Famed oil well firefighter Red Adair said, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.” Though usually not as dynamic as capping a rogue well, construction photography requires expertise, too. And for a business hiring a photographer, the stakes are high. Adair’s adage still rings true; you get what you pay for. Despite often greater initial costs, hiring a professional photographer is a shrewd investment that saves money over time.
First impressions last. When construction business owners seek photography, they are looking to create an effective visual representation of the company and its projects. Given the importance of these images, why would anyone hire an amateur photographer—or worse, send an employee with a camera phone? Most companies do so because of cost. Amateurs and first-timers are simply cheaper than professionals. This is a mistake. Though an amateur may shoot a usable photo or two, that’s the exception, not the rule.
To illustrate how professional photography is worth the cost, I’ll run through a construction-related example of the effort required for a typical professional photography job.
The Job requirements
The marketing operations director for a lighting company calls me. There’s a new lighting installation he needs shot. My first step is to call the company’s local lighting representative to gather information on the replacement installation timeframe and location. Next, I scout the location. Clients often aren’t budgeted for location scouts. That is the case for this job, so I use Google Maps to view a satellite image of the location. This particular customer also provided me with site maps and snapshots.
Then I think about the weather. To display the lighting company’s outdoor roadway lighting optimally, the client needs a dry road surface. So, I check long-range weather forecasts. Though reliable only seven to 10 days before a shoot, they still provide useful estimates. There are other factors, too. I don’t want to shoot the lights themselves, as they would cause glare. Additionally, given the necessary exposure times, this glare would be especially overpowering. The units themselves are better shot in the studio or during daylight hours.
The client wants to illustrate the spread of light on the road surface as well as the quality of the light. These elements can be shot only from up high, looking down. So, I arrange to rent a scissor lift for delivery to the location. This is one obvious way the extra work pays off. Scissor lifts travel at a maximum of 3.5 mph. If you’re not in the perfect location, it could take hours to move. Though bucket trucks could provide greater mobility, they’re impossible to keep steady for long exposures, which are required for a lighting shot like this.
Because I will be on a scissor lift 40 feet in the air at 3 o’clock in the morning, I want to make sure motorists can see me easily. I would never set this up on a blind curve, for example. Also, at that hour, many folks are driving home from a night out. So, I carry traffic cones and a rotating beacon. I also have an assistant waving a flag and a flashlight. Even with these precautions, I’ve had close calls.
Fast forward to the shoot date. I arrive onsite at 11 a.m. to accept delivery of the scissor lift. While scoping out possible shots, I remind local authorities that I will be there at night on a lift. Scanning around, I review everything with the client’s stated goal in mind to capture how new lighting improves the ability to see the road. Obviously, daylight prevents viewing actual shots, but this is still an opportunity to see what shots will make sense once the sun sets. I make a mental note to shoot at dusk to capture the lights turning on.
Prepping equipment until 11 p.m. (when traffic dies down), I finally load my gear into the lift: camera, lenses, tripod, computer and various clamps to secure equipment. Soon after, the shooting begins.
Considerable time, energy and effort go into every aspect of the job, from the planning to the delivery of the photographs. Preparation and experience make a difference.
The Eyes Have It
No one can last long in a profession without inherent talent in the field. To produce effective work, a photographer must have a natural sense of composition and color. Photographers must also be able to relate to people, both subjects and clients. Finally, and most importantly, a photographer’s work must move people. Anyone can grab a camera and take a nice shot of the Grand Canyon, but a professional should know how to shoot a wastewater treatment plant in a way that looks intriguing and tells a story.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so getting the right image for your business is no trivial matter. To make sure your business gets that image, it’s important to hire a professional who can deliver it the first time and every time after that.