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Frequently Asked Questions Page One

The following was prepared as an article for publication and is presented here as it answers most common questions and provides guidance on creating your own backscene.

Creating a Photographic Backscene

What is a Photographic Backscene?

Let's start with a negative! A backscene is not a piece of art to be admired. Its purpose is to compliment, support and add depth to your model railway layout. People viewing your layout with a backscene should comment on how good your layout looks and only notice your backscene as an afterthought. A photographic backscene adds reality to the layout and perspective to the overall presentation. The image should not contain too much contrast nor colour and should be slightly soft so that nothing on the backscene draws a viewer's eye from the detail of your layout. The backscene image should be in a scale that compliments the scale of your layout but this is not a fixed relationship for all layouts. Modellers in 00 Gauge who have track close to the outer edge of their layout often use N Gauge backscenes to add greater visual depth. We often supply a small section of a backscene that can be printed out on A4 paper so that modellers can check that the scale is right for their layout.

The Rules of Photography

The law allows you to photograph anything that you can see from a public place such as a road, pavement or footpath. There is no right of privacy for structures although some security personnel sometimes try to contradict this. A lecturer in architecture in London was challenged several times and on one occasion the police were called whilst he was compiling a series of photographs of London buildings to support his lectures. No action was taken as he was acting legally but a lot of his time was wasted

If people are present in your photographs you should either remove them in processing or seek their permission for their images to be included. It is not illegal to include people in your photographs but be cautious as this can be a very sensitive area.

There are two laws that do prevent you from taking photographs. Entering private property is trespassing and should be avoided. Recent changes to the laws on terrorism prohibit the taking of photographs that could be used to aid in attacking important installations. These include can airports, major docks, oil refineries, MoD facilities, transport hubs and some industrial facilities. If in any doubt you should always seek permission and comply with the decision of the site owner. Remember the case of the British tourists arrested in Greece for photographing planes at an airport!

The photographer owns the images and copyright of the images taken. The owner of the land or property does not have any right to claim a fee. The other side of this coin is that you cannot copy images from the internet and use them without paying the owner for the use of the images.

Selecting the Scene

Many modellers create location specific layouts and require photographs of the actual location. Getting these can be difficult and the first stage is to research the area to see what is possible. You need to find a vantage point that allows a clear view of the area. This can be especially difficult if you are modelling an earlier era.

The view is often partially obscured or affected by trees, billboards, new developments, traffic lights, traffic and the like but these can often be overcome during processing. A recent project to photograph a road over a railway required the modeller to be out with his camera at 05:30 so that he could stand in the middle of the road and take photographs without traffic. A pedestrian crossing and traffic lights were removed during processing. The ideal vantage point is one that will allow you to photograph your chosen scene such that it fills about half of the frame when viewed in portrait. However, this may not be available and you may have to stand further away from your subject than you would wish.

In this case you may need to use a telephoto lens and it is worth taking a few photographs to check the image quality. The further away you are, the better the camera needs to be. When we assisted John Stockton-Wood to create his backscene of Llanberis in North Wales we encountered an unusual problem. The town is situated on the banks of a lake and we determined that the ideal shooting location was in the middle of the water. Fortunately, John was able to borrow a high resolution professional camera and shoot from the opposite bank of the lake.

There are many web sites that provide high resolution images at a modest cost and may well be able to provide what you need without your having to take any photographs yourself. We have found these online photo galleries and the Google Earth facilities very useful in helping to identify locations from which to carry out a photo shoot. For the Village backscene, we reviewed a great many potential locations on the computer before going out into the field.

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