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How Technology Has Changed The Business Of Industrial Photography

THE INFLUENCE OF TECHNOLOGY ON PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY

In 1827 the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce introduced photography to the world. Photography has evolved from a science experiment to a fast paced digital platform. Starting with silver nitrate, copper and other chemicals, the process of developing photographs was much more complex than that of today’s digital routine of memory sticks and laptops. Don’t get me wrong. This profession is packed full of digital tasks challenging me to produce powerful industrial images for my clients and digital photography allows me to expand my services into 3D rendering and photo re-touching.

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The notable aspect of the technological influence on photography is how it is changing the profession. The demand for high quality professional photographs is diminishing, technology is shifting the way people perceive photography and technology has made digital photography more accessible. Every skilled and dedicated photographer knows the most expensive camera does not replace the value of professional experience or a pair of trained eyes.

Technology doesn’t create professionals

Take for example this comment from Barry Hayes, a 35 year old pro photographer in Vermont:

“We all started as amateurs. But some of us developed our craft and improved our art. And while technology may produce a camera that can make a technically perfect exposure, it cannot yet produce an artistically satisfying image or revealing portrait without the eye and mind of a skilled professional.”

Acquiring new business for professional photographers is more of a challenge than ever in the digital age. Businesses have adopted a “Do it yourself attitude” because it’s easy to access digital cameras and professional photographers are competing with point-and-shoot and smartphone cameras. Now is the time to show clients the potential in hiring a professional photographer. Professionalism extends beyond the images I create and leads into the fine details I put into every project. Professional photographers are those that put effort into bringing out the best of your company brand and push the envelope for every project. You hire a pro to visually connect your company and service to your audience.

Digital photography has become more widely accessible and improvements in technology are lowering costs of digital gear. As digital photography grows and taking pictures becomes a part of everyone’s life, the need for professional gate-keepers has vanished. I don’t fear the idea that everyone can have a digital camera. This is pushing the limits and keeping me accountable to deliver better work and bringing a new energy to the field.

Here is a snap shot of the widespread digital camera growth:

  • From 2005 to 2009, the use of camera phones in the United States grew from 41 billion to 141 billion
  • In 2000, the percentage of U.S households with at least one digital camera was 10%. This grew to 68% in 2008. In 2012 the percentage of U.S households with digital cameras was 84%.

With every evolving industry there comes new opportunities to expand your services and talents.  Many companies are beginning to use video to connect with their audience on an emotional level and the demand for video is growing. Creating the perfect scene to highlight the best aspects of your business is one of the most challenging parts of my job and video allows me capture high quality HD footage to pair with your company vision. As an industrial photographer it’s exciting to know that industrial activity was first depicted in photographs at the beginning of the 1850’s. These powerful industrial images have captured generations of progress and innovation spanning over 160 years but the professionals taking these pictures are now experiencing the change that comes with such progress. Professional photography is not dying, it is just evolving and I will remain persistent by not letting my ability to “capture” overshadow my passion to “create”.

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The Law Of Reflection In Industrial Photography

HOW TO PRODUCE POWERFUL INDUSTRIAL IMAGES WITH THE PERFECT LIGHT

Robotic arm at work in an aluminum foundry in Detroit

As an industrial photographer every project comes with many challenges to apply the perfect light to my subjects. Machines come in all shapes and sizes, factories are spacious and the lighting is not the most suitable for capturing professional pictures. It’s important to research your shoot location and prepare for the type of light in the facility to know the appropriate lighting equipment to bring. The law of light and reflection that apply to studio work are the same when your on set but you have to use certain techniques and utilize the environment in different ways.

Compared to shooting delicious plates of food and suited up executives, foundries and factories are not controlled environments and industrial photographers must work with the scene in its’ natural state. I have been exposed to a variety of industrial settings. From squeaky clean and sanitized laboratories to dirty mechanical factories safety gear is almost always required. As you approach your subjects and move about the area you must be cautious of moving equipment and employees at work. Eye protection is mandatory for the macro shots of electric equipment, sparks or liquids.

Here are 2 photos I took in a small foundry in western Ohio to show you the importance of eye protection and safety. I observe the area to get an idea of the shots I want then have to clean up and arrange elements to create the perfect scene. I always like to capture the action of the scene when I’m shooting people. 

The most common materials in factories just happen to be the hardest to photograph; pipes, gears, lathes, giant drill bits, valves and the list of metal and steel objects goes on. When your client requests a product shot that highlights their logo, you better reduce the glare and create evenly distributed light. These objects reflect everything.

SHOOTING REFLECTIVE OBJECTS

 “The law of reflection means that the angel of incidence equals the angle of direction. The angel that the light reflects the surface of the object equals the angel of the light being casted on the object.”

Taken in an aluminum Foundry in Detroit

This law certainly applies to shooting sparkling kitchen appliances like silverware and china. You need to focus on the light that is reflected off of the object and create the reflection you see in the object. It’s easier to control the reflection in a studio environment vs. being on set at the factory. Machines are much larger than forks and knives and more difficult to situate. Only Hulk can rotate 2,000 pounds of steel and arrange the perfect shot but his assistance isn’t always available…

Photographing shiny objects is an experimentation process. Try repositioning yourself around the object and test out different angles to get the shadows and light just right. Now that you know the science behind light reflection, here is a list of techniques to reduce glare and shadows on shiny industrial equipment while exposing the ambient natural colors and tone.

  • Set up your lights so they do not reflect any light on the object
  • If I have to use on camera flash I use a diffuser to soften the light on the object. I try to avoid this because natural directional light gives a a more realistic tone to the image.
  • I use a light tent in the areas where light is heavily distributed
  • Longer exposure is required when using indoor natural light so a tripod will be required

You need to avoid reflection in your photographs when the lighting is not suitable to capture the effect of shimmer and shine. On the other hand use reflection to bring out the best in your photos and brighten up your subjects.

Remember the light is not always in your control in large industrial settings and glare might show up even after you follow the above techniques. Here is guide for photoshop to eliminate glare and shadow that could not be avoided on the shoot.