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Building a Photo Diorama for Your Model Trains

January 2, 2010

Building a Photo Diorama for your model trains

Here’s a list of guidelines I’ve developed from making one of my many photo dioramas, these have been lessons learned from experience more than anything. Remember the old rule of modeling, if you take a photo and it looks unrealistic, go back and enhance that particular feature until it does. This will help refine your modeling skill and make a great display too.

-It must not exceed the size of the trunk of your vehicle
-It should be fairly light, so if you want to walk out into a field to take a photograph with it, you’re not lugging some bulky, heavy ungainly thing.
-Choose a Photogenic scene
-As an alternative, build a more generic photo diorama if you’re using it to sell a product.
-Make sure, sense you’ll be using it for photography, that the diorama is hyper-detailed.
– Every detail should be to exact scale to enhance realism and fool your eye.
-You can make your module specific to an era or generic.

-Any structure that you put in the scene should also have a LOT of detail, be painted and ideally weathered.
-However it’s best to avoid buildings because unlike a simple bit of scenery they could put a shadow over your rolling stock, thus defeating the whole concept of a photo diorama.
-It might also be best to avoid telegraph lines unless you’re modeling them out of service with wires removed, because in most cases you can’t really model them past your diorama, which might prove difficult. The other disadvantage to it is that poles might obscure your models, defeating the purpose of such a diorama.

-Paint your rails, you cannot believe what a difference this makes!
-weather the ties with various shades of grey-brown
-Make sure your trackplan, whether it be a mainline and siding, a double or triple track mainline is realistic and representative of the region you’re modeling.
-If you’re modeling track longer than 40 feet, and it’s not welded rail, buy some scale joint-bars (aka fish plates) and make sure to stagger the joints, real track doesn’t have the joints parallel to each other because that’d break the bars when the concentrated force of the steel wheels would roll over it.
-Buy the most detailed track you can for the diorama, since you’re only going to use very little of it, you can afford to spend a bit more on it.
-You could also hand lay the track and super-detail it to the Proto:87, Proto:160 or Proto:48 standards outlined on their respective websites. This will look the best and you’ll sharpen your tracklaying skills at the same time.

-add weeds made from silflor (available from scenic express) Aviod the strange looking Woodland Scenics grass material. In an ideal situation, try to buy some static grass from WS or scenic express, AVOID GROUND FOAM AT ALL COSTS!
-It’s best to keep foilage low to the ground, trees in scale rarely look realistic when directly compared to real trees that’d undoubtedly show up if you take your photos outside with the diorama.

-If you can, try to add some interesting features, like detailed signal bridges or semaphores if that’s appropriate.
-Similarly, a nice small stand-alone detail would be a signal or telephone box as well.
-Adding a railroad crossing also might be a great idea, especially if you really enjoy modeling vehicles.

-Don’t attach your people permanently to the module, it’ll look funny to have the same person in the same spot in 100+ photos. Use bees wax and gently apply it to the soles of the shoes of the figures to get them to stick for a photograph, or use that woodland scenics product for sticking figures down.

Finally, Remember that when building a realistic looking photo diorama’s main purpose is to show off the rolling stock and locomotives, and the diorama should be plain enough as not to take the focus off the trains themselves.

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