I am a construction photographer. This is what I do. This is my specialism. Do you want to join me?
You do? Great! In this blog post I will tell you how to become a construction photographer. Plain and simple. I will tell you everything that you need to know based on my experiences as a working construction photographer, and also as a construction professional. At the end of this post you will know what you need to do to embark on this exciting specialist area of photography.
And I will link to some other blog posts that I have written about construction photography, as well as lots of examples of my work.
Construction photography has given me some unique experiences, and taken me to places that most people never get to see. Construction photography is unique as every commission is unique – even repeat business varies from site to site.
If you are up for a challenge and want to do something different then read on and let me tell you all about construction photography.
Who am I?
- MCIOB – Member of the Chartered Institute of Building
- ABIPP – Associate in the British Institute of Professional Photography
So I am perfectly qualified to teach you how to become a construction photographer.
Oh yes – I also have a lifetime of practical working experience in both construction and photography.
What is a construction photographer?
A construction photographer is someone who photographs buildings at all stages of a buildings life, including the construction phase.
What is an architectural photographer?
An architectural photographer is someone who photographs completed buildings.
Is there really a difference?
Yes and no. To be honest it is not that important. For the purpose of this post I will stick with construction photographer – is that ok?
Why would I want to become a construction photographer?
Well there will always be buildings, and there will always be a demand for photographs of buildings. Photographing buildings is therefore one of the few areas of photography that you can virtually guarantee is not going to go away.
I think that is a rather good reason on its own.
Plus it is different and interesting in so many ways.
I get to see lots of things that most people do not get to see which I am always very appreciative of. I have been in some very unusual buildings and indeed unusual situations. I have photographed buildings owned by very famous people.
And I have met so many great people during my career.
How do I start as a construction photographer?
Practise. Practise. Practise. This is the starting point for all of us. And with buildings you have an unlimited supply of subject matter that is sat there waiting to be photographed.
And I assume that you live in a building, so that is an even better starting point.
Photograph your home inside and out. Explore anything and everything. And once you have exhausted where you live get out and photograph other stuff.
Am I allowed to photograph buildings?
Public buildings are normally fine to photograph, after all this is what people do all the time.
It is when you come to publish and sell photos that things get more complicated but are talking about practise only now aren’t we!
Photograph the icons – but differently
Photograph iconic landmarks and locations. This is great practice. Get the headline shots that everyone gets – these you can play around with when processing your photos.
But for every iconic landmark and location try to get at least one different viewpoint, ideally one that you have never seen before.
Try different viewpoints and high and low camera positions (there are some great gear ideas later which will help with this).
Different views of well known subjects will make you stand out from the crowd.
And this is what we want of course! We want to give our clients great stand out images of their construction sites.
Tips on image capture – this is the most important construction bit!!
The more you know about construction and architecture the better. It is the understanding of the construction process and the intricacies of architecture that enable us to to take great phots that clients want.
There is an endless amount of online resources on construction and architecture.
But this is my big tip.
If you want to become a construction photographer check out the websites of construction companies.
This will tell you the images that they already value and give you a massive insight into the photos that they will want.
This is the beauty of the internet – the answers are there for us all to see.
So check out construction company websites and work out a way to give them better images.
And check out architects, other contractors, consultants, and suppliers.
Like I said before – the answer is there for us all to see. All we need to do is to give our clients better images than they already have!
And now some photographic stuff
6 tips on composition
1 – Rules of composition
Learn the rules of composition. I will not go through them all here, there are many other resources where you can learn this.
2 – The rule of thirds
This is where you split the photo into thirds horizontally and vertically and place the main points of interest in the photo on the intersecting points. Whilst this often does not work when photographing buildings, you can use this rule to put the horizon on one of the horizontal lines – the horizon in the middle cuts a photo in half and is a big no.
3 – Leading lines
Construction photography has lots of scaffolding – perfect leading lines. Use what you can to draw people into a picture.
4 – And another compositional quick tip – Leave stuff out
If things do not belong in a photo leave them out – they will just distract. If you can exclude things when taking the photo then fine, and if you cannot and have to remove them in Photoshop then that is fine too.
My pet hate is things that intrude from the edges. On a construction site that can be overhead cables, scaffold, anything that affects the edges.
These things are distractions and detract from the photo.
5 – Go to the light
When you look at a photo you are naturally drawn to the lightest thing in the photo. So you need to make the focal point of the image the lightest thing as well.
There are two ways of doing this which I will tell you about in the processing bit.
6 – Technical correctness
There is an expectation that verticals are vertical, horizontals are horizontal and that colours are correct.
Technical correctness in construction photography is a subject all of its own, and something that I am constantly working to improve.
Your subject needs to be the star of the show, not lost in a load of other stuff. That is your priority.
Photography gear in construction
A quick word on gear.
Practise with what you have, learn your gear until you can use it with your eyes closed, because at some point you will find yourself doing virtually that.
Do not get hung up on gear but get the best that you can afford and justify.
The most important thing is to get out and take photos of buildings and construction sites. This is how you will develop as a construction photographer – not by spending all your time looking at gear and getting new stuff.
This is the gear that I use. Remember that I have everything for a shoot in a backpack, so cannot carry everything. The gear in my backpack is the stuff that I use on every shoot.
Having said that the rest of my gear is in the boot of my car in case I need it.
My camera of choice – the Canon 6D
The Canon 6D is a full frame no frills camera with a great sensor and fantastic image quality. I love the images that I get with my Canon 6D. Sure I would like some of the fancy features of other cameras but on a commercial shoot these would jut be a distraction to me.
The Canon 6D is a durable, weather sealed DSLR that does the job for me. When my current Canon 6D eventually needs to be retired I might just buy another second hand one!
I bought a focus screen that gives me the rule of thirds in my viewfinder – very handy!
The lens that I use all the time is the Canon 17-40mm F4 L. This is a fantastic, relatively cheap, small, and lightweight lens made with L series pro quality.
17mm is my go to focal length, and on some shoots I actually stick some tape on to lock the focal length at 17mm. And the F4 maximum aperture is fine for me.
I have a number of tripods but prefer the Manfrotto 190 Go tripod which is quick to set up, easy to carry in one hand and perfectly stable and sturdy for my needs.
Geared tripod head
I have a Manfrotto X Pro 3 way geared head. I can get the composition I want quickly using the pull levers, and then refine the composition by turning the knobs on the end for fine adjustment in all three planes.
My aim is to nail the composition, get things level and vertical and exclude things I do not want when I take a photo – it is quicker to do this in camera than later in Photoshop.
A Platypod is a metal plate that you put your camera on that you can stand on other stuff. I have used it and pushed the spikes into timber scaffold boards to get a rock solid base!
This is a very small tripod that is dead handy.
I use the Three legged Thing Universal L Bracket. This fixes to my camera and has mounts on the bottom and sides to attach my camera in portrait and landscape orientations without changing the tripod position. I often swap from one to the other.
There is an attachment that you can get that converts a painters’ pole into a massive selfie stick. Get one of these. EVO Gimbals sell them in the UK.
You screw the adaptor into the pole and then you can attach camera stuff using the screw thread.
I have a 4m painters pole. A quick look on Amazon and I found one that goes to 7m! I want that.
I have taken photos that I could not have got this shot without this inexpensive but essential assemblage of gear!
And you can use the pole to paint stuff too!
I use 16GB and 32GB memory cards all stored safely in waterproof cases. I have on case for empty formatted cards and another case for used cards.
I keep these in my bag and have had to use them even when it is not raining just to protect my camera!
Micro fibre towels
Yep, micro fibre towels are really handy to provide protection and dust things down.
These are my cleaning cloths of choice for that all important front lens element.
Eclipse cleaning solution
Used with the Pec Pads this is my go to lens cleaning solution, which I also use to clean the rest of my camera.
I use a Lastolite collapsible grey card to get the white balance correct.
I have some gaffers tape wrapped around a tripod leg so I always have some with me!
My construction photography gear is portable, durable, dust and water resistant.
And this lot goes in my Peak Design Everyday Backpack.
I have a spare everything in my car, including a spare camera and lenses.
What about tilt shift lenses?
I bought a tilt shift lens once but did not like it and did not use it. I hated that fact that it was manual focus too.
Maybe I will try again one day.
I will write a separate post about the gear I use.
And now here are the camera settings that I use?
- Aperture – I normally use F8 which is the sweet spot on my lens of choice. I use F16 if I need additional depth of field.
- Shutter – I use the AV mode on my Canon 6D, where I select the aperture and the camera selects the shutter speed. Most of my photos are taken using a tripod so shutter speed is normally not a concern. If I am shooting handheld I used an ISO/ shutter speed/ aperture combination where the shutter speed is faster than the focal length used.
- ISO – I use ISO 100 whenever possible, which is the lowest native ISO on my Canon 6D. The lower the ISO the higher the image quality and the lower the chance of noise in the shadows.
- RAW/ JPEG – I take all my photos in RAW. Why? RAW image capture has no processing at all. A JPEG image has processing baked into the file which cannot be undone. I want complete control of my image processing. I convert images to JPEG from RAW for issue to clients.
- HDR – For most shoots I use auto bracketing, taking three photos at the same time. The first photo is the correct exposure, the second is two stops underexposed and the third image is two stops overexposed. I then merge the three files together in Lightroom to create a single image. I do this to capture the maximum data in the highlights and the shadows, and also this means I have to pay less attention to the exposure when taking photos, leaving me to concentrate on what is in the viewfinder.
- Focus – I focus normally 1/3rd into the scene. I am shooting wide most of the time so this gives me the depth of field that I need.
- GPS – I turn the GPS on at the beginning of every shoot – when the images are imported into Lightroom I can see where every photo is taken using the Map module and the GPS data. This is incredibly useful to me, as I take photos all the time whilst I am out and about, not just on the shoot itself.
I import all the photos that I take into Lightroom. Every photo I have ever taken with a DSLR is in my Lightroom catalogue.
And I process images in Lightroom too. I se Lightroom Classic and pay less than £10 a month for my Adobe subscription.
Which is an absolute bargain.
Processing is done to a refined and consistent workflow. Another subject all of its own. For this post though just know that Lightroom and Photoshop are you all you need. If I can process an image in Lightroom only then I am happy, as I am not a big fan of Photoshop – I find it too confusing.
Talking of which what do I use Photoshop for? Final cleaning up of an image, getting rid of stuff that I do not want in an image. The tools that I use are
- Spot healing
- Clone Stamp
And that is it.
I do not know how to use layers – this is far as my knowledge of Photoshop goes and I am fine with that.
Learn Lightroom inside out, and only learn the things you need to use Photoshop for is my advice.
Oh yes there is one more thing, and a rather important thing. I love Luminar 4 but have not had the time to play with it properly.
I do use Luminar 4 to replace the skies though – this is a game changer for me as I cannot predict the weather on the day of a shoot and sometimes have to go with the weather on the day.
So to be able to quickly replace the sky is fantastic and something that I have used with great success on shoots for clients.
Backup your data
One word on backing up images – make sure you have backups!. I use Backblaze to get a constantly updated cloud backups, and I also back up my photos to a separate external hard drive.
A photo has to look realistic and natural and be technically correct. Image processing for construction photography is about subtly enhancing what is there.
Cropping is a key part of image processing. I spend more time thinking about crops these days as I refine my images. I want to get the right balance of space around an image but also making the subject the main feature of an image.
Light and dark
I use the dodge and burn tools in Lightroom to subtly change the lights and darks. Remember what I said about the eye being drawn to the brightest part of an image earlier – this is how I do it.
I add a vignette to every photo. You can barely see it, but it does darken the edges drawing you into the photo.
Ok that is the photography side of things – now for the construction side
Working with clients
Construction clients can be the person paying for works, an architect, consultant, contractor or sub-contractor. All these good folk at some point need photos of their work.
Agree the brief
Once you have been approached by a construction client, the first thing to do is to agree the brief. That is what the client is going to get photos of, when and for how much.
Agree the price
The tricky bit – getting the price right. I work on a day or half day rate normally and charge an all in fee that includes image processing.
The quote – inclusions
You have to be clear what is include in a quotation. When the photos are to be taken, how many photos, copyright and usage terms, payment terms, all that good stuff.
The quote – exclusions
Just as important, what is not included.
When the photos are to be taken. Timing will be led by the client who will know where things are up to in the construction process and when the best time is to take the photos.
Another headache. The British weather certainly is a problem that causes me endless problems. For any weather dependent shoot I plan as much as I can and confirm the date of the shoot at the start of that week. Weather forecasts are rarely reliable for more than a few days in the UK!
But do not forget I can change the sky!
Do I need to be qualified to go on a construction site?
Not necessarily, but it does help. I have a current CSCS card. If you do not have one do not worry, it just means that you will need a higher level of supervision than me.
Everyone going onto a construction site should receive a site induction, so they are aware of what is going on, what to be mindful of and what to do if there is a problem. These can vary in time from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, so find this out before you go to site.
Agree access in advance
Agree when you will be visiting site with the client. Very important. If you just turn up there is a high chance that you will not be allowed on site.
What gear do I need to go on a construction site?
You need this basic PPE
- Boots with steel toe caps and soles
- High Vis jacket/ vest
- Hard hat – get one with a short peak
- Gloves – ones that you can operate you camera with.
- Safety glasses – ones that you can see the viewfinder when wearing
Other site specific PPE
This will be provided by the Principal Contractor – the organisation in charge of the site.
The construction process
The construction process is a big wonderful thing. The better you understand the construction process the better your experience will be as a photographer, and the better your photos will be.
Make sure that everything is as it should be in a photo. If someone is not wearing the correct PPE then the photo cannot be used. As I have extensive knowledge of construction I know what to look for and when to not take a photo.
Make sure that you client checks the phots though and gives the final ok for compliance.
One to discuss with the client – do you have permission to use the photos, or do you need to get a property release from the building owner?
People in photos
People in photos can be a problem. If you are photographing a site from outside the fence passers by in a photo are photographed in a public place so permission is not required. If however you are photographing people within a site you should have their consent, the easiest way is to ask their employer to provide this.
As the photographer you have the copyright for the images. Your client has paid for the right to use the photos for the terms agreed with you. You are perfectly entitled to use the photos for your own portfolio and marketing purposes.
Can you sell the photos to another company? Sure. You have the copyright, and you have provided what your client has asked for and paid you for.
How many photos?
This can vary, but for a normal shoot I will only provide up to 30 photos. My quotes actually state this, as it is rare that a client wants more than that number of images.
Discuss and agree this with your client and confirm it in your quotation
Ok – that is that – what else can I tell you?
Well check out these other blog posts which tell you more about construction photography and my construction photos.
And new is my Construction Photographer page which takes you to all my other construction photography stuff.
There will always be buildings. And there will always be a need for photos of buildings. So this is not a bad area to work in, which is as future proof as any can be!
And I love doing this work, construction sites can be such interesting places that are constantly changing and places that most people to do get the chance to visit.
Rick McEvoy Photography
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