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Earlier this year I was lying in my bed when suddenly an image popped up in my head. A stoker in front of a steam train, foggy background and lights shining out of the train. It’s not unusual for me to get weird thoughts during the night so I put the idea aside. Throughout the following days the image kept coming back; for me, always an indicator to pursue it. Read further to get a behind the scenes look at this production.
From idea to decision
As the idea alone is not graspable, I started sketching out the photo, getting my head around the gear I’d need to make this picture a reality. Unfortunately, I ended up with a renting-list of about 2000$ per day, which is way out of my budget for a portfolio shoot. A few weeks passed, and the image won’t leave me, that’s when I decided to go for it anyway but to minimize the gear to the absolute minimum.
Getting the location
In the village I grew up in exists a club which maintains a 12km long train track and operates with multiple steam trains on those tracks for touristic purposes. They also have this beautiful old train station hall, where they run their trains from. The perfect location.
I contacted them and told them my Idea in a few words. They immediately were up for it, so I met with the manager for a kickoff meeting. We discussed details and schedule. I realized that the steam train couldn’t just be moved around. It had to be pre-heated and prepared for hours, which made clear, we had to make the photo after one of their regular experience-days.
Great things take time
I had the idea around April, that meeting was back in June, and we set the dates in August to mid-September for pre-light and begin-October for production. It’s often underestimated how big of a preproduction effort a photo like this is.
Very early on I decided I’d need a pre-light day for a shoot like this, just to make sure we got all the equipment we needed and when we hit production day everybody knows what he has to do. I worked with five assistants on this shoot while two of them solely were there to capture behind the scenes moments and one was in charge of the fog (as I don’t have a lot of experiences with fogging huge places like this train station). During the pre-light, it turned out, that the gear I rented was just the right amount of light to create these beautiful rays into the fog, and instead of going medium format I stuck to my Canon 5D Mark III. All to keep the cost down to around 500$ per day.
Being organized on a shoot like this is key to success, the call sheets to my crew contained all the critical time-checkpoints, a floor plan and a sketch of the photo, thanks to that we were able to set up in just under 1.5 hours. We knew all the powers of the flashes from pre-light day and were ready to capture the picture at the perfect time for beautiful ambient light.
Thanks to a good organization I was able to stay relaxed throughout the shoot which made it an excellent experience. I firmly believe that this mood transfers to all people on the set, including my model the stoker. He then brought up the idea to use a shovel as a prop, and I realized once more: 95% can be planned, but the last (and crucial) 5% will come up during the shoot, all I got to do is being prepared to let them happen.
As always, thanks to the team: Noah Dopslaff, Sebastian Riedi, Timon Spühler, Janosch Tröhler, Roman Schweizer, Hugo, Florian and all the other helping hands from the DVZO