Don Bishop Interview on Railway Photography
Don Bishop is a well known professional from Somerset. On his website Don Bishop Photography you will see some excellent landscape and steam railway photographs. Don also provides ‘events and workshops’ to help you out with photography.
1. What year did you start your railway photography and how old were you then?
I’ve been a life-long enthusiast, and like most I indulged in taking some photos through the “train spotting” years of my youth and then slowly more seriously through the 1980’s. I guess I started to go out solely with the aim of creating images around 1987 when I started volunteering on the West Somerset Railway. I slowly became keener on photographing steam through the 1990’s.
2. What was the first camera you had and what do you have now?
My first camera was a 35mm “Rangefinder” from a Russian manufacturer (!) called a FED4L. It was quite a good camera I guess, and all my parents could afford as a birthday present in my teenage years. When I started work, I purchased a Canon AE1 SLR and progressed through several different bodies when Canon changed to the EOS system. I was an early adopter of digital, buying my first DSLR in 2003 – a Canon EOS 300D. I now use Canon EOS 5D Mk111 and EOS 5DS bodies.
3. Which do you prefer to photograph, steam or diesel trains?
Most definitely steam. Having said that I do have a keen interest in vintage diesels, particularly diesel hydraulics, but perhaps spend more of my “diesel time” on riding the trains.
4. Can you remember what your first railway photo was that you had taken?
The first ones were with an instamatic 110 camera (they were awful things!) in the 1970’s before FED4L. During the 1980’s, using the Canon AE1, I often photographed Peak class 45/46 diesels. Steam photography started on the WSR between footplate turns. I do recall my first published image was of Pannier No. 7754 on the Llangollen Railway in 1994.
5. Do you have a favourite location to take your railway photos?
You probably won’t be surprised that I like the West Somerset Railway, but otherwise more generally around the UK. I do particularly like the Settle to Carlisle line and the West Highland line – no surprise there I guess!
6. Apart from railway photography, you also take landscape photos. Which do you enjoy doing the most?
I probably get more of a buzz from landscape photos these days as to get them absolutely right requires much more effort, planning and thinking about the light, weather, seasons etc. on the day. Railway images are much simpler to capture once you have decent location sorted and decent light.
7. Have you ever had a bad day out with your camera and wished you stayed at home?
Ha, lots. I often used to drive to the S&C from Somerset for the day in 1990’s with friends, and we could quite easily finish up with nothing and often did. A number of photo charters over the years have been greeted with incessant rain or very poor light all day, resulting in no worthwhile shots and you wished you hadn’t bothered. But when it does come right, it’s a great feeling.
8. Which software do you use when editing images and are you happy with it?
I use a combination of Adobe “Creative Cloud” programs, I start by uploading images into Lightroom and working through the various stages in that platform, followed by exporting the image into Photoshop to finish off as several edits (and minor cloning for example) are much easier to do in Photoshop. Images are then saved as TIFF files.
9. Back in the days before digital cameras, did you develop your own photos, if so, did you enjoy it?
No, once I took my photography more seriously, I used slides (Fuji Velvia) which required processing by a lab. Although being able to edit your own digital images is great, it can also be a huge task to keep up with and I always have a back log to do. So in some ways it’s probably more a chore than a pleasure.
10. People can order a ‘Photo Charter’ with you. Are the steam photo charters popular?
Yes they are, although over time they have become harder to fill as costs have gone up and many of the “old school” of photographers have given up. I’ve been running charters since 1993 and have seen many changes in that time. I recently ran a day at the Dean Forest Railway which was fully booked up in just over an hour!
11. Did you take a photography course to become a professional photographer?
No, I’m always proud to explain to clients that I am entirely self-taught. When I started taking it seriously, I just listened and learned from my peers at the lineside, studied books and magazines and thought “how did they capture that image?” Very similar with landscape photography, I studied other images and thought about how it may have been achieved and then tried similar techniques myself.
12. What advice would you give to young or new railway photographers?
Get out there as much as possible, chat to others at the lineside and listen to hints and tips they give – it doesn’t matter if you are copying them as it’s a great way to learn. Attend a photo charter if you can. Study images in books and think about the composition of the images, what is included etc. and how the light has been used to create dramatic images.