I spent the better part of the weekend working on a practice/test video to test the waters as to what the challenges would be to produce something that was less “model railroady” in appearance.

You can see the video HERE.

Going in, I wanted to focus on three aspects of video production:

  • Composition
  • Lighting
  • Audio

After the experiment, it’s clear the biggest challenge will be the lighting.  Creating the look of “realistic natural sun produced” light, color, and shadows within the confines of a layout room is going to be a humbling experience, I can see that now.

The experiment:

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on high-quality cameras, whether to go with a video cam or video DSLR, etc.  I was surprised what I could produce with my iPhone so, for now, I’m going to experiment with that.  The phone was securely clamped to a tripod and positioned about a foot from the track.  The broadside orientation meant I didn’t have to deal so much with depth of field.  It was key to keep the camera level low to give the appearance of person sitting in a car at a grade crossing and get away from the ubiquitous model railroad helicopter view.

For lighting, I used a single photo flood positioning it as best I could to produce long shadows without blowing out the backdrop.  Even so, the sky blue background washed out so I experimented with a much more vivid blue sheet of poster board wedged in the back which helped.  I did have some odd shadows on the backdrop from a telephone pole so temporarily removed the pole during filming.  The lighting was “ok” but I wasn’t really satisfied with the lack of long shadows.

The audio ended up being easier than expected.  The trick is to never, ever use ambient sound.  After loading the clip in my video editor (Adobe Premiere Elements) I immediately deleted the actual audio.  Going online it was easy enough to find high-quality sound clips including several for an EMD 567 prime mover.  It’s fairly simple to clip the audio, add fades, and increase the bass of the primer mover.

I’m at the bottom of the learning curve when it comes to video editors.  As far as entry level products go, I was basically satisfied with Premiere given its cost.  It does give a lot of flexibility in terms of image editing but not to the extent I’m used to with still image editors like Photoshop Elements.  I found Premier’s text functions and movie templates to be limited, clunky, and maddening to work with.  At any rate, it will do for now as a learning platform.  I can always get a higher end editor once I’m farther along.

For now, the biggest challenge will be more effective lighting, a process which has no solution other than a lot of trial and error.