Dark Deeds

Over the past six months or so, with the help of my counselor, I’ve spent a lot more time doing things that I enjoy doing and a lot less time doing things that I think I should do. This includes railfanning, on both sides of the scale.

Every now and then, I “check in” with myself and see if I am interested in railfanning. The answer is usually “nah”, but occasionally the answer is “yes!”

Late on July 23, 2022 I felt like railfanning at night, so I did.

Mile 17.8

20 seconds, f/3.5

My first stop was the signals at mile 17.8 on the CN Rivers subdivision, just west of Winnipeg. These are great props for night photography, as they are always lit and there isn’t a lot of “clutter” around them. I’ve been here several times for night photography.

I didn’t have long to wait before a train showed up, heading west.

1.6 seconds, f/4.0

It’s difficult to estimate what shutter speed and exposure to use. Train headlights are really bright, and the exposure you need to choose depends on what angle you are in relation to the train. If you are anywhere near the front of the locomotive, it will be quite bright and you can’t use a really long exposure like 20 seconds. Viewing the train from the side, the headlights aren’t “in your face” and you can use a longer exposure.

As this train went by, I tried using my super bright LED flashlight to illuminate the train. It wasn’t very successful, mostly because the flashlight is quite blue.

25 seconds, f/4.0

Oh well – I had to try.


2.5 seconds, f/4.0

Soon I was in the community of Dacotah, Manitoba, several miles further west. I hadn’t tried night photography here before so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I probably won’t return. It was OK but there was too much ambient light for me to capture the stars there. There are two bright street lights around the railway crossing in town that prevent long exposures. Still, I caught an eastbound train, so it was still a win.


30 seconds, f/4.0

Elie is always a good location for night photography, with its elevator west of the town, and wide open, relatively dark spaces.

I elected to shoot facing north so the track was perpendicular to my view. This allowed a 30 second exposure to get very long streaks of light and to show the stars in the same exposure. My camera revealed a little bit of auroral activity that I never saw with my own eyes.

30 seconds, f/2.8

After the train passed, I took a longer exposure to bring out more stars. I’m getting better at editing night photos, refining my technique and learning which sliders in Adobe Lightroom are the most effective at producing the image I want. Practice makes perfect… or at least “practice makes you better!”


1.6 seconds, f/2.8

From Elie I drove north to Marquette, Manitoba to try to capture some Canadian Pacific action. I lucked out and caught two westbound trains in a row, staring at 1:30 AM.

I set up at the main crossing in Marquette, facing west to capture the signals facing the train. The first shot was OK but I think my photos improved as the train continued past.

10 seconds, f/2.8

I liked the streaks of the mid-train locomotive in the photo above.

As the end of the train approached, I timed the last shot to include the crossing gates rising. It turned out just as I had hoped.

20 seconds, f/2.8

That was my favourite shot of the night, and it barely had any train in it.

Marquette 2

3.2 seconds, f/3.2

After the first train finished rolling through Marquette, I saw a distant headlight to the east and knew that another train was following. I decided to relocate to the east end of the Marquette siding, a few miles down the track, and set up at the signals there. It is a more rural setting.

25 seconds, f/3.2

I’ve been using the tried and true techniques of “live view” and manual focus to get everything nice and in focus. I read a while ago that you should shut off any image stabilization that your camera does when you have it on a tripod, as it may actually make your photos less sharp, because the camera may try to adjust when it shouldn’t. On this trip I remembered to turn stabilization off on the lens, and I was very pleased with how sharp these photos were.

After the second CP train went by, I went back to Elie, then set up at a remote crossing about midway between Elie and Oakville.

No Trains

30 seconds, f/2.8

I waited, and waited, and waited… for about 45 minutes, then I decided to pack up and start heading back to Winnipeg. As you can see, I did take a moment to take a ghostly selfie.


25 seconds, f/4.0

As I approached Diamond, I saw that the east facing signal was green on the south track. Train!

I set up to catch the train going across the prairie and used a fairly long exposure to get the streak plus some stars.

The red lights from the crossing gave an opportunity for a red selfie.

I was back in bed by 4:20 AM… not a bad way to spend a night!

Other Night Train Posts

Just One More Thing

The title of this post comes from one of my favourite movies, Love Actually, spoken by the worst character in the film, Mia.

It’s an art gallery. Full of dark corners for doing dark deeds.

Mia, “Love Actually”

10 thoughts on “Dark Deeds”

  1. The things people do when others are fast asleep.
    I like the one with the crossing gates Steve, nice effect!

  2. I love this sort of found light night photography, and I very much relate to the mental health struggles around when this hobby is or isn’t emotionally worth it. I’m glad you were able to enjoy this night of shooting, and you got some nice shots out of it too!

  3. This is an amazing collection of photographs that capture the vast expanse of the prairies, especially the prairie night sky. While I like all the photos the ones at Eli, for me, have that feeling of place and atmosphere. The selfie has that same feeling. Always a pleasure to see your photographs.

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