A photographer’s perspective: Why you shouldn’t hold your photoshoot on train tracks

Capturing the perfect prom or graduation photo is a big deal. Unfortunately, some young people aren’t choosing the safest location for capturing their memories. Sites like Pinterest are full of photos of well-dressed couples walking along, sitting on and kissing on railway tracks.

But it isn’t just young people who using tracks as the backdrop for photos: professional photographers are using them too.

Liette Chamberland is an encaustic fine art photographer (a finishing technique, covering fine art photographs in beeswax and resin) and accredited member of the Professional Photographers of Canada. She shares her thoughts about why choosing railway tracks is a risky choice for professional photographers, and amateurs, alike.

In Canada, railways are private property and walking on or along train tracks is an act of trespassing. And “along” means 50 feet from either side of the tracks. Under the Railway Safety Act, it is a federal offence, and although fines vary by province, they can reach up to $10,000.  In short, it is illegal to use train tracks, whether inactive or active, as a shooting location without explicit permission from the railway company. It is also unsafe.

It's dangerous

According to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, in 2017 alone, there were 81 trespasser incidents, 53 fatalities, and 23 serious injuries on railway tracks. 

When you are at a train station, it is easy to see that trains are larger than the tracks by about one metre on each side. However, when in the field, we tend to forget that. When in a hurry, moving our heavy equipment a couple metres away may not happen quickly enough and we may not be far enough from the oncoming danger. But train tracks create an optical illusion just as the side mirrors on our cars: “trains are closer than they appear.” And remember, it can take up to two kilometres for them to come to a full stop.  
It’s cliché

Besides being unsafe, using tracks for our photos is also overdone. We as photographers can be more creative in finding romantic, edgy, leading lines for our portraits, images or artworks.  So, whether it’s a prom, graduation or any other special occasion, don’t use train tracks as a backdrop. Find a safe place—so you and your clients can live to take another picture.

For tips on how to take rail-safe photos check out Operation Lifesaver’s resources page