Photographing the Hogwarts Express: 3 Things to Know Before You Go

Glenfinnan Viaduct | Kitty Singsuwan
Glenfinnan Viaduct | © Kitty Singsuwan

There I was, not into Harry Potter, not into trains, having just fallen in the mud, in front of everyone…

I wanted to run back to the passenger van and hide, but how often do you get to photograph the famous Hogwarts Express as it crosses an equally famous Harry Potter Bridge? Would I ever return to Scotland, even?

Tired and embarrassed as I was, I set up my camera, and waited.

Twenty or so minutes later, the train rolled into view. I took 5 or 6 bursts, and then it was over. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but oh my God… I GOT THE SHOT!

I should fall in the mud more often 😎

Happy and elated, I followed my group back to the van, and came to the realization that getting the shot, especially one such as this, requires a fair amount of planning & prep. I’m grateful that our workshop leader handled most of it, and helped us through the rest. (Thanks, Rachel!)

“Hogwarts Express” & “Harry Potter Bridge” are nicknames, obviously. But they were featured in at least three Harry Potter movies, so…

Anyway, the locomotive is officially known as The Jacobite, named after the region’s ties to the Jacobite Revolution. (The nearby Glenfinnan Monument, on the shores of Loch Shiel, marks the spot where the rising began.)

The “bridge” itself is called the Glenfinnan Viaduct, named after the town of Glenfinnan, and is the longest viaduct in Scotland (at 380 meters, or 1247 feet).

Photographing the Hogwarts Express may not be on your bucket list, but if you’re ever in the Scotland, give it a try. I promise it’s worth landing two hands and a knee in the mud for 😉

Here are 3 things to know before you go:

  1. Research the composition
    As popular as this train is, it only crosses the viaduct  four times a day, for six-or-so months out of the year. And once the train comes into view, you only have about a minute or two to capture your photos. And not all vantage points are the same, so be sure to check the timetable, route, estimated crossing times, and possible compositions, to ensure you’re standing in the right place at the perfect time.

    I would also check the weather and cloud cover, too, just in case.

  2. Get there early
    This can be said for every photoshoot, but seriously, get there early.

    The Glenfinnan Viaduct attracts loads of Harry Potter fans, and parking is tight. You might want to confirm the train’s direction of travel with a staff member at the visitor’s center (hint hint)… go to the restroom… grab a coffee… put on your wellies before taking the 10-20 minute walk to your viewing spot. Once you’re there, you’ll want another 20 minutes to set up and test your settings.

  3. Wear mud-resistant pants & shoes
    Remember the fall I mentioned earlier? There is a clear path that leads you to the viewing areas, but Scotland can get wet and muddy, and you may have to step through some to get to your chosen spot. So make sure you’re wearing mud-resistant pants & shoes.

    Or you can risk getting muddy, up to you 🤷‍♀️

  4. BONUS TIP: bring a tripod & shutter release
    You can shoot handheld – folks have done it. But given the terrain, movement, and excitement, I would mount your camera on a tripod and attach a shutter release. That way, you don’t have to worry about your camera moving, and can focus on pressing the shutter button at just the right moment(s).

Until next time,