Friday, December 3, 2010

On Photography, or the Amazing Modelling of Josef Brandl

Is it real, or is it . . . .

Sometimes someone will exclaim, hyperbolically, about how a model railroad photo looks "real." They almost never do, of course, even if the modelling is superb; there is always something that gives it away—the size of the handrails, couplers, track and ties; the static, expressionless figures; the trees and bushes; the backdrop, or something else.

Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate great model railroad photography. I aspire to take great photos of my layout. But photos, by their very nature, militate against good modelling. They force us to do exactly what we shouldn’t do when looking at a layout: Look intently, and with a singular focus, at a single scene.

Model railroads are best viewed following a train around a layout. When we do that, our brains fill in the gaps, based on what we see in our peripheral vision. Our brains tell us that the scene the train is passing through keeps going and going into the background; a closer inspection would reveal that it is only a cut-out from a magazine or calendar taped against a wall.

It’s all about illusion, in other words—sleight of hand, or sight, in this case, diverting our attention away from the areas that would spoil the fun and show us that it is, in fact, only a model.

Occasionally, however, a photo rises to the top. The modelling is so amazing that we actually do the proverbial double-take. Often, these are highly detailed micro-scenes; it would be rare for someone with a model railroad to devote that much attention to the whole layout—a “good enough” philosophy is all that is really possible, unless the owner has lots of time, skills or money (to hire a professional layout builder).

One person who seems to have two of those attributes—time and skills—is Josef Brandl.

I had never heard of him either until recently, while I was browsing model railroad photos on Google images. That’s when I came across the photos below.

This German model railroader is a professional layout builder. He is one of the best modelers I have ever encountered, when it comes to scenery.

As the marketing copy for his book, Almost Real: Josef Brandl’s Amazing Model Railroads puts it: “According to a not unfamiliar story, the Creator laboured for six days to create heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested. This book is devoted to world’s in miniature, created by Josef Brandl in 30,000 hours of work.”

Enjoy the photos. If you want more info about the book, go to You can also download a different chapter each month from that website.

A few photos from a calendar featuring Brandl's work . . . .


  1. Excellent post.thanks............

  2. Fantastic! It doesn't get any better than this!

    Ken Robbins, NH, USA

  3. A few photos are NOT Josef Brandl's work!
    Photo 4 and 7 are from the layout "dreim├╝hlentalbahn" made by Modelspoor Collectief/Jacques Damen from the Netherlands!