Workin’ on the railroad: Grand Canyon Railway photo shoot with tonic photo studios

Workin’ on the railroad: Grand Canyon Railway photo shoot with tonic photo studios

Fresh on the heels of shooting images of the Fleischer Western art collection, tonic photo studios was called upon by E.B. Lane to travel up to Williams, Arizona in June and shoot images for their client, the Grand Canyon Railway. However, this shoot wasn’t typical for many reasons.

First, this was another project which was a little outside our usual repertoire. A train is smaller than most architecture, but much bigger than most products we shoot. Secondly, the end product of this photography was not a promotional brochure or corporate website. Instead, the images were destined for the wrap which you now see on METRO light rail cars here in Phoenix.

Creating photography for a train wrap comes with a unique set of challenges. In order to have a high quality appearance, the wrap needed to be printed at a resolution of 72 DPI (dots per inch). That translated to a source image which needed to be 300 DPI and 217 inches wide by 20.5 inches high. Essentially, the massive final image delivered to the wrap printers needed to have utmost quality, detail and sharpness.

Fortunately, Patrick Darby is a top-notch pro and he was able to find a way to overcome the technical challenges inherent in achieving these results. His approach was to create 20 separate images at 40 megapixels each.

A train engineer at the controls of a Grand Canyon Railway steam engine
One of the 20 photos which make up the final composite image; tonic photo studios

In order to capture consistent images, the crew measured an optimal distance from train to camera (about 25 feet) and created a line parallel to the tracks along which to travel as each image was captured. Patrick then took images at 10 foot intervals along the line, thereby creating a set of images which captured the full length of the engine, tender and passenger car. He also bracketed each image to produce final images with an extended dynamic range and details from deep shadows to bright highlights. When he arrived back in the studio, Patrick’s post-production work involved stitching each of the 20 images together into a seamless composite.

Some of the individual photos of the Grand Canyon Railway train before stitching
Some of the individual photos just before being assembled into the final image: tonic photo studios
The complete Grand Canyon Railway image
A low-res version of the final image, seamlessly stitched together: tonic photo studios
A train robber on horseback, waving his pistol in the air
This train robber and his horse will be layered over the train image

If you’ve had the pleasure of riding the Grand Canyon Railway, you know that part of the fun is when actors playing the part of robbers hold up the train mid-journey. E.B. Lane and the railway wanted to include that detail in the wrap, so Patrick also captured photos of a robber on horseback. The robber image was layered on top of the complete train image to give the impression of a train robber riding next to the train.

Overall, this was an incredibly cool concept and was tremendous fun to work on. We greatly appreciate working with clients such as E.B. Lane and the Grand Canyon Railway.

The photoshoot crew and client representatives
Patrick, the photoshoot crew and representatives from E.B. Lane and GCRW
A portion of the Grand Canyon Railway wrap on a light rail car
The final product riding the rails in Phoenix
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