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. 

See for more images

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


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thank you for sharing your detailed insights! Some very good tips presented!

    Cheers from Montreal.
    Frederic Hore

  3. Tried to message you as would like to offer you publication of this in a specialist magazine. Seem to be unable to message you.

    1. Email

    2. Email

  4. My how the world of Industrial Photography has changed since my days of being an Industrial and Architectural Photographer, as well as a Works Photographer in the heady 1960s and 1970s!

    "Machine shops, manufacturing firms, scrap yards, shipping" and lots of other places, all sound so familiar, and yes, may of them indeed were "places where you can get your hands dirty", but "lighting gear.....dirty"? or dressing "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"? Never! as we always wore smart clothes (our bosses always wore suits (yes, suits) when working on any job, even in situations when and where concrete was being poured within inches of us and our equipment!

    Overall though, a most interesting insight into Industrial photography in the 21st century, so thank you very much for sharing your experience and suggestions, even though such things as "softboxes"? "strobes"?"RAW file"? "PhotoShop"? "mono light strobes"? "slaved"? "a pocket wizard wireless control"??? "power pack system"?" ProFoto compact mono lights"? and/or "blue and red gelled lights"?? may as well be a foreign language to this retired 70yr old who primarily worked in Monochrome, using a Gandolfi whole-plate (cut film) camera (always tripod mounted 'cos of its weight), Photoflood lightbulbs in Reflectors (on tripod stands), where light from the Reflectors was either 'bounced', 'directed', or 'painted', and where the only 'manipulation' of images, post-processing, involved the use of 'red opaque liquid' on negatives, or (when making contact prints),cutting out 'masks' from, or pencil shading on, tracing paper, before placing the negative above a panel of 64 small light bulbs (each of which could be either swithed on or off), and then a rheostat to control the light intensity - and all that before a single (test) print was made!

    But then, I wonder how many of today's Industrial and Architectural Photographers could process 100 at a time (x 5) prints in a developer bath, getting them all evenly developed, before 'stopping' the process, and finishing their development in a bath of fixing solution? let alone individually glaze each print, stamp same, and then deliver to the Client within hours of taking the photograph?!

    Yes, not only has colour replaced monochrome, digital replaced 'grain', and modern supplanted 'old', but as one who now operates a smartphone that besides making/taking calls, is also an all-singing, all-dancing magic-box, the ability to take photos with the same device and send them all over the world in a fraction of a second via Social Media (and all from a device that's not that larger, 'though certainly much flatter, than one of the lenses we used to use, let alone it weighing not much more than a couple of the sheets of film we used to use!) I'm not too certain whether my Photographic career was better in the 1960s, or in today's digital age.

    (After cogitating on the latter, I've decided. Industrial and Architectural, plus Commercial was much more 'fun' and 'accurate' in the days of yore, even without the ability to immediately see (and then 'tweak') each image, and if the equipment (even if 50-odd years ago it might then have appeared archaic) was very heavy and needed several people to carry everything, because everything from back then, lasted, and - in my opinion (simple though it may be) - will still be in existence in 100+ years time, but digital???

    Thank you for a great article, and for bringing memories from my past to the fore once again, and if you ever want to know "how it was done in the old days", well, you now know where I am!

    Cheers from the UK
    John C Algar