I recently took a train trip from Whitefish to East Glacier, a two hour train journey (that I could have just as easily driven), to say a last farewell to Glacier Country before I head off for a trip in the next few weeks.
Now, I’ve taken my fair share of train trips, even this same Amtrak route when I first moved to Montana to work in Glacier, but this time I was coming armed with a real camera and the intention to use it. I wasn’t traveling with baggage on baggage, so I didn’t feel tied to my seat and I could actually get up and take advantage of all the ways to experience scenery like this:
on a train.
I may not be a professional photographer, but I am an unapologetic perfectionist and have spent plenty of time repositioning and shifting to try to get rid of the dang window glare.
So here we are with five tips for taking amazing photos from a train!
Keep the camera a few inches from the glass
This will give you the least glare, and the best chance that your auto-focus (if that’s what you’re using) will choose to fix on the pretty views rather than the bug- and dirt-splattered glass. Play around with focus too—an epic mountain behind a haze of smudged glass could be a metaphor for our society’s descent into madness or something else equally artsy, you never know.
If you keep getting unwanted glare on window you’re shooting out of or your camera refuses to focus on what you want it to (story of my life. One day, manual focus. One day), change angles, get up, move around. Block light with your body, or use a notebook to mask bright glare. If all else fails, try to work the reflection up into the sky, where the colors are lighter, so it will show up less.
Embrace the train motif
You can’t always get away from the glare and reflections, so in that case, think outside the box. Incorporate the windows into the shot, or capture two views in one photo with the reflection. Work your best angle and take a self portrait with the reflection in the glass. The views are cool, but so is the train itself. Or just shoot across the car: it’s easier to get a shot of unblemished landscape (unblemished by dirty windows, that is) from farther away. And that way you can work in the train motif in an original way. Because you’re not just seeing a beautiful landscape, you’re seeing a beautiful landscape from a train. Flaunt it!
Head to the lounge car
(See photo at top)
There are windows on the roof! Panoramic views! Tables to balance your camera on. Often times, especially on Amtrak through scenic parts of the country, like between Whitefish and East Glacier, you’ll find interpretive programs as well. It’s nice to chat with your neighbors, make new friends, and then go back to your seat for some well-earned antisocial time.
Wash the Windows
I’m not sure I have enough motivation for this, but I did see some other people doing it! And why not. Yet another reason to always always always travel with baby wipes. Hmm, but baby wipes would probably leave streaks like no other. Windex then? Bet you can dispense it into a TSA-approved container. Or heck, it is the train. Bring the whole bottle. Just like these amazing people, get out at a station stop and go to town on the dirt and grime. Hop back on, you’re good to go.