5 Ways Industrial Photographers Can Get A Piece of Mind and Stay Safe On The Job.
Don’t be scared?
Scared about what?
Standing at what seems like a few yards from a 300 tonne ladle full of scalding hot molten steel with $4,000 worth of camera gear strapped around your waist?
Reading a safety guide about industrial photography for which you already know all the answers to?
Both, you may have replied.
Even though the first option is much more frightening, this safety guide is everything but boring. It’s more of snap shot of my personal experience working for industrial clients in some of the most insecure and dangerous environments.
As you know, the best pictures are those that capture life in the most realistic way possible. Spontaneous but planned. Candid but professional. I have my opinions on stock photography but that’s another story.
Pre Plot Your Exit Route
Believe it or not, the way you entered may not be the best way to exit in the case of an emergency, especially during facility operations. Many industrial facilities are obliged by law to implement safety exits and you need to know them.
- Prior to your shoot, walk the facility with the plant manager to cover all ground for safety.
- Although safety exit signs are lit up and salient, they may be hard to spot if they are hidden behind machinery or out of power.
- Confirm with the plant manager that all exits are safe and secure.
You don’t need to have a fire drill, but when danger strikes, follow the lead of the workers!
You’ve already made your professional impression at the pre production meeting but the work zone is no place for fashion, unless your taste in fashion is hard hats and steel toe boots.
I have my own hard hat and keep it on me for all industrial photography shoots but safety gear that is required by facilities must be provided for visitors. Grab a hat that has a small front brim and fastens tightly on your head to prevent obstructing your view and moving while you kneel and crouch.
I always wear a bright yellow shirt to make it easy for workers to spot me; “Caution, photographer on site, but lets pretend I’m not here!”
Steel toed boots. Strap em’ on, double tie the laces and tuck them inside the boots.
Pack Only What You Need
Once I flew to Louisiana for a shoot and had two checked bags full of gear and my carry on with my essential gear. (I’ve lost my bags a few times and recommend to keep your essentials by your side). I arrived on the jobsite and decided I only needed my carry on kit! The lesson to be learned is to always bring the whole kitchen sink to the job site and only use what you need. I need to be light on my feet.
For a peace of mind the next time you need to check bags full of expensive photography gear, place some kids stickers on the luggage and make it look as cheap as possible.
Know The Work Schedule of Your Environment
Typical operations of complex industrial facilities can include anything from gigantic equipment installations to normal day-to-day routines but when I’m hired to shoot specific operations like the installation of a new machine or the progress of a renovation project, the risk of danger is much higher.
Getting into the middle of ongoing operations can be extremely hazardous to your health — there is moving equipment that can easily crush people to death, potential chemical exposure, extremely high pressure, swinging crane loads, and so forth.
Once on a shoot at a sawmill I positioned myself four or five feet from a conveyor belt not realizing my shin was in front of an air pressure release valve. It released and startled me half to death but I carried on unharmed.
The industrial world follows strict maintenance schedules at precise times. You need to know where you can be at what time and for how long. Take a wind turbine field for example. I may climb the ladder of one turbine to capture an aerial view with a wide lens. In this situation, it’s good to know that turbines are programmed to begin generating electricity when the hub-height weight reaches 8 miles per hour and it’s better to know exactly where to read the wind speed.
Protect Your Gear!
My number one rule about my gear at industrial photo shoots is to not change lenses. Even though there may be a ventilation system in place, debris and dust are everywhere and I’d rather not take the risk of damaging my sensor.
If I have to change my lens I use a light tight film changing bag I still have from my large format film days.
Items and parts may appear harmless but they can be hot or toxic. there maybe Infrared / Ultraviolet Hazards. Catwalks and stairs can be uneven and I always check handrails for stability and avoid leaning on them. Always keep your gear as close to you as possible.
As an industrial photography there are no limits to what I can capture and my favorite part is learning about new and emerging industries. I’m looking forward to attend the Ohio Valley Regional Oil & Gas Expo at the end of April where I will be one of many guests eager to discover new opportunities for America’s energy independence.
Curious to what’s going on at this expo? Check out the video below!