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Video 101 Trains at twilight

Tips for shooting garden railways at twilight
Many garden railways are lighted for evening viewing. Some have intricate model street lighting, while others use various yard lights or strings of overhead outdoor bulbs. Bob Guinan installed several light sources along his railway, including inside buildings and balloons, overhead, and along the viewing pathways. Our club looks forward to Trains at Twilight on Bob’s Deer Valley Railroad, which has become an annual event. Making a video of trains at twilight was a challenge with a nice payoff.

Camera settings.
A DSLR camera can be adjusted to shoot video with a wide aperture, high ISO, slower shutter speed, and slower frame rate. We used low-light camera settings for still pictures and, when possible, placed the camera on a solid object for steadiness. My DSLR is too large for onboard video. However, our GoPro 5 video camera captured nice video with automatic settings. iPhone video and stills also nicely caught the twilight. Here are some notes from our Photographer’s Notebook.

Twilight doesn’t last very long.
Light comes from a low angle, rather than overhead, and creates great detail and intense shadows. Arrive on location early—discuss operations, equipment, angles, and locations. Be well prepared and organized, and plan to work quickly. Use more than one camera. Add light to building interiors with extra battery-powered lights, illuminate train-car interiors, and utilize sources of trackside lighting by which trains can pass. Pack extra lighting, such as a shop light, to light up parts of a scene. Not every image is clear and sharp at night; capture both light and shadows.  

Postproduction techniques.
Adjust the brightness of images with postproduction image processing. “Day for night” filter settings can simulate the look of twilight or evening. Slow down the speed of playback to simulate scale speeds. Be alert for ambient sounds that can augment the video.

We used all of these tools in our short video at Bob’s house. The soft, glowing light from the sky as the sun appears to sink below the horizon, together with artificial lighting, provides dramatic conditions for viewing the trains and a challenging environment for creating video. Try it.

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