It wasn’t long after the first line of train track was hammered into the earth when a photographer spotted the metaphor. Since then, the tracks have been dramatized and romanticized in billions of photos, artwork, commercials, and many movies. Add the current popularity and ease of entry into photography, the over-posting to social media, and less creativity in self-appointed artists – the railroad track shots have become a worn-out cliche’. It’s uncool and dead. Bury it.
Do you know it is ILLEGAL to shoot near them? You’re TRESPASSING on private property and when you snap a photo, you provide the evidence.
Excuse me for a moment. Hold on. This is the part of the post where those who don’t get it will react. It will be with rapid revolt, dismissal of the facts, or simple apathy. I’m okay if you stop reading because I won’t change your mind anyway. To the others, please continue.
I am a professional Location Scout for commercials, movies, and large-scale photography. The last feature film I worked on involved a scene on the track and many tracks were heavily scouted (and photographed ahead of time). I’ve also worked on a national commercial for a railroad company. On each of these projects, proper protocol was in play (as in permission sought and granted, safety meetings held, railroad company personnel were present while we were shooting, proper PPE was worn, etc.). These steps are part of a professional, legal, and safe process.
If you shoot on private property without permission it’s called “stealing a shot.”
Whenever I get the question from creatives IF permission is needed to shoot at a location versus shooting without asking – I simply reply: “Would you be okay if a photo or film crew shot on your property (lawn, backyard, rec room, or land you own) without asking?
Then there is the SAFETY. You can get hit by a train easier then you think but most human beings are injured almost daily by being around tracks. They slip off the rail (which you should NEVER EVER be on) or fall against the steel or loose it off a bridge or are hurt in many other ways. Some of those people die.
Since earbuds and personal devices are now ubiquitous the number of people walking into a train has spiked and drivers zigzag through downed gates at crossings, but these stories of crazy are another post on another website. This is about railroad track photography and the photographers and filmmakers who are breaking the law, being unsafe, opting for the cliche’ shot, and promoting the perception that all of this okay.
The photo galleries of your local hobbyist-turned-photographer are cringeworthy! Teens, families, and babies have been draped across active railroad tracks. Google ‘railroad tracks people photography’ and tap (click) on Images. Be horrified.
After seeing a few of my local shooter’s websites, I reached out to them to politely inform them that it’s illegal and unsafe. Their reactions were mostly negative: “I am offended you would accuse me of…”, “Oh that was when I first started” (but I’m not taking the photos down), “Who do you think you are?”, and I even got an “F you.” By the way, it doesn’t matter if the line is “dead” or that you’re shooting from the break in the track. The viewer of the photo doesn’t know that… and it’s still illegal.
I don’t understand why people would want to be led into a dangerous situation. “C’mon, it will be cool. We’ll sit your baby on the tracks.” Does child protection services know about these people? And if you are a Liker who thinks it’s ‘cute’ or ‘awesome’ – you’re an enabler.
Hey, I get it. I love creative exploration. Shots can be dramatic, beloved on social networks, and indeed metaphorical. I used to be a fan. I too have taken many train and railroad photographs. But a few years ago, when more photographers began to appear (way too many amateurs) a change in thinking came to me. I began to feel odd, guilty, and trite when looking at the railroad shot. I said no to clients that asked. I stopped shooting that shot.
And then Sarah was killed.
She was a young camera assistant and an indirect colleague, ordered to follow trespassers – to “steal a shot.” I cried along with everybody else who cared. I was angry at how standard procedures were not followed. I was embarrassed at the black mark the horrible tragedy placed on true professionals in the industry that get it and are safe – all the time.
If you call yourself a professional filmmaker or photographer, I challenge you to bury the railroad track shot. Stop putting people in an unsafe and illegal position. Be smart. Think harder. Find an alternative location.
To those who don’t care about breaking the law or putting themselves and their subjects in harm’s way, I am asking you as an indirect colleague to STOP. If you are an admitted hobbyist or simply enjoy posting the next photo to social media – DON’T DO IT.
Be better. Be safe. Have fun and live.
If you want more information or want to get involved with Railroad Safety, engage with Operation Lifesaver.
Are you at the early stages of your film or photo career? Read my Open Letter to you about being safe and not being afraid to say NO.
See offenders? Report them to the railroad police (yes, there’s such a thing).
Content COPYRIGHT Jamie Vesay 2015 ANY USE requires permission.