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Check out this railway photography masterclass

Significant technical advances in digital cameras and lens quality has made railway photography images previously thought impossible, possible.

The editor meets professional and commercial railway photography Jack Boskett, whose portfolio includes The Royal Family and celebrities. He explains the techniques used to create thought-provoking and dramatic railway photographs.

Jack Basket (pictured below) had his first picture published in The Railway Magazine in November 2006, aged 16, but before that he won his first photographic competition in the under 18 category at just seven with a photograph taken on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway. 

Jack is self-taught and developed his skills and railway photography knowledge throughout the years without the help of college or university courses, instead being guided by father Ian from an early age, to learn the basics on how a film camera worked. Jack says he now teaches his dad how to use a digital camera!

GWR ‘42XX’ 2-8-0T No. 4270 enters Greet Tunnel on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, as taken from the verandah of a brakevan. This was a tricky photograph to take, but fortunately, with the modern technology of a Nikon D5, using the motor drive (the ‘machine gun’ mode as Jack calls it) he was able to photograph just over 12 frames per second, which is absolutely incredible when you only have one chance with a film camera. The reason for this was because of the shutter speed being set to 1/10 second, while compensating for the movement of the brakevan. This was the only sharp picture out of a sequence of 64 images.
The golden age of steam: Collett ‘8750’ 0-6-0PT No. 9681 bursts through the morning sunshine near Norchard, on the Dean Forest Railway in Gloucestershire, in January 2014. This was taken at just after 07.00 during a photographic charter when the air was still and the sun shone through the valley in a very short 10-minute window. Shutter speed was 1/250 @ f7.1 ISO100, 42mm focal length. Small adjustments to the highlights have helped define the exhaust.
You wouldn’t normally place your camera in this position while the locomotive is moving. However, the composition of this photograph of Grahame Dryden checking the oil level on Flying Scotsman’s crank axle, using his little finger, works perfectly in black & white. The colour version doesn’t depict the grime and grit as much as the monochrome version. Jack used an aperture of f/4 ensuring the focus point was on Grahame’s face. The shutter speed was 1/125, ISO 640, 24mm focal length. 
They say photography mirrors your personality! On reflection, this was the case in Scotland on May 3, 2017, as Jack photographed Peppercorn ‘K1’ 2-6-0 No. 62005 en route to Fort William, working the ‘Great Britain X’ excursion. Using his creative eye, Jack decided to stay in the car at County March Summit and photograph the excursion in the wing mirror of his car. There is a knack to getting an image sharp in a mirror; the further you are away from it, the sharper the subject will be. Shutter speed 1/400 second, f/10, ISO 250, Focal length 24mm, with minor post processing adjustments. 

In 2010, Jack started a photography business in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire that now specialises in commercial, wedding and PR, building up a wide client base. However, his first love is railway photography, and as well as his own creative images, he works for the Rail Delivery Group and Great Western Railway on a regular basis.

One of the greatest accolades, together with the acceptance of a very high quality of his work, is that Jack has worked among royalty as the sole photographer at various engagements, capturing images of HM Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as other members of the Royal Family.

Didcot Railway Centre is a photographer’s dream when it comes to re-creating the steam era. Here Jack has captured long-time Didcot volunteer Grahame Dryden, who looks the part during the re-enacting of this 1950s scene. Lit with one spotlight, the atmosphere was created by a smoke machine placed in the pit, as the locomotives are all static. It could almost be mistaken as a Cuneo painting. The camera was mounted on a tripod, the shutter speed was 0.3 seconds, aperture f/5, ISO 400, 26mm focal length. 
BR ‘Deltic’ No. D9009 Alycidon reflects in what is presumed to be water, but in actual fact the roof of Jack’s 1970-built Austin 1300, silhouetted against the evening sky near Bredon, Gloucestershire, with the return working from Shrewsbury to Burton-on-Trent via Gloucester on June 17, 2017. The roof of the car was frantically polished for about 20 minutes prior to the photo being taken. The light was quickly fading so the only way to make this effective was to reflect the light from the top of the car. Shutter speed was 1/1000, aperture f/5, ISO 320, 24mm focal length.  
Inside the STEAM Museum, on the site of Swindon Works, GWR No. 4073 Caerphilly Castle is theatrically lit, along with the use of smoke machines, to create a dramatic silhouette, with the locomotive crew member changing the headlamps. There are many lamps at the museum and the majority are without their oil vessels inside. On this occasion, Jack used the torch on his mobile phone to give the same effect as a lit lamp. The camera was mounted on a tripod, shutter speed 0.4 seconds, f/5.6, ISO200, focal length 38mm. Minor post-processing adjustments included turning the image from colour to black and white.
Two steam locos were available to photograph during the night shoot of a photographic charter hosted by Timeline Events at Swanwick Junction, Midland Railway Centre. While the gallery of photographers concentrated on No. 46233 Duchess of Sutherland on platform 1, Jack borrowed his friends Fionn and Chris to set up a romantic scene on the opposite platform with Caprotti-fitted BR ‘5MT’ No. 73129, before the other photographers realised there was another shot being created behind them. The only available light was on the platform; the steam heat pipes were released from two coaches behind the locomotive to create some atmosphere.

Behind the lens, Jack uses Nikon camera bodies, including a D5, D850 and D4s, along with a host of lenses to suit each job. 

He has a following on social media and attends various photographic charters which are specifically put on for both amateur and professional photographers at railways around the country. However, Jack has a creative eye and encourages himself to think outside the box. He often strays from the gallery of photographers to look for the alternative view and capture something unique to his style of photography. 

Jack also uses his imagination to re-create bygone scenes of the 1950s and 1960s when a dull day is perfect for this style of railway photography as it works hand in hand with black and white imagery. It’s not always about the locomotive either, occasionally it’s the small details that stand out. 

And now for something completely different… this photograph was taken at Toddington Station on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway on March 11, 2017 during a night shoot photo charter with Class 37 No. D6948. Jack was the only photographer on this platform at the time the image was taken. With the camera mounted on the tripod he captured the impact of speed while zooming out of the focus point on the headcode panel; the locomotive was moving at walking pace. The shutter speed was 0.3 seconds, aperture f/5, ISO 800 while zooming. 
Using the camera to create some stylistic imagery is something Jack enjoys doing most. Here, an HST departs the beautifully restored Great Malvern station. The camera was mounted on a tripod, the shutter was open for 13 seconds, aperture of f9, ISO 50 26mm focal length. The shutter opened just as the train departed and it then captures every movement within that time frame. The composition was key for this image to work as it was important to include the GWR canopy and branded benches. 

One thing Jack’s images do not rely on is the wizardry of Adobe Photoshop. He says he hasn’t the time to spend hours on editing one image, so the priority is to take the images correctly on the day, taking account of the composition and camera settings. 

Every image is shot using manual settings, in raw format for ultimate quality, and post-processing consists of minor adjustments to levels contrast and highlights. 

Each photograph is thought out beforehand. It’s not as simple as turning up and pressing the shutter. Jack recognises if something doesn’t look correct, and works to adjust the scene or his position to ensure it looks authentic. 

Jack tours the country talking to railway photography societies and camera clubs about his work and has recently embarked on a one-man show called ‘From Railways to Royalty’, presenting his work on a large screen to a wider audience.

Compare Jack’s approach to that of Bishop Eric Treacy nearly 70 years ago. Click here to take a look.

Two more of Jack’s wonderfully evocative images.

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