harmenpiekema cross-posted this post in PhotoFeed last year

The mountain Express!

In this post, I want to talk about how I made one of my all-time-favorite images. It had been on my mind for quite some time. This all started after I had been on this train in autumn. I knew it would be amazing with snow: The beautiful steam locomotive and traditional wagons in an almost colorless landscape. All I had to do, was wait for winter to come!!

This image is one of my all-time-favorite images! 61 mm | F/7.1 | 1/160 | ISO 640

The Brocken Railway

The Brocken Railway is a legendary, 19 km long railroad found in the Harz in Germany. It starts at Drei Annen Honhe and the end station is at the Brocken mountain. At 1141 meters, the Brocken is the highest peak of Northern Germany. Needless to say, this railroad is really popular with tourists, especially during summer. Not only is the scenery incredibly beautiful, the train itself is a work of art too! Imagine, a 700 horsepower colossal machine plowing its way up the mountain, spewing large clouds of steam and smoke. Combine this with lots of snow and a nice forest, and you have the right ingredients for a spectacular photo.

The Weather

To get the shot I wanted, I needed the right conditions. The most obvious being snow, both on the ground and in the trees. Luckily, this area has high snowfall in winter. To be sure of snow on the trees, I needed fresh snow, below zero temperatures and not too much wind. Which is why, back home, I kept looking at different weather charts and webcams. To create balance between the sky and the foreground, I wanted an overcast sky without color and texture. In my opinion, a blue sky wouldn’t work because it would add too much color. Therefore, I wanted a flat and boring sky. Snow on the trees was quite important, because it helped with the contrast. It also hid the green of the trees, and it helped to make the black train stand out of the image.

 I wanted a lot of snow! Well, that was no problem to say the least. At the Brocken lay over 143 cm of snow. But also the lower areas were covered in a thick layer! 24 mm | F/9 | 10 sec | ISO 100


The composition is pretty straightforward – I wanted all attention on the train. The track works as a leading line and a simple foreground. The train is positioned at 1/3 of the image with trees on both sides. The shot was taken in portrait orientation to create enough room for the smoke and a bit of sky.

In order to get both the locomotive and the wagons in my photo, I needed a bend in the track. So before I left home, I used Google Maps to check different options. Based on this, I picked my location. Here, I found a beautiful trail going uphill, next to the track. I quickly found a spot with enough room to set up my tripod. I checked whether I was leaving enough space for the train to pass, and I double checked this using the marks the train had left behind. I knew the train moves slow when climbing. This allowed me to be close to the tracks. If you want to make a photo like this, never do this with a fast moving train. Also, pay attention to trains coming from the other direction.

The next day I returned to photograph the train with my 14 mm lens. 14 mm | F/9 | 1/125 | ISO 1000

To get the train in focus, I used continuous autofocus with the focus points set to where I wanted the train to be (in my image). With everything set, it was time to wait!

The Shot

To get the train ready for the final ascent towards the summit, it gets a refill of coal and water at the final station before the summit. This takes about 10 minutes. Once I heard the train nearing the station (they use a steam whistle), I knew that it would leave in about 10 minutes and take around 5 minutes to get to where I was. I could feel a surge of adrenaline as the train neared. When I got a visual, I felt really stoked! I pressed the shutter, saw the result and let out a cheer!

As I heard the train approaching, I felt the adrenaline start to rush. I waited until I was satisfied with the composition and pressed the shutter. 61 mm | F/7.1 | 1/160 | ISO 640

To give you an idea of what I was doing here, I have a short clip of the train passing by while I am photographing it. Soon I will post a whole video about another trip I did to this beautiful train. But for now, I hope this short clip will satisfy!

After this, I packed up my gear, went on with the hike towards the summit and ordered a nice cold beer at the bar. And to get down I took the train of course!

Thanks for reading
I really hope that you enjoyed this article! I really hope my stories inspire you to pick up the camera, and head out for adventure! If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

If you like my photography, please follow me on https://instagram.com/harmenpiekema, https://www.twitter.com/harmenpiekema and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/harmenpiekemaphotography.


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