The 6 Essentials of Construction Photography

Rob Mathewson, GeedraFor this week’s Guest Post Friday here at Musings, we welcome Rob Mathewson (@geedrarob) of Geedra.  Rob has spent twenty years in sales and marketing management roles with experience in industrial, consumer and construction markets. Rob believes the construction industry is ripe for innovation, based on its massive size, yet low productivity. Even with such inefficiencies, a building still rises from the ground. Rob’s goal with Geedra is to leverage technology to increase transparency and communication so that projects can be completed with less risk, effort and cost. Prior to founding Geedra, Rob was the Chief Marketing Officer for Construction Documentation Services, where he was responsible for sales, marketing and business development. He spent 15 years in the chemical distribution business, including eleven years as the Northwest Branch Manager of a $50 million distributor. Rob was the founder and CEO for On The Spot Games, a board game startup.

Digital photos and video have become increasingly important to the construction industry over the last 10 years.  Given the dynamic environment of a construction site, visual media are the ultimate data collection devices delivering more information that anyone could hope to capture with words or numbers. Though, the ease with which we can shoot photos at will generates a lot of visual chaff, unusable photos that take up our time and effort without delivering on their full potential value.  Below are six construction photo essentials to help you get the most out of your next visit to a job site with your camera in hand.

1.     Take good photographs

It should be a given, but unfortunately too many people take this basic point for granted.  Would-be valuable photographic evidence can be ruined because an image is out of focus or poorly lit. Pay attention to lighting, focus and framing. If you regularly take construction photos, then invest in a decent SLR camera and flash. If you’re rolling with your smartphone instead, then consider using a photo app to enhance the quality of your photo.

2.     Have a plan

When recording a construction installation as part of a planned photo-documentation effort (e.g. recording a post-tension deck prior to concrete placement), be methodical and consistent. Shoot the installation from at least 2 angles (up to 4 if possible) to negate the effects of shadows or obscured details and always move in the same direction (clockwise or counter, pick one) as you move from one angle to the next.  If necessary, shoot wide-angle area shots first, before moving in for the close-up. Moving predictably will help you identify photos or spot gaps in your coverage later.

The same rules apply if you are shooting reactive documentation in response to an incident or some other unanticipated condition.

3.     Put it in perspective

Context is as important in construction photo-documentation as any individual image. In addition to shooting area shots paired with close-ups, plan a series of shots to convey spatial relationships. Use rulers, crack meters or other props (even people) to establish scale in the image.  Placards or directional arrows can also help to orient future viewers of a photo.  Aside from improving the accuracy of the documentation, using the aforementioned contextual enhancements also provide protection against damage, sabotage or refutation of an individual photo.

4.     The power of information

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a picture doesn’t have a volume control knob.  In other words, there may be details surrounding your installation or condition that the photo(s) cannot convey. Was it windy that day? Cold? Noisy? Written notes or recorded narration can provide critical complimentary information that further substantiates the visual evidence in your photo.

5.     Preview and review, or the truth can burn you

Cameras don’t discriminate. Your camera will record whatever appears before the lens. That could be an un-harnessed ironworker, a manager or engineer with a tool in their hand on a union jobsite or some other damnable offense. Protect yourself by quickly scanning the background before hitting the “Shutter” button and then routinely reviewing photos on your camera and again on your computer before including a potential ticking time bomb in a report or project archive.

6.     Be sure you can find the photo

Congratulations! You have painstakingly followed each of the steps to produce beautiful images, shot with a plan, perspective and in context with no unfortunate surprises lurking in the shadows. However, all of your hard work in photo-documentation will go to waste if you can’t find the right photo when you need it most. Be sure to create a photo filing plan that includes time and location references, and stick to it.

Inconsistency is the greatest threat to best-intended photo-documentation efforts. A moment of inattention can lead to a mis-filed photo, causing hours and hours of searching for a photo that may never be found again.

Rob and I welcome your comments below. Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Fridays at Construction Law Musings.

 

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4 Responses to The 6 Essentials of Construction Photography
  1. Rob Mathewson
    Twitter:
    April 6, 2012 | 12:40 PM

    Chris,

    One further point; When it comes to photo organization, beware of Sharepoint! This valuable solution for document management, can become a black hole for photos as I’ve detailed here: http://www.geedra.com/?p=821

    This was a blast. Looking forward to doing it again some time soon.
    Rob Mathewson recently posted..Comment on Guest Post: Worried About Risk? Take a Picture by Christopher G. HillMy Profile

  2. Christopher G. Hill
    Twitter:
    April 6, 2012 | 1:27 PM

    Thanks for the post. Come back any time.
    Christopher G. Hill recently posted..Construction Mediation Works! (Even When it Doesn’t)My Profile

  3. [...] a discussion about their systems for collecting and organizing their construction photos. As Chris and I have discussed before, photos are a critical component of construction documentation. The Super [...]

  4. [...] a discussion about their systems for collecting and organizing their construction photos. As Chris and I have discussed before, photos are a critical component of construction documentation. The Super [...]

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About Musings

I am a construction lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, a LEED AP, and have been nominated by my peers to Virginia's Legal Elite in Construction Law on multiple occasions. I provide advice and assistance with mechanic's liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.

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