Photographing in Steam, Smoke and Noise

Photographing in Steam, Smoke and Noise

If like us you can’t photograph enough of mechanical vehicles, then this is the place for you.

A very English pass-time is to wander around a farmer’s field whilst grease and soot covered people display their beautiful, and often shiny, machines. The one we went to was Aldham Old Time Rally. However, the exhibitors move around, many of them week to week, over the course of the summer.

So what is it?

This is essentially an exhibition of a variety of steam and mechanical vehicles.

So what do you do there? What we love and that’s to take photographs. However some people are there for lesser reasons but we’re going to ignore them, and concentrate on the photography!


Train Handle Glowing with fire

Train Handle Glow


Tips for photographing steam

The first thing about photographing a steam machine is obvious, but so often overlooked. You need to have steam in the photograph. Steam engines seem to have a life of their own breathing fire and smoke and this is what we want to capture in our photographs.

We both have different ways of shooting. Tim tends to create images by getting up as close as possible and photographing wide, usually with a 24 mm lens, but I tend to zoom right in using my 24-70 mm lens at the 70 mm end to get the compressed perspective that these short telephoto lengths do so beautifully. If there is anything with a flame we try and show the flame in the image as this is the heart of the engine.


Steam Rally traction engine close up of lamp

Steam Rally traction engine close up


Brecon Beacon Railway train with points man and lots of steam

Brecon Beacon Railway


Very often, with a stationary object, you need to set up your image and then wait, with your finger poised until the appropriate steam cloud breathes into life!

Once in RAW, you can also augment the steam by using an adjustment brush and increase the lightness of the steam using Exposure, and really bring the steam to life by increasing micro-contrast by sliding the Clarity up to the right.

We’ve found that wherever we go, owners are so proud of their machines and if you strike up a conversation with them, they are often very happy for you to climb aboard and photograph their pride and joy enabling you to get photographs that the other photographers aren’t able to.

Steam rallies aren’t the only place to get your steam fix. Wales (UK) especially, has some beautiful steam railways where you can get up close and personal to your heart’s content of pipes, pistons and steam.

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