Once again, my business partner Tom Kirby and I have teamed up for a commercial photo assignment. I handled the location photos and Tom shot in studio for an industrial protective gear client. This scenario has worked well for us in the past and this time was no exception.
Photographing heavy industry can often take place in less than sterile environments. Noise, dirt and occasionally foul odors can be part of the occupational hazards of industrial photography, but it can also be fascinating to see how America really works behind the scenes. Truth be told, I’m always glad to be on this side of the camera.
I had a multi-day shoot on location recently, photographing employees both as traditional portraits as well as in team photos. Inergy, an automotive supplier located in Troy, Michigan, hired me for this project after seeing samples of my photography on our Blue Sky website.Relying on professional talent when shooting commercial photography can get you spoiled, but these two Inergy employees were terrific to work with. They took direction well and were very pleasant to work with. Lots of laughs during the shoot, and we came away with great results.
I was recently hired to do a photo shoot at Toyota Boshoku, an interior trim facility for the automotive industry. As in nearly all photographic assignments, there were challenges that awaited me. For this particular photography project, time was limited and decisions had to be made quickly once our scouting with the client had been completed.
For this lifestyle photograph, one of several created that day, we temporarily employed one of the staff seamstresses to assist us. We set up quickly using just a key and a rim light, mixing with the ambient light of the facility. Our client was pleased with the results as we were able to help tell their story of quality automotive finishing.
I was recently on a photography shoot in Atlanta at a brand new 800,000 square foot distribution center. I was photographing material handling trucks for my client Raymond. They chose this particular facility due to its “VNA” designation (very narrow aisle), three words most photographers probably don’t want to hear. We tend to like space, lots of space for our lighting needs. But of course, we’re always up to new challenges.
These trucks are pretty amazing and so in an attempt to capture their remarkable capabilities, I spent about fourteen hours out of a two-day photo shoot perched on top of a scissors-lift. This particular photograph was accomplished by shooting from approximately three stories high, giving an unusual perspective to the truck, the operator and the warehouse itself.
Detroit seems to revolve around cars. Almost everything is related to the auto industry in one way or another. Aftermarket parts and original equipment parts make up a large segment of the Detroit economy. Shooting exhaust systems and the mechanics who work on them is just another part of the automotive universe. As always I am interested in your thoughts.
Corporate portraits can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Most often it seems executives need head-shots photographed against a simple seamless or traditional portraiture backdrop. I photograph many executives each year this way, both in my Troy, Michigan studio and also at the subject’s business headquarters. But environmental portraits, or more specifically as in the photo below, an industrial portrait, brings with it more challenges and often times a more enticing photograph.
This particular portrait was photographed inside a forging plant, which was hot, dirty and noisy. It was nearly impossible to communicate with either my photo assistant or my corporate clients by speaking, so hand signals became my primary source to convey directions. As with any corporate portrait, the subject is the star, but an environmental portrait can also help tell the client’s story.
As a commercial photographer in Detroit, the next assignment can be incredibly different from the previous one. One day I may receive a request to photograph a jet, and the next I’ll be quoting a studio or location car shoot. Industrial facilities are a common request as well as executive portraits or product shooting in our Troy based studio. It is a diverse mixture of needs in the photographic world, and as the saying goes, “variety is the spice of life”.
I was able to experience some of that variety during the last two weeks as I was assigned to shoot an architectural commercial building in downtown Detroit, followed up by a luxurious homesite on Lake St. Clair, for a brick and stone company. I photographed the home from several angles, including detail photos as requested by the client. It was an enjoyable shoot, once more adding a little spice to the business of photography in Michigan.
I used to think of corporate photography as annual report photography or any “corporate communication”, from PR to capability brochures. There was a time when annual reports were thick, glossy, well designed, and had lots of photography. Now, many annual reports are mostly on newsprint; an expression of our current economic times. Corporate Photography now seems to mean a business portrait or headshot.
There is no question of the value of an excellent executive portrait. It may be the first impression that one gets before actually meeting someone in person. It also represents the company’s image as well as yours. It can illustrate your corporate culture: casual, aggressive, or buttoned up.
Is it cheap? No. Professional photography is a business. We have years of experience making people, products and places look good. It’s how we make our living, and like all businesses there is overhead that we contend with too. It’s true we don’t use film anymore, and that was an expensive part of photography; but now we have computers, printers, networks, and digital cameras. In addition, there is all of the basic overhead, like rent, insurance, advertising, utilities, transportation.
Is it worth it? Well of course I think it is, but objectively, it depends on your individual situation and how important your image is to you.
Dave and I recently finished a shoot for Raymond. The project included shooting in the studio (Tom) and on location in a warehouse (Dave). The project included video as well, so we had to coordinate closely with the video crew to make everything work smoothly. We had two excellent models from Productions Plus. Thanks to terrific clients, organized pre-production and teamwork, the shoot came off smoothly!
Mention to someone that you’re a professional photographer and chances are they may conjure up thoughts of you having a glamorous lifestyle, photographing beautiful models and traveling to exotic locales. And granted, there are some pros who actually live that fantasy. But for most of us, the glam jobs come only occasionally and the remainder of the year is filled with assignments that help cover the overhead, keeping the doors open until that next dream shoot comes along.
"Willow Run Facility"
I was hired this past year by a New York communications firm to shoot a project that was decidedly not glamorous by any stretch of the word. It was a three-week stint photographing the “old” General Motors bankruptcy properties throughout the state of Michigan. My job was to photograph these assets in their varied states of condition, from repopulated to vacant, from stages of demolition to vacuous parcels of land.
Although not the style of work I normally strive for, the assignment paid fairly well and there were no tight deadlines to contend with. I met several interesting people along the way, some who shared their stories with me of a lifetime of working in these factories and the deep sadness they felt in seeing them ultimately closed. I couldn’t help but think of all the workers who had once walked the floors of these plants, providing for their families and of the cycle of life that surrounds us, both in the living and in the manufactured.
From careening a three-wheeled bicycle with camera gear in tow through a darkened million square foot edifice, to being chauffeured in a golf cart through the historic Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti, we can find the silver lining in all assignments that come our way if we’re open to them. Mine came especially true knowing that I was retracing the footsteps of those workers from a generation ago who had built my father’s World War II B-24 bomber on the very floor that I now had the opportunity to stand with my camera poised.
Not a glamorous shoot, but for me, a memorable one.