will know that the miniature locomotives don’t really spout out smoke, not unless 240 volts has accidently been zapped through them. Maybe I’m just adding what the brain imagines when looking at our miniature world, bar and the hiss, chuff and clanking noises? Comment!

What’s the shot at the top of the page got to do with it all? OK I admit it’s taken on my layout – but shot-wise it’s what I like to aim for with other people’s layouts if at all possible, especially if there’s a nice high backscene to allow a low angle like here. I can safely say that if you ever see the layout for real, pop your eyeball out and rest it on the edge of the layout (I’ll even give you a blob of Blu Tac if that helps) this is exactly what the naked eye will see. But, if your layout doesn’t have a nice high backdrop, I promise never to add the Himalayas or the Massif Central if ever I’m lucky enough to photograph your pride and joy!


  1. The finescale modeller's goal is to achieve a scene that looks realistic. However, space is the limitation. Editing a model photo to add the distant landscape or to finish off what cannot be achieved in practice results in a view that does fulfill the dream and is quite uplifting for the owner. Restraint is required though so as not to completely destroy the look of what has been modelled in practice.

    Interestingly, a close up photo, even without editing, conceals the fact that beyond the frame lies a whole mish mash of full scale trivia that detracts from the model when viewed for real. This can result in dissapointment for visitors who saw the photo before the model, especially if the model is only a few feet long.

    This is no criticism of your model which is among the finest.

  2. I agree with what you are striving for - keeping it to just the layout and remove the non-layout distractions. I like a bit of steam and really it is not that far fetched to have it now that you can install smoke generator units should you wish. In 5 years time once DCC sound is fully established the smoke and steam effects will start to become the norm.


  3. Just a few whiffs of smoke as appropriate and subtle background and sky as per your good self is OK. Layouts with photographic backgrounds suffer from the background having the same colour strength, contrast and sharpness as the foreground. What they need is aerial perspective (as us artists call it). Colours should be muted,contrast reduced and the image slightly out of focus.

  4. Sorry I've studied the picture hard and cant see any steam coming out of that 60 ;)

    I am in agreement with your thoughts though, nothing wrong with cropping out the 1:1 clutter behind a layout, after all its the model being displayed not ones personal life ! I'm also a big fan and user of Helicon, as you have said, I don't think image stacking is cheating its just presenting what the human eyeball can see and a camera struggles with.


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