PICTURES OF POWER
AN EXPERT WHOSE STRIKING INDUSTRIAL SHOTS APPEAR IN NATIONAL MAGAZINES, TELLS THE AMATEUR HOW TO DUPLICATE HIS RESULTS.
INDUSTRY presents a fascinating subject for the lens. Few other subjects offer the drama, excitement, variety, and stimulating activity that modern industry does. Huge smokestacks belching smoke, shiny silver oil tanks, the intricate patterns of conveyors, complex shapes of oil refineries, the metallic sheen of flywheels, the rocket flare of hot steel being ladled, offer many possibilities for prizewinning pictures.
Power is the keynote of industry and this power must be reflected in your pictures. Your approach to the machine may be individual. You may be interested in its rhythmic quality, such as is presented by a series of spools on a great loom; or in the dramatic power of a great steel furnace pouring forth white hot metal; or merely in the teamwork between man and machine. Whatever your approach may be, soft, lyric, romantic pictures are definitely antagonistic to the spirit of power.
Industrial photography is divided into two distinct fields. They are defined by the outdoor pictorial possibilities, and those within the plant. One need not worry much about the equipment required for photographing industrial exteriors. Practically any camera loaded with fairly fast panchromatic film and equipped with a filter will do. Interior photography is more complicated, but let us take the exteriors first.
The amateur, especially if he lives in a large city, will find all about him excellent subjects for his camera. If you cannot gain entrance to a factory, you need not be discouraged. A walk around the premises will reveal interesting panoramic views or angle shots. Study the different structures at different times of the day. An amateur with a keen nose for atmospheric effects will contrive to obtain a variety of scenic studies. In the moi'ning or near midday he will see bold, sharp, rigid outlines clearly etched against the sky; at twilight there are massive shapes darkly silhouetted in the dying sunlight.
The operations of a plant often sprawl out over the countryside beyond the confines of the plant itself. In these outlying areas you are apt to find cranes and conveyors loading finished products or raw materials into freight cars or barges (if the plant is situated on a waterfront) . If you are lucky enough to get into the plant itself, then the world is yours, especially if the location happens to be a steel mill, a coke plant, or an oil refinery.
Once inside, you will probably fire away recklessly at everything in sight, quickly exhausting your film supply. Instead, you must keep cool, walk leisui'ely through the plant, examine the various buildings or operations carefully, and shoot with some idea of the final result in mind. Compose carefully, and if you know the elements of exposure and development, you will be rewarded for your pains.
Generally speaking, there are two ways of getting into a plant; a hard way and an easy way. The first is something like this. Our aspiring and enthusiastic amateur writes to the Advertising Manager of the Blank-Blank Co., Inc., asking for permission to take photographs in the plant. In return for this small favor, he promises to present to the company a superb example of photographic art, or several of them, with full reproduction rights, etc., etc. He may also send them several of
the finest examples of his work, so that the Blank-Blank Co., Inc., may become acquainted and impressed with the really excellent pictures of their own factory they may anticipate.
After mailing these various items, our amateur waits for several weeks, while his generous offer is being given the very, very full consideration of the BlankBlank Co., Inc. He then writes again, politely inquiring whether any consideration has been given to his proposal, and whether a decision has been reached. Promptly by the next mail he will receive a package containing his prints, together with a cheerful little note saying that “although your pictures were highly praised by all who saw them, we are very sorry, etc., and we shall be glad to inform you should we ever need photographs.” This goes on until the amateur finally gives up the whole idea and goes into tabletop photography.
The easy way is brief and much less exacting. If the amateur has an uncle who is the 3rd, 4th or even 5th vicepresident of the Blank-Blank Co., Inc., he need merely walk into the plant, inform the watchman who he is and that he is about to take some pictures, and then set up his camera anywhere!
Of course, it isn’t impossible to get into the plant through still other means. Frequently a word to some friend will be
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relayed to the proper person. Or the enthusiast may even go to the plant and ask to see the superintendent thereof, with some chance of accomplishing his purpose. Local conditions will govern this matter to some extent, and persistence is highly recommended.
Suppose now that the persistent amateur has finally gained entry to a coke plant, let us say. It is composed of various units connected mainly by intricate conveyor systems. Coal is loaded into huge furnaces two or three stories high. After it has been heated to extremely high temperatures, a great steel ramrod mounted on a railroad car is pushed slowly through the furnace emptying it into cars on rails.
This operation is a very colorful one, especially at night when masses of smoke and great tongues of flame shoot up from the cars as the coke tumbles into them. A shot taken at night with flash to light up cars and men, is very dramatic indeed. The gleaming white-hot coke is now taken to the quenching station. This quenching station provides perhaps the most spectacular sight in the entire realm of industry. It is a squarely-built brick tower arched through the middle to permit the long steel coke cars to pass underneath. As the coke cars, with their smouldering burdens, pass through the center of the building, large sprays open and completely drench each car. With the first contact of coke and water a thunderous hiss is set up, accompanied by the formation of a thick, opaque cui'tain of steam which bellies out in all directions. The quenching operation is repeated every fifteen minutes or so.
I know you will be fascinated by the sight, but don’t shoot at it the first time. Just study it carefully and get ready for the next performance. Calculate your exposure carefully. You will need a rather deep filter to heighten the tonal contrasts between the steam and the sky. Be careful not to overexpose the steam or you will get flat white areas, instead of rounded, well formed masses. At the same time the exposure must be generous enough to give you detail in the building.
Another interesting division of the coke plant is that devoted to by-products such as coal gas, coal tar, etc. The chief characteristic of this section is an intricate maze of pipelines, x'eservoir tanks, steel towers, etc. A filter, of course, is necessax-y in photographing this material against the sky. Underexposure of the sky thi'ough the use of a deep filter always adds to the dramatic values of the silver painted netwoi’k. Slight overexposure and underdevelopixient of the x'ound metallic shapes will pi'esei've the roundness by giving you detail in both highlights and shadow.
Do not clutter up your pictui'es with too many things, as most ofteix they will merely detract from or even obscux'e the main subject. Look for a good piece of design. Single out the thing in a unit
which you think is most striking and concentrate on it. Observe it from different angles. You will often find it most interesting when shot from a “cock-eyed” angle rather than from a normal point of view.
Do not make indiscriminate use of filters. If you are photographing rows of black smokestacks ejecting clouds of black smoke into the sky, you might want the sky to be recorded as light in tone as possible to reinforce the contrast between your subject and background. On the other hand, if you are shooting blast furnaces, you would probably want to set off the ponderous murky forms with some appropriate clouds.
In general, outdoor industrial photography is quite easy. With a few simple tools and a good eye an amateur photographer with a sense for the largeness of things, a reverence for man’s accomplishments in harnessing the forces of nature, and an overwhelming drive to make pictures under occasionally very difficult conditions, will be amply rewarded.
Now we come to interior industrial photography. The most important problem in photographing industrial interiors is lighting. Factory interiors are spacious and in most cases rather dark. Your lights are not reflected much and usually become lost in space. You must cut your exposures to a minimum on account of vibration. The best kind of light to use in a factory is synchronized flash.
In a steel plant it is possible to photograph some operations without auxiliary lighting. This is true of all processes involving either the pouring or transporting of molten steel. However, the light obtained from such operations is concentrated in one spot and is hardly ever sufficiently diffused to give you any illumination on the ladle and surrounding machinery. Pictures taken in this way used to make the old pictorialists’ hearts throb. Our modern amateur, on the other hand, with his anastigmat high speed lenses, fast films, and synchronized flashbulbs, need not ascribe to pictorialism, or romanticism, or “art” the lack of precision in his pictures. The tremendous improvements in materials and technique in the last few years have widened the limits of photography in all fields, and subjects or conditions which were then considered impossible to photograph are now handled with ease.
The two shots depicting the pouring of molten steel illustrate the last point aptly. In the first picture, no illumination was used other than that radiating from the metal itself. You will notice that the area of illumination is limited and in no place does the texture or shape of the ladle or surrounding structure receive enough light to be recorded.
The second picture demonstrates the use of auxiliary lighting (in this case 3 synchronized bulbs) together with that of the hot steel. The synchronized flash performs several functions. It illuminates the scene; it makes possible a short enough exposure to stop all motion, and it yields sufficient light to counterbalance the terrific brightness of the flowing metal, as there is great danger of fogging
when the glow of the steel is shot directly. Very careful, painstaking preparations must be made for such a shot and it must be made under adverse conditions. Focusing is laborious in the dim light of the interior of the mill; the exact position of the ladle must be gauged— and you must watch out for spattering metal! Once the metal begins to pour (and it lasts for a few minutes only) you will shoot, change film and flashbulbs, shoot again, etc. If you are lucky, you will perhaps get a picture that will make anything else you ever took look sick, and will give your snapshooting friends that greenish look people get when they stand on the edge of an active volcano for the first time.
Another occasion which required quick action took place in a paper mill. A huge vat, nearly two stories high, was about to be emptied of hot, digested pulp at 140° F. As the first gush of it leaped out I put my lights in place, focused carefully, and waited tensely for the valve to be opened. Suddenly I noticed that my lens was covered with condensed steam. I quickly wiped it. No sooner had I done so than the moisture formed again. I had to keep wiping until the moment of exposure. The resulting picture turned out rather well. But I had to pick the pulp out of my ears and hair for several days afterward, and give the camera and lights a complete overhauling because the nasty stuff stuck so.
You may or may not be aware of the usefulness of the various camera adjustments in this sort of work. There are several reasons why the swing or tilt movements may have to be used. You may need them to keep the verticals or horizontals of your subject parallel. Often the height of a machine does not pei'mit you to take it all in without tilting the camera. Since tilting tends to make the vertical lines of your subject converge, the problem must be overcome by raising the front board.
The picture of the continuous strip rolling mill furnishes a good example of the use of a swing adjustment. The mill was 120 ft. long, and since there was little or no free space the camera had to be set up close to it. In order to get the entire mill into the picture and at the same time avoid distortion either the lens board or the back of the camera had to be swung.
It is possible in some cases to arrange pictures to suit a particular conception or design you may have in mind. Such ideas often present themselves as one studies a piece of apparatus; and if it is not part of a continuous line of production, the cooperation of the workmen may be enlisted in working out your idea. An example of such a procedure is illustrated by the picture of the man and gear. [See the Picture of the Month on page 39 of this ISSUE.-ED. ] It was taken in a plant which specialized in the making of gears for oil well drilling machinery. The job of the man in the picture was to “mate” various gears as they came off the cutting machines. It shows the actual position of the workman during the process.
However, a special camera angle was selected and some pains were taken with the lighting. The man was placed behind
the gear, so that its size might be emphasized and also in order that the circular arrangement of the gear teeth might not be obscured.
This same picture serves to illustrate the advantage of a wide-angle lens in photographing men and machines. These lenses enable you to take in a considerable spread of territory in the foreground of your picture; and at the same time their extreme depth of field permits you to obtain comparatively sharp focus upon subjects at varying distances from the camera, at relatively large apertures. In this case I was able to work up close to the machine with the man at the far side of it, thus accentuating the size of the gear in relation to that of the man. The abrupt perspective achieved in this way enhances the bulk and the weight of the machinery and reduces the comparative size of the workman, thus making for dramatic contrast. This produces dynamic emphasis in the picture, an effect for which you should always strive.
A fairly simple but effective scheme was used to keep extraneous objects out of the picture. The lights were placed very close to the subject and a sufficiently short exposure was given to underexpose the other machines which happened to be within i'ange of the lens. The use of lights in this way is very helpful in interior industrial photography as so little other control can be exercised in eliminating unwanted objects from the picture plane.
Synchronized or open flash, however, is better adapted to this technique than floods because of the possibility of a very short exposure in a brief but very intense flash. It strikes full upon the subject when close to it and doesn’t spi'ead far enough to give a comparable exposure to surrounding objects. A pleasing result. is obtained in this way, in which the bright glistening machine is enveloped by a rich black background. So many otherwise fine industrial interiors are ruined by the haphazard inclusion of machines, parts, tools, and other confusing paraphernalia that it is decidedly worth while to manipulate your lights with some degree of care. It takes longer and adds somewhat to the difficulties ordinarily present in such work, but you will learn not to begrudge the extra effort necessai’y in making a beautiful picture.
You should by no means be discouraged by the references which have been made here to somewhat professional equipment. Such things as tilt and swing camera adjustments and wide-angle lenses were introduced here largely to explain their use in and adaptation to industrial photography. Many of you own auxiliary lenses or cameras which have some sort of compensating adjustment, and if so, you may be able to adapt these photographic aids to some extent as I have mentioned here.
But the person who owns fairly simple equipment can combine it with technical skill and a sense of the dramatic and come up with some excellent industrial pictures, interior as well as exterior. This is a great field for the pictorialist, and the subject matter should prove to be practically inexhaustible.—fca