Lake Erie N-scale Society
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Suggestions for Better Pictures

by Skip Giddings (1999)
Most of us who have been Railroad Modelers for a number of years have accumulated a number of skills.  There is one area that from my observation, a number of us have ignored.  This is the recording of our efforts on film.  This article is not intended to get into the technical elements of photography, but rather to give two or three basics things that will help the person with a relatively inexpensive automatic camera take pictures of their modeling efforts which they can show to friends and family without the usual run of wobbly, out of focus, dark or washed out prints which are to often passed around.

Most inexpensive automatic cameras these days are configured to use 200 ASA or 400 ASA color print film.  There is not a lot of difference between brands (Kodak, Fuji, Kmart, Revco, etc.)  Good or bad processing can negate any subtle difference between brands.  I buy mine by the 4 or 6 pack at Sams or Walmart and keep it in the refrigerator.  It will stay fresh for 2 or 3 years.  Ordinarily, I buy 200 ASA.  If you are going to take a lot of inside pictures, try the 400 ASA, even with flash.

Most inexpensive ($30. - $125. cameras) have a fixed focus lens.  For those of you familiar with lens designations, they generally are from f4.5 to f6.2.  The lesser the price, the higher the number.  If your instruction booklet gives these specs, great.  As a rough measurement, the closest distance between your lens and whatever you're taking a picture of, is the number of your lens, quoted in feet.  This would mean that a f4.5 lens will probably give good definition of sharpness of a picture at 48 inches or greater.  Anything closer will get fuzzy very quickly.  What you see in the viewfinder is not what you necessarily get.

Take some time to test your camera.  Take the front page of a newspaper and tape it to a blank wall.  Preferably a shop or a garage wall, not the dinning room wallpaper.  Put the center of the sheet about eye high.  Now take 3 or 4 pictures using a tape measure to measure the distance from the wall to the lens front.  Take a shot at one or two foot increments starting at 2 ft., then 3 ft., then 4 ft., then 6 ft.  Be sure to mark the paper with the foot number, so you can identify the print later.  When you get the prints, look at them closely with a magnifying glass. You will find out what the closest distance is for your lens.  Another tip is, you will generally wash out your picture with the flash when you are to close.  Learn to judge this minimum distance or calibrate the distance from your shoulder to your finger tips, and use this as a yard stick.

Another common reason for fuzzy or blurred pictures is movement of either the camera, the subject or both.  Learn to click your camera without moving it.  It only takes a gentle movement of the pinkie for you to operate the shutter, not your whole hand or arm.  For those of you who are gun shooters, squeeze off your shots, don't pull the trigger.

Clean your camera lens and view finder frequently.  Use a cotton handkerchief or a Q-tip.  Breathe on it, then wipe it gently.  I'm always amazed when someone asks me to take their picture for them, and how often the lens and viewfinder are dirty, dusty or smudged.

Last but not least, edit your prints before showing them to your friends and family.  One of the differences between a good photographer and a bad one is,  good ones don't show their bad shots!

"Now, go and do likewise..."