You have come across the photos, undoubtedly, of a young person posing on the train tracks. For a while in the mid-2000s, it was the scene of choice for every senior, wedding, family, and modeling shoot. I will even admit, before I knew any better, I photographed people on railroad tracks. No more!
Why do we choose this scene? Psychologically speaking, it portrays an independent spirit, ready to leave home on a long journey of life. Depending on the camera angle, these scenes can depict a story of a rough road ahead, or a bright future. The tracks themselves, create a natural vanishing point, represent the distant future while also bringing ties to the past with nostalgia of traveling on a train. And the United States of chalk-full of railroad tracks; both active and abandoned.
So, what’s the problem? First off, it’s private property of the railroad. When you see these photos, you are literally witnessing court evidence that at least two (photographer and subject) were trespassing on private property. “But those tracks are abandoned!” It doesn’t matter if the tracks are live or abandoned, they are still owned by the railroad company, and they are responsible for the insurances of their property. If a railroad company can prove it is their section of tracks you are photographed on, then they can pursue you in court for trespassing. Second, it is a complete danger. Did you know that 265 people were killed and 798 people were injured in 2016 by trains (fstoppers.com)? Unfortunately, every year during senior photo season we see news reports from around the country where the subject or the photographer dies from a horrific train accident. One of the many excuses I have heard from fellow photographers is that you can hear a train coming for miles. While this may be true in some urban scenarios, sometimes in the open country the train coasts stealthy down the track at high speeds and it is impossible to hear it coming. Even if there is no danger from an oncoming train, the tracks provide enough danger as-is with rusted iron scraps, unstable rock hills, and various pinch points. This has become such a problem that a major railroad has created a special website to remind people to stay off of the tracks: https://www.up.com/aboutup/community/safety/photo_safety/index.htm
What can you do? Before you go on a photo shoot, ask the Photographer about their locations. Be stern about not photographing on or near railroad tracks. Make sure your locations are safe and legal to photograph. Speak out against people who choose to photograph in this manner, even call the photographer out for unprofessionalism. End the trend of photographing on the railroad tracks.
Rev. Kyle D. Yates is a Pastor and Photographer out of Brookville, PA. He has been in professional photography since 2011 and has been recognized over 260 times for his fine art. You can find his work at the Winkler Gallery in DuBois, PA. Kyle was named the 2018 Artisan of the Year from the Pennsylvania Wilds. For more information, find him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/YatesPhoto) or at his photography website (www.kyleyatesphoto.com)