Specialty: Industrial Photography
Defining photographic genres can be a difficult task. Industrial photography covers thousands of companies and hundreds of industries, all linked by the common thread of showing the act of building, making, or creating something.
At Wonderful Machine, we elaborate on this definition by stating that Industrial Photographs:
Show people building and making things (especially on a large scale), including construction, mining, manufacturing, transportation, and energy.
Since photography evolved toward the end of the Industrial Revolution, early documentarians were photographing the changing landscape of American and European industry. Now, entities from multinational manufacturers to Etsy sellers use industrial photography. Despite the name, industrial photographs often feature people. In an age of automated manufacturing, people are often used to help industrial settings feel more human.
At first glance, industrial photography doesn’t need any specialized equipment, but it may require specialized knowledge and skills. Gerard Yunker’s images of workers standing on wind turbines required the use of special safety equipment to keep the photographer (and subjects) safe. In other cases, a sure foot and a healthy dose of common sense can keep most photographers out of trouble.
Shooting for industrial clients often brings another level of safety requirements and consideration. Harnessed while standing at the top of a 270 foot wind turbine required three hours of safety training with onsite safety personnel prior to starting my work. It's a really exhilarating part of my job, and I'm thankful to have such unique experiences.
Gerard Yunker for Enbridge.
Many general interest publications hire industrial photographers to make pictures for feature articles. There is also a growing number of trade publications focusing on specific industries that continually need photos. Many large brands have industrial-focused magazines. Some, like Volvo Spirit, exist to report news about the Volvo company. These publications are paying photographers editorial rather than advertising rates, but they can be a great way to build a portfolio and a relationship with a particular brand.
Dan Bigelow for Volvo Spirit.
The MIT Technology Review, while owned by a private university, is a technology industry trade magazine with an independent editorial board. Trade magazines tend to favor clean, straightforward, precise photography with minimalist lighting. Often, documentary images of workers serve to add human interest.
Ken Richardson for the MIT Technology Review.
Architectural journals tend to include industrial photography due to the close relationship between architecture and construction. This image of a solar furnace by Alastair Philip Wiper appeared in the RIBA Journal (Royal Institute of British Architects).
Alastair Philip Wiper for RIBA.
Commercial brands are where Industrial photography comes into its own as a specialty and an industry unto itself. Every major industrial company needs photographs of its operations.
Industrial work requires a unique skill set. You have to work efficiently and safely in complex & strange environments and come away with something creative.
Thomas Winter for Siemens.
In this case, candid imagery focuses on people maintaining industrial machinery. Similarly, many brands market themselves by touting local manufacturing or handmade techniques. These advertisements by Tadd Myers show the craftspeople that make New Balance shoes in the United States in a more stylized, high-contrast advertising style.
Tadd Myers for New Balance.
Finally, the ultimate in corporate prestige projects: the annual report. Annual reports can have a huge impact on a business, and the photography and design set the tone for the coming year. Generally, the larger the business, the more important the annual report, and the higher the photography fees associated with producing it.
The annual report above for energy consultant firm Berwicks Ltd. by Rüdiger Nehmzow focuses on clean compositions with a simple color palette that is beautiful and supports the overall message of the report. For those interested in a deeper look, see our Pricing and Negotiating: Industrial Shoot for Annual Report article or some additional examples from Karen Pearson's work on the Progressive Annual Report on our blog.
Industrial photography is definitely a wide-ranging specialty, and there are almost as many approaches to it as there are outlets for this type of work. The popular adoption of renewable energy and government subsidies for environmental improvements will likely continue the focus toward that aspect of many industries. As new technologies are created to automate the shipping, transport, and manufacture of goods, the demand for images that highlight these gains will only increase.