So imagine I said to you “Hey let me photograph your child doing doing something life threatening and incredibly illegal."  I’m pretty sure your response would be understandably less than polite.  I’m a dad and I totally get that.  But unfortunately I see photographers engaging in illegal activities and endangering their clients all the time.  Most of them don’t know what they're doing is illegal but ignorance doesn't make it any less dangerous.  What I’m talking about is taking photos on railroad tracks.

Now some of you out there may be thinking “What’s the big deal? Everyone does it!  In fact, right now you can type portraits and railroad tracks in Google and come up with thousands of photos of clients  on railroad tracks taken by professional photographers.  It’s so common it has become a cliche.   But common or not it’s deadly! I did a little digging and I found out that every three hours in the United States, someone is hit by a train.  Let that sink in...every three hours!  In fact railroad tracks rank as the world’s third most deadly place to take a photo, according to a January 2016 study by Priceonomics.  Still want to have your kids pose on a railroad track?

This time of the year we have a lot of our clients asking for photos on railroad tracks and our company's policy can be summed up in one word NO.  Safety is the main reason for that policy but if the personal safety of your loved ones doesn't do it for you then I can pull out the illegal card.  It is in fact illegal to be on a railroad track.  Those tracks are property of the railroads and  by hanging out on a track you are trespassing.  Anyone caught loitering on a railroad track can be ticketed or even arrested.  In my experience It’s really not good for business if your clients get arrested. So again our policy is to never photograph clients on railroad tracks.

Now I do want to say that in the beginning of my career I did photograph a few clients on tracks because I didn’t know any better.  But over the years I heard horrible stories about near misses and unfortunately fatalities of either photographers or their clients.  The more I asked around the more I realized that these stories we more common than I thought.  Here’s one that was covered by ABC news that unfortunately illustrates my point. 

I was horrified to realize how common this was and slightly ashamed that I in the early days of my career I endangered my clients in such a way.  So to make amends I decided to educate as many of my clients and fellow photographers about the dangers associated with train tracks.  That’s why I was thrilled to hear that the Professional Photographers of America (an organization I belong to ) has teamed up with Operation Lifesaver and is really creating an anti-railroad track movement within the photography community.  They’re helping photographers not only educate themselves but are giving us the tools to help us educate our clients as well.  Operation Life Saver is really doing great work and you can find their website here

So to wrap it all up…

If you're a photographer you owe it to your client to refuse if they request a train track photo session. It’s not safe and thanks to Operation Lifesaver you now have the tools to educate them on the dangers.  

To all of you Moms and Dads out there…

PLEASE do not allow your photographer to photograph your family on railroad tracks.  Let your photographer know you're not comfortable with it and if they persist walk away.  Get a refund and go find another photographer that actually cares about your family's safety.  

Thank you all for allowing me this soap box moment,

Daniel Troutman
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Daniel Troutman
Albany, OR

Daniel Troutman started his career in 1999, is an internationally published photographer. He began as a staff travel photographer, and is now runs a retail studio in Albany, Oregon. His images have been published by some of the largest agencies in the world, such as Newsweek, VH1 Music Television, The Food Network and Best Western Hotels.

Daniel Troutman
Albany, OR
Daniel Troutman, an internationally published photographer, started his career in 1999. He began as a staff travel photographer, and now runs a retail studio in Albany, Oregon. His images have been published by some of the largest agencies in the world, including Newsweek, VH1 Music Television, The Food Network and Best Western Hotels.