How to Capture Better Photos Onboard the Train

Visiting new and exciting places in North America is one of the greatest joys of traveling by train, but so is capturing photos while onboard. Your phone or camera is probably one of the first things you’ll reach for once the train starts moving.

Traveling by train allows you to consider the passing scenery and your onboard experiences in ways not possible by car or plane. Travel photography is all about being at the right place at the right time. Since you won’t be confined to a seat, you’ll have the freedom to roam around and gain new perspectives en route to your destination.

Triborough Bridge Astoria, New York
Image Credit: @amtrak @vagrantscientist

There’s nothing quite like looking back on all the memories you captured during your rail journey and reliving those experiences or sharing them with others. Regardless of your photography experience or equipment (point and shoot, phone, or DSLR), taking photos from a moving train doesn’t have to be all window glare and blurred landscapes.

Here are a few tips to help you get the best photos while discovering the beauty of America onboard Amtrak.

Research the Scenery

Mt. Shasta from Train
Image Credit: @amtrak @railroad_mike_

Prior to boarding your train, do some research on the scenery you could see along the way to your destination. Many routes feature incredible views on both sides of the train. On others, there may be one side that’s more beautiful. Taking a little time to plan ahead (a quick Google search) will show you all the sights to look forward to: rivers, mountains, landmarks, waterfalls, wildlife, and other scenic points of interest. If the windows are open, you might be able to get a great shot of an iconic view—like the one of Mt. Shasta above!

These are the best routes to capture incredible scenery from the train: The Sunset Limited, Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, and Southwest Chief.

Sit at the Back of the Train (or Walk to the Back)

Coast Starlight View
Image Credit: @amtrak @brandonsloter

If you’ve been wanting to take that iconic picture of a train rounding the corner, traveling through a tunnel or the tracks behind the train, you’ll want to hang out near the back. This way, you’re almost guaranteed to catch a memorable image.

These are the best routes to capture incredible scenery from the train: The Sunset Limited, Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, and Southwest Chief.

Reduce Unwanted Window Glare

Amtrak traversing through Utah
Image Credit: @amtrak @warriortraverse

One of the trickiest aspects of taking photos on the train is dealing with window glare (and grime). Not only do the windows reflect light and noise from the carriage, they are often really dirty. To help improve your chances of getting a great shot, try the following:

• Get your lens (or phone) as close to the window as possible without touching it to the glass.

• If you’re in your cabin during the day and can control the environment, do everything you can to minimize interior light. At night, cover your camera or phone with your hand to block stray ambient light.

• Shoot on the side of the train with the sun behind you during daylight hours to minimize reflections and grime.

These are the best routes to capture incredible scenery from the train: The Sunset Limited, Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, and Southwest Chief.

Locate Great Subjects

Train view of NYC
Image Credit: @amtrak @vagrantscientist

The wonderful thing about traveling by train is that you are surrounded by fellow travelers, often from around the world. This human element of train travel presents you with endless opportunities to capture moments onboard. Just make sure you ask their permission before snapping their photo.

These are the best routes to capture incredible scenery from the train: The Sunset Limited, Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, and Southwest Chief.

Keep Your Camera Stabilized


Image Credit: @amtrak

Regardless of the moment you’re trying to capture, it’s always important to keep your camera steady to get the highest quality photos possible (even if you’re just trying to take a picture of your food in the Dining Car). A compact tripod will help you minimize the blur. There are many modern collapsible tripods that weigh next to nothing and can easily be stored in a backpack.

These are the best routes to capture incredible scenery from the train: The Sunset Limited, Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, and Southwest Chief.

Get Off the Train

washington dc union station
Washington, D.C. Union Station

During your train journey, you’ll likely be making several stops at various stations along the route. When the train stops, you should get out not only to stretch your legs and get some fresh air but to take in the local scenery. People, quaint towns, sunsets, and everything in between make for awesome pictures. You never know what you’ll discover!

These are the best routes to capture incredible scenery from the train: The Sunset Limited, Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, and Southwest Chief.

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