Having crossed over the famous Glenfinnan viaduct the train halts for about 10 minutes allowing the passengers to disembark and visit the coffee shop, museum or just walk around the station. Unfortunately you can't get anywhere near the engine whilst it's stopped at Glenfinnan. The train is too long for the platform so the engine pulls past the station and passengers in coaches towards either end of the train have to walk down the train and exit via a coach in the middle. So if you want a steam photo from Glenfinnan you have to get inventive.
We'd wandered around a little and ended up stood towards the back of the train near the signal box. Steam was being released from the couplings between most of the carriages forming small ephemeral clouds (this release of steam is part of the braking system and is fed all the way along the train from the engine -- for lots and lots of details on how this, and steam engine in general, work then I'd recommend you read How Steam Locomotives Really Work by Semmens and Goldfinch). I thought that a black and white shot of the train and signal box through the steam could be quite atmospheric and reminiscent of numerous old movie scenes. So I took a few photos and then got back on the train. Unfortunately, as you can see, the original photo isn't particularly great and even a black and white conversion didn't really produce an interesting image. Instead of just giving up on the photo I decided just to play around and see what I could come up with. Having tried quite a few different approaches I eventually settled on roughly what I wanted. The one thing that was made really obvious by a straight black and white conversion was that the modern health and safety sign really popped out of the image and so I would need some way to soften the effect. It was at this point I hit on the idea of doing a Schindler's List style image (for those of you who haven't seen the film, it's in black and white apart from a red coat worn by a little girl), to separate modern from old.
Once I knew how I wanted the final image to look it still took me a while to figure out the best way of getting to the final image (note that while I think that what follows is probably the best way of producing the image it is certainly not the only one). In fact this is probably the most complex image I've ever produced, certainly the most complex on this blog. Whilst HDR and panoramic images may take more processing they are almost totally automatic, whereas this image requires numerous manual steps and multiple layers to achieve the required look. I'll start by showing you the four main layers in the final image and then walk through how I created each layer and how the layers are then combined.
Now you have seen the four main layers here is a screenshot of the layers palette to go with the following description of how the image was created.
The first step was to create the base photo from the original (the first photo in the row above). When I took the original photo I'd kept the train vertical in the image but I hadn't realized just how daft the leaning signal box and post would look. So I straightened the original image, making the top of the Glenfinnan sign horizontal. This gave me the "Straightened" layer you can see in the layers palette on the left.
Given that I was going to make the health and safety warning into the focal point of the image I decided that a stationary train wouldn't have quite the same impact as a moving train (more danger so more need for the warning). So I duplicated the Straightened layer and then applied a motion blur to the new layer making it look as if the train was travelling forward at quite a high speed (60% with an angle of 240 degrees). This gave me the "Moving" layer, which you can see in the 2nd photo in the row above.
To combine the moving train with the stationary signal box and sign I grouped the two layers together putting the moving layer at the bottom (this gives me the "Coloured" group) and then created a mask layer, called "Train Mask", which I hand painted to allow the train to show through. This was by far the most time consuming part, but once it was done I had a coloured image of a fast moving train, which you can see as the third image in the row above.
Given that I knew I would need both a colour and a black and white version of the image to create the final effect I was looking for I duplicated the "Coloured" group, which I could then convert to black and white. I could have done the conversion in a number of ways but I wanted to use the black and white film option as I think it gives better results than using an adjustment layer. Unfortunately you can only use the black and white film tool on a raster layer so I merged the group down into a single layer and then converted to black and white (using a RGB filter of 0%, 0%, 100%) whilst increasing the local contrast to add depth to the image (I used brightness/clarify values of 0/50). This produced the final image in the row above, where you can see that certain details, especially the health and safety and station signs, stand out more.
To create the final image I then created a new mask layer to allow just the health and safety sign to show through from the colour image. This was actually quite easy as it is an almost perfect rectangle due to the straightening of the original image. The final touch was a little selective burning of the image to darken both the white board at the bottom right and the objects in the train window (I did try and use the clone brush to remove these but I couldn't get a satisfactory result).
Now I know that it may not really be everyone's cup-of-tea but I really like the final result. The health and safety sign still stands out from the image but it actually isn't quite as in your face as it is in the pure black and white version.