LA Industrial Photography

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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Canon 5D for Video

The Canon 5D was my primary camera for two years SO when the Canon 5D Mark II was released, I looked forward to getting one. Some of the features I was most excited about was jumping from 13 mega pixels to 21 mega pixels, the larger LCD screen, and the self cleaning sensor. The video feature was interesting, but I didn’t take it seriously.

I had the Mark II about two months, and couldn’t figure out how to use the video after reading the instruction manual several times. I got the live view to work, but wasn’t able to record and play back. So when I saw that Adobe was offering a free seminar on using Adobe Premiere CS5 with the Canon 5D Mark II, I attended the event. I was amazed by how they were using this camera! The presenter was with a video production company called the Bandito Brothers, see

The brothers were using Mark II cameras with $300,000 movie lenses with custom Canon mounts. They had 16 Mark II camera bodies, and were using them in the mix with other much more expensive video cameras. Their client list includes Mountain Dew, BMW, and the U.S. Navy.

I learned that where the Canon 5D Mark II excels is in low light situations, under water, when a small, lightweight camera is needed, or when the videographer is looking for shallow depth of field and a widescreen “cinema” look. The color and definition is superb, and at 1920p x 1080p the high definition video is the real deal. I left the seminar inspired and excited, and went home and watched a number of training videos on how to use the camera for video. I began to think it might be possible to add video to my photography business services.

Knowing that I was in over my head, I began talking to my long time friend and videographer, Justin Stovall. Justin has worked for CBS and Warner Brothers, and went to film school at UCLA. He was a cameraman on shows like CSI Miami, Lie to Me and the Mentalist. I had been talking to Justin for years about starting a video production company, but with a Canon 5D Mark II; shooting great HD video was a reality. We formed an LLC called IronMyst Video Productions, and I started building our first website,

Starting any kind of company in a down economy is a challenge at best, but starting a video production company in Los Angeles, with the highest concentration of video companies of any city in America, is just plain crazy. Justin had saved enough money to live off of for a while without income, and enough to buy us a “rig” and a 5 inch battery powered video monitor. We decided to focus on the same kind of clients I have for my photography business, , food, corporate, advertising and architecture.

Five months and 8 or 9 video shorts later, I am a lot more familiar with what the 5D can do, and cannot do. You will need to spend more than the camera costs to get the accessories needed to shoot quality video, but it is worth the expense and effort.

Canon 5D Mark II video strengths:

1. The video quality is amazing. Rich color, beautiful highlights.

2. Small, lightweight, easy to carry

3. Great in low light situations, requires fewer lights in the studio than standard video cameras

4. All your Canon lenses work, so you have more options than when using a camera with one lens

Canon 5D Mark II video weaknesses:

1. Sound is a problem. The internal microphone is unusable. I purchased a $200 shotgun microphone that mounts on the hot shoe, which is good enough for corporate interviews in a quiet setting. For broadcast quality sound, you will need to invest in an external device that will allow you to plug in boom and lapel mics, and software to make it work with your video.

2. You will need one or more “rigs” that assist with focus, zoom and holding the camera steady. These could include a tripod rig, shoulder mount rig, a “steady cam rig” and so forth. We spent $2,400 on our tripod rig.

3. The monitor on the back of the camera is too small to see if your video is in focus. So you will need an eyepiece with a magnifying lens or an external monitor.

4. Some Canon lenses do not zoom smoothly, even with the large knobs on our rig. The gears mesh well, but there are little bumps and jerks with some of my older zoom lenses.

Canon Professional Services is a program for professional photographers that allow them to borrow Canon products for two weeks and try them. I was able to compare Canon XF 305, a $7,000 video camera, with the Canon 5D Mark II, in several side by side shoots. Here are my thoughts on comparing the two cameras.

The XF 305 advantages, however would also apply to many other high end video cameras:

1. Power Zoom. It is very difficult to get smooth, slow zooms with most of my lenses doing manual zooms with my rig and the 5D. The zooms on the XF 305 are smooth and beautiful.

2. Sound. The XF 305 has a good stereo mic build in, plus two professional 3 prong microphone inputs for boom or lapel mics. The 5D requires an accessory device to get the same results.

3. Viewing the video. The XF 305 has a building eyepiece monitor, and a good size flip down monitor, that works well on location. You will need accessories for the 5D to get the same results.

4. Frame rate. The XF 305 can shoot at 24, 30 and 50 frames per second, the 5D at 24 and 30. The 50 frames per second speed is good for recording video that you plan to slow down for slow motion effects.

5. Autofocus. Works great, tracks moving objects well. The 5D autofocus is not as good, less likely to track a moving object or person.

The Canon 5D advantages over the XF 305:

1. Better video. More contrast, better color, more shallow depth of field, more of a big screen movie feel.

2. Better in low light. The XF 305 was really grainy at the default setting of 50 frames per second at night. When we lowered it to 30 frames a second, it improved, but the 5D was still better.

3. Smaller, lighter. When you add a rig to a 5D it can get bulky, but shooting with minimal accessories the 5D less to carry.

I was also able to shoot some video with the Canon 7D, and although it has many of the advantages of the 5D, it does not have a full frame sensor, so it lacks that big screen movie feel that the 5D has.

You may see our videos at Most of videos were shot with the 5D, and I think you will be impressed with the food commercials shot entirely with the 5D. We will shortly release a video on Long Beach that was shot with the XF 305 and the 5D; can you tell which footage was shot with which camera?


If you are considering the purchase of a Canon 5D Mark II for still photography, I highly recommend the camera and the lens system. The quality of the images are only about 20% less than the $40,000 Phase One P45 medium format digital back and Mamiya 645 body that I used to shoot with, and with lots more zoom choices and lighter body.

If you are considering purchasing a 5D Mark II for video production, plan on spending $5,000 to $8,000 on accessories, rigs, monitors, microphones, etc. to bring the abilities of the camera up to that of a standard video camera. I recommend having both a 5D and a standard video camera in your video bag if you can afford it. But if you can only afford one video camera, you could do a lot worse than the Canon 5D Mark II. If I had to do it over again, I would buy the 5D.