I shoot quite a bit of still photography involving work for factories, manufacturing facilities, and power plants. As a result, there are a few things I apply to my style of interior industrial photography which makes the shots look more dramatic than the scenes actually look in real life.

One of the problems with shooting in factories though is that they are often lit with very stark and uninteresting lighting. This type of lighting used is often ideal for a manufacturing environment, but not nice at all for photography. A lot of times there is also lots of florescent lighting, which is very hard to white balance in a photo. Some of the facilities are also very dark in some areas, so there isn’t always much ambient lightning to begin with thus, I have found it is best to avoid using the available light as much as possible.

What I do like about some types of factories though is the fact that the interior working spaces are often quite big and wide open. So when I am using flashes or strobes to isolate a subject I often don’t fill the background with any extra light. By doing this I then get a nice drop off in light with a darker, less distracting background behind the subject. This also helps to create a more isolated scene in the photo from the much wider and larger work setting.

Clients often do need wide shots though of facilities to show the size, scale, and capabilities of their operations and, in those cases, if the areas are quite big, then it is not feasible to implement atmospheric lighting setups. In those instances I will use more of the flatter, ambient lighting and try to make the lighting appear fairly bright and even for shots which are mainly just needed for illustrative or documentary purposes. But when I am isolating subjects within smaller areas of a facility then that is when I am able to add in a touch of my own style by creating a bit of moody lighting magic.

One of the things I often do is use some splashes of colored lighting. This adds a lot of drama and makes the look and feel of the photos have a much greater impression of a high technology operation. But you have to know how to use the colored lighting and also to blend it with other more natural looking lighting or you risk creating a picture that looks dramatic, but perhaps also too artificial. Another thing I often do is to darken the areas around the subject when I post process the photos. This also helps to isolate the subjects a bit better too.

In the following photo I shot it with some colored lighting as you can see. I also used a fast shutter speed on my camera to avoid picking up any of the ambient lighting in the area so that the background spaces are darker looking than they are in real life. This as I mentioned also helps to get rid of other possible visual distractions. The first shot below is the original shot as it came out of the camera using my lighting setup. It is not a bad start, but still needs some post processing work:


The above shot was taken in a what is known as a “clean room” area in a high technology factory. Clean rooms often are designed with very bright, white, stark, and even lighting so they look a bit sterile and the ambient lighting often has no contrast at all, which was the case in this factory location too. So all of the lighting you see in the photo is artificial and was added by me. No ambient light was used at all. This includes all of the blue and red colored lighting glowing out of the machines as well. None of that is lighting that is actually being emitted by the equipment although it is meant to appear that way.

Below is the machine in the above shot taken with no operator, using only available light, and just captured straight on. Very stark right? Notice the unappealing greenish hue of the ambient florescent lighting and how it lacks any contrast or atmosphere. This shows you how uninteresting a photo of a piece of equipment in a factory can be if it is not executed with a bit of creativity and especially if no controlled directional lighting is used to make it look more appealing.


Then in the final edited version of the photo below you can see that I added some more contrast, darkened the areas even more around the subject, cleaned up a lot of imperfections and removed logos and other small, unneeded distractions around the subject in order to really draw attention to the subject of the photo only.


In the next example below the photo was shot in the same clean room location. I am including a shot first to again show you a quick snap of what the space looked like with no people and just the machine before I set anything up. This shot was again taken using only the ambient lighting to show you what I started with.


Again, all the lighting you see in the photo below, including the purple glowing light coming out of the machine, was added by me. The same goes for the little splash of blue lighting on the back of the man operating the computer.


And in the final edit shown below I applied many of the same steps as I did to the first post processed photo above. But on the one below I also added in the visuals being displayed on the monitor screens from another, longer exposure. I had to do this because the screens were hardly visible in the original photo (above) since the shutter speed was too fast to also capture what was being displayed on the LCD monitors.


Creating interesting looking industrial photos like these can be very appealing for commercial use, but as a photographer you must also find that balance between making something look dramatic, as well as still serving a useful purpose to demonstrate an important aspect of a company’s manufacturing process.

Good placement of people and equipment in an image, and presenting a clear understanding of what is happening in the photo, is also key. Overall though, shots like these, when properly executed, can really add a lot of excitement to a company’s website when they are needing eye catching imagery to show off their manufacturing facility in a visually enticing way. They can also be used for making large commercial prints to decorate display areas at industrial trade shows, used as still slides in a video presentation, for annual corporate reports, and various other visual media applications.