Intro by Skip Cohen
Here's a great example of the fun of "networking". I was at ShutterFest last April. I got downstairs early one morning and just started talking to one of the photographers, Gary Altman. We probably talked for an hour or so, nothing earth-shaking, but the start of a great friendship.
I'm always looking for photographers with something to say and Gary offered to do a guest post. He sent me today's post and I loved it...a totally different approach to a new topic and presented with the seriousness it deserves, while still having a little trademark "Altman sarcasm".
So, meet my buddy Gary Altman. He's a photographer from South Carolina, with his primary focus on seniors and weddings!
There seems to be an issue lately surrounding shooting on train tracks. From a professional photographer's point of view, it's come up in several forums. The conversations seemed to have started when a photographer was struck and killed by a train very recently.
For me, I grew up around trains and because of that, I don't have the overwhelming desire to shoot on the tracks. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intrigued when I drive over a crossing.
Regardless, here are some legal issues to keep in mind if you decide to shoot on those tracks:
First, it's illegal in some way, shape or form. If there are no signs or fences, it's a violation and you're subject to a ticket (more likely) or arrest (less likely) as tickets are used in lieu of an arrest situation. However, if there are signs or a fence and you get caught on them, it's a misdemeanor and you will be arrested. I shoot primarily high school seniors, and I'm kind of thinking it would be REAL BAD for business if I or even worse, they got arrested.
So for the professional photographers among us, this is for you...
Probably more important then being arrested is your exposure to liability.
#1 - If you don't have adequate insurance you might want to figure out how you're going to pay the hefty lawsuit and the attorney's fees when you're found negligent.
#2 - If you were smart enough to have purchased liability insurance, chances are it will not cover you for ANYTHING when you do something illegal. So, go back and read #1 again.
Now, if you're STILL determined to shoot on the tracks continue reading....
If you're smart enough to know you're stupid, don't shoot on the train tracks.
If you're the type of person who, when they shoot they zone out and don't see, hear or smell anything around them, (also called "Being In The Zone"), don't shoot on the tracks.
Stay away from the 3rd rail. If you don't know what the 3rd rail is, don't shoot on the tracks.
Usually the third rail is covered by a wood plank. The 3rd rail carries over 600 volts of DC power. This is different from the current in your house. How so? Well...if you stick a hanger in your wall outlet it will blow you back and away from the outlet. DC current sucks you in and doesn't let you go until you are fully electrocuted....cooked to well done!
Now let's remember what runs on the tracks - TRAINS! They're no joke. They stand about 14-16' high (wheels to roof), and I've seen many victims who have gotten hit by trains. Trains are intimidating in size, especially when not on a platform and being that close to them. If you easily become mesmerized and lose your bearings on where you are, don't shoot on the tracks.
Give yourself PLENTY of room to VISUALLY see anything that might be coming your way. You're shooting your model...you look behind her and she looks behind you. You want to have enough time to pick up a light stand, gently grab her hand and escort her off the tracks by walking with enough time to finish a cigarette, BEFORE the train gets to your position. Even if that curve in the tracks is an aesthetically better visual location to photograph, it's also a better location to get you or your subject killed. So, if you don't have a clear line of sight to safely vacate, don't shoot on the tracks.
DO NOT SHOOT INSIDE A TUNNEL. It is impossible to tell from where the train is coming from. The sound is a rumble and the acoustics in the tunnel bounce the sound in every direction.
Look BOTH ways before approaching any train tracks. Yup...both ways. You just don't know if they're doing maintenance work 20 or 200 miles away and re-route a train onto a track and suddenly it's coming from the wrong direction.
Know your train schedules. Where I am now, there is a freight train that goes by at 1:00 am every day. You shouldn't rely on that solely, but say you're shooting there at night and it's 12:55am. That would be a good time to take a break, have another cigarette and have your model do a wardrobe change.
And if you don't smoke, then chew a piece of gum as your timing mechanism! LOL
Now if you still feel you MUST Shoot on train tracks, get permission from whoever runs them. Go to a museum. Find tracks no longer in operation. Composite them from other stock images.
Just in case you're questioning my background in spending so much time talking about trains...
In a previous life, I was in law enforcement. I grew up around train tracks, hanging out within 10' of express trains going by! I was track certified by the NYC Transit Authority while working in NYC, as well as taking a law enforcement track search training. As an artist I recognize the aesthetic lines adding impact to your images, but even more important is the impact they can have on changing your life...and not in a good way.
Be safe and if you missed my point, don't shoot on the tracks!