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Photographing train stations

Ben Boswell returns with some tips on photographing train stations.

|  Architecture
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Words and images by Ben Boswell.

Waiting for a train
There are few towns and cities that do not have a station and they are fantastic places to take pictures. They are often architectural gems, designed by some of the engineering giants of their time; they are places of transit where people arrive, depart, meet or just wait and they are full of photographic opportunities.
Train time tables

You do not have ‘carte blanche’ to take pictures in stations, National Rail has a quite relaxed attitude to amateur photography; its guidelines are published here: National Rail

There are restrictions and you should do your best to ensure that you do not get in the way or break the rules. London Underground is a different matter; to shoot legally within LU stations you do need to have a permit and that you have to buy. Details are available here: TFL

I shot a few pictures on the underground network whilst I was working on this article before I knew the rules. I have chosen not to use them.

Paddington station

It is unlikely that you will be able to use a tripod on a station; they pose too great a risk. Nor are you permitted to use flash anywhere near the platform. Consequently you need to have equipment that you are able to hand hold and this could mean that you need to be able to use a faster ISO, or that you should restrict yourself to shorter lenses or a combination of these. Otherwise there is no specific equipment required, you should take what you are comfortable using, but don’t take too much kit because you are likely to be walking quite a bit.

Stations offer an incredibly diverse range of possibilities. I have approached the subject in the way I like, looking for quite graphic images, but there is scope for many different ways of working. There are more of the pictures I took here.
Paddington Train Station roof St Pancras roof and clock

Architecture – In London many of the stations hark back to the Victorian heyday of rail and they are virtually cathedrals to travel. Some have beautiful vaulted roofs which make dramatic pictures either as long shots or as details. Quite a few stations also have pieces of public art, some of it very lovely, which can be photographed on its own, in its environment or sometimes among the milling passengers. The architecture also encompasses the nitty-gritty stuff of railways, the tracks disappearing into the distance or the spaghetti of cabling that you often see beside the rails.
Statue Cables at Edgeware Road

People – stations are often thronging with excited people, starting a journey, arriving in a new place, meeting friends or coming home. This makes them rather more unguarded than they might be elsewhere and there are great pictures to be had. If you are able to find a good place to keep your camera steady, there may also be possibilities for long exposures showing the movement of the crowds around the station.

People waiting for a train

Passengers at railway station

Signage – if you are producing an album of pictures of a place, then the signage in the station can be a great way to put a title picture at the beginning to introduce the subject. There are all sorts of other signage in stations from dire warnings about safety and directions to everything to timetables, all of which can add to the atmosphere or be the subject itself.

Don't cross the lines

Platform at Paddington Station

Trains – there are likely to be trains too and they offer a whole theme on their own. I’ll leave that for another time, but if you can put trains in your stations there is a good chance that they will look ‘right’.

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