INDUSTRIAL PHOTOGRAPHY
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Industrial photography is a term that can broadly be classified into the following categories:

  • Automotive
  • Steel
  • Moulding
  • Casting
  • Ancillary
  • Chemical
  • Plastic
  • Rubber
  • Glass
  • Etc. etc.

Each of the above is subdivided further into various categories. One needs to understand, that all industries are unique in nature and pose unique challenges that are to be understood and dealt with effectively, in order to be successful.

It requires years of first hand experience to master this most challenging area of photography.

The stalwart of Indian Industrial Photography “Mitter Bedi” was responsible for creating awareness amongst industrialists and photographers about the specialization in this field. He stood head and shoulders above the rest in his days when Industrial photography was in its infancy and little known in the Indian subcontinent.

This field is so challenging and daunting, that most photographers of today shy away from it. There are very few photographers who are still pursuing this field with zeal and enthusiasm.

Objectives of Industrial photography

Industrial photography is used for various purposes and one needs to understand the application of these photographs before starting the assignment.

The photographs can be used for the following

Let me take you through each of the above

Website:

Most company’s use photos in their website for global marketing and one needs thorough understanding of norms followed by similar industries. For example, when I am shooting for JCB India, I have to follow the norms and styles of photography that are dictated by the central head of design based in UK. The company has a global presence and photos appearing in all their sites have to have a common feel.

Brochure:

Company brochures are used for mailing and trade fairs where many competing and associated and ancillary industries take part on common premises. Here the objective is to present the visitors with an overview of the company, its products, strengths in manufacturing processes, infrastructure and location.

Usually there are two types of brochures at their stalls. One is a comprehensive brochure reserved for serious enquiries and the other is in the form of leaflets for general visitors

Catalogues:

As the name suggests, it is a catalogue of various products that the company manufactures and these are displayed along with details of the products. The photographs of all products should have a common background, lighting character and angle. This brings a visual appeal when put together on a single page.

Company profile:

Photography for company profile is a detailed representation of its activity in manufacturing process, from purchase of raw material to final product. Each activity, divisions along with internal and exterior views are photographed for a detailed description of the company’s profile.

Here again, if the company has a national or global presence, care should be taken to follow the norms of design sense while executing the photographs.

User manuals:

User manuals the term suggests, is a step by step photographic explanation of the various controls and how to use information. The photographs should be shot with clarity in a way that the viewer understands the location & orientation of the controls. Close ups should be supported with bigger areas of the same to give the customer / user a proper location that is being explained for operation.

Presentations:

Presentation photographs can be used for clients or internal heads of the company.

Here the images are usually accompanied by charts and graphs for performance evaluation. The images need to be smaller in size (megapixels) but big in quality. I suggest to shoot on serious gear and later resize to a smaller size. Many times the photographer may prefer to shoot on 35mm for purpose of ease, but there he looses the detailing and dynamic range offered by professional camera and digital backs.

Processes:

Every industry has a step by step process for manufacturing. Each process involves sub processes.

The objective here is to have a proper flow. While covering different stages on the assembly line external lighting may change and lend a different character to the images from the first location to the current location. In such situations, you have to time and plan the shoot in advance, come back the next day if required.

Understanding industrial photography

Industrial photography starts with understanding the industry, machinery used for manufacturing, its processes and various stages in detail.

Understanding will help you compose and choose the right viewpoint of the camera angle. Certain times you may be required to take the help of elevated Platforms or the use of forklifts with platforms to gain a proper viewpoint.

Challenges you may face:

  • Physically very challenging.
  • Extreme conditions (heat & noise).
  • Dusty conditions.
  • Poor or improper illumination of different color temperatures.
  • Lots of backlighting at times.
  • Shift times.
  • Uncooperative operators and workers
  • Conditions and situations not in your control.
  • Poor cleanliness, dirty machines, unwanted and disorganized bins or material.
  • Be a victim between the management and workers.

Trust me, all the above difficulties are surmountable and have solutions. Solutions that you find with years of experience. Many times the temptation to accept the assignment for want of revenue may lead to a unprofessional job. This could seal your fate with the client and create a bad reputation.

When in doubt, always take help from a colleague who is willing to share the skills.

Understanding industrial photography

Anecdote

I was assigned to take a photograph of an assembly line of a moped manufacturing plant in Ahmednagar a distance of 122Km. of treacherous road in the year 1987.

Upon setting up my lights and camera for the shot, the workers stopped their work process and all of them were looking into my camera with a smile.

Nobody from the management team could do anything. We spent hours trying to take this shot but the union was very strong and there was nothing we could do. I had to return.

I thought over this and came up with a possible solution that I wanted to try as this was a very important photograph for the company and their brochure could not go for printing until it had this photo.

I visited the plant the second time and before I set up my lights and camera, I photographed each and every worker in the assembly line on a Polaroid sheet and presented them with a great portrait.

I got total cooperation from all and got my images. After that day, I always carried extra packs of Polaroid film during future industrial shoots.

I started my carrier with Industrial photography 25 years ago and the situation has been rapidly changing for the good.

Your performance will be decided by your readiness to toil.

Important:

  • Always observe areas where you are allowed to walk on the shop floor, it is usually marked by yellow pathway.
  • Wear protective clothing, helmet and eye protection wherever necessary.
  • Do not leave your camera, tripod and lights without assistant. There are lots of movements of materials and forklifts, that can topple your expensive gear.
  • Wear body harness securely whenever you are perched above.
  • Carry walki talkies to instruct your team for fine tuning of lights or passing instructions to the operators/workers.
  • Every time you plug your light sources, check for voltage. Have a maintenance or electrical engineer from the factory on hand all the time.
  • Carry long wired junction boxes, plenty of them.
  • Carry packed food and supply of water.
  • Carry lots of digital storage space, spare firewires, back actuation cablessync, chords, batteries and chargers.
  • Sturdy and well balanced laptop tray with UPS for charging. The digital back when used tethered uses lots of power.
  • Carry a cooling tray to put under the laptop, as it gets very hot during the shoot and the back might not function properly.

Photography of industrial products

Many times you will be asked to shoot photographs of industrial products. These can be big or small. Big products are need to be photographed within the factory premises and smaller products can be brought to the studio.

Big products:

While it is challenging to photograph inside the premises, you have no choice. For this try and find a secluded area for setting up the shot. Care should be taken to find an area, that has no external daylight creeping in. This is essential, as it can influence your core lighting.

Photo editing, for removing the back ground and clean up is a must. This should be handled by an expert.

Photographing big products, Photographing JCB Engine

On the left I am photographing the engine that is used in the JCB land moving machine.

Photographing JCB land moving machine

Left:The JCB land moving machine is being set up for photography.Lights modifiers are placed around the machine to get appropriate lighting for the machine.

JCB land moving machine

Left:The final image after carefully removing the background.

Working in the factory requires, hiring of HMI lighting with all the required staff and accessories. Always ask for extra lights and accessories, you might need them during the shoot, you never can tell.

Photographing fine measuring machine

This fine measuring machine from Accurate was shot inside the company’s assembly line.

It was later edited with a neat background.

Do not always expect ideal conditions when in the field of industrial photography, I never said it is easy.

Learn to adjust with reality and find solutions, it is this approach that will help you to establish in the long run.

Smaller Products

Smaller Products Photography

Usually the client will be reluctant to bring the products to your studio. It involves lots of in house paperwork, octroi issues etc. The client want’s to avoid all this. If you can convince the client about the benefits of photography under controlled conditions, he will see your point and agree to bring the products to the studio. If you are established, he will give in.

Equipment: The Right camera and the Wrong camera

The wrong camera:

35mm cameras are poor substitute (Canon, Nikon etc). They simply cannot match the high quality images of specialty PRO equipment mentioned below.

Photographers using 35mm cameras are doing so only for two reasons and they are.

  • Price: Lenses and camera body are much cheaper to buy.
  • Speed and ease of use (Auto focus, auto exposure). You actually require nothing more.

My advise to upcoming photographers who are limited in resources, is to hire PRO level equipment and learn to use it .

The right Camera:

  • View camera for getting more DOF* and straight vertical lines) or
  • Specially designed wide angle cameras like Horseman SW-II, Alba or Hasselblad X-pan. These are designed to give excellent results with great detail and no distortion.

Lenses

For digital imagery one should use Apo digitars or digital lenses. For further understanding you can check this link http://www.schneideroptics.com/pdfs/Digitar.pdf

  • Lenses that are most common to use are short focal length lenses, though there are many visuals that require medium and long focal lengths.
  • Fast lenses- these are lenses that allow enough light to form a bright image on the ground glass for proper composition even in low light situations.
  • Highly corrected lenses that give distortion free images from corner to corner.
  • Cheaper lenses cannot capture images with details across the frame. Usually they create soft corners.
  • Using cheap lenses against light causes flare and loss of detail.
  • Lenses should have a very high resolving power.

The best lenses are from Schneider and Rodenstock from Germany and if you buy the digitar series or Apo series you will get all the above mentioned benefits.In medium format Carl Ziess, Contax and Lieca are respectable names.

It is good to invest in top quality lenses as they can give you unsurpassed image quality in terms of detail, contrast and color.

Digital backs

Digital backs are manufactured by very few companies in collaboration with Kodak, Dalsa and Philips. These are the only three companies who produce serious CCD chips that are used by Phase One, Leaf & Mamiya.

All backs offer different minor differences. The most significant character in choosing the back for architectural photography is its ability to produce very fine detail during long exposures without any noise. In this case the King of the backs is P45plus from Phase One that produces a 40 megapixel image with incredible detail in low light and long exposures.

Use of a tripod - a must for all photographs.

  • It enables use of small apertures with long shutter speeds – to lend great DOF.
  • Low ISO setting – to get images without noise.
  • Leveling by spirit level – for straight vertical lines.

Large DOF means small aperture. A small aperture with slow film demands a long shutter speed, too long for steady hand holding. Therefore a professional architectural photographer carries a tripod.

*DOF- depth of field, an area that is rendered near sharp in front and behind the actual point of focus.

It is prudent to invest in a high quality tripod and head. A cheap tripod and head combination will be shaky and create unsharp images during long exposures. The head should be smooth and lock precisely when locked in position even under heavy load of view camera.

The most respected names are Gitzo (Italy) for tripod and Cube (head) from Arca swiss. I use these mainly for mounting Arca swiss, Horseman and Hasselblad .

I also use Manfrotto 058 with pan & tilt OR ballhead head, when using lighter camera system. The ball head and panorama head are used with manfrotto for creating virtual tours.