On the roof of a train, picking up speed

September 22, 2009

Every year, millions of residents in Dhaka travel to their hometown from the Bangladeshi capital to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Thousands use public transportation. I was determined to travel with them to experience this hectic mode of transport.  I went to a local train station opposite the national airport in Dhaka on September 20, the last day before Eid.

I reached the station early in the morning and found thousands of people waiting on the platform. There were trains arriving but they were fully packed with people. There was not even space on the rooftop of the trains. In spite of this, people were crawling on top and inside the carriages like ants, sometimes even fighting with each other.  Twice I failed to get onto the train. Finally, I managed to get on with the help of a young woman. The woman struggled to get on the train with her 4-year old child. I was just behind her, and as soon as she got on she pulled me up.

While sitting amongst the crowd, I started taking pictures with my 5D camera and a 16-35mm lens. After a few shots I tried using a slow shutter speed, but as the train was jerking it was difficult to capture a sharp frame. Then I tried different shutter speeds, changing the f-stops from 11 to 22. Suddenly, I spotted a woman in the middle of the two carriages. At first I framed the shot with the woman at the top. I managed to maneuver my way among the crowd and lay down to keep my hand steady. I composed the picture with the men’s feet and played with changing the f-stop and shutter speed on alternative exposures. I kept my ISO at 100 as I knew that a fast ISO would not achieve the blurred effect. The f-stop was narrow as I tried using slow shutter speeds. I was getting a huge depth-of-field to keep my subject in focus. I shot several exposures on different f-stops from 1/4 to 1/60. The train was jerking so much that half of my shots were blurred. I was continuously trying to find the right shutter speed on the right moment.  Finally I found it. A shutter speed of 1/6 at f/16 was the best among the few perfect exposures.

Click here to view a larger version of the frame.


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It’s a lovely (and sad) image and the story tells itself; thanks for sharing how you got it. Very dangerous job you have!

Posted by Kayode Okeyode | Report as abusive

what a great picture! What a great story! Did you travel back on the same train but in an empty carriage?

Posted by Russell | Report as abusive

although so many citizens hanky panky to catch up the train, and maybe it is normal situation over there,for me safety of theirself should be always no 1..salam eid fitr to all muslims…

Posted by gbone | Report as abusive

I saw this image on Monday and was so drawn to it.

Thanks for sharing the experience – interested to see the trial and error involved in getting it.

Image of 2009 for me. Congratulations.

Posted by Jonny Tilney | Report as abusive

A stunning image indeed.;) Great picture as always.

Posted by Ahim Rani | Report as abusive

We must appreciate you for the trouble you took to travel some 50 km route on the roof of a dangerously crowded train, especially ahead of a religious festival which tends to make everyone crazy.
Indeed the pictures you shot are amazing for the people in developed world. But these tend to be very common and familiar for any individual in the third world countries especially in impoverished and overcrowded Bangladesh, of nearly 150 million people.

Posted by Nizam Ahmed | Report as abusive

Like Kayode Okeyode said, Lovely image (from our point of view 😉 ) but a sad story :)

Posted by Mehedi Rahman ( ehab ) | Report as abusive

[…] awesome photo by Reuters photographer Andrew Biraj. Leave a […]

Posted by Little Journey « Philippe Teston – photographer, observer, monopoly player. | Report as abusive

Great photo. How did you take it?? Very risky job.

Posted by Stanley Corraya | Report as abusive

Amazing work as always !!
Thanx Andrew for that.

Posted by picspirit | Report as abusive