If you love train travel and you love photography, it’s hard to beat a trip spent riding the Rocky Mountaineer. But don’t wait until you can travel to get ready for the trip. The best time to practice your travel photography is when you aren’t traveling. I didn’t say it’s the most fun time, but you’ll be glad you did it when you can get back out on the road and start traveling again.
A new travel series
Skip and I have decided that trip planning is good for the soul, especially right now. So, I thought I’d launch a new series of monthly travel posts, with photography training thrown in. Starting today, one of my weekly blog posts each month will be devoted to travel photography. After all, we can always dream. In fact, it’s good for us!
How riding the Rocky Mountaineer came about
A few years ago, we put together one of our strange trips, the ones that start simply with one destination and end up morphing into something entirely different. Our original destination was a reunion of his flight crew from his Navy days. They try to meet up somewhere in the US every other year or so. This time, we were going to gather in Carmel, California.
Then, Photoshop World, a mammoth Kelby One photography training event popped up in my email and tempted me to add it on to the trip. So, we were now traveling to California by way of Orlando, Florida. I knew I’d get some great photography training with outstanding pros, so the detour was well worth it. I even added on an extra day to take a workshop with Glen Dewis, a noted portrait photographer and photoshop trainer from the UK. My suitcase was getting heavier!
Skip loves train travel and saw an opportunity to add on a train trip. After some research, he decided to tack on a return trip by train, across Canada. That’s right. All the way from Vancouver to Toronto. And that’s how we ended up riding on the Rocky Mountaineer, a “bucket list” train trip.
Travel really light?
Because of Photoshop World, I didn’t travel light, but here’s what I would take, if I were only going for the train trip and reallytrying to travel light:
My Canon camera with my 24-105mm zoom telephoto lens. This lens allows wide-angle shots but also zooms in for close-ups of the mountains in the distance. A longer lens would be harder to keep steady as you shoot. Afterall, the train is moving most of the time.
Extra memory cards and batteries, plus a battery charger.
My iPhone, for shooting video and quick snapshots.
My Seven Essentials. I always have them with my camera. In fact, two of the items I’ve already listed are in the Seven Essentials bag.
Add a little weight?
For this trip to ride the Rocky Mountaineer, I definitely would bring along a few extra pieces of equipment:
My Moment lenses for my iPhone. I would probably only use the zoom lens but having the Macro lens to shoot flowers in Riverside Park in Kamloops would be great fun!
My DJI Osmo Mobile 2 Gimbal, for stabilizing my iPhone for shooting video on the train.
My GoPro 7 Black, because why not? 😉
Even More Weight?
I admit that I can’t travel without my MacBook Pro, plus a card reader and a backup disk. I hate waiting until I get home to see my photos.
So, now that you know the equipment you might bring, it’s time to find out how you would be using it. That way, you can plan to practice the kind of travel photography you’d be doing on this trip.
Riding the Rocky Mountaineer begins
We signed up for a two-day ride from Vancouver, British Columbia to Banff, Alberta. There are longer rides available, and I would definitely suggest a longer one, since I wasn’t ready for the trip to end! But we were planning to continue our trip across Canada on Via Rail, so our ride on the Rocky Mountaineer got us part way there.
We decided on the Gold Leaf Service. This includes three nights in hotels and two days on the train, seated in a bi-level dome car. If possible, try to get seats in the first bi-level dome car! We were a level above the train cars in front of us, including the engine. It almost felt like we were driving the train! And the photo opportunities were amazing!
As you can see from this photo, it’s possible to shoot straight ahead through the windows at the front of the car if you’re in the front bi-level dome car as you are riding the Rocky Mountaineer. I shot this on the second day.
Most of my photos were taken through the windows. There wasn’t much glare from the glass and I wouldn’t advise using a polarizing filter. I suspect that the windows were polarized, and I’ve found that adding a filter just shows the polarizing film in the glass. If you’ve taken this trip and used a polarizing filter, please tell me how it worked in the comments!
One trick for shooting through the windows is to get as close to the glass as you can. That will cut out the reflections from inside the car.
What about food?
The first level of our train car was a dining room, with large windows running along the sides. We rode in the top level and dined below. Of course, there were plenty of snacks served as well! Practicing food photography ahead of your trip will come in handy, since you’ll need to react quickly during the snack service.
The expansive windows allowed for plenty of light for shooting photos of the inside of the train. You’ll want a faster shutter speed due to the vibration of the train and the light helps achieve that.
If you opt for Silver Leaf Service, your train car has only one level and you’re served your meals at your seats. It’s still definitely worth it, if you’re smarter about your budget than we are… 😎
Where did we start?
We spent the night before the train ride in Vancouver at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. The city is located at sea level and many cruises leave for Alaska from there. Someday, I want to return and spend a week there, exploring the city and the surrounding area. The two times I’ve visited have been too quick.
Early the next morning, we were picked up and taken to the special train station built exclusively for riding the Rocky Mountaineer. I’m not sure if this is always the case, but we were escorted from the waiting room to the train by a bagpiper. I wish I had had my iPhone or GoPro ready to shoot some video when they called us to board the train. That was a missed opportunity!
During the first day as we rode the Rocky Mountaineer, we settled in to watch small towns and farms drift by before we followed along a river gorge. We climbed 1132 feet in altitude, about 20% of a mile.
Sleeping in Kamloops
You don’t sleep on the train. It stops during the afternoon and you are taken to a hotel for the night. This gives you plenty of time for charging your batteries, downloading your photos, and taking a walk, not to mention eating and sleeping. 😉
Our overnight stop was in Kamloops, British Columbia, at the Sandman Signature Kamloops Hotel. There, we were met by the Kamloops Mounted Patrol.
If you look closely at the photo, you’ll notice that even the horses wear name tags! From the left, these are Maxx, Prinz and Bueno. They greet the arriving trains. Now you have a reason to practice animal photography before you go.
Across the street from the hotel, we explored Riverside Park, the perfect place for an afternoon stroll with some flower and bird photography thrown in. This certainly calls for some practice at home before the trip!
Day two began in a similar way, with an early pickup at the hotel, although we could have walked to the train. On this day, we had to climb 3400 feet in altitude, almost two-thirds of a mile, as we rode through the Rockies on our way to Banff. Banff is located at about 4500 feet, almost a mile high.
The views out of the windows were amazing as we rode past mountain lakes and along rivers. Hosts gave talks about the history of the areas we were riding through.
Our train car also came with an outdoor viewing platform, the perfect place to get shots without any glass in the way. This photo shows a man on the viewing platform of the car ahead of us.
Standing out on our platform, I even held my breath (I can’t cross my fingers and shoot photos! 😉) and took video of an approaching freight train on the tracks right next to ours.
In 24 hours, the terrain had changed from rolling farmlands to rugged mountains, with tunnels running through them.
Finally, we arrived in Banff, Alberta. For us, it was the end of our riding the Rocky Mountaineer. Many of the other passengers continued on through the Rockies the next day. Since we were continuing east, we took a tour on the Icefields Parkway and visited the Columbia Icefield on the way to Jasper, our next train departure city.
Now it’s your turn!
Preparation is half the fun. Choose a bucket list trip to dream about and then practice as though you are going. Who knows? The Law of Attraction just might work in your favor! 👏
A few more details:
If you arrive in Vancouver without warm enough clothing, there’s a Patagonia Store in the outskirts of the city. You do need to take a cab, but it’s well worth it!
Don’t worry about your luggage and camera equipment. There’s plenty of room around your feet for your camera bag or two. The rest of the luggage follows you by truck and is waiting for you at the hotels.
Some animals to be on the lookout for: bald eagles, bighorn sheep, and ospreys.
Avoid high f/stop numbers, above f/11. The water drops or dust on the windows will show in your photos. Low f/stop numbers like f/5.6 are better. They allow in more light which will allow a faster shutter speed. Start your shutter speed at 1/500th second and go faster if you need to. 1/2000th second would be great for shots of objects close to the train when it was moving fast. Shutter mode would be a good mode to start in.
When you’re shooting something that everyone wants to shoot, practice being a small footprint. Crouch down and shoot out of the bottom of the window, so others can shoot over your head. Don’t use an iPad for shooting. It takes up too much room in front of the window.
Check out this blog post to practice your exposure compensation before you go. The bright skies may fool your camera’s light meter.
Here’s a link to the Rocky Mountaineer website.
And here’s a wonderful article about riding the Rocky Mountaineer that appeared in Canadian Affair. Be sure to check it out. (My website was mentioned in it 😉)
Plus another article about both the Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska cruises that appeared in Canadian Affair, with even more info! (Yes, I’m quoted in it as well. It’s always fun to be asked to talk about travel! 👏)