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Handling Natural Light: Train Platform in the Morning

Learning how to read the light is an essential photography skill! In this series of articles on “Handling Natural Light”, we look at how photographers analysed the ambient light to achieve images with beautiful lighting. Here, we learn how Kouji Yoneya retained the shiny feel of light reflecting off the train platform while avoiding blown highlights in this shot with strong contrasts. See if you can apply the concepts to the things around you, even if you are #stayinghome! (Reported by: Kouji Yoneya, Digital Camera Magazine)

Man at end of open-air train station platform during golden hour

EOS 7D Mark II/ EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM/ FL: 349mm (558mm equivalent)/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/250 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight


The story behind the shot

Glowing under the golden hour sun

It was 6am in the morning, and I was on the train station platform waiting for my train. The sunlight from the rising sun streamed in and lit up the train tracks and platform, making them appear to glow.

Unexpected chance + Quick switch in focus = Dramatic shot 

A cargo train was approaching the station, and I composed the shot to capture both the train and the glowing train tracks in the frame. But just as I was getting ready to release the shutter, one of the station employees, whose night shift had just ended, walked into the frame. Sensing an opportunity, I quickly switched to focus on him instead.

Although the train tracks and incoming train now became out of focus, the slight bokeh that was created from them made the shot look even more dramatic.

Look at the pillars on the right side of the image: the diagonal light makes the rivets on them shine and appear more three-dimensional, which adds an interesting textural element to the shot.


Analysing the light and exposure

Marked image showing key areas to note when deciding exposure

Light direction
Side lighting, from the left of the frame behind the incoming train

What I wanted to do:
- Make (A), the part of the platform that the light falls directly on, shine as brightly as possible.
- Ensure that the details of the shadows at (B) , the station employee, are not lost.

Reading the histogram

Alt:Histogram of train station scene

Here is where (A) and (B) are on the histogram. They are quite far away from each other, which reflects the contrast in their tones. The station employee at (B) is the main subject of the shot. However, exposing for (B) means that (A), which is on the far right, will end up overexposed with blown highlights. 

I decided to shoot with the intention to edit in post, and expose so that the shiny part of the platform in (A) would not be blown out.

Find out more about how to read the histogram in:
Sunrise, Sunset: Achieving Dramatic Contrasts in Street Photography


Putting decisions into action

For (A): Expose for the platform to avoiding losing detail in the platform

This is what happened when I exposed for the station employee: 

Exposed for station employee

Train station scene with blown highlights

Exposed for the platform
Closeup of platform with blown highlights

The details of the platform are retained.

Exposed for the station employee
Closeup of platform with preserved highlight details

The details in the platform are lost due to overexposure.

Because the highlight areas are so far to right side of the histogram, even if you take exposure based on the mid-tones, you would still risk getting blown highlights

To avoid this, expose for the platform. This makes the entire shot look dark, but that’s easier to fix in post-processing. When editing in post, brighten the overall image, but keep highlights under control.

For tips and techniques on identifying and avoiding blown highlights, check out:
Understanding Dynamic Range: How to Avoid Unnecessary Blown Highlights


For (B): Recover the details in the station employee 

In my photo editing software, I created a new layer and selected the station employee in (B) with the masking tool. I then increased the following parameters:
- Exposure
- Shadow

Closeup of man in shadows before editing
Closeup of man in shadows after editing

When you are editing, make sure that the results still look natural. In this case, I got the best results at Exposure: +0.16, Shadow: +15.

Inspired? Learn about the stories and shooting decisions behind other golden hour shots in:
How I Nailed the Shot: Golden Hour On the Road
How I Nailed the Shot: Plum Trees and Sea of Clouds During Golden Hour
Reflections: An Endless Seascape at Sunset


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Koji Yoneya

Koji Yoneya

Born in 1968 in Yamagata, Yoneya has been travelling around Japan and the world in search of the connection between people and railways in rail photos that reflect the daily life. In June 2017, he will hold a solo exhibition based on the theme of scenery captured from train windows.