May 22, 2013

Misty Watson: The wrong side of the tracks

Misty Watson

— Nothing says “I love you family” quite like taking your spouse and children out to the railroad tracks for some photos.

Hurry and line them up. You never know when that train whistle will sound from around the bend causing you to scramble and leap from the tracks.

Who can blame you? The leading lines are irresistible.

But please try to resist the urge to lie across the tracks, to stand on the tracks, to do handstands on the tracks, or whatever you’re up to. Not only are you trespassing when walking onto the tracks, you’re risking your life.

Reports from the Federal Railroad Administration for 2012 show that Georgia ranks No. 9 for having the most trespassing-related fatalities with 14. California was No. 1 with 74 deaths.

Train tracks are private property. They are not public property, which means you’re not allowed to stand on them for family photos, or your senior photos or your wedding photos.

Yet, photographers continue to take clients there.

My husband Chris and I had a few engagement photos done on the tracks back in 2004; the photographer’s idea. They were weird and awkward, and didn’t capture our personalities. We’re not hobos. We don’t make a habit of hanging out on the railways.

I didn’t speak up about not doing them because I admire and respect the photographer.

Then when I started running my own part-time photography business, I also got photos of a couple on the railroad tracks — once, by request. (Any other photos of mine that feature tracks were shot at Prater’s Mill on the small section of track the caboose sits on.)

Now I simply refuse to put myself or another in danger for a cliché photo.

I even come to a complete stop at railroad crossings, even if there are crossing arms. (And by the way, if I’m on East Morris Street, I will wait on the person in front of me to get at least most of the way over those tracks before I start over. So you can ease up on my bumper all you want, but it’s not going to make me budge any faster.)

An organization called Operation Lifesaver is designed to educate people on railroad safety in an effort to end collisions, deaths and injuries along the railroads. In a news release recently, Joyce Rose, president and CEO of the organization, was quoted, “We know that photographers seek creative portrait settings ...”

I hardly think railroads are creative portrait settings. Actually, I’m moving toward wanting to get people in their natural habitat, in the home (or their cow pasture) more than at a local park.

Railroad photos are as bad as selective coloring. (Why are you still doing that to photos?!) They were both last popular more than 10 years ago. You might as well be superimposing people’s faces in wine glasses again. Who still has one of those photos hanging on their walls?

Photography is about capturing a moment and telling a story.

Don’t let that story be another person was killed on the train tracks. No photo is worth your life.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a photographer and staff writer for The Daily Citizen. You can tell her how awesome you think railroad photography that is all black and white except for a pair of red cowboy boots is by emailing her at or friending her at