Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tuesday Test Shots

Went down to Saybrook to try out the homemade tripod some more . . .
Shot with my iPhone 6 - no regard to settings; Nikon Coolpix P4 on the tripod.
Unless otherwise noted:
 no flashlayout lights only, auto white balance
macro setting, auto focus
ISO 50 f7.6 @ 1/8th sec (self-timer)
8 megapixel 2448x3264 @300dpi
Exposure Bias -1 step
Exposure Bias -0.7 step
1/6th sec, Exposure Bias -0.7
1/7th sec, Exposure Bias -0.3
1/20th sec, Exposure Bias -0.3
I'm really pleased with how these came out - except for the last one, which came out too dark. I bracketed all my exposures starting at -0.3 (underexposed) and going darker by 1/3 EV (exposure value) down to -1. Doing so gave me at least one shot of each lot that I liked. Unfortunately, the best shot of the last image was the one I shot first - at -0.3. A normal exposure at 0.0 would have been better for that shot.

As I continue to learn I continue to covet your constructive criticism and guidance, as well as any tips you have to share. Of course, if you have any kudos/compliments to share that'd be encouraging as well!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Homemade Tripod

As you may have guessed from my Wordless Wednesday post last week, I'm starting to try out some layout/model photography. I used to be an amateur photographer of sorts back in '80s/early '90s but didn't keep up with it. And when I got the urge to dip my toe in again, I realized that the New Digital Age had totally blown past me. My equipment - state of the art back when I got it - was now obsolete. Besides, who "needs" all that stuff when you have a great camera right on your phone?

Well, looks like I do. The iPhone photos I take for this blog - while nice enough - don't really cut it when it comes to trying to get a photo published. Go figure %^)

Soooo..... I've gotten back into things a bit by doing some research and trying to catch up. I'd purchased a second-hand Nikon Coolpix P4 a few years back, but having a "camera" in my pocket, I wasn't motivated to learn much about it. But during my research, I heard about an old article by Brooks Stover in the 2011 issue of Great Model Railroads where there was supposedly a sidebar about taking layout photos with a point and shoot digital camera. Thankfully, one of my friends had that issue and let me see the sidebar (thanks again Pieter!)

What a find! Turns out, Mr. Stover used a Nikon Coolpix P4 to shoot all the photos that were published in the article - AND his sidebar described a cool, homemade tripod he fashioned to get the camera in close to his models and still hold it level and steady.

Allofasudden, I had all the motivation I needed to learn how to get the same results from my P4. But first, I decided to make the tripod.

  • One 1/4" piece of masonite, cut to 2.5" x 5.5" (or whatever size will accommodate your camera)
  • Three 6" long 1/4"x20 carriage bolts (you can get by with shorter if your terrain is flat-ish)
  • Three pieces of 1/4" heat shrink tubing, cut to 3/4" long
  • Three 1/4" tall T-nuts, threaded for 1/4"x20
  • One 1/4"x20 thumscrew, 1/4" long
  • One 1/4" washer
Construction is pretty straightforward:
  1. Cut the masonite to size
  2. Center your camera on the masonite
  3. Eyeball where to locate the 3 carriage bolts. Mark & drill 5/16" holes
  4. With the camera centered, lift it up slightly at the front and mark where you see the tripod mount hole; do the same from the side, to give you the location for the tripod mount hole. Mark & drill a 5/16" hole
  5. Use a file/rasp to round all the edges/corners of the masonite and clean up the holes
  6. Press the T-nuts into the holes, place the masonite on top of a scrap piece of wood and hammer them in (I made the mistake of putting the masonite right on the concrete basement floor "for a good, solid backing" and promptly trashed the threads when they got banged into the floor)
  7. Thread the carriage bolts through the T-nuts; "screw on" the heat shrink tubing for "grips" (it'll thread on - no need to heat it)
  8. Add the washer to the thumbscrew, push it through the tripod hole and screw it into the camera to attach it to the masonite (the washer is necessary to keep the thumscrew from bottoming out in the camera's tripod mount hole)
It took almost as long to type all that out as it did to actually built the tripod. When you're done, you'll be able to use your camera like this:

Many of us have placed our camera phones and small P&S cameras right on the layout to get unique and more-realistic shots - that's the main advantage they have over full-size DSLR cameras. But in order to keep the camera perfectly still while taking those shots, you need to use the self-timer on your camera (or a Bluetooth/wireless shutter release), and if your camera has to rest on uneven terrain, you have to use a tripod - and this particular design is fully adjustable and not much larger than the camera itself.

Now that I've figured out the "stability" part of taking a good shot, I still need to work on lighting & white balance. I have LOTS of light on the layout - but they're all "daylight" fluorescents. Great for seeing car numbers, not so great for photography.

And they're all up above the layout, of course, which can create aggravating shadows. But using a "bounce fill card" (aka a sheet of white paper) brightens up some of the shadows, at least.

I've got a lot to learn and a long way to go, but after lots (and lots) of trial and error, I finally got what I think is a pretty decent shot of the Goff Brook Farmhouse. Of course, the background (wall, door) will have to be Photoshopped out, but the foreground looks pretty good. What do you think? Any and all constructive criticism wanted and welcome!

Shot Particulars:
  • Nikon Coolpix P4
  • Aperture Priority, stopped down to the smallest available, f7.6
  • 1/9th sec
  • ISO 50, 8 megapixel, "Fine" setting (highest quality options available)
  • Macro setting, auto focused
  • 3264x2448 pixels; 300dpi
  • Auto White Balance (layout lights only, no flash)
  • Exposure Bias -0.3 step

Saturday, October 7, 2017

On the Valley Line Today - Saybrook Special, Oct. 7, 2017

What will probably be the last Saybrook Specials of the season are happening this weekend, and I was down at the crossing this morning to capture it.

This one was a bit different in that it had to Stop & Protect due to a broken crossing gate. Made for a lot of stack talk as she started back north - Enjoy!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Freight Car Friday: B&O P-11 Flatcar Trucks/Couplers

One of the great things about this hobby is that there is such a variety of different things to do that you can just about always find something that you're actually in the mood to do. Makes for a very enjoyable - not to mention productive - hobby.

So after posting prototype info and photos on the B&O class P-11 flatcar I'm modeling, the kit took a back seat while I did some decoder installs and finished the Valley Coal tank farm "kit" I got from my friend Dave Messer. But it was high-time to get back to it. . .

I'd left off after adding all those finicky stake pockets, so I got back in the swing of things by adding the remaining details - stirrups sill steps (sorry Ted!) and grabs. I consulted the prototype photos, but placement is pretty straightforward. Just be careful when drilling - some of the pieces you have to drill holes through are pretty thin. I made a dimple with a push pin to keep the bit from wandering, then used a #78 bit in my Dremel flex shaft, operated at low speed with a foot pedal, to drill the holes, and ACC'd them in place. And here's the result:

Remember you can always enlarge the image by clicking on it
I think I mentioned that I won't bother with underbody details since 1) you can't really see it with those deep side sills, and 2) I'm going to fill the underbody area with as much weight as possible.

Another reason for taking a break from this kit was to wait for the proper trucks and some screws to arrive. The kit instructions indicate PRR class 2D-F8 50 ton trucks, and the proper ones are made by Kadee (item #517). The only downside is that they come with the NMRA standard .110" treadwidth wheels. I'll eventually change these out for Code 88 "scale" wheels.

I also wanted to get some of the KD plastic 2-56 screws to mount the trucks. While I could have used a Dremel cut off disk to trim any screw overhang that would interfere with the car floor/deck, I figured plastic screws would be easier to snip and sand flush.

Unfortunately, when I test fit the trucks, they interfered with the underbody as well as the sill steps. Fortunately, the car also looked like it was sitting a bit low. The solution was easy - just add a shim to the bolster to raise the carbody off the truck.

In this case, I used a piece of .042" thick styrene strip, drilled a clearance hole with a #43 bit, and ACC'd it in place.

Here you see what I meant about the screw coming up too far through the frame. Since it's plastic, it was easy to trim it to precisely the proper length.

Snip the excess with flush-cutters . . .

Then sand down to flush.

Next, I installed KD #158 couplers ("scale" head, whiskered) with the "trip hoses" snipped off, per my usual practice. The coupler box cover that comes with the kit snaps securely in place. If/when it ever fails, I'll snip off the lug and drill/tap for a screw rather than snapping it in.

Turns out, just adding the .042" shim on the bolster solved a bunch of problems: no more interference with the underbody or details, and the couplers are at exactly the correct height. #FTW!

So now that I know everything fits and will work, the next step is to remove the trucks & couplers and wash the completed carbody/frame and deck/floor to prep for painting. F&C recommends either Dawn grease-cutting dish soap or Shout, so I picked up both at the grocery store last weekend and will clean everything up as soon as the glue's all cured.

Looks like I may be painting this weekend!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Few Words about Wordless Wednesday #190: Valley Oil(?) Kit(?)

Long-time readers know that the major rail-served industry at the south end of Wethersfield during the late 1940s is Valley Coal, located at Wells Road and the Silas Deane Highway.

This is a view of the Sanborn map, oriented as you'll see it on the layout (the aisle would be at the bottom of the image).

And here's an admittedly poor aerial view of the prototype, shot looking east/northeast. This is a zoomed-in view of a photo taken after the 1938 hurricane. These damage photos are actually great resources in that they're often the only perspective view you ever get of a particular area. In the photo above, you can barely make out the Valley Line near the top of the pic, going from upper left corner down toward the right. The siding is located between the oil tanks and the mainline. You can also barely make out the vertical coal hoist, and assorted sheds and bins.

Like many retail home heating fuel companies during this era, Valley Coal offered both coal and oil for local customers - but as far as I know, despite eventually being 100% an oil dealer (and even selling gasoline), it was always known as "Valley Coal."

I've posted separately about the amazing model of the Valley Coal office, just outside the picture on the right, that Dave Messer built. For all my posts related to modeling Valley Coal, click here.

Well, Dave's participation in the Valley Coal project continues with the construction of the oil tanks - and I just got the completed model last Saturday. Unfortunately, despite prominent labels marked FRAGILE the USPS did it's level best to destroy it. Fortunately, they didn't succeed - but there was still a little work to do.

Once I unpacked the box, the above is what I had to work with. I later found a few more details (I'm glad I saved the box!). So it was like receiving a really amazing kit - that was already 98% finished!

All I had to do was confirm with Dave where everything was supposed to go, then I used my new favorite glue (Aleene's Fast Grab Tacky Glue), applied with a toothpick, to attach all the pieces. It took a couple of consecutive evenings since I couldn't glue everything back together at the same time - I had to go in substeps, letting some things cure before being able to attach additional things to it (e.g. installing a tank before attaching the platform).

But I really enjoyed being able to "participate" in the construction, even if only incidentally and in a very minor way. The best part was being able to appreciate all the fine detail Dave included in this scratchbuilt industry.

Yesterday's Wordless Wednesday showed some of that process and what was necessary to weigh down some of the parts while they dried. But after all that, here's the finished product:

Looks amazing and another example of Dave's craftsmanship. Sharp eyes will note that the "tank farm" is selectively compressed - 3x2 tanks rather than 5x2 - but I bet if I hadn't pointed that out you wouldn't have noticed. Bottom line is that it's going to be perfect in the Valley Coal scene I'm building.

One last thing I decided to go ahead and add was hoses to the ends of the pipes. I'd been using 3/64" heat shrink tubing during my recent decoder installs, so I got the idea to use those to represent hoses.

Fun Fact: 3/64" tubing slips nicely over the end of the wire that Dave used to represent the pipes. I only needed a daub of tacky glue to make sure they wouldn't slip off.

But first, I dipped the ends into some silver/gray paint to represent nozzles at the end of the hoses. Turns out that the hoses will mostly be on the back side - facing the backdrop and away from the aisle - so I didn't have to worry too much about superdetailing the hoses. Just having them at all will do the trick I think.

And here it is placed temporarily on the layout:

Compare to the prototype map and photo and I think you'll agree that Dave nailed it! Can't wait to get this scene finished and continue progress north into Wethersfield proper. Hope you'll continue coming along for the ride!