Getting the shot – Industrial Photography

“ The practice of photography in Canada closely parallels the development of its industries. As railroad tracks were laid and bridges were built to allow access to remote forests and mineral-rich territories, photographers followed, as they did when mining and lumber interests developed.” 1

Today industrial photography covers a wide variety of the manufacturing world including factories, machinery, and oil and gas development sites. It is hard work as it requires stamina, imagination and to some degree fitness. The good photographers know the ins and outs of industrial shoots and look forward to the experience of getting out of the studio. Going on location can mean climbing ladders, standing in the hot sun, and hiking through rough terrain to find the perfect spot for the perfect shot.

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The first priority is to understand what the client does so you can showcase using your best photography. The client’s objectives are critical and understanding them will ensure their cooperation. Some remote locations mean that you cannot do a site inspection first. You have to show up with all of the right gear and make it work.

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Finding that unique angle or cinematic vantage point for the perfect shot is what you are after. While working outdoors and onsite is an exciting change from studio work, it has a few challenges. Here are some tips on the process and some advice from David Watt, with industrial clients in Calgary, Western and Northern Canada and Wyoming and North Dakota in the US.

  • Preparation and planning go hand in hand with client commitment. This involves understanding the client’s imagery needs and the ability to work with on-site contacts. Working directly with the site contacts as well as the corporate contact before and after will ensure a successful shoot.
  • Be realistic as to the number of different sites you are going to visit on a daily basis and work closely with your client in identifying the best sites and to minimize travel time between sites. A great site can provide a plethora of diverse and stunning images.
  • Time of day can also be critical in capturing that key shot.  It’s best to shoot early morning, at dusk, or even at night, as those times typically provide the most dramatic and beautiful images.
  • Quality over quantity. Great images take more time.  Work with your client on targeting 15 – 20 great shots from a shoot rather than 50 average images. 
  • Light and efficient is the way to go. It’s great to be able to have all of your equipment on hand for a shoot. However, industrial sites usually involve much moving around on rough terrain, up and down narrow metal staircases, and shooting in very confined spaces. In most cases a few strobes and a handful of light modifiers will suffice. Portable power is a must.
  • Safety First. Industrial sites can be very noisy and dangerous. You need to be outfitted in the proper gear to meet guidelines. Hard hats, steel-toed boots, and safety glasses are often required; sometimes even gloves and fire retardant coveralls. It is also very helpful to obtain all your safety certifications prior to shooting in the field.
  • Fieldworkers are your best resource. They make great models, as they are very comfortable in their environment and take great pride in their work. Get to know their names and responsibilities.  Try to minimize the amount of time you take them away from their duties. Ensure they are wearing clean coveralls and be certain that they have regulation safety gear on.   

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Getting the shot involves planning, experience and expertise. Industrial photography is an exciting and dynamic field with some of the most beautiful photographic images to be found. 

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Images and tips supplied by David Watt, an Alberta-based photographer whose clients include oil and gas companies, architectural firms and interior designers to name a few.  More images can be found at  www.davidwattphotography.com 

  1. http://www.ago.net/songs-of-the-future-canadian-industrial-photographs-1858-to-today

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