Portraits On Railroad Tracks? Bad Idea.

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Portraits on railroad tracks are very popular. I’ve seen many high school seniors mention this as a location of preference. And while I am always up for a creative challenge, when it comes to compromising the safety of myself or my clients, I just have to say no.

Portraits on railroad tracks? No way! Incorporate the railroad tracks into the portrait? That’s another story.

Why No Portraits on Railroad Tracks?

So, there you have it. Now you know my limits. I won’t photograph portraits on railroad tracks, no matter how much a client begs. Why? Well, first of all, it is dangerous. The tracks are in use by trains, and there have been unfortunate incidents in the news of people getting stuck on the tracks when a train is coming. I don’t want to play any part in my clients getting injured, maimed, or even killed by a passing train. And, similarly, I don’t want to get hurt myself.

Secondly, the railroad tracks are privately owned. You can get fined for being on them — something that I have seen enforced. Walking along the railroad tracks, or doing portraits on railroad tracks, it doesn’t matter. What’s more, if you do find a photographer willing to take portraits on railroad tracks, you have a permanent photo record of the fact you were trespassing on private property. So it’s not like you can claim you weren’t there…you were.

Are Safe Portraits on Railroad Tracks Possible?

Nope, no such thing according to the railroad officials. But, despite my policy of never doing portraits on railroad tracks, I do have my ways of including railroad tracks as an element in the portrait.

I am willing to photograph portrait sessions near the railroad tracks, with them as a background element.

There are parks, public land, and other areas that the tracks pass through. I’m comfortable setting up a portrait *near* the tracks, but at a safe distance so that *if* a train were to pass by, no one would be in the way. These types of portraits “on” railroad tracks work best for high school seniors, or families with older kids — old enough to know not to run out onto the tracks. Again, I don’t want to have that responsibility of knowing my clients received an avoidable injury.

Safety is always my number one priority. Art never trumps safety. That mentality could prove deadly.

The family portraits below were taken near the tracks, close enough that the railroad tracks are a prominent element — but far enough away that no one would be in danger were a train to come by (more on that concept of “far enough away” later).

Family Portrait in front of railroad tracks and train station

Family Portrait at Dexter Train Station near Train Tracks

I don’t like to be one for pessimism, but I do want to share several news stories with you that illustrate the seriousness of not doing portraits on railroad tracks. It’s not as simple as “I’ll be able to get off the tracks in time.” There are many factors you can’t account for, variables that could prove deadly. After all, a train is much bigger than a person.

News Reports of Railroad Track Photography Incidents

Train Accident Kills Crew Member of Gregg Allman Biopic

A second camera assistant was killed Thursday afternoon when a freight train struck and killed her on the set of the Gregg Allman biopic “Midnight Rider,” sources confirm to Variety. Four other people were injured in the accident, one seriously. […] the movie crew was filming a dream sequence on a railroad trestle when a train unexpectedly crossed the bridge.

Photographer Killed While Taking Pictures of an Oncoming Train

Tragedy struck Sacramento, California this past weekend after a photographer and high school art teacher was killed while taking pictures of trains.” [There was a second set of tracks, the photographer was hit by a second train]

Operation Lifesaver urges […] stay safe, stay away from train tracks

[in 2012] more than 800 people were injured or killed while trespassing on railroad property in the U.S., according to preliminary Federal Railroad Administration statistics.

Really, that’s just a sampling of headlines. There are more news stories like this out there. But enough of that. Let’s move onto the safety aspects.

Safety Tips You Might Not Know About Trains

Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit seeking to end collisions, deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and along railroad rights of way. The organization has some safety tips about trains that you might not know:

  • Trains can’t stop quickly to avoid people or vehicles on the tracks.
  • An optical illusion makes it hard to determine a train’s distance from you – and its speed.
  • The average train overhangs the track by at least three feet.
  • Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and rights-of-way are private property.
  • No tracks should be assumed to be abandoned or inactive.

While at a Thomas the Train event last year, we actually walked by an Operation Lifesaver booth; my son enjoyed learning a little about the trains from the volunteer, and he liked the coloring book and keychain he received. If you have little ones, make sure to check out Operation Lifesaver for Kids. There are coloring pages, activity sheets, word searches, and the like. I’m always a fan of making learning fun :).

Portraits Near Railroad Tracks

I have to admit that while doing my research for this blog post, I learned some things myself about the technicalities and legalities of taking portraits near railroad tracks.

While I knew that trains overhang the tracks, I didn’t realize that the average train extends three feet or more past the rails.

In these final examples of portraits I’ve done near railroad tracks, I did my best to accommodate my client’s desire to be photographed at a certain railroad bridge within a public park (but not on the trestle). No portraits on railroad tracks, no portraits on the trestle – but portraits with the tracks as an element of the image. That is the kind of portrait I am happy to create for clients. A creative — yet safe — portrait.

Senior Portrait On Location - Near Train Tracks

Senior Portrait On Location - Near Railroad Tracks

Wrapping Up

So there you have it. It’s not just a matter of “I’ll be able to get off the tracks in time.” Many people have gotten stuck on the tracks – able-bodied individuals who thought they could get off the tracks.

Safety comes first, and doing portraits on railroad tracks is just plain not safe. Besides, it’s illegal… tresspassing on private property.

If you want to learn more about Operation Lifesaver, you can visit their website: www.oli.org. You can also find them on various social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Business Portraits That Look Natural

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Here are some business portraits from a recent studio session. Plus, at the end of this post, I’ve shared tips on why it’s important to be yourself for your professional headset, and how to get a business portrait that looks natural. That being said, I love it when my clients come back for more portraits! Aside from getting to photograph them again, it is lovely to see familiar faces and find out how life is going. Here are a their business portraits, taken in studio:

Ann Arbor Business Portraits + Headshot Photographs Read More

Foul Weather + Rescheduling Sessions

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With all the foul weather and thundersnow we’ve had lately, I figured a blog post with some foul weather photography tips was in order.  A bit later on in this post, I’ll also cover some situations for which we usually reschedule portrait sessions.  We don’t want to be out in foul weather photographing any more than you want to be exposed to that foul weather.

Now, first let me digress to the topic of thundersnow.  Anyone enjoying the thundersnow and lightning we’ve had the past 24 hours? We were inside and didn’t hear the daytime thundersnow, but Toby did wake up last night because of the lightening. Despite getting my son to agree a combination thunderstorm and snowstorm was pretty cool, he still wanted the lightning to stop.  In case you haven’t been privy to the lovely foul weather that is called thundersnow, here’s a brief video on the phenomenon:

Let me also say, we were out driving during part of today’s foul weather.  It was interesting to see the snowplows pushing waves of icy water off to the side of the road.  Lots of big puddles, slushy snow-water, and other runoff.  I will be curious to see how the weather plays out the next few days.  Despite our best efforts at beating this foul weather, we couldn’t keep up with all the snow, slush, and ice on our driveway.  Hopefully it will be warm enough (or at least sunny enough) to melt the ice-skating rink in progress on our driveway tonight.

When Should I Cancel My Session Due to Foul Weather?

If it’s stormy out, I always reschedule my location sessions, no questions asked. I don’t want to be out in that weather any more than you do. Weather can definitely become a safety concern. The lighting and camera equipment I use is pretty much a giant sign saying “lighting please strike here.” Now, I will add one exception — once-in-a-lifetime events like weddings.  For weddings, I’ll go with the flow, according to the bride and groom’s alternate weather plans (which usually take foul weather, thunderstorms, etc into consideration).

But for portrait sessions? It is definitely smarter to plan on doing the session another day.  Or, if the portraits “must” be done by a certain date, there’s always the option of switching to a studio portrait session.  I rarely have to resort to this second option, though.  About 99% of the time we can find a fair weather day for rescheduling a portrait session that had to be cancelled due to inclement weather.  Sometimes I do have clients interested in getting a “stormy sky” look, but please know we can achieve that going out during foul weather. If there are clouds in the sky, we can do some neat things.

Senior Portrait With Stormy Skies | Foul Weather

Our Guidelines for Proceeding with a Session during Foul Weather

Some types of foul weather that we reschedule portrait sessions for include:

  • thunderstorms/thundersnow and lightning
  • heavy rain or downpours
  • winter weather warnings/advisories, including extreme cold
  • excessive heat warnings/advisories, including extreme heat/humidity
  • tornado watches/warnings
  • extreme fog

We typically proceed with portrait sessions on a “play it by ear” basis for not-so-foul weather, such as:

  • snow flurries
  • isolated rain showers

Winter Portrait in the Snow | Not-So-Foul Weather

In short, if you’re concerned about the weather having a negative impact on your portrait session, please get in touch with us. Call, email, text… let’s discuss the weather so you can be confident as we make the safe choice for your portrait session.  Foul weather may ruin our chances for your portrait session to occur on a given day, but it will NOT ruin your overall portrait experience.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry.  If the weather is bad, let’s call it and plan for another day!

Finally, let me share some resources that I rely on when checking the weather.

Obviously, none of these are foolproof, and there has been a time or two when we’ve rescheduled a session, expecting foul weather — and it turned out to be a false alarm. But those instances are few and far between. Usually when we play it by ear, we can agree to decide a few hours beforehand whether it looks wise to proceed with your portrait session or not.

“Foul Weather” Nature Photography Tip:

From a nature and landscape photography point of view… if you choose to take photographs of storms or want to venture out during foul weather, please exercise care and make sure you are not being reckless about your safety. Sure, it would be awesome to capture a time lapse photo of the lightning storm going on.  But, that photograph won’t mean much if you’ve been injured in taking it. It would be far safer to photograph a storm from inside a building, or even sitting in a car in a parking structure (remember, rubber wheels?).  After all, who wants to be caught on the ground holding onto a tripod turned lighting rod?

Safety first…then art second!

Foul Weather Winter Snowstorm | Fine Art Nature Photograph

Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Portrait Photographer

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What to ask when hiring a portrait photographerYou may be wondering, “how do I hire a portrait photographer?” Or maybe, more specifically, “what should I look for when choosing a photographer?” While there are many different answers to these questions, the important thing is to give questions like these some thought before working with any portrait photographer. Obviously, we’d like to be the perfect fit for your portrait needs, but we recognize our style and approach is specific — photography portraits are not always one-size-fits-all. Generally, the more experienced a portrait photographer, the more flexible they will be in creating portraits that meet your needs and vision. Of course, along with that talent typically comes a correlating price.

When it comes to quality, you get what you pay for. If you are looking for bottom dollar, then you may need to be willing to sacrifice on quality and creativity. But, if you are able to invest accordingly, it really is possible to plan ahead and have your portraits turn out as creative and as good as you expect and deserve.

So, what are some things to consider before working with any portrait photographer? Read More

Simple Portraits are Best

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From time to time I create so-called “simple” portraits, like this one below.  Usually they are for clients in need of a new professional headshot portrait — either for their website, business card, or even a networking site.  Sessions like this are quick and painless; the whole thing almost always takes well under an hour.  And who wouldn’t want to give up an hour of their busy schedule in return for a wonderful portrait that really captures your personality in a professional way?

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Maternity Portrait

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As promised, here is one of the maternity portraits that my little assistant helped me create in the studio.  I’ve not been one to keep track of which week or trimester I’m in this time around; that must be due to the busy life of mothering a toddler in addition to running my studio.  Anyways, the “calendar” I consulted puts me at around 18 weeks (mid-second trimester).  Toby is excited to be a big brother and keeps checking on baby: “baby is drinking and eating.”  Yup, likely the case.  Sort of.

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Sports Car Senior Pictures

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It’s hard to believe Paul is finally a senior… maybe that’s why I’ve put off posting his portraits? At any rate, I’ve had the privilege to do senior pictures for his older siblings, and the neat thing about all three of their sessions (see Kathleen’s senior pictures here; Doug’s aren’t even on this blog!) is that they have a common theme — We did a canvas wall portrait for each session featuring each of the kids with the car. Here are all three siblings with their respective car senior pictures. I love how these look together, don’t you?

We started off in the studio, then went to two parks for the outdoors portion of Paul’s pictures.

Senior Portraits at Pioneer (and UM) Stadium

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Brad is a senior at Pioneer High School, and since he plays football, we made certain to incorporate that into his senior portraits. So, off we went to Pioneer High School’s football stadium for the outdoors portion of Brad’s session. Unfortunately, the gate was locked, so we had no access to the field. Despite that, we still ended up with a wonderful senior picture that included a view of the scoreboard and such — through the gate. I actually really love how it turned out!

We also included the humongous Block M sign from the University of Michigan Stadium in Brad’s senior photos… (in case you’re wondering, UM has long since limited access to the interior of the stadium, probably for security reasons).

And a search for fall colors proved difficult, but we managed to locate a stand of trees over by Vet’s Park. I think it turned out pretty nicely, especially considering we ended up driving around looking for “fall colors” as the planned spots weren’t particularly colorful.

Finally, we also did some more traditional portraits back at the studio…. for the yearbook.

Tommy’s Senior Portraits (Dexter HS)

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We did Tommy’s senior pictures at the start of school (can’t believe time flies so quickly! Even though it was fall, the leaves hadn’t started to turn yet, so Tommy’s portraits have lovely vivid greens for the outdoors portion of his senior session.

And as I wrap up writing this blog post for my nephew, I really can’t believe it’s been two years already since his brother, Ben (my oldest nephew), was getting his senior pictures done. Time really does fly.


Finn’s Insurance Executive Portrait

posted in: Notes, Photography | 0

I recently was able to create a combination family and executive business portrait for Finn’s Insurance. We created a business portrait with four of the five Finn brothers and their father, and then by adding in the fifth brother we were also able to create a great gift for their mom. Here is the business portrait for Finn’s Insurance:

Doing dual-purposed portraits is actually a common request for me. Frequently my business professional clients love their headshot portraits so much that they ask about ordering a few prints to give as gifts. I love it!

Family Portrait Album

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Now that the design is finished, I wanted to share this family portrait album with you! Typically I will also design a full color cover for portrait albums, which looks really gorgeous on display. This slideshow only highlights the album pages, so here is a peek at the cover design. Keep in mind, the left side of this image is the back cover, and the front cover is on the right side.

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Welcoming a New Baby

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It is always wonderful when I can be a part of welcoming a new family member. Sometimes my clients bring in tiny newborns, and sometimes life is so crazy that I get to meet the babies when they are a couple months old. Either way, I love creating these family portraits because the portraits are a celebration of change and growth — family growth! Here are some portraits from a recent family session. We created a whole range of portraits, including both family groupings and individual newborn-esque portraits. I love sessions like this!


Getting Bigger!

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While we have been keeping up to date with my own toddler’s portraits, I haven’t had time to share them with you before now. So, here we are — this series was from a few weeks ago; it’s interesting to see how quickly they change.

One of his new favorite toys (thanks in part to his cousins, both here and in Chicago) — trains.  Thomas or otherwise, this kiddo is enthralled by all things train.  Or anything with wheels, wings, or propellers for that matter.

And since someone was getting a little antsy (i.e. jumping off the stairs towards the end of our session) — I decided to step out from behind the camera and let my assistant take a portrait of both of us.  I love this one.  (shh… don’t tell but I was tickling him to get such a big grin).

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