Digital Imaging as a tool for Model Railroaders

Photo retouching and digital enhancements to photographs used to be something available only to professional designers. With the advent of "affordable" software such as Webtricity from Micrografx and Paintshop Pro from Jasc (both packages sell for under US$100.00), powerful tools to manipulate images are now well within the reach of the average modeler. You might well ask what any of this has to do with model trains. Simply put, most serious modelers will at some point need to research a particular prototype. One of the best places to do this research is on the net, and it is rich with valuable resources. However, often the photo/images of a particular prototype may be poor for a variety of reasons. This is where digital imaging can prove to be invaluable.

Take a look at the photo below. It is of a China Railways KD-7. The picture was taken in a freight yard in Shanghai in July 1987. This particular locomotive (#562) was built in 1947 by Baldwin, ALCO Schenectady and Lima (surprised ?) The original photo, as can be seen, is bleached and lacking in definition. This is where digital retouching can be invaluable. Most photos, even those scan for Net usage, can and do hide a lot of details which with the right tools can be teased out to provide wealth of invaluable information to the modeler.

KD-7 original image

Below is the digitally retouched and enhanced version of the same photo. Although both images were reduced and compressed for this web page, the difference should be apparent. There is enough data from the original to attempt to recreate an authentic reproduction of the original locomotive as it might have looked in 1987 when the photograph was taken. Notice how much detail and texture was hiding in the original. Please note that the final image is actually a composite, the sky was taken from another photograph to help define the form of the locomotive.

KD-7 digitally enhanced image

Photo retouching is not as difficult as one might think. Admittedly, the initial learning curve can be quite steep, but once you have the hang of it, it is a breeze. The retouched version of the KD-7 took about an hours work, less than the time it does to do a proper job on a freight car kit. If you wish to learn the technique, please go to the next page.

Updated: 08-30-2001
 Sean Lim 2001