How do you bring a ghost train to life? Photograph it at nightfall and paint it with light…

I’ve visited this place several times over the years and never quite been blessed with the right light, the result being that the pictures just appear, well, a little flat. Fun though it invariably is playing with trains it would have been nice if the sun had shone on them to bring out the lovely rust in their ironmongery. This time round the weather forecast was horrendous, but I had something far more creative in mind – a completely different take on it. All it needed was for the rain to stay away and we were in business.

We arrived far too early after a photographic day out that had already included a derelict church, farmhouse, and power station building, so drove to the nearest pub to kill half an hour. On arrival in Dalmellington we quickly ruled out one of the two hostelries purely by looking at the kind of people that had congregated outside, and head for the other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it; barely six o’clock and most of the people inside were already bordering on blind drunk and lining up trays of J√§gerbombs, one laughing hyena regularly punctuating the unruly din from the bar stool she was just about clinging on to. I’ve not felt quite so on-edge for some time – and that’s saying something as somebody that explores derelict buildings for fun – so after a quick bottle of nothing inspiring we left and drove back through the people now staggering about in the street and up to the old ironworks. Maybe there’s nothing else to do round these parts but at that rate the place would be dead by 8 with everyone either asleep in bed or unconscious in the gutter. My money’s on the latter.

Back in the tranquility of a train graveyard I felt much more comfortable as we set up the cameras and waited for it to go dark, taking a few test shots until such a point as the last of the blue had drained from the sky and the black night had sunk deep into the shadows. And then it began in earnest – increasingly long exposures with all the detail of the rusty trains picked out by torchlight and a red gel filter. Slowly walking down the line painting with light, slowly walking back, then climbing in and out of the engines to light the interiors of the cabs and make them glow. The camera picks up the pink and blue hues in a night sky the eye can’t see, the rusting ironmongery pops under the softened beam of the torch. Four and a half minutes worth of careful light painting and a quick look at the LCD screen shows something pretty special.

I’m happy. These ghost trains had finally come back to life.

Packing up under cover of the unpolluted rural night sky we head back to the car and left in pursuit of a decent beer. On the way back to Glasgow we encountered the other end of the social spectrum, though still as bafflingly unexpected as our earlier encounters: A man in a full dress suit and a woman in a red ball gown were buying lilies in Tesco. It was 9.30, and seemingly there are no rules anymore…