It is always quite difficult for me to leave a seat in front of the fire, on a chilly Saturday evening. In a rash moment two months earlier, I had signed up and paid for, an evening at North Weald Station. Other club members were also keen, as was my photographer friend Diane. When Clive, Roger, Brian and I set off from Saffron Walden with me in the driving seat, it was quite a bright, if a little cool, evening. As soon as we left the motorway however, the fog descended. Rather than moan about it in a typically British fashion, we all saw it as a potential benefit to our photographic experience.
We met Diane outside the station waiting room before we all gathered for the obligatory Health and Safety talk. Dressed in their high vis orange jackets about thirty five photographers packed into the small tented area of the cafe. Not able to find an orange jacket I immediately stood out in my bright pink version! It was a crammed affair with tripods and cameras everywhere. The organiser explained how we could get on the tracks and the hazards that were lurking there. We were all told to raise both hands above our heads if we should find ourselves in a situation where a train was heading directly towards us. I had to smile. I wasn’t convinced that raising my arms would afford me any more protection than lying flat on the line. To ensure that everyone could get a picture of each train, we were advised to stand behind the gentlemen responsible for setting up the lights and wait our turn in the queue.
By now the fog was quite thick and Diane and I decided we would go to the back of the queue for the first set of pictures as the conditions were seriously trying, what little knowledge we had of setting our cameras in Manual Mode. At the back we could fiddle with our settings and try different shots. As usual I had forgotten an important part of my kit, my remote shutter release. My first problem was trying to find how to set my two second timer. Having passed my camera to at least three different photographers in the queue, who were sure they knew how to set it, I began to realise once again, how much I have to learn, even about my own camera. After ten minutes of switching menus, turning dials my three new photographer friends gave up. Fortunately, just when I was about to abandon any idea of getting a shot, Clive appeared from the crowd having already got his picture. Within two seconds he had located and set my timer showing me how to do so in future. We discussed settings and I was a little dismayed to learn that one setting was not going to be sufficient for the whole evening, as the lighting conditions were changing constantly as was the density and proximity of the fog. After taking advice from various photographers I started on ISO 400 ( to keep noise to a minimum), on F11 with a shutter speed of 4 seconds.
As Diane and I approached the front of the queue, the train was more clearly visible. I have to be honest and say it didn’t quite hold the same excitement for me as a big cat, or small damselfly but it was there to be photographed and I dutifully positioned my tripod without knocking anyone on to the tracks, and set about getting a picture. I guess I am a fairly lazy photographer, I rarely use my tripod. What I learned quite quickly, is, that it makes you slow down. I am a fairly impulsive photographer and having to manage the tripod to get the picture I wanted, certainly put the brakes on my impulsiveness. I was about to take the picture, when I could feel someone pushing me from behind and a tripod leg stabbing my calf. I turned round to see a small lady, who appeared to have either forgotten the rules about queuing or who had decided to ignore them. She pushed her way through us all, set up her tripod and started to take pictures. The rest of us looked at each other and someone muttered, “There’s always one!”
I reviewed the shots I finally managed to get and whilst they were reasonable they just lacked real interest for me. I had no idea what kind of train it was or why so many men and one small lady were so keen to get a picture. I decided then, that I would endeavour to include more people in my shots. It was a while before the next train was to be shunted into position. Diane and I went off to explore the rest of the station and the wonderful old buses we had seen as we drove into the station. These were now lit and we all dodged our way round them, trying to avoid photographing shadows and getting in the way of other photographers. On our way back to the platform I noticed a young man dressed in old fashioned railway gear. I asked him if he could possibly sit under the lamp for us. He did so willingly, despite the bench being soaking wet. By this time other photographers had seen the opportunity for a different kind of railway picture, so they crowded around too. I set and reset my camera, moving from 4 seconds to 3.25 which seemed to give a better picture.
The next train rolled in under the pretty green bridge at about three miles an hour. I tried to get a shot while it was moving. I had to smile as I have a lovely sharp picture of the bridge, but the train looks as if it was travelling at 500MPH. This time we were told we could go down on the tracks to take pictures. We made our way gingerly, climbing over a low wall and trying not to stab anyone with our tripods. Once on the tracks this new train looked huge. Again I had no idea what it was and to be honest I wasn’t that interested. I certainly didn’t know what engine size it had or how many carriages it pulled. The fog was thick now and I set up my tripod and was about to take a picture, when a man broke ranks with our group and moved right up in front of the train, set up his tripod and began taking pictures. He had no high vis jacket either!!! One of the organisers ran down the track and took him by the arm, removing him from our viewpoint. I thought to myself, ‘Perhaps there’s always two, rather than one, at this type of event!’ At this point I began to struggle to get a decent picture. I could see the fog, but it looked much worse through my viewfinder and in the pictures, than I could see when I looked directly at it. I fiddled with settings once again but I couldn’t improve this strange effect through my lens. Hearing me moan loudly, a fellow photographer told me to check my lens for condensation. Thank goodness he did. As I wiped away the water droplets with a tissue – I forgot my cloth – I could suddenly see through my lens again. I took the picture, this time trying to get as many human beings in the frame as I could.
By now we were thirsty and hungry so Brian and I decided to make our way to the buffet car. We enjoyed our coffee and hot Cornish pasties before grabbing our last shots of the third train.
This experience was great fun and despite my lack of interest in the trains, the atmosphere created by the fog, the people dressed up in the appropriate station gear and the buzz of being with like minded photographers (well mostly), made this an evening to remember. I learned a lot about the manual setting on my camera, using a tripod, setting the scene slowly and watching out for the dreaded condensation. A big thank you to all the organisers and participants at North Weald Station and to Lawrie for sitting on that cold wet bench for what must have seemed like hours!