It’s obvious that if you want to get pictures of scenery, you should do your best to get a seat by the window. On most journeys this means getting up and finding a better location. On more popular routes with limited availability, or those where you need to reserve a seat ahead of time, you may not be able to just hop across the aisle. If a window seat is crucial to your journey, check ahead online to see if you can reserve one, or ask at the ticket counter before your departure.
If you’re looking to snap an epic shot of a train rounding the corner, pick a seat as far back as possible. This way you’ll get those beautiful sweeping views of the trains as it winds its way on the tracks, which often makes for a dramatic photograph.
Some routes will have scenery flying at you on both sides of the train. On others, one side may be more beautiful than the other. Research the journey ahead and pick a side. A quick Google search will reveal if there are any rivers, mountains, or other scenic attractions on one specific side of the train, which will help you pick which side to sit on.
Reflections are likely to be your biggest issue when taking photos from a train window. Unfortunately most modern scenic trains with panoramic carriages and spotless windows are prone to this problem. If your train has windows that you can open, plan to shoot through them. Most modern trains have windows that can’t be opened, but some may have small windows at the very end of the carriages.
If you don’t have an open window to shoot through, get your lens as close and flat to the glass as possible. In some cases you may be able to mitigate against any glare or reflections simply by holding your camera directly against the glass. You can also cover any bright items reflecting in the windows – usually the seats, arm rests, or your own clothing.
If you’re having trouble avoiding glare and reflections on the glass, try to include the interior in your shot. Exposing both the inside and outside may be difficult, but it can produce interesting results.
Sometimes photos from a train are more intriguing if they include other passengers or the train interior. After all, you want everyone to know that this incredible scenery was all from the comfort of your carriage. If you include the window as an object in your composition, a bit of glare is more excusable than if you try to capture the scenery alone.
Shooting on a long telephoto lens is likely to be tricky, particularly if you’re traveling on a less stable train. Opt for something without the zoom to capture wide scenic shots.
If your camera and lens have image stabilisation, make sure to activate it. This will help reduce any bumps or shakes.
A compact tripod can help you get a less blurry shot both on and off the train. You don’t need to pack a bulky tripod either – modern collapsible or bendable tripods weigh almost nothing and can easy fit into a backpack.
Unless you’re going for a blurry effect to show motion, use Shutter Priority (Tv) and make sure you shoot on a high shutter speed. Too slow and you’ll get plenty of unwanted motion blur and not enough sharpness on that beautiful scenery.
Consider using your camera’s sport mode or burst option, particularly if you’re having difficulty taking a good picture through objects alongside the tracks. A quick burst of pictures over a few seconds may yield one or two that don’t include the trees or electricity poles that line many tracks.
Don’t get lazy just because you’re on a spectacular train ride. Make sure your pictures still follow basic composition rules where relevant. Pick a point of interest, pay homage to the rule of thirds, and make sure it all looks good. Of course it’s not always possible – or necessary – to follow composition rules, but you should keep them in mind at all times.
Make sure you have at least two fully charged batteries, ample space on your memory cards, and all your lenses and equipment in one place before you depart. Get your equipment ready before you reach the epic scenery, because by the time you actually see it, chances are it’ll be too late to snap that epic shot for your adoring Instagram fans.
Sometimes the best train-related photographs are not taken on the train, but of the train. If you have a lengthy stop at a station, hop off and capture some pics of your train, or wait until you reach your destination to capture it chugging off into the distance.
As much as we all want to snap that incredible photograph of the passing scenery, don’t forget that your Eurail journey is about much more than racking up those social media likes. Take pictures along the way, but don’t forget that the best thing about an epic trip is not a flawless picture, but one that brings back memories of an incredible moment.