Friday, April 8, 2016

Getting started in Industrial Photography

Finding clients in industrial photography is not difficult. Machine shops, manufacturing firms, scrap yards, shipping - there are lots of places where you can get your hands, and lighting gear, dirty. In companies under 50 employees you usually hear from the owner of the business. In companies over 50 employees it is usually someone in Marketing.

I shot the above video with a Canon 5D Mark II in the Long Beach / Los Angeles area.

Business list companies, small business data bases, business directories and manufacturing company data bases are a starting point. Agency Access and Adbase both have small lists of large companies with industrial photography work. You will need to have samples of industrial photography on your website or in your portfolio to get work. Ask some of your friends or family if you can shoot at their workplace, and get their boss' contact info. Offer to give them free advertising images in exchange for using their location.

If you have the skill, offering video in addition to still photography can make your photography business much more marketable. The biggest problem that still photographers encounter in creating good infomercials and business commercial shorts for and Vimeo is with clean, quality sound. A good boom mike on the end of a pole, or a lavalier microphone plugged into a $200 digital recorder will result in much better sound quality than an on-camera microphone will give, but you will have to "sinc" your sound later. Software like Adobe Premiere CC does this easily, and you will need editing software after the shoot. If you are doing interviews in a noisy environment, a lavalier microphone with a wire run up the subject's shirt and attached to their collar will sound much better than recording them with a microphone on the camera 10 feet away. 

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All industrial firms need a capabilities brochure or web presentation. They need pictures of their machines, employees, space, and finished products. You will have to make dirty, ugly, greasy machines look beautiful. You will need to make ragged, dirty, unwashed employees look like the noble workman. Making average, boring employees look like heroes is not easy, but you are a creative professional, right?
A typical one-day industrial shoot for a small company in Los Angeles would pay in the $1,200 to $2,400 a day range before the economy dropped, and should be similar by next summer. A large international firm with offices in various counties might pay as much as $5,000 - $10,000 a day or more to use the images internationally. Companies that are traded on the stock market are required to create an annual report, and some companies will pay over $100,000 on industrial photography in various countries to go in their annual report.

Lighting techniques:

Shooting a large space

I have done architectural photo shoots in high school gymnasiums, but I have shot in industrial spaces that would make six gyms. I did a shoot for a flooring company installing the super hard floors in an airline hanger. How can you light something like that? You focus on workers that are standing in beautiful available light coming in through doors.
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When I shoot a large space, I first do test shots with just available light. I look at the image and see where the dark areas are that need light, and where the interesting places are that need to be featured, and add light there as well. I might use from 7 to 15 lights to light a gym size space. Normally I want one or two lights splashing against the back wall, as this shows the size of the room. I might bounce 2 lights with standard reflectors off the wall behind me, as this will turn the entire wall into one huge softbox. Don't try this if the wall is not white or a neutral color. In addition to the two lights bouncing off the walls behind me, I want to lights with softboxes facing forward on either side of the camera, lighting the foreground. Then I will hide lights in hallways, behind machines, low on the floor, etc. and create pools of light throughout the room.

I use the existing light - sunlight, florescent, incandescent, mercury vapor, as fill. Yes, I know the color temperature may be different from my strobes, however I am going to color correct the RAW file in PhotoShop, and normally it looks pretty good. If you have a client willing to pay for your time to put color matching gels over your strobe heads, so much the better. Small clients usually will not pay for this, larger ones might. So I might pop the strobe, then leave the shutter open for an additional 1/4 second to 8 seconds, depending on the light levels and if there are moving people or machines or not. Eight seconds is plenty of time to create some cool blur effects, but only hip companies want that. Most want very conservative shots.
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I prefer to use mono light strobes for industrial photography, slaved together with a pocket wizard wireless control on each. Often the lights will be separated across a space of several hundred feet, and a power pack system or even two or three just is not as practical. I use ProFoto compact mono lights, both 600 and 1200 watt second.

Some industrial settings do not have electric outlets. Many construction sites, drilling, mining, etc. have no power. In these cases I use a battery powered strobe system. My battery system is 1,500 watt seconds, with two heads. It is fine for an outdoor portrait or small environment, but I would rent more packs if it were a larger space with no power.

Replacing dirty with pretty

A classic technique of industrial photographers is to add color where there is none, to make the shots more interesting. I often add blue and red gelled lights coming from opposite directions, and apply the lights to silver or grey machines. Magenta and blue work well, or magenta and purple. They look beautiful! Interesting, high tech, state-of-the-art instead of ugly, greasy and dirty.

A second method of making the ugly look good is asking the floor manager to have the employees clean a machine and floor around it to make it look good, then light the machine like a large product. There are often empty cardboard boxes on the floor, rags, metal shavings, grease, food wrappers, etc. You cannot make this trash look good by blasting flat white light at it. If the floor manager will not clean up an area, then you have to do a low key shot with lots of shadows, with a beautifully lit machine in the foreground, and lots of dark in the background.
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The worker is the movie star hero

There are several methods of making the worker look wonderful, even if they are wearing the same t-shirt that their daddy wore when he had this job.

1. Put the worker in silhouette. You can't see stained clothing if it is all dark. I often shoot with the sun in the picture for outdoor industrial shots. I show the worker and the machine he is on in silhouette, with a sunburst behind them both. Indoors, I will put a standard reflector on a light stand, sometimes with a gel, and backlight the machine and worker.

2. Make what the worker is doing look very dangerous. Use time exposures to get lots of sparks flying from grinders, show huge flames from torches, show light and smoke from wielding, etc. Pop the flash at the beginning or end of the exposure to freeze the worker, but use the time exposure to build up the drama. When editing these pictures, increase saturation by 12 to 20 percent to make the colors look more exciting.
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3. Spotlight the worker. Put softboxes on the lights that light the machine and to fill the light for the worker, but make your key light a 7" reflector with a grid. Try it with and without a diffusion gel over the light - you can use less fill if you add the diffusion, but the effect is less dramatic. Try to find someone attractive for a shot like this. In many industrial environments, every worker knows several jobs, so one can be exchanged for another when someone is out sick or on vacation. So pick your model, have them borrow someone else's hat, shirt or goggles if it makes them look better. You are responsible for making the picture look good, so take control. It is to the company's benefit if the pictures look good.
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4. Make the worker look like a mighty ruler. Shoot up at from the level of the worker's feet, using a wide angle lens to capture his environment.  The worker becomes awe inspiring, powerful, the king of the machine shop.
Often for a small company, I am the only photographer that will visit that year. So a photo shoot that is mostly industrial photography might also include an architectural shot of the front of the building, a few headshots or executive portraits of the management, or a group shot of all of the employees.  These will be the images that appear on their brochures and websites for the next year or two.
Don't be afraid to ask for a machine or area to be cleaned up, but use the chain of command. Always ask the floor manager or your client to have one of the employees to do it, don't ask the employee directly. Take lots of extension cables, one for each of your lights. Your lights may be spread all across the building. Plan on cleaning all of your cables after a shoot, as you will drag them through grease, dirt and guck. Dress in casual clothes that will allow you to get on the floor, behind machines, up on ladders or in other dirty, odd places to get a good camera angle.

Keywords: Los Angeles Industrial Photographers, Long Beach Industrial photography, Torrance machine shop photography, metal shops, machine shop photographers, Orange County, Burbank, Glendale, Hollywood, Culver City, Commerce, Warehouse, manufacturing, shipping, construction

#losangeles #industrial #photographers #photography #video #commercial #youtube #infomercial #production #lights #sound #manufacturing #metalwork #aerospace

Friday, January 15, 2016

Blake Shelton in a clothing commercial

The voice on the phone said that I would be photographing Blake Shelton, Country music star and judge on the TV show “The Voice” in an clothing commercial. During the shoot Mr. Shelton was fully clothed and was holding underwear in his hands, both packaged and dry cleaned underwear on a hanger. Who dry cleans their underwear anyway?
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See more images of Blake Shelton at

I was asked to photograph Blake Shelton during the production of a television commercial for Gildan underwear and socks. The set was a real dry cleaner shop in the downtown area of a suburb in Los Angeles. You can see the commercial at I have shot production stills on the set of a number of television commercials, including a two day shoot for Nescafe Dolce Gusto coffee makers with Mario Lopez, see I find being on a commercial production set exciting, with lots of people working hard together to make the commercial top notch. The teamwork is awesome!

See more images of Blake Shelton at

I photographed Blake Shelton in the dry cleaner shop full of video lights, crew and actors. Then on the sidewalk outside getting his makeup touched up, and in an empty shop next door in front of a white background. The shots done on the white background were the only ones where Mr. Shelton was being directed by me, the rest of the images were done with a number of broadcast quality video cameras pointed at him, directors and assistants. I asked Blake to hold his guitar as if he were playing it and to his side, then to sit in a chair and put his feet up on a table so that we could see the Gildan label on the bottom of his socks. He also did poses holding a package of Gildan underwear and with “his” underwear on a hanger in a dry cleaner’s clear plastic bag.

See more images of Blake Shelton at

I used a four head Profoto D4 lighting system, and put two lights pointed towards the white background, and two lights in medium softboxes pointed at Blake. The light bounced off the white background and reflected on his hair and shoulders, creating a “rim light” effect. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a Wal-Mart two months later, and saw my life size image of Blake Shelton holding a package of Gildan underwear on a point of purchase underwear display. I was proud as could be! The 60 megabyte file from my Canon 5 D Mark II held up very well at life size enlargement, I could not see any grain or pixels upon close inspection.

See more photography by Dennis Davis at

Mr. Shelton was a complete professional; he had his smile down pat. He was personable, friendly, and yet stayed focused on his work. What a great subject to be able to shoot! The production company provided a stand in, wearing the same colors and about the same size as Blake, so I had the lighting well adjusted when he said down. There were clients and art directors watching on a monitor in the next room, so I had to get it right quickly. The country singer looked so natural in front of the camera, laid back in the chair, with his guitar in hand and his socks displaying the Gildan brand. I think he is a good choice for the spokesperson for the company; he portrays a very confidant and masculine figure in front of the camera. For more images of Blake Shelton by Dennis Davis, see the website