The Tracks Cause Us Tears!

Jordan on Tracks

A high school senior holds his favorite guitar while waiting for the future to run him down.

I used to think the best reason to avoid taking portraits on railroad tracks was just that it was cliché and unimaginative — unless the portrait subject is a rail-riding hobo, or a Perils of Pauline fanatic, then maybe that’s exactly the right photo. But I encourage all photographers to find an alternative to using actual, active railroad tracks.

If memory serves, I’ve only taken the railroad track portrait once (picture at right). Toward the end of a regular portrait session on the beach, my subject saw the train go by, and requested that we take a few more on the tracks. I had already gotten what I needed for the session, and since the train had just gone by I saw no harm in taking a few more pictures. Don’t worry; this story is NOT headed for disaster. Nothing bad happened when I took the pictures. But since I did it this once, I’ve discovered more reasons not to take photos on the railroad tracks. For starters, it is considered trespassing, and is evidently incredibly dangerous. Consider the following points I borrowed from a website entirely devoted to railroad track safety:

  1. Trains can’t stop quickly to avoid people or vehicles on the tracks.
  2. An optical illusion makes it hard to determine a train’s distance from you – and its speed.
  3. The average train overhangs the track by at least three feet.
  4. Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and rights-of-way are private property.
  5. No tracks should be assumed to be abandoned or inactive.
  6. If others see you on the tracks, they are more likely to mimic your behavior.

With the above in mind, I call for a total ban on the portrait shot of the person sitting or standing on railroad tracks. We all think the worst will never happen to us, but getting that clichéd shot is simply not worth it!

You can get more information on railroad track safety at

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