Stay off the railroad tracks with that camera!

The Iowa State Fair just put their 2016 Photography Competition rules and regulations online.  Yes, you can enter it.  No, you don’t have to live in Iowa or have been born there.  Here’s a link.

Just one thing, though… if you plan on entering a picture or pictures in this competition…

Stay away from one specific subject matter.

It’s clearly stated in the rules.

“RAILROAD PHOTOS: Photos of people, including photographers, standing on railroad tracks or the right of way will be rejected.”


Now you’re thinking to yourself, “Come on now, what’s wrong with a photo of a train?  What’s the problem with photographing from a depot or a crossing?”

Saratoga and North Creek Railroad
The Saratoga and North Creek Railroad. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.


What the Iowa State Fair Photography Competition is trying to accomplish is to diminish the market for photos taken on railroad tracks or near railroad exchanges – for the safety of the photographers and their subjects.

I understand why people take photos ON train tracks.  They think it’s a great image.  There’s plenty of leading lines in the tracks themselves.

But the problem is, not every train track is abandoned.  Most train tracks are still in use today, and they’re private property.  You get caught on those tracks, you can get arrested for trespassing.  And that’s the least of your worries.

Trains are fast.  Faster than you can think.  And trains can’t stop if they see you.  Trains are designed to stop gradually.  They can’t stop on a dime to give you nine cents change.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always appreciated railroads and their power and their beauty.  But I’ve kept my photography to either tracks I know are completely abandoned (or are being converted into “rail trail” properties), or where I’m at a safe distance from any sort of trouble (as in photographing a railroad bridge from across the way).

And when the Iowa State Fair accepts photographs that were taken under dangerous conditions, then it encourages others to take unnecessary risks with their lives.;;playerWidth=630;playerHeight=355;isShowIcon=true;clipId=11594918;flvUri=;partnerclipid=;adTag=News;advertisingZone=;enableAds=true;landingPage=;islandingPageoverride=;playerType=STANDARD_EMBEDDEDscript_EMBEDDEDscript;controlsType=overlayCBS 58

Even the railroads themselves are doing what they can to dissuade people from taking pictures on their tracks. The Union Pacific Railroad created a series of public service videos and a website regarding photo safety.

Listen.  There are some amazing railroad photos out there.  I know several people who have created fantastic photos and images of locomotives rolling through the woods, the engine’s steam billowing in cloudy white puffs through the sky.  My friend Joe Geronimo has several excellent railroad photos on his website.

What I’m trying to say in today’s blog post is … be safe.  Don’t risk your life for a photograph.  Know that if a train hits you, it will kill you.  And taking a photo ON the tracks is a very dangerous proposition.

It’s not worth entering a contest for it.

And that’s where the Iowa State Fair’s photography competition made the right decision.