Trains.com

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

The Night Scene

29234 views
108 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
The Night Scene
Posted by mlehman on Sunday, January 13, 2013 12:46 AM

I recently worked on a variety of things on the layout in order to provide dramatic and still useful night lighting. These were relatively easy and practical for anyone, so I thought worth sharing, as well as providing a place for others to discuss their own experience.

Like paint, night lighting covers a multitude of sins. All that stuff that just doesn't look finished in the light of day blends into a beautiful nightscape that will cause you to see you layout in a new light -- something like moonlight.

First, it's important to distinguish between lighting for your camera and lighting for human sight. The human eye is a remarkable and flexible instrument and in many ways is still unrivaled by even the most advanced imaging systems. However, night vision is one place where humans apparently lost out to their zombie cousins. It's just not all that good. However, this does make the human eye easy to fool at night.

One can use a variety of means to achieve lighting that suggests the night while still leaving enough to see by in a darkened layout room. A relatively new product, the blue LED rope light (or other blue LED strip lighting "fixture"), makes it easy to simulate a bright, moonlit night. Prices range all over the place, but these are generally affordable at a little over a $1 a foot. Don't waste energy -- and your money -- cheaping out on blue _bulb_ rope lighting.  Bulbs are energy inefficient for starts.

The blue LED has a specifically beneficial property. In addition to throwing a dim blue light that suggests moonlight (it's really too blue for that), the elements used to "dope" the LED to get the blue glow cause it to also emit near ultraviolet light. Those who can remember the 60s & 70s know how dreamy colors jump out unexpectedly under "blacklights." Near ultraviolet behaves very similarly to regular ultraviolet light, just doesn't seem quite as intense an effect, which may actually help it look more realistic for what we're interested in.

If you want to take pictures, it's best turn off the blue LEDs, though, and rely on ambient light and manual exposures settings.You'll find that you'll need more lighting than comes out of the building windows

In any case, if the blue LED rope lighting is used at a relatively close distance, ie. about 3 feet, it provides enough lighting for operators to see by, although they may still need a small flashlight to check turnout position and get couplers to line up, etc. Much beyond 3 feet with the ropelight I used and the illumination drops off significantly. In the case of my lower level, I needed to add a ropelight to illuminate it, as the light really isn't strong enough to light it otherwise. Basically, you can plan for a 1:1 ratio between the layout and the lighting.

Model railroaders have used florescent paint to simulate lights and lighted windows on nighttime cityscapes, among other effects. Another neat way to utilize the effect is to paint stars and other celestial objects on the walls and ceiling of the layout room. I've got plans to do that, so will eventually add that to this thread.

For structures, I prefer to use actual lighting. It doesn't leave windows looking painted on during the day and can be varied for a more realistic look at night. Here, too, I prefer LEDs to bulbs. Energy efficiency is still a factor, but more importantly, LEDs run cool, while bulbs always generate heat and heat almost always causes problems in the long term inside a structure.

I harvest LEDs from Xmas lights (look for other threads on this in the MR forums.) Prior to purchase at the store, look at them to see if the LED "bulb" assembly can be popped out easily before purchase, Some are glued, which are a PITA to harvest, leading to many broken leads.  Warm white looks like incandescent lighting, while cool white looks more like fluorescent tubes, so another variance you can use to make the overall effect look good.

You'll also need resistors and a regulated power supply to supply DC to your LEDs. I use mine at about 2.95 volts, as this helps avoid the overly bright look many LEDs have, but you can go down to ~2.75 for even more dimness, which is a good thing with a LED. Feel free to try different resistor values, too, as there's really a range of values that works, from dim to bright, and still protects the LED.

Here's a handy resistor calculator:

http://www.quickar.com/bestledcalc.php

Here are a few images of the effects I've achieved with LEDs in structures. In most cases, I CA glue the leads anode and cathode leads to a piece of stripwood leaving enough sticking out to solder the wires to it.. I then wire the leads of each in parallel, often using only one resistor in each series of LEDs rather than a resistor for each LED (the calculator noted just above will estimate resistor values for LEDs in series also). Experiment a little if you're not familiar working with them, just be sure the  resistance  is in the ballpark in terms of the range, as exact values aren't necessary and will end up making everything look the same -- unless you want all your light to look the same, like with streetlights. Once you get your mind around the fact that it's actually more artistic when resistor values are treated as a very inexact science, things will just fall together with a little practice.

For one thing, unlike a lot of light, a valance isn't strictly necessary with the blue LEDs. Simply having it above the operator's line of vision is good enough because the blue light doesn't glare to the human eye like more intense white light would. Here are a couple of pics. The first shows the LEDn ropes just above the line of sight, while to the right is another rope light that I was able to use a support beam as a valance behind. It's better to have it, but no so intense that it matters if you don't.



Inside the structures, I vary the location of the LEDs in relation to the windows when mounting them by marking the correct locations and then CAing the fabricated "light sticks" into the building for the optimal visibility through windows and other openings. Try to avoid an even look, unless that's part of the effect you're trying for.

You'll note that I used black paint on the inside walls of this building to tame the "inner glow" that somtimes happens with thin plastic walls. No need to be neat. In other cases, I used cheap black construction paper (like the pulpy stuff you used to use in 2nd grade Smile ) and little pieces of wood or other material strategically applied to block light leaks. In general, I had relatively few light leaks in my existing structures but YMMV

Depending on whether or not you made provisions when building them, some structures may not have a removable roof or an open foundation to get inside easily. For these, I paint a drinking straw black, cut it to the length so its height inside the structure looks right, attach a resistor to the LED, then put that leg down inside the straw, leaving the other leg outside the straw, then tack it in place in a hole drilled from below. That's how I lit my Raggs to Riches? Durango station.

For outside lighting, I use surface mount LEDs with attached leads glued with canopy glue into drilled-out light reflectors saved from Walthers billboard kits to make outside lighting. If you want to depict an  "out in the country" scene, you'll likely want to limit the number of outside lights, while a cityscape will have street lights, lighted signs, etc. In either case, outside lights make it possible to use long exposures to capture their illumination of the surroundings.

Usually I run the leads into the building where it's attached to where the resistor will be located for a simple mount, but there are all kinds of more complex ways to do it. Here's a pic of one of the outside lights I make.

The leads for all the lights in the building are consolidated and a pigtail attached so that it allows the building to rest in place correctly once installed on the layout. I usually run a lead from the power supply to a town, then tie all the structure lighting leads to it there.

All this wiring only needs very light gauge wire if using LEDs. I used a bunch of wire leads clipped from surplus 8-pin DCC plugs. But between the structure and where you tie into the supply under each location, you'll likely use heavier wire. To keep the structure from being "stiff" and not settling down right once set in place, I like to leave the light wiring leads long enough to they will reach at least as far down as underneath the surface of the layout, then use 22 gauge from there to the power hookup. Depending on the particualr structure, I may leave a small loop or glue it down.

That's it for now, but I'll add more as it comes up in comments. Your comments and questions are also welcome. It's not too hard to do this sort of thing and soon you can also take dramatic pics like this one of my Tefft station (an AMB Cumbres station laserkit.)



Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Sunday, January 13, 2013 3:07 PM

It occurred to me to ask if anyone has advice on toning down the blue using Photoshop or other imaging software? I fiddled a little with it, but ended up with a bad B&W scene. What I think you'd be trying to accomplish would look like a good black & white pic. This would make night photography easier.

One way I found to work with the blue light is to keep it directional when taking pics. The last photo above in my original post is an example. In this pic, I turned off the blue LEDs on one side of the room, but left them on on the side that's to the left in the pic. This provided better, more dramatic lighting in that it comes from a single source overhead, providing a shadow effect that accentuates the building.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    April 2012
  • From: Denver, CO
  • 771 posts
Posted by middleman on Sunday, January 13, 2013 3:49 PM

Mike:

  The photo editing software I use (PhotoImpact) is no longer available(and doesn't work well in Windows 7 or 8),but I'm sure others work much the same. It gives me the option, when adjusting color,hue,and saturation,of selecting what part(s) of the color spectrum are affected. Maybe tinkering with just the blue/purple areas would give you the results you desire.

Also,can you tell me what you are using for a power supply?

Thanks,

Mike

  • Member since
    May 2011
  • 743 posts
Posted by Steven S on Sunday, January 13, 2013 4:31 PM

mlehman

It occurred to me to ask if anyone has advice on toning down the blue using Photoshop or other imaging software? I fiddled a little with it, but ended up with a bad B&W scene.

I used the HSL adjustment to desaturate it a bit.  I also moved the Hue slider a bit away from the violet and toward the green.  I then when into Levels and darkened the midtone slider a little. 

BTW, our ability to see colors deteriorates in dim light.  The cone cells in your retina that respond to color work best in bright light.   The rod cells are more sensitive in dim light but can't see color.  So having the image being nearly B&W isn't really a bad thing.

Steve S

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Sunday, January 13, 2013 4:42 PM

Mike,

I tried making the basic adjustments in Photoshop and that's how I ended up with the rather unsatisfying "B&W" image. I'm definitely not a Photoshop guru, so there may be some little trick that I'm missing. Not a big deal, as the ambient light pics work fine, just gotta be careful the camera doesn't get jarred in the dark.

I am making my power supplies based on this circuit provided by another member here (can't find the post where I saw this on right now, darn CRS Confused.)

http://www.spookshow.net/lowvcircuit.html

I used 7.5 volt power supplies on both of mine, building them to go into some old RS project boxes. The output is variable from something like 1.75 volts up to 9(?)volts (don't recall exactly). I set mine to 2.95 volts. Try a few LEDs and see how it works before picking a set point. You can turn it up brighter, but I think you need to keep it below 3.2 volts once you've got a lot of resistors in it to avoid the potential to start blowing LEDs installed at a lower voltage.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    April 2012
  • From: Denver, CO
  • 771 posts
Posted by middleman on Sunday, January 13, 2013 5:39 PM

I know very little about photo editing,Mike.but I like playing around with it. Here's a screen shot showing the sliders I was talking about... By selecting just the blue part of the spectrum,I can change the tone without affecting the headlight color. 

Then I used the "select" tool to select and darken some of the background:

Thanks for the link on the power supply.

Mike

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Sunday, January 13, 2013 6:43 PM

Steve and Mike,

Thanks for the basic tips. I gave a couple of pics a little workover, still not quite what I was trying to achieve (both your images of 345 are better than mine), but here's a couple of other shots that I think look better than the originals right now.



Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    October 2004
  • From: St. Louis, MO
  • 941 posts
Posted by river_eagle on Sunday, January 13, 2013 11:34 PM

Check your camera manual, many have a night scene/nighttime setting that adapts to the low  available light without using flash

 

 for this pic, the only lighting is what's in the scene, streetlights and such, the room is totally dark, the camera picks allthe right settings

same basic scene without nightscene setting

 

When in doubt, rule #1 applies  Central Missouri Railroad Association cmrraclub.com
  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Monday, January 14, 2013 11:41 PM

river_eagle,

Great tip and nice modeling there. I vaguely remembered my Canon SX100IS had such a mode, but had to dig out the manual to confirm the meaning of the little icons to be sure I had mine set right.

I gave it a try, but found it didn't work well with the scenes I've lit so far. I've tended to light things as if they're out in the boonies, because most of them are. I'm just starting to work through my main town, Durango, and there will be more outside lighting there given its an urban area. My mines and mills just don't have enough outside ambient lighting to get good exposures.

I have been using the manual mode and that has worked well for the shots taken without the blue LED lighting. Exposures that work range from about 5 to 15 seconds with the camera set for ISO 400. I'm going to bump the ISO up to 800 and 1600 for my next group of manual shots to see how that does.

One thing I should say about the blue LED lighting that I don't want the photography discussion of it to suggest that it's an annoyance. It really isn't for viewing by the eye, in fact it's rather unobtrusive after one gets used to it, acting a lot like the moonlight it's intended to replicate. It's just that it tends to show up more in pics than it does in by eye, so requires some adjustments when dealing with pics to avoid it dominating them.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 11:15 PM

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    August 2011
  • 805 posts
Posted by narrow gauge nuclear on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 1:48 PM

Nice work Mike!  Unfortunately, our color vision at night is not very useful.  The scenes you show appear to be moonlit and reflected moonlight tends towards the blue in our perception of color in such darkness.

On my old Disputanta and Danville Western HO layout, I did a lot of night shots, but all in black and white only.  Mostly taken in the 80's.

Richard

Richard

If I can't fix it, I can fix it so it can't be fixed

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 3:15 PM

Richards,

Thanks for your comments! Glad it's working for you. My first shots were pretty spotty, but I'm getting better.

I wish my Canon had a B&W setting on it, but I haven't found one. Perhaps some sort of macro for Photoshop that would process it into B&W all in one swoop?

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Thursday, January 17, 2013 8:59 AM

A couple of more tips for The Night Scene...

A very handy tool to have when installing so many LEDs is a LED tester. There are fancier ones available commercially, but all mine is is a 2 AA cell battery holder with a resistor (470 or 680 ohm) soldered into the positive lead. I use it to test individual LEDs, LED assemblies, and the structure feed once a building is complete.



The other tip is regarding placement of the LED rope light in relation to the layout. I had a ready-made ballast along one side of the room. For the rest, I installed it mostly so that it follows along above the edge of the fascia. Since the blue LEDs don't glare like some lighting, so long as it's above your line of sight it's not a bother, so doesn't need a valance.



Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    April 2012
  • From: Denver, CO
  • 771 posts
Posted by middleman on Thursday, January 17, 2013 10:42 AM

Nice work,Mike.

This last shot really looks like a moonlit night up in the hills to me...wouldn't mind seeing a "daytime" shot of this area either.Whistling

Mike

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Sunday, May 26, 2013 9:43 AM

Welcome back to The Night Scene. In this installment, we're going to take a bit of a diversion, by turning night into day. Lots of pics in this one and I'm cooking breakfast. Don't want to burn the bacon, so these will trickle in as I get time.

Here's what I'm using, probably best bang for the buck in layout lighting out there right now. I assume these type lights are widely available from various suppliers, but Menards is close to me. They do have an online presence if that works for you. The SKU is 3462510. Cost is $39.95 for 12 Feet. They do have a 6 foot version.

The specs:



What's in the box:



What the business side looks like:





Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Sunday, May 26, 2013 10:41 AM

The results? Outstanding. Consider, too, that this is all done, an entire 36 foot string, with just 30 watts.

I had two of these I previously installed separately. The one I took pics of here was installed between the other two, allowing power to feed from just one end.Here I've connected everything and loosely strung it through a couple of clips that helps set the turns. The first shot is with the overhead lights on.

This is with the room lighting off.

Because of the where the first two strips were placed, I gained about 4 feet at the far end, which will allow me to nicely illuminate the coved corner at the south end of Silverton.

The trick with this lighting is to place it where it does the most good and aim it well, which was the point of the pics above with the various ways to turn and angle it. And there's no valance needed, either, another plus for those with restricted overhead clearances. This will be especially helpful for multi-deck layouts, too.

The end result is excellent, almost museum like, where they call this the "black box effect." Other model railroaders have used this method, often done at great expense in some cases with old technology, elaborate valancing, etc. here, you can do it in an hour with little more than what comes in the box for $40. Combined with my blue LED rope lights, I think I'll call this the "blue box effect."Smile, Wink & Grin



In fact, it's so good, once I get about 4 more of these, I'll probably not use the overhead fluorescents except when needed for work lighting. Combined with taking about 30 of those 50W track lights out of service, the energy comsumption for lighting will be cut be more than 95%. And everything will be a whole bunch COOLER!



My now nicely illuminated coved corner.

This stuff is a win, win, win. If the lighting isn't strong enough from one pass through, then double them up. Another member of our NMRA sivision is working on a layout in a space above his garage, very nice, except it has the ceilings that are slanted after a short 4' wall on both sides. This stuff will be just what he needs to light it up without tons of expensive and wasteful track lighting, so can avoid the investment I made and am currently taking out of service little by little. Try it, you'll, like it.Thumbs UpBeer

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 30,002 posts
Posted by rrinker on Monday, May 27, 2013 7:26 PM

 Picture 2 appears slightly less bright, but the shadows are less harsh. Maybe an overcast day? I'm thinking the ideal level would be 2 strips of the white, plus a blue and a red, or actually since they have the RGB strips, a white stripe, an RGB strip, and a blue strip. That would give you night into dawn by dimming the blue and adjusthing the RGB, and bringing up the white, and as the say went on, the RGB would be cycled to white, so you'd end up with full daylight with effectively 2 strips of white. Then as evening comes in, the blue comes up, the RGB goes to blue, and the white dims.

 Of course that's a lot more electronics than just plugging in strips of LEDs, but with the right controllers it could tie in with a fast clock, if you use one for operating, thus automatically simulating the day. That's my goal for me 'ultimate' layout - got a few years before I'd be able to start on that, so the LED strips should be quite inexpensive by then. Definitely the choice for lighting for starting these days - no running 120VAC wiring all over for light fixtures, no heat, and ultra low profile - as you said, perfect for multiple deck layouts.

                      --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Monday, May 27, 2013 10:41 PM

Randy,

Thanks for your comments. I the long run, doubling up the light strips is what I'll probably do. Right now I'm kust working the budget for the first pass with my wife by remining her of all the money this will save. The effect is pretty darn good.

Here's a pic with both the LEDs on acting a fill lighting with the mian overhead lights on.




Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Friday, June 28, 2013 8:54 PM

Figured this deserved a Friday night bump if I added another pic.Smile




Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    March 2011
  • From: Klamath Falls, Oregon
  • 274 posts
Posted by oregon shay on Friday, June 28, 2013 9:16 PM

Mike,

Thanks for taking the time to share these great ideas!  And the dual gauge track work is very impressive, as well.

Wilton.

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Friday, June 28, 2013 10:36 PM

Wilton,

Thanks, I really enjoyed the whole process of working with the lighting, so was glad to share what I found out. LEDs are finally comparable to incandescent in performance, something that saves power, cuts heat and make for a better operations experience.

The dual-gauge track is all ME code 70. The turnouts are all Shinohara. Mostly used as is, I hacked a few of the turnouts to get a better flow of track. Right in front of the C-19 you can see where I took a HOn3 turnout and hacked it into dual gauge track. This allows for a single HOn3 track to diverge from the dual-gauge.

The one thing to be certain of when doing dual-gauge with off-the-shelf components is to make sure all your turnouts have the common rail on the correct side at each location when ordering.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Monday, October 21, 2013 1:59 PM

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    September 2004
  • From: Dearborn Station
  • 22,057 posts
Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 4:05 AM

Mike, those are beautiful night photos but too blue for my liking.  Could you put some type of filter over the lens to tone down the blue?   Or, perhaps, maybe you prefer it as is which would be fine as well.

Rich

Alton Junction

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 10,502 posts
Posted by mlehman on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 7:47 AM

Rich,

Most likely it's my lack of the artistic geneConfused

I do have a formula to turn them more B&W, but I'm lazyYeah

Newer versions of Photoshop have some magic B&W button, but I'm still stuck in CS2.My 2 Cents

I did play with the B/R color balance on this one, but not sure how much that alone helps.

To my eye, it helps the "dawn light" to look better, but everything else is still kinda blue.


Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    November 2007
  • From: California
  • 1,835 posts
Posted by HO-Velo on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 10:26 AM

Mike,  

Thanks for the thread, great info and photos and for me timely.  What size buss wire do you use to power your structure lighting?  Also, I really like the way you use the surface mount LED for the outdoor shaded lamp, seems that making up those tiny leads would take a lot of soldering skill.

regards,  Peter

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!