Colin J. Marsden Interview
Colin J. Marsden is from Dawlish and is a well known railway photographer in the UK. He has an excellent website ‘Dawlish Trains’ that shows many photographs that are worth looking at. If you go onto Amazon and search Colin J. Marsden, you will then see some of the excellent books that Colin has edited.
1. When and how did you develop an interest in photography?
I developed an interest in railways first, at quite a young age. Living in Surbiton, when we went shopping – which was a daily event – we had to pass along the side of the railway. I always wanted to stop and see a train. When I was about 10 I had use of a basic camera and from then on.
2. What was your first camera you had and what do you have now?
When I was 11, I was given my first ‘proper’ camera. A then state of the art ‘Zenith E’. Of course this was a 35mm roll film camera and over the next few decades as finance allowed I upgraded with both camera and lenses, using various makes of both 35mm and medium format including the Pentax 6×7. I visited Photokena in 2001 – a camera trade show in Los Angeles and purchased by first digital camera a Nikon D1, over the years I’ve always kept with the Nikon gear and today I use a Nikon D850 with five different lenses.
3. Can you remember what your first photo was?
I can. It was a maroon ‘Warship’ passing Surbiton on an Exeter to Waterloo train, taken on my mothers twin lens reflex camera.
4. Do you have a favourite steam loco and diesel train that you like to photograph?
Well I like photographing all types of train, tram and anything running on rails. I’m not a great follower of the steam scene, my main subject in modern traction. As for a class, I guess it would be the Westerns and 50s but I also enjoy the very modern classes, they all have a major part to play in the transport world.
5. Is Dawlish your favourite location for railway photos?
I like taking pictures of trains in and around Dawlish, but I would not say its my favourite location. I do a lot of photography in the USA. Bealville in the Tehachapi Mountains between Mojave and Bakersfield would be my choice.
6. You have had a lot of excellent railway books published. Which book is your favourite and which one sold the most?
I have had the great pleasure in editing and compiling over 150 books on railways, let alone magazines. Many years ago I was the person behind the ‘Recognition’ series of enthusiast books first published by Ian Allan in the early 1980s and over the years these have given me a great pleasure in producing, loving the technical side of the rail industry. These have been the best sellers with in various issues over 100,000 copies sold.
7. What makes the good picture stand out from the average?
The time honoured question. To me, a perfectly exposed picture in a good landscape is good picture. And with the train in a perfect position. Usually with the front of the subject being on a 1/3 position in the frame, with now object seeking to take the viewers eye off the main subject. The number one priority is sharpness. Then followed by composition and exposure.
8. Back in the days before digital cameras, did you develop your own photos, if so, did you enjoy it?
For years, I did all my own developing work. Eventually, I went to Open University and studied photographic art, which paved the way for me to go forward. When I lived in Surrey I had a full darkroom setup, which moved with me to Devon in the 1980s. Originally I concentrated mainly on black and white and originally enjoyed the ‘wet room’ side of photography. When colour took over, I did colour slides, which were developed in a local lab. This is because colour isn’t that easy for home operations. For several years
9. Which decade have you enjoyed the most taking railway photographs and why?
I have enjoyed taking pictures in all decades from the 1960s, but I guess the 1980s-90s were the most impressive with such diversity of classes and trains both in the UK and overseas, especially in the loco-hauled era. The majority of trains in the USA are still loco hauled, which is why I still enjoy regular visits there.
10. Have you ever had a bad day out with your camera and wished you stayed at home?
Bad days are frequent, usually involving poor weather. I remember taking out the Pentax 6×7 and driving from Surrey to Cornwall to capture some of the clay traffic. There was a nasty unusual sound from the camera as soon as I took the first exposure. The entire shutter had broken off its mounting and gone through the material focal plane shutter. So it was back in the car and drive home.
11. Like myself, are you disappointed that there are less rail tours running and heritage railways open, due to the Covid-19 lockdown?
I’m pleased that rail tours are not running and that heritage railways are closed. The health of the nation is more important than the leisure industry and photographing trains. We have to take the situation in terms of trains v C-19 as it is. I know its hard, but we have to live and go along with the present times and restrictions otherwise none of us will have trains to look at in the future.
12. What is your best photography tip?
I can say the best photographic tip I can offer is simply to be in the right place at the right time. And always be prepared for anything. If you go out on a photographic safari, keep the camera out in your hand switched on and set up ready to take a grab picture, you never know what is going to go by your lens that is worth capturing. It may not be a train, it could be anything, so always be ready. A camera is no good in the bag, keep it out and ready for action. BUT always be aware of your surroundings. Modern camera equipment is expensive and had a good black market value, so make sure nobody can grab it from you.
Photo: 43155/GW08/43094 up Coryton Cove working the 2E01 05.40 Penzance to Exeter SD 7 May 2021 © Colin J Marsden