Heavy Metal – LA Industrial Photography
Los Angeles is the largest major manufacturing center in the United States, with over 500,000 manufacturing and industrial workers. The city is one of the world’s busiest ports, with 4.5 billion dollars recently invested to improve the infrastructure at the port of Los Angeles. Steel fabrication is the second largest industry in manufacturing, followed closely by fashion apparel. It is in this setting that Dennis Davis Photography has developed into a force in the Los Angeles Industrial Photography field.
Industrial photography work is available anywhere there are people making and building things. People who make airliner parts, clothing, furniture, package food or build houses all need to sell their products and services. They need brochures, magazine advertisements, billboards and websites, so they need excellent photography to sell these things. Larger companies have a legal requirement to create annual reports for their stock holders, and photography is always an important part of annual reports.
Clients can be found by checking the yellow pages under manufacturing, purchasing mailing lists, or by scouting industrial areas in your city. I do a monthly email blast to industrial companies listed in a company database, I also send out direct mail pieces to this list. However, the majority of my industrial clients find me because I have a page about industrial photography on my website. This page uses keywords like annual report photography, Los Angeles Industrial Photographer, industry photographer, shipping photography, construction photographer, etc.
In most industrial photo shoots you will be asked to capture images of machines. Some of these machines will be so large that even with your widest angle lens; you cannot back up far enough to get the whole machine in the shot. I was once asked to photograph a machine that makes cardboard boxes that was the length of two football fields. For long machines like that, try your widest angle lens and from five inches away from the side of the machine, angle your lens at 90 degrees and watch the machine fade off into the horizon. For many larger machines, the best angle to shoot from is from above. Often the company will have hydraulic lifts they will take you up in, or tall ladders that will allow you to shoot from above. You can also try shooting up at the machine from ground level, looking up.
I always try to include employees interacting with the machines in at least half of my shots. This gives the viewer a better idea of what the machine does and its size. Even if the machine is not running, the employee can pretend to work on the machine with tools, pretending to repair it.
Los Angeles County is full of big industrial companies like Boeing, Vizio and Kingston Technology. There are strip of metal, rods of metal, sheets of metal in stacks and rolls, on shelves or not. It takes a creative mind and a good selection of photographic tools to show LA clients something new. I like;
Shooting unexpected angles, including from above and from below. If there is a lift, catwalk or ladder, I am looking for an unexpected perspective. Make sure your insurance is paid up!
Using colored gels on lights. A background in Hollywood or Broadway New York theatrical lighting would not be wasted if used in Los Angeles industrial photography. These folks like drama! They are bored with the same old same old. So I put a magenta gel on the light to the left, and a blue gel on the light to the right and presto changeo! The boring rolls of sheet metal become a space ship from the planet bluetoe. Then change to green on the right and blue on the left. Whatever. It’s cool.
Finding patterns. I like shooting long sales of repeating patterns like spools of metal strips or wire. Patterns placed in a diagonal angle across your frame are the most dramatic.
Often in Los Angeles machine shops and manufacturing plants you will see welding, torches, and open flame burning and shaping metal. When you see sparks or flame, put your camera on a tripod and go for exposures one second or longer. Experiment while looking on the back of your camera, and bracket your exposures. Stand back when the sparks get near you, or you will get burned!
I even did one photo shoot in the City of Industry in LA where they were melting metal in boiling pots, I am talking Terminator 2 melting metal, and dissolves everything that drops in it hot!! The men that work there every day never lack for a heater in winter! My lenses kept fogging up in the heat, but I got my shot!
I consider anything longer than I can hand hold to be a long exposure. Shooting in massive indoor spaces, anything like 1/60 of a second or shorter can require an ISO of 2000 or higher without adding flash. Add three or four flash heads on light stands in a space the size of football field, and you can light perhaps a quarter of the space. The entire building interior appears dark except the area the flash heads illuminate. I normally light the area around my subject, usually an employee working on a machine. I may add a light illuminating a wall on the opposite side of the huge building. Then I allow time and available light to do the rest. I bracket exposures from ¼ second to two seconds, popping the flash at the beginning of the exposure, and telling my subject not to move. If people walk through the background, I let them blur.
A sturdy tripod is required for long exposures, and many photographers like using an electronic cable release to eliminate the vibrations from a finger touching the shutter button.
Machine shops and industrial environments are often cluttered and messy. Metal shavings and rags, oil and empty cardboard boxes pile up and don’t get removed. Although I have sent an email to the company in advance asking for the place to be cleaned before I arrive, often it does not happen. You are responsible for whatever appears in your camera frame. If there are mop buckets, trash cans, empty boxes or whatever appearing in your picture, you need to get them moved. I recently took a photograph of a man working on measuring a pipe. I set the shot up for vertical composition, and took a number of exposures. When I switched to horizontal, I didn’t notice that someone had left a broom in the floor on the right side of the image. I had to crop the image square before I gave it to the client to get rid of the broom.
The reason many industrial client are bringing in a big, high priced photographer like you is to show what they can do, often in a capabilities brochure or website. They want to demonstrate their ability to wield a pipe, make a drill bit, create metal strips, cut wood or any number of functions. You are their partner in demonstrating these abilities. You have to remember that your pictures are the company’s sales force. The company wants to demonstrate the ability to move product from point A to point B, so you need to show all 26 of their trucks in one amazing, dramatic shot. Can you do it? Are you able to make the kind of images, so that when the company’s potential clients are walking through a trade show and see the image you made on the wall, will they stop and say “wow?” If so, you have something you can sell in the industrial photography field.
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