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Personal Experience

4 Ways Industrial Photographers Can Take Their Careers To New Heights

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1. Get Your HUET (Helicopter Underwater Escape Training) Certification

It’s not everyday that you wake up and realize how awesome a birds-eye-view of the world really is until you’ve seen it for yourself. I guess you could say this perspective is addicting (if you could only imagine the view from space) and that there’s no wonder why so many pilots enjoy their office 40,000 feet in the air.

But not all is bright when you put your faith in just a few blades spinning at 500 RPM and there has already been 20 helicopter accidents in the first quarter of 2014. However, compared to the number of helicopters flying, these stats are not intimidating. Especially considering the fact that we are terrestrial creatures and shouldn’t be doing this in the first place!

The HUET course is designed for “Personnel who are required to regularly travel by helicopter over water” and it takes just one day to complete. 

As most industrial photographers know there are a few laws to obey and this one should not be ignored. Essentially, the HUET certification is a photographers gateway to “explore a new angle”.

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What are the opportunities out there for industrial photographers with the HUET certification?

Let’s first define the two types of aerial photography; oblique and vertical.

Oblique aerial photography is the process of taking pictures from an angle to provide a sense of definition and depth while vertical as the name implies, includes photographs from a direct birds eye view looking straight down on the subject.

Oblique photography is often used for advertising and promotion work, aerial construction progress reports and for commercial and residential property land up for sale. On the contrary, vertical photography fits in for mapping projects, farm evaluation and scientific studies such a flood risk assessment and so on.

Although I have done aerial photography over land, the main reasons to obtain the HUET certification is to allow me to do offshore work. Personally, I am not HUET certified but it’s definitely in the pipeline.

2. Join Various Oil and Gas Groups and Other Industry Related Organizations

Industrial photographers in the midwest region have access to a growing number of oil and gas groups that are just starting to realize their full potential. Oil and gas groups such as the Illinois based Midwest Energy Partners are constantly seeking available minerals and geological zones with the ability to produce commercial levels of oil and gas. These new ventures raise the demand for professional industrial photography, especially specific types such as aerial. Refining natural oil and gas is a long process which presents photographers with more chances to get in on the action. It’s important to understand the production cycle of the various gas and oil products such as methanol, solvents, greases, diesel fuel and more. There’s a time and place to capture everything behind the scenes and that’s the job of an industrial photographer.

3. Attend Trade Shows Related To Industrial Manufacturing Per Year

Even though social media has become a popular and useful method of networking, trade shows payoff of in the short run and are much more fun. Trade shows are the perfect platform for engaging in face to face communication and staying up to date on new technology and industry standards.

When I attend a trade show I always wear a safety green shirt with a QR code on the back that directs people to my website. Following the trade show I dive into my site analytics to see how much website activity I receive.

During the trade show I’ll also upload images to instagram and then repurpose them on my other social media accounts. Curating this content is a great way to reach out to everybody involved in the trade show and it’s a great way to stay in touch with new contacts.

I am planning on attending The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in September which is one of the largest industrial trade shows in the world, featuring 1,900 exhibitors and 100,000 visitors. The event is held every two years at McCormick Place, Chicago.

4. Show Off On Social Media, Don’t Just Show Up

Creating your accounts and inviting all your friends to like your pages is the easy part. The challenge is maintaining a consistent presence and engaging with thought leaders and industrial manufacturing related groups. Hashtags have proved to be the best way to turn leads into likes by pushing out photos and blog posts with #industrialmanufcaturing and #photography related tags.

  • Use hashtags to connect with your industry by tagging your content with hashtags that are trending and related to your field.
  • I usually add new images to Flickr and Pinterest 2 to 3 times a month. And repin other peoples pins 2 times a month.
  • I spend time on Twitter each day posting 3 tweets.

#industrialPhotographerFC

Of course I’m on instagram and here is my first selfie.

In the end, the most important part of being an industrial photographer is to remind myself why I started this profession in the first place. Never lose sight of why you started something and always look for ways to be better at what you love doing.

As an industrial photographer I enjoy capturing everyday life and communicating the way in which society sustains itself.

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The Industrial Photography Safety Guide

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5 Ways Industrial Photographers Can Get A Piece of Mind and Stay Safe On The Job.

IndustrialPhotographer (1)

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?

Or

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.

Utilitylight

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!

Dress Accordingly

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.

MilesLumber

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.

InstalingSawBlade

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.

WeldingItems 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!


Industrial Photography Laws, Through My Lens

I live by the philosophy that’s it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. However, this philosophy only turns out for the better when you know your rights and boundaries as a photographer. Take for example the time I reached out to the staff of an industrial manufacturing trade show and was declined to photograph the event although the event was public.

Of course everyone there was tappy happy on their smart phones capturing everything and the chances were slim that I would’ve been detained for bringing my camera. So I decided to grab a few video clips. Did I make the right choice to ask the staff prior to the event?

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It’s important for industrial photographers to understand the basic laws that impact our work and I understand if you fell asleep in ethics class. We’d rather take pictures than read books about law, right?

Cops and cameras are a suspicious combination and 90% of the time photographers aren’t out there to break laws while on the job but sometimes we skirt the boundaries in order to capture those atypical images.

Here’s a look at the laws through my lens told from personal experience.

There’s No Stopping Me On Public Property

I was once threatened by a police officer while doing street photography when I lived in Pittsburg. This was even prior to 9/11 and I was shocked. Although you have the right to photograph anything in plain view when standing in a public space, you may be confronted.

  • Federal Buildings, Railroad Stations, Airports and other transportation facilities can be photographed from a distance while standing in public property.
  • Telephoto lenses may attract attention from law enforcement and if ever confronted, be polite and understanding.
  • Police may not confiscate your camera, SD cards or film in any circumstance without court order, on public or private property.
  • Your right to take pictures in public spaces is protected under the first amendment. Big Brother is watching the public, but the public is able to watch Big Brother.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. ~ Benjamin Franklin

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Moving Beyond Public Spaces

There has been a recent widespread phenomenon about revealing the truth behind what we eat. Documentary filmmakers are going behind the scenes of some of the largest factories and manufacturing plants in the United States to tell their stories.

There is a balance between the stories we want to tell and the laws we must obey and the magic happens somewhere in the middle. 

On the industrial manufacturing side, I’m usually asked to sign a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA). Even though I usually retain the copyright, I need permission to publicly show some of the work. Manufactures are always worried about disclosing trade secrets and reverse engineering.

Did you know?… British and American forces noticed that the Germans had gasoline cans with an excellent design. They reverse-engineered copies of those cans which were popularly known as “Jerry cans”.

Once on a shoot in Toledo the client needed images to show the facility capabilities but without revealing machines in action. In response to this dilemma, we took an inventive approach and ended up shooting abstract and detailed images. 

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Photographers are entitled to express their opinions and share their stories to educate, communicate and fuel business endeavors. There are laws that impact every choice we make in some way or another and we live within a constructed and developed society that embraces freedom of speech.