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Mobile Phone Camera for Railway Photography

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Mobile Phone Camera for Railway Photography

If you are into railway photography there is a good chance you have considered the possibility of using mobile phone camera to shoot your photos, as opposed to conventional cameras. Most people have a mobile phone with a fairly decent camera. Many can consider if a dedicated device is even needed at all in this phone-obsessed era!

Smartphone or Not?

But of course, it is not just about what can and can’t be done with a mobile phone. There are other reasons that people ultimately choose to use the device they do. For instance, it often will just come down to individual preference. And yes, a smartphone can take pictures, often to a very high standard, but there are differences than when using an all-purpose camera. Having said that there are similarities, too.

When trying to capture a train with a phone camera most people will use the smart devices default settings. This is like the automatic mode on a camera, where it adjusts to the current shooting situation. But also like with a conventional camera many mobile phones will allow you to shoot with chosen manual settings. The smartphone camera settings are usually not quite as detailed as a regular camera. The options can be fairly extensive, especially if we are talking about higher-end devices or camera focused ones. A lot of smartphones, such as the iPhone series, allow you to attach accessories like additional lenses to your camera phone, further replicating the conventional camera.

Whether you should shoot your trains with smartphones or dedicated cameras comes down to personal preference and the experience you are hoping for. As advanced as smartphone cameras are getting, they may not match that natural camera setup that many of you will be used to from your favourite DSLR, SLR, bridge or other chosen choice. And that is the thing, you might crave experiencing the whole routine of using a regular camera and the feeling of shooting in this way!

But another consideration is the budget. Some smartphones can cost a lot more than a very decent camera. But you can get also get a smartphone with a good lens cheaper. You could argue that the majority of people will be purchasing a smartphone anyway. So, if you can get one with a great camera you could be saving money not having to buy a separate device to fulfil all your snapping needs. If space is a concern, then this will be an additional plus with a camera phone, especially as you would likely be cutting down on a lot of extra attachments.

Charlie Greasley’s two photographs were taken from a Samsung A70 mobile phone.

Photos © Charlie Greasley 

If you do decide to use a phone for railway photography, here are some tips:

Use Gridlines

Just like if you are using a DSLR, popping on a grid guide can help with your arrangements, assisting to increase your chances framing the trains the way you want too. The grid option should be easily found in your camera’s settings. It works on the “rule of thirds” theory, a composition principle that says an image should be broken down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, so there are 9 parts altogether.

This theory tells us that if we place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines the photos will be more balanced.

Consider Movement

Now, you may be wanting to capture a train in motion. This is not a problem with most phones. You will find that some can capture action perfectly, with a low risk of defects such as blurring. But an older or more basic camera phone may struggle to snap a good picture of an object that is not stationary. So, keep that in mind when choosing a smartphone.

Consider Phones in Conjunction

It may be that the best option for you is not to use a mobile phone exclusively for your photography. Just use it in conjunction with your main camera. So, for example, you could use your phone to take quick snaps to document items/areas of interest. You might then like to go back at a later date and take more detailed shots from a dedicated device.

Get the Focus Right

Just like with any other camera, you’ll need to make sure you get the focus right on your camera phone. The focus should be razor-sharp, and it should be easily adjustable by selecting a relevant setting on the camera app.

Keep the Phone Still

Yes, just like with non-smartphone photographing if you are not keeping the device still don’t be surprised if a blurry image is created. Some phones are especially sensitive in this way. You can easily get hold of a mini tripod for just about any smartphone (a lot are ‘‘one size fits all’’) which could be an idea if your session would suit one being mounted somewhere. There are some handy apps available that will not allow you to take a shot until the app senses you have the camera entirely still.

Wayne Fordham took his two photographs with an iPhone 11 and a Samsung s7 mobile phones.

Photos © Wayne Fordham

Try Out Apps

Which brings us neatly on to the next point. Smartphones are famous for their apps. Many camera-based apps could prove useful when trying out a photography session with your phone. Some will directly help the process itself. Others will add extra enhancements such as allow you to shoot in black and white. Don’t forget all of the many editing apps for post-production, either.


So yes, smartphone photography does have its place. The mobile phone will almost certainly not replace traditional cameras for railway photography. It will always keep its fans and there are some benefits in the process.

It just comes down to the type of experience you want to have. What storage space you have when attending your session, as well as your budget in terms of the device you choose to purchase. As touched upon, there is no reason why traditional camera use and smartphones cannot go hand in hand to create an enriched experience by combing the best of both worlds.

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