AmtrakAmtrak Tips

How To Take Amazing Photos and Videos on An Amtrak Train

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Photography on a moving train can be very rewarding if you are able to capture memories of your trip, but also very challenging without the right equipment and techniques. I’ve been working as a professional photographer for the last 16 years and here are my recommendations for taking great photos and videos on your trip.

Understanding Techniques

There are 3 main problems that ruin photos and videos taken on a moving train, so we will break those down and give you the solution to each. Then we will break down which gear is best to use on the train.

Problem #1: Glare

On thing you’ll be fighting, especially if you have a sunny day, is glare when shooting through the window. Glare is especially bad if you have windows in front of and behind you while the sun is out. Most people think shooting their pictures from the observation car is the best idea, but in reality it is the worst place on the train for glare due to all the windows.

I prefer to shoot pictures on a sunny day either from a sleeper car room or a coach class seat. The reason is that there is a curtain on the window and you can pull it behind your camera to block any glare from the other side. Think of it as something like a photographers blind, like hunters use.

On A Sunny Day Those Upper Windows Produce Incredible Glare

Problem #2: Shaking and Movement

Obviously the train will be moving unless you are taking pictures of a station, so to get something good you need to reduce the shaking and lessen the effect of the movement on your lenses.

To reduce the shaking you’ll want a fast shutter speed and to have your camera as stable as possible. A fast shutter speed can be achieved by shooting as a lower f stop or raising the ISO of your camera. A fast prime lens is the best choice for this. Secondly, to reduce shake you’ll want to either have a stabilized lens or have your camera mounted to the train, which will reduce any movement introduced by you holding it.

Larger DSLR type cameras can’t be mounted, so make sure your lens has image stabilization. Smaller cameras, video cameras, phones and GoPro cameras can be mounted to the window and triggered remotely with your phone or on a self timer.

The longer the lens you use in focal length, the more blur will show up in your photos on a train. So, if you are trying to take pictures of an eagle with a 500mm lens, you have more problems than shooting a landscape with a 24mm lens. It is a personal preference how far you can go without reducing the quality of your photos, and largely depends on how well you’ve minimized the shake. But, if you want to ensure sharp photos, the shorter your focal length the better.

Problem #3: Lighting

Your lighting should be fine shooting out the windows, but if you are taking pictures of people or the actual train on the inside you might need some artificial light. The best choice is just to shoot during the day, but we carry a few different lighting options for shooting photos and videos in the evening.

The Camera Gear We Recommend

Photo Camera

There are many directions you could go with a camera, but I think it is wise to first consider which system offers the best lenses to do the job you want. For my money, the Canon R series lenses are some of the finest available, and they let you upgrade your camera as you want while keeping the same lens. For that reason if I were buying a new camera today I’d choose one of the Canon R series mirrorless cameras, whichever fit my budget best.

The two higher priced cameras R6 and R5, both have IBIS, which stands for In Body Image Stabilization. That means that any lens you put on the camera will be stabilized. If you choose the cheaper RP, you can still get stabilization by buying a lens that has it. You’ll be choosing from:

I’ve used the Canon R system professionally for the last few years and love it. All of these cameras use the same lenses, which are the amazing RF lenses from Canon.

Best Lenses For The Train

There are three affordable lenses that make sense for the train. The Canon RF 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. All three are cheap, fast, sharp, and light. Of the three lenses, only the 50mm is not stabilized, which is why it is the cheapest. Yes, you could buy a zoom lens, but you’d be sacrificing speed on the lens for that convenience, which as we said above was the biggest enemy of sharp pictures on a train.

One of my favorite lenses for landscape photography is the Canon RF 35mm 1.8 lens. It is fast and light, and is an incredible bargain for the money ($499).

The second lens you should consider, is the Canon RF 50mm 1.8 lens. It offers a little more reach than the 35mm and is even cheaper at $199. This lens is almost a must have at that price. It is not stabilized though, so keep that in mind.

The third lens is the Canon RF 85mm 2.0, which comes in at $599. It provides even more reach than the 50mm, bringing those far away landscapes closer.

Once you get beyond these three prime lenses, the prices start to go up astronomically. The best fast zoom lens is the Canon RF 28-70mm 2.0 ($3,099).

Sample Images With The Canon R System

Taken With The Canon R and a 14mm lens at the Grand Canyon
Milky Way Shot with the Canon R System in Arizona

Video Camera

We both carry a GoPro Hero9 Black. We’ve tried just about every small video camera on the market and this one is the best for our needs. If you like the quality of our videos, this is what we use.

It has a screen on the front and back making it easy to video yourself or your surroundings. It is also very easy to mount to the train using a suction cup. (Note: Don’t buy the GoPro suction cup, the arm is too small for window mounting, buy the Joby one below.)

Video Camera Accessories

By far the most asked question we get concerning video is how we get the video to be stable. We use the Joby Suction Cup Mount, which happens to hold the above GoPro Hero9 Black camera perfectly. If ever there was a must buy accessory, this is it.

Our Setup with our Older GoPro 8, we now use the GoPro 9.

On one GoPro we use the GoPro Media Mod. The Media Mod is a housing with a built in microphone. If you’ll be doing any talking on camera, this will provide much better audio than the built in microphone the camera has. Note though that the Media Mod does make it harder to switch the battery and the storage card. The housing must be taken off to do so. This is why we only use it on one of our two GoPro cameras.

Then we attach the GoPro Light Mod to the Media Mod for difficult lighting situations. If you’ll be filming people at night it can be helpful. To use the Light Mod, you need to have the Media Mod attached.

You’ll need at least 2 batteries, so we recommend buying an extra official battery. The camera comes with one, and you’ll want to buy another. We each have 3 for a total of 6 with us at all times. They do run down faster than you’ll think.

Allie uses the GoPro Shorty Tripod to hold the camera when filming, while I use the above suction cup mount to hold the camera. Either will work, and are better than just holding the small camera with your hand.

You’ll likely want a bigger SD card than the one that comes with the camera, so we recommend at least a 128 GB Sandisk Micro SD card. We carry many of these cards in different sizes.

If you have questions about your camera setup drop us a comment below and we’ll be happy to give some advice!

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Robert Marmion
Rob is married to Allie and together they have been traveling the world for the past 2 years. Rob is one of the most published photographers in the world, having published over 750,000 images in the last 15 years. He enjoys doing landscape and astrophotography while on the road.