Thursday, May 29, 2008

Industrial Photography and Photoshop: A match made in heaven!

Photographing industrial locations as always provides plenty of challenges. Often locations are huge, meaning you cannot own enough lights to light them entirely and must use ambient light. You have color shifts from sodium vapor lights or other sources, and if you have moving parts, it is pretty well known that on ‘photo day’, if it can break it will.

When on assignment, assume that if something can go wrong it will and you need to be the hero and brainstorm your plan for the shoot when it does go wrong. Let me explain:
I had an assignment awhile back in NY to shoot this new machine for a longtime client. The machine extruded glowing red-hot pipe and the client had bought the machine used on the market. I had been talking with them for months as to when the machine would be ready and we could come and shoot. We waited months for it to be ready.

We fly out and arrive to shoot the image which will be the cover of the company annual report. I spend about an hour looking for the angle to get the image and then start to setup. I had my assistant start placing lights where I asked and the machine operators began production. The machine was to operate all day and we had all day to get several angles of the process.

As soon as the machine began running I started shooting test shots and lots of them. I would have my assistant continue to move and add lights where needed and I shot tests of the machine and glowing pipe. As I tested we kept fine tuning the lighting. THEN THE MACHINE BROKE! Oil was pouring out all over and we soon found that the machine was to be down for days. Oh #*&%#@* I thought. I had not shot the complete image suitable for the annual report.

The client was spending about $10,000 for us to be here one day to get the shot. Everything was running through my head: “Should we stay a couple days?” “Will it be fixed tomorrow?” and much more. I know this client would say pack up and come back and then he would hire a local photographer to shoot it later and live with the results, meaning the image would not have my ‘look’ that was present throughout the annual report and for which they were accustomed to.

Once my head cleared I got to thinking: I am shooting digital and Photoshop is my new best friend. I scrolled through the test shots and had plenty of glowing pipe. What I did not have was the perfectly lit machine and the guy who was supposed to be in the photo. With the machine down I was able to run around and place lights next to it and under it or wherever, places I could not due to safety issues when the machine was running. We got it lit nicely and then shot the machine. Since the operator was helping with repairs, we added him for one more shot.
In this first image you can see a test shot showing the angle in the ambient light and before we set up. Of course we had to color manage the shot for the mixed light sources and did that first.
When the machine began to run I then shot a lot of images and including this one to determine the best exposure for the glowing pipe.
We waited over 2 hours for them to use some heavy equipment to pull the machine apart and get out the pipe that was in there when it broke down. We then moved in our lights and lit the machine and background.
Next, the guy moved in who was to be in the shot and captured a variety of poses.
Here is the composited photo the client put together and how it was used on the cover. The machine, the pipe, the operator! Photoshop is my best friend! And the client was pleased that I came back with all the elements required to create the composite photo.
When you are shooting a large process photo, assume the worst and get the elements you have no control over captured first, and then set up the lighting. If all goes well, you will have the pipe and operator all in one image capture.

For lighting I used 8 lights: One off to the left hitting the front of the machine where the pipe comes out. Two in back right with a blue gel to light the ceiling area and far right corner, another over there hitting the front of the operator’s booth. Another near the camera lighting the front of the pipes on the cooling table while another far right lighting the back of the operator and this side of the machine and one inside the operators booth.

Take My Class: Location Lighting

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