I was reading this very thought provoking article by Levi Sim, Taking Street Photography Should Be Illegal, and it got me thinking about ethics with railway photography.
Levi’s article touches on some of the ethics of street photography, and taking photos of people without their permission. One key paragraph in his article talks about taking pictures versus making pictures.
Taking pictures implies that something is transferred from one person to another. One person gains and another loses. In this article by Jean Son, she talks about her experiences with street photographers in New York and how she feels violated by people voyeuristically taking her photograph without permission. The photographer has taken a photo, and also taken her sense of security.
Making pictures implies thought, consideration and planning. When making photographs with people in them, that speaks of permission and collaboration.
With the usual caveat that I am not a lawyer, in North America, generally you can photograph people when they have no expectation of privacy. If you’re standing on public property, generally you can photograph others who aren’t in a private place. So you can photograph pedestrians, people outside, even people out on their front lawns (probably… again, I am not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice), but you can’t stand on a sidewalk and photograph someone inside their house through a window.
Just because you can photograph someone or something, should you?
Legally, someone can go to a park and photograph kids that they’re not related to, but morally… they really shouldn’t, and they’re likely to get a lot of pushback and maybe get punched for it.
Everyone has to make their own choices.
Taking Photos of Train Crews
When we railfans take (make) photos of trains, often the crew are visible in the photo. Sometimes they are very visible – riding outside on the “front porch” of a locomotive, or on the ground throwing a switch – and sometimes they can be seen through the cab windows of an engine. Sometimes they are waving at us!
Is it OK to photograph them? Is it OK to share these photos online?
These are questions I’ve struggled with.
In recent years, I’ve noticed that many crew members clearly do not want to be photographed. I’ve seen conductors duck down below the cab windows or move to put the corner post between themselves and my camera. I’ve seen it more on CN than on CP but it’s pretty obvious that they don’t want their picture taken.
There’s that word again – take.
A few years ago, I decided that I won’t share identifiable photos of crew. I blur faces or I just don’t share them. Sometimes you can’t help but capture the faces of the crew – say when looking down on the locomotive from an overpass – so I blur the faces.
Photographing from behind works too.
Getting Crews in Trouble
Another thing you should be aware of is whether posting a photo of a train will get the crew in trouble. There are a lot of relatively minor “issues” that could get a crew in trouble.
In my times trackside, I’ve seen a few things like engines without headlights on (likely turned off for a meet and not turned back on again) and locomotives moving with the front door open for extra ventilation. These are against the rules, and posting these photos could get the crew in trouble.
You might say, “well, they should follow the rules,” and I guess you’d be correct, but is that really the right thing to do? I don’t think so.
I accidentally got someone in a little trouble by posting a photo. I’m not going to give any details except to say that I had no idea that there was anything being done incorrectly in the photo. As a railfan, I don’t know all of the rules that railway employees must follow. It’s so easy to share a photo that shows someone not following a safety rule exactly and not know it.
What To Do?
All I can say is to think twice before posting photos of train crews, and really think before posting anything that might get a train crew in trouble.
These women and men are just trying to do their jobs. We don’t need to make their jobs harder… or cause them to lose their jobs.
What do you think? Leave a comment!