Home: Macro Photography Careers: Industrial Photography

Industrial Photography:
presenting the World at Work

Most people associate industrial photography with heavy industry: power plants, automobile factories, and steel mills. While that is true, industrial imaging in our modern world means much more than that. It is a type of imaging in which institutions both public and private describe to the world what they do, what they sell, and/or what they manufacture. The target audience can be inside or outside of the institution itself.

In short, industrial photography is public relations photography on a broad scale. It is about communicating to the world all the things people do to make a living, making things and performing services that many of us use every day.

And (since this is a macro photography website) it also includes photography on a very small scale!

But before we dive in, here's a list of the other pages in this Macro Photography Careers section:

What does an Industrial Photographer do?

  • Any type of photography that can be used to show off a part of a company's products, facilities, or capabilities, be it product-related, people at work, architectural, or aerial photography.
  • Portraiture of managers and executives.
  • Instructional photography and videography.
  • Documenting manufacturing processes.
  • Construction job progress photography.
  • Tends to be practiced by freelance photographers, as companies downsize and consolidate their in-house departments.
  • Will work with the public relations or advertising department to show the institution from its best side.

What qualities make a good industrial photographer?

  • Versatility: needs photojournalism, product photography, architectural photography, and portraiture skills.
  • Must be an excellent communicator, both visually and verbally.
  • If freelance, needs to invest in top-notch photography and lighting equipment.
  • A discrete and professional demeanor. Slackers and bohemians don't cut it in this business. See this section for a more thorough discussion on what makes a successful professional photographer.

Industrial Photography and the Macro Photographer

industrial photography screws in detailCommon subjects for an industrial photographer are details of technical equipment, such as scientific instruments, electronic parts, and micro-machine parts. Photographing small objects like these requires a strong foundation in close-up photography, and macro photography.

Industrial photographers must have mastered the basic principles of close-up and macro photography. They will use appropriate macro lenses, macro accessories, and lighting accessories, such as ring flash (follow the link for more on this important subject).

A macro lens and a set of extension tubes is the most versatile macro photography combination I know of. It is also easy on the pocketbook as well as lightweight and compact, and is thus highly recommended for all industrial photographers.

Any institution that employs industrial photographers should recognize the importance of high-quality equipment, and outfit its photographers accordingly.

Photography equipment in this field must be rugged and able to withstand heavy use: insist on the best professional equipment available. Beware of the high cost of cheap equipment! Break-downs are expensive!

Industrial photography subjects are everywhere, which means the industrial photographer needs to be prepared to work in studio or out on location. Check out my Studio Photography and Portable Photo Studio pages for more on how to equip yourself for close-up photography and macro photography in a dedicated space, or out and about in the great, wide world.

Where can I learn industrial photography?

See the title page of this section, Macro Photography Careers, for a general discussion on training for one of various photography jobs.

Of the photography careers I discuss in this section, industrial photography is the one most likely to be practiced by independent, freelance photographers.

I mention this here because, in my opinion, there no better access point into photography jobs than working as an assistant photographer to an established industrial photographer. To find a top pro in your area, get recommendations from public relations professionals in companies whose products you could enjoy photographing. Or, contact photographers directly through local professional photographers' organizations.

In the United States, look up photographers in your area through the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), or the Professional Photographers of America (PPA).

Learning by doing is another great option! Industrial subjects are all around us, especially if you expand your definition beyond power plants and steel mills.

industrial photography copper valve at breweryindustrial photography chef's hands

Industrial photography subjects can be as grandiose or as modest in scale as you want to make them. In my early days, I photographed hydroelectric plants, freight rail yards, and breweries (where I found the copper valve, above at left) in my spare time.

I've also enjoyed photographing "hands at work" (above at right), a much less splashy subject but equally deserving of attention. This series let me flex my close-up photography muscles, too!

Access to industrial locations is generally by pre-arranged permission only. I got good at seeking out the people who could help me get in, and asking nicely.

The future of Industrial Photography

It's hard to make predictions with any kind of certainty, but I'll give it a go.

In today's world, companies and institutions have to communicate their reason for being to the public, or risk being swallowed up by the competition. Business is increasingly global, and the web has opened up big markets with high expectations for riveting visual messages. That translates to an ever greater need for images, which should mean an expanding market for industrial photography. That's where the photography jobs of tomorrow will come from.

Digital photography has made it easier than ever to make a decent photograph. This reality has siphoned off a lot of business for freelance photographers as companies use snapshots of their own for low-end use. Ironically, that fact strengthens the market for top-notch photography, because a visually sophisticated public knows cheap photography when it sees it.

I predict a strong future market for professional visual communicators, including industrial photographers. Smart companies will only publish excellent images. Still, it takes much hard work and persuasion to enter the ranks of those who get paid well for their work. The competition is fierce for the top photography jobs. That is unlikely to change.

Industrial photography is about explaining the global economy to the world, bit by bit. That sweeping statement describes a huge market for excellent photography, in a world thirsty for compelling images.

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