Curious how to get the best photos out of every job?
Pass on too. The more of your people on your sites with cameras and basic photography knowledge = deeper photography asset.
- Check with Superintendent as to what Safety orientation classes are required for the site and get your sticker if required.
- Wear all required Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
- Have a talk with the Project Manager (if present), site EHS Manager (Environment, Health & Safety), Superintendent and crew foreman about what you can and can’t do.
- While shooting, keep an eye on the foreman and operators. Make sure they know where you are.
- Always have an exit strategy. Conditions change quickly on a construction site. Refresh your exit strategy continuously. Be especially vigilant during lifts.
- Never walk under any equipment during a lift.
- Get Releases. Optimize the chances of success by working with the Superintendent to communicate to the crews that there will be a photographer on-site on “Thursday” to get photos for “XYZ”. Enlist the PM and Superintendent’s help in getting signed releases prior to the shoot for anyone potentially in an image.
- When you get there, tell the crew who you are and why you are taking photographs.
- Suggest that everyone wearing PPE is greatly appreciated. If necessary, discuss with Super or Forman privately.
- Know what’s important “construction-wise”. It’s ideal to have an idea of what’s going on in the process which may affect what’s important later.
- What’s critical?
- What’s routine?
- What’s dramatic?
- What’s mundane?
- Be humble. Stay out of everyone’s way. Listen.
- Your rapport with the workers might assist and invite some coaching from those in the know.
- I’ve had some of the best shots and ideas for shots pointed out to me from helpful crew members whose knowledge they were willing to share.
- Donuts never hurt.
Looking through the Lens
Pressing the Shutter
- Is the crew standing around or engaged?
Engaged = better photograph.
- Does the entire crew have PPE? No? See above, “Communications”
- Final Check for distractions? See below, “Distractions”.
- Framing and Composition – good? See below, “Framing and Composition”.
- Crew should be focused on where you want the viewer’s eye to go. See below, “Human Detail”.
- Hold still. Exhale. Press the button.
Avoid Composition Distractions
- The shady looking blue van parked on the street behind the rig? Move your feet to remove composition distractions from the shot.
- Big fat orange barrel in the foreground. Move it? Ask Foreman if you can move. No? Move your feet.
- Is there anything in the frame that will diminish the quality of the composition? Anything that will distract, even slightly, from the image subject?
- Can’t move a distracting object? Move your feet.
“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” – Ansel Adams
20 (or 40) left or right, up or back can make a huge difference. Consider getting both a tight shot (Crew, materials, dynamics) and a wide shot (equipment, scope of work, scope of site, environment) from your various locations. See advantages of a wide shot and tripod below under, “Cropping”.
Framing and composition
- Don’t fill the frame, remember it is likely your photo will get cropped.
- Use Viewfinder, not the screen, assuming you’re using a camera not a camera/phone.
- Avoid Cutoffs of critical elements. (Equipment, masts, leads, etc.)
- Contrast: What’s the subject focus and what’s the background?
- Only so much you can control, but you can make small decisions that can improve the outcome of your shoot.
- Watch inside frame / outside frame
- Does a few steps left or right change the photo for the better?
- Cropping – Don’t frame too tight. Image destination in mind.
- I like to take a vertical subject with a horizontal Frame. This leaves lots of margin on the left and right, but image is versatile to be used in a horizontal place if needed. Also, potentially versatile to be cropped to vertical and used as vertical as needed. The trick being, go wide – keep your options open.
- When wide and at a distance, use a tripod.
- Note! As you crop deeper into an image, your resolution will diminish.
People make or break a construction photo.
Human detail turns a boring shot of static construction equipment into a dynamic story we relate to.
- Positive involvement – active focus on work.
- Body language. (See ‘Blast Feature’ above)
Avoid “The Photo Killers”
- Low Resolution
(Leave that sweet 1998 flip phone at home. Seriously – check your image settings.)
- Bad framing
(One of the benefits to high resolution is you can crop in and still have good resolution.)
(See communications above. Or go ahead – you tell the guy to put his gloves on.)
- Cropping – Don’t frame too tight. Image destination in mind.
(Leave space above the boom or mast or leads!)
- Human issue (Butt shot/guy looking into lens/body language)
(This is why you take 3-4 shots of the same scene. Use dumb luck and a big SD card)
To Camera Phone or not to Camera Phone?
You’d think your fancy camera-phone will provide high-enough-quality photos, but it may not. For certain scenarios, it’s pretty good, but vs. a DSLR Camera, there’s a big downside. The focal length of the camera phone lens warps the content and every object needs a different one to deliver depth, perspective, and composition. This may not always be apparent when looking at all the phone images, but when looking at phone vs. DSLR images, it is apparent. DSLR wins. Accordingly, the website/brochure/collateral et al with superior photography wins as well.
The codicil to this is, if this is feasible, it’s an advantage. But don’t let this stop you and your people from taking every opportunity you have to get the shots you need with your camera phone and build your company’s photography asset.
PS If you are taking photos with your camera phone, make sure your camera settings are set at the maximum allowed.
“Chance Favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur
Go for Quantity AND Quality. Photo files cost nothing. Increase the chances of a good image. Take a lot of different shots. Use Dumb Luck, keep your finger on the shutter. Use a burst setting. Takes continuous shots. Especially when the crew is hands-on, the burst gives more possibility of getting that quality engaged shot with good body language. A ¼ second can make a big difference between a poor shot & a great shot. Photo Files Cost Nothing.
“Even a blind squirrel gets a nut sometimes.” – Socrates*
- Have a SD Large Card (or 3) and a charged battery (or 3).
- Take multiple perspectives of the same subject: MOVE AROUND. Move the camera up/down.
- Take advantage of changing light throughout the day. Pull out the camera more than once, especially first thing and last thing.
- Every shot: What’s the subject of the Image? Going tight or wide?
- Avoid Camera Shake and thus, less sharp photos.
- Use a tripod as necessary.
- Set the camera on something steady.
- Crops and other post site adjustments will improve your images. Use that knowledge and what’s above to get great photos from good photos rather than OK photos from poor photos.
- Bring a tripod.
Reminder: The Goal is creating an asset: A photo pool.
- Centralize, organize, keep it together.
1. Takes some effort, but when the scramble to find that photo for that project, (over and over again) you’ll thank yourself.
2. On a company-wide basis, this is essential. Start with a solid, simple filing logic.
- DropBox: It’s sharable, versatile, organizable, and doesn’t compress your image files.
- Editing: i.e. cropping, photoshopping, etc. edit in a copy and rename, i.e. photofile011B.jpg. Maintain original image file photofile011B.jpg unchanged, unedited.
- Adobe Bridge-Tool to review and organization.
- Rating: Create a pool of the best images to grab on the fly.
- Deleting: Get rid of the unusable.
- Technical review: Let someone look before you publish something dumb.
- Review: Images should match your audience.
- When sending around photos, DON’T embed into an email message. Send as an attachment, or better – create a dropbox folder and send around the link.
- When sending around photos as an attachment, DON’T compress or reduce file size. Always original size.
Now get out there!
* No, not Socrates. JK.