[Before/After] How I edited the vintage Trolley Car

After visiting the wonderful Illinois Railway Museum in Union, IL a couple of weeks ago, I was able to try my talents at capturing a few vintage trains and trolleys. The real reason for visiting was to take my 2 year old son to meet and ride Thomas the Train. One of the photos I was able to snap is of this old trolley. You can see the original image and the end result from my post-processing here. Continue reading if you’d like to learn how I edited this vintage trolley car photo and to see the black and white version. 

How I shot it

The challenge in tourist attractions is getting good shots, not getting in people’s way, and keeping up with your group. The trip was more for my son than me, so I didn’t emphasize my interest or attempts at getting good shots. Ideally, you setup the shot before you take it. Instead, I kept aware of potential compositions as I walked and shot in sort of a run and gun approach. As I was walking with my family, I periodically stopped to take a quick shot with little time to consider composition. Don’t get me wrong, I thought about composition as I observed potential photos. I just didn’t take my time to frame my shots as I was walking. 

In shooting this shot, I considered the Rule of Thirds and leading lines for my composition. The reality of the shot is that my composition wasn’t quite the Rule of Thirds, but I ended up cropping it to fit better. I also timed my shot as I walked for an attractive angle of the moving trolley and with minimal people in the shot. Finally, I cropped out other distracting objects like traffic cones that were intended to direct people walking. 

The gear used was:

  • Canon 7d Mark II
  • Sigma 17-55mm f/2.8 lens

Camera settings:

  • f/7.1
  • 1/400
  • 40mm
  • ISO 100

Initial corrections

Click to enlarge

Before I spend any major time on my photos, I apply lens corrections. This helps correct for lens distortion, chromatic aberration, and other imperfections in the lens I used. Next, I attempt Capture One Pro’s auto corrections, but I’m never satisfied with the results. I use the auto corrections to get me part-way to the end result. 

I always focus on the color version of a photo first, then duplicate it, and make the duplicate black and white. This gives me both versions to use and prevents me from duplicating work. 

To the left, I shared a screenshot of my exposure settings. Clicking the screenshots will open them at full resolution. You can see I boosted contrast slightly, but pushed highlight recovery and shadows significantly. I also boosted saturation slightly and added clarity and structure to bring out the finer details. 


In order to get the vintage film look, I raised the blacks and pushed the highlights. This produced a slightly faded look in the color photo. I also adjusted two additional points in the mid tones to get a more even contrast. Without this, much of the photo looked too bright and flat. 

Converting to Black and White

When switching to black and white, I used the color channels rather than a basic black and white toggle/conversion. Using color channels gives you more control over the outcome of the black and white image. All color photos contain red, green, and blue (RGB) color data. Mixing these colors produce every other color. When you increase the red color data, everything red gets brighter in a black and white image. The same is true when you decrease red. The same idea also applies to green and blue. Many photo editing applications provide you with more control than just red, green, and blue, however. Capture One Pro, which I use, provides red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and magenta color data tools. 

Click to enlarge

In the color photo, the trolley is red with yellow accents. The scenery is bland grey for the most part. This photo offers little with regards to demonstrating impressive controls using the color channels, but I still retained more control over the finished image than using more consumer-friendly methods. 

I decreased the red slightly in this photo to darken the trolley and increased yellow to brighten the accents. This created more contrast on the trolley without affecting much of the rest of the photo. I also darkened the blue and cyan to add contrast to the sky. Interestingly, there is very little magenta in the photo. Making changes to this slider produced little noticeable affect. However, increasing it significantly did add some accents to help separate the trolley from the background. 

Adding a hint of color

Click to enlarge

To add to the vintage and film look of this photo, I decided to add some color to the photo’s shadows. I did this by using split toning. I used Capture One’s split toning tool to add 18% saturation to the shadows and moved the hue to a red/orange color cast. Being at just 10% saturation, the added color is subtle. It’s not overpowering over the image, but still adds a warmth to the photo and compliments the vintage styling as well. 


Final touches

Once the look and feel of the photo was established, I added a vignette. Although it’s not always indicative of vintage film, most people today associate a vignette with vintage film. It’s trendy and trendy is dangerous in that it will date an image or make it irrelevant in the future. On the other hand, it attracts viewers now. When I add a vignette, I try to make it subtle. In this image, I went slightly beyond subtle into a more noticeable vignette. Again, this is for trendy reasons and not typical for my style. 

Finally, I looked over the exposure settings one last time and made minor adjustments. The look you go for can sometimes alter how you want the photo exposed when it’s black and white. Often, black and white photos have more contrast. 

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