One of things I find myself doing, like it or not, when I see a photo of a model railway - and I find myself doing it with every new magazine that comes out - is to mentally 'mark' the photo based on how realistic it looks. In the past this was a fairly subconscious thing - some layouts I just felt had that 'something' and others didn't. And while that 'gut-feeling' is ultimately what its all about in this whole pursuit of realism, I'm beginning to make more of a point of trying to analyse why I feel this way - what is it about a model, or a particular photo, that conveys a sense of realism, or not? If the photo cries out 'model' as soon as you see it, what are the specific things that lead you to that conclusion? If I find myself looking twice to see if its real or a model, or if it just has that certain something that 'looks real' about it, then what is it that makes me feel that way?
Undoubtedly it's easier to identify the things that make something look un-realistic than the things that make something look realistic, but I think there's value in this. By identifying the culprits, I can hopefully avoid the same mistakes in my own modelling - easier said than done of course, but at least I know what to pay attention to, and what direction to aim at.
It seems often to be the same things that stand out in spoiling the effect on models - especially in close-up photography:
- Ballast that is too coarse
- Ballast that is laid too liberally, so the track appears half buried
- Lack of weathering, or an odd mixture of weathered and unweathered features/stock sitting side by side
- Unnatural colours - especially greenery
- Grass and foliage that doesn't really look like grass and foliage -wrong shapes, textures etc., grass too short where it would be long, etc.
- Buildings and structures that are not bedded down into their surroundings properly
- Over-detailed and unrealistic backscenes
- Over-scale details and features (even down to things like the relief on brickwork etc.)
- Overcrowding and over-compression of space - cramped, cluttered appearance
- Absense of the little details that bring a scene to life.