Look at the photo above.
Take a good look at it because it was the one and only time I have ever put a client on railroad track. You see I did this because I was not aware of the laws regarding people on railroad tracks. That's bad enough, but what's even worse was that I was not aware of the real danger to my and more importantly my client's safety that I had put us both in!
I can hear some of you now. Oh Katherine, you're being over dramatic. I see pictures of people on railroad tracks all the time. Yeah well I see people doing 50 in a 25 doesn't mean it's legal or safe and that it doesn't put people in danger. My point is that people do things all the time that aren't right. In some cases they are completely aware that it's not right and do it anyway, in some cases (like in my photo above) they are oblivious to the legalities and unaware of the danger to personal safety as they go about their business.
Let me start with the legalities. Shortly after I had finished shooting the session that included the image above I was packing my gear into my vehicle when a police officer pulled up next to me. He was kind enough to wait until my client had driven off. I wasn't too concerned until he got out of his vehicle and began walking towards me and at first I thought "uh oh, what did I do" then I thought " relax you haven't done anything wrong" But I was wrong. I, in fact HAD done something wrong. Something that I now know could have cost both me and my client BIG time. See in Virginia it is illegal to be on a track other than to pass over at a public or private crossing. Even then you shouldn't be stopping to take photos, you are to pass over and get off the tracks. Period. End of story. The officer said to me "good evening, I noticed that you were taking photos out on the railroad tracks, are you aware that you were trespassing and could be charged with a misdemeanor?" Uhhhhhhhh no sir I was not, had I been I definitely would NOT have done it. Not only could I have been charged but I had put my client in a position where she could have been charged as well! He was kind and basically told me just don't do it again and I went on my way. Well, believe you me, I went straight home after that and began looking up the laws and found soooooo much more!
What I found was Operation Lifesaver and their six "must know" facts for professional photographers, but really, this is for anyone who might be considering taking photos or just taking a walk on or very near tracks.
- Trains can not stop quickly to avoid people or vehicle on the tracks. It can take the length of 18 football fields to stop a train. So now you're thinking " oh that's cool that's plenty of time for me to get out of the way" well keep reading...
- Looks can be deceiving. An optical illusion makes it difficult to determine a train's true distance from you or it's speed. It's also not as easy to hear a train coming as you may think either. There have been instances where people have been killed because they never heard or saw the train until it was too late.
- Now in case you're thinking "it's ok, I won't go on the track I'll just get beside it" just know that the average train overhangs the track by about 3 feet
- Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and rights of way are private property whether there is a No Trespassing sign posted or not. You may only be on the tracks to cross at a designated railroad crossing and even then you are to keep moving, no stopping on the tracks.
- Never just assume tracks are abandoned or inactive and remember that even those are private property and you should practice due diligence and get the proper permissions to use them.
- Remember that people will see a great photo and mimic your actions when they see photos on the pinterest, fb, ig, twitter and the like. Even if you have taken the steps in the previous bullet point to legally obtain access to an abandoned or inactive track PLEASE make sure when posting to social media that you make it very well known that you have done so.
Now some of you who have followed me through the years may be thinking...." Hold up a sec Katherine. I KNOW I have seen you post railroad track photos and not the one at the beginning of this blog post."
And you would be correct. Let's face it. People love train tracks. Whether it is the leading lines, or they, much like Sheldon Cooper have a fascination with trains, they just do and people want what they want. I will post some of those photos now and you take a good look at them and see what, if anything, you notice.....
So here they are y'all. The photos that you remember.....with train tracks in each one....on purpose. I am hoping that what you will notice is that not a single one of these people is ON the track. They are all safely near the tracks. The tracks are in their photos but they are and I am at a safe distance from the track in each and every one of these photos. So I won't ever say no to photos near the tracks, especially if there is something about tracks and trains that is very special to you. I will, however ALWAYS say no to photos ON the tracks. If you need some more reasons why......
No photograph is worth risking anybody's life.....ever