The Need to Know on Railroad Photography
It’s no secret that photographers like to take risks. The trick with photography is to take educated risks and know when to cut and run. The words of Walter Sherman, “I’mma risk it.”, tend to be a mantra of mine in questionable situations.
This is in no way condoning trespassing or putting anyone at risk to get that shot. Please read carefully and make decisions wisely.
So what’s a photographer to do when a client ask for a shoot on the tracks?
Clients that request railroad photography more than likely don’t understand the laws and danger of photographing on a railroad track. It is the photographer’s responsibility to notify the client when a request can be too dangerous. Both the photographer and the client are held responsible when trespassing and can be subjected to fines and possible jail time. This doesn’t mean turning down a paying job. Consider it a good opportunity to get the creative juices flowing.
The easiest option would be a backdrop with a railroad setting, but this may not satisfy the client. Before just hitting the tracks, seek out permission from the railroad company. It helps to know a guy, who knows a guy in the business. The company will most likely require an escort while on the property. It’s never a good idea to be on active tracks, so the company will probably direct you to a set of tracks that are not currently in use.
Don’t get discouraged if the train company says no. Some areas have rails that have been or are in the process of being turned into hiking trails. These trails may still have some of the tracks in tact that would make a good back drop. This is a safe and effective way to create railroad photography with very little danger involved. Railroad trestles are typically left alone on these types of hiking trails and make a great substitute backdrop for a photo shot.
Another alternative is using a local railroad museum for a photo shoot. Call ahead to check with management and they are usually happy to help out. Railroad museums have a lovely selection of old trains, carts, mining equipment and much more. All of these items would make great photo props for a unique photo shoot.
What about that abandoned railroad track out by my house?
Railroad tracks are not abandoned, so much as inactive. Even if the track is not in use it is still private property.
If caught trespassing expect a fine and possible jail time depending upon the country or state. Some companies are actively monitoring for images of their tracks and will request images be removed from websites and social media.
There seems to be a bit of confusion about the legalities of photographing trains. These rules only cover the company’s private property. It’s important to remember that the company’s property not only includes the tracks, but also the surrounding property.