Over the last couple of weeks, I've found myself involved in several ongoing conversations about 2 different types of photo shoots, both of which are, IMVHO, very, very dangerous. Interestingly, while the dangers of one would, at least on the surface, appear to be quite obvious to even the most casual observer, I was struck at how many photographers flat out refuse to admit that these practices can be so very dangerous, not only to themselves, but in many cases, to their clients. The two things I'm talking about are shooting portraits on train tracks and powder shoots. I'm not going to discuss powder shoots here, since I have already posted about why I refuse to do powder shoots elsewhere on my website, and will elaborate on it further in my next blog post. In the meantime, please do go read that original article. Hopefully, it'll make you think twice about doing one. Or another one. You can find the article here.
Given that, I'm going to concentrate this post on trains. Big, noisy trains. Those things that make so much commotion they can rattle your teeth out. Actually, they don't. The photo above was taken, obviously, as the train passed on a curve. But in that area, there are no crossings, which means there are no clanging bells or flashing lights. Or engineers blowing horns . . . This guy came around that curve out of nowhere. Scared the crap out of me. Fortunately, I wasn't on the tracks. No way I'm getting on active tracks.
The point is, I hardly had time to get the camera to my eye. And keep in mind -- this was shot with a 400mm lens. He was a half a football field away. So why did it scare me so? He was hauling it. Had to be doing 60 MPH. You haven't lived til you've had one of these monster trains roar past you at 60 MPH. What troubles me about all of this is how many photographers are willing to risk their lives and the lives of their clients to get a shot. Even worse was the number of photographers in the discussion who refused to acknowledge the dangers involved with shooting on tracks. I should point out that it does not matter how overgrown with weeds the tracks are, or how rusty they are. Unless they have been torn up -- IN BOTH DIRECTIONS -- you cannot assume they are not ever used. There is a long section of track not far from my home where it looks like the tracks haven't been used in 50 years. But every so often, I do see a train on those tracks. Usually a small one, delivering or picking up a freight car from some business along the way. If nothing else, when you are shooting on tracks, you are trespassing. The tracks -- and their right-of-way, which extends out on both sides of the tracks -- belongs to the railroad. They do not want you on their property. If they catch you (as unlikely as it might be), they will have you arrested. Speaking of trespassing . . . Even if the tracks have been removed, the land could still belong to the railroad. But if they've sold it, then someone else owns it. A friend tells a great story about going on a photo walk with a bunch of other photographers, and ending up on some abandoned tracks. They were obviously abandoned, as you can walk from one end to the other, and see where they've been disconnected from the working lines. He said they were shooting away when a guy walks up, and introduces himself as the land owner (the area was adjacent to his business). My friend said that the landowner told them that as long as they were shooting for fun, they were okay, but as soon as someone wanted to shoot for money, they would need his permission. In other words, they were trespassing, and got caught. Fortunately, it was by a landowner who was understanding and sympathetic. My own neighborhood had tracks running through it at one time many years ago. When the railroad tore the tracks out, they sold the land. Some of it went to the city to create a new park, but much of it went to neighbors -- who greatly enlarged their property. The point is -- abandoned or not, the land is owned by someone, and by walking on it, you are trespassing. Now, I realize that the last several paragraphs were a total waste of time. If, as a photographer, you care so little about your personal safety or the safety of your client that you're willing to get up on those tracks to begin with, you don't care about being guilty of trespassing. No -- when I took that shot above, I was not on the right-of-way. That was the idea behind shooting where there is a curve. Ditto this next shot.
Again, note the curve in the tracks. Note the compression associated with shooting with a very long telephoto lens. I tried shooting a passing train with a wide angle lens one time. Too close. Never, ever again. BTW, in areas where there are double tracks -- even bells and crossing lights don't protect you. You might be looking at one oncoming train, and assume the bells and lights are for him, when in fact there is another train approaching you from the other direction, and the bells and lights are because of him . . . Please note -- I haven't even mentioned the numbers of times someone has been killed shooting photos or movies or TV shows on railroad tracks. It has happened. People have died, and the people who were supposed to be in charge went to jail. Can't wait for them to finish building the new trolly system downtown . . . No telling what will happen with all those tracks . . .