What to keep in mind when photographing a factory or construction site

Notice: When I translate this sentence from Japanese to English, I use an automatic translator.

The sites I go to for filming are all places where the general public is not allowed to enter, such as factories, construction sites, research facilities. Today, I’d like to write about what I comply with and what I keep in mind when I shoot such a special scene.

What I comply with when shooting

There are three things I comply with when shooting.

Safety first
Work first

Now, let’s write about each one.

Safety First

“Safety first.” This is a no-brainer. However, this is not for my own good. This is so that I don’t bother the people I’m interviewing and I don’t bother the people they are interviewing in the future. If an accident occurs due to my carelessness during filming, the person who gave me permission to shoot would lose their position, and the image of the nterviewee would be damaged. Also, if someone wanted to shoot later, they might not get permission to do so. 

In the field, there are some basic rules that are common to all job sites, so the first thing to do is to follow them. It’s something like, “Don’t go under a hanging load,” or “Wear a safety belt when working at height. ” When I say “don’t go under the lifting load,” I mean if you’re working on a crane or other lifting operation, don’t go under the load. Directly below includes, of course, the extent of the imagined danger of being rolled over. When working at height, the rule is to wear a safety belt (lifeline) when working at a height of 2 meters or more. Safety belts with ropes attached to the waist belt were the mainstream, but recently, many sites have adopted harnesses that distribute the load not only to the waist but also to the shoulders and crotch. By the way, the tip of the lifeline should be placed higher than your waist. That way, the distance to be dropped in the event of a fall can be reduced.

You should wear long sleeves, long pants, and safety shoes. I may or may not take a helmet, depending on the total amount of luggage. The actual shooting style is shown in the photo below.

Work first

I basically try not to ask the workers to do anything for the shoot. Stopping the work in the field would be a loss to the interviewee. If it is absolutely necessary, I will consult with them in advance and obtain their consent. Of course, if the people on site are cooperative, I will take them up on their word, but even in that case, I don’t do “staging for the shoot”. They just have to do what they always do. This is because if I staged it, it would be a false photo. I’ll write about this in more detail later.

Also, when I’m folding my tripod or waiting for something, I try to do it as out of the way as possible. To the people on site, the photographer is just an obstacle, so I think it is important to refrain from doing anything that would disturb the site as much as possible.


There are a variety of confidences in the field. It’s about how things are made, how equipment is arranged, and many other things, but I make sure to have these confidentiality issues checked multiple times. The first step is when it’s time to shoot. If there is an obviously confidential part at this time that can be grasped by someone who can guide me, I won’t take a picture. The second step is after the shoot. This may be done on the day of the shoot by checking the camera monitor, or it may be done after the development is complete. In any case, I will delete all photos that are judged to be NG. When I delete the photos, I also delete the photos that I did not develop, so only the photos that I received the OK will remain in my hands. So, It’s been about 10 years since I started using a digital camera seriously, but the total amount of data in the photos I’ve taken so far is less than 2 terabytes. That’s enough for one hard disk, even if I have multiple formats such as RAW, TIFF, JPG, etc., so it’s easy to make a backup. But even good photos have to be thrown away, so it’s hard when I throw them away.

Also, even if I receive an OK for a photo, I try to get permission before I publish it anywhere. This is the third stage of checking. I don’t think it’s necessary to ask for permission each time because I have the copyright, but it’s because the situation may change several years after the shooting, such as the name of the destination or the facility changing. In the past, national safety standards have changed after the shooting, and in some cases, if I don’t include the date of the shooting, the readers may think interviewee is acting in an uncomfortable manner, so I make sure to ask for confirmation. It’s a bit of a hassle for both of us to check each time, but it would be a complete waste of time if the photos I publish with the best of intentions become a nuisance to the people I’m covering, so I ask for their cooperation.

What do I keep in mind when shooting

I put a lot of emphasis on conveying the atmosphere of the site. When I shoot voluntarily, I don’t take pictures because I want to explain the site, I want to convey the atmosphere of the site to the people who see the pictures. I want people who see the photos to feel as if they are on the scene with me. By doing so, I believe that the site that is the subject of my work will no longer be someone else’s. A photo to illustrate will only be perceived as another person. When I shoot, I use the following methods.

Making the most of the light in the field

I basically don’t use a strobe when I’m shooting. I don’t even carry it in my bag if I don’t have a reason to. In the photo books I’ve published so far, I’ve only taken one photo using a strobe. The light from the strobe is so strong that it blows out all the atmosphere of the site that I want to convey. Also, if you use a current camera to take a picture of a site where people are working, you can somehow get a picture. If we don’t have enough lighting, we always have a flashlight (which uses only one AAA battery) or borrow a light from the site. In the past, the usher used to wear a light on his helmet, so I said, “Excuse me. Can I have the light shine over there while I’m filming? I even asked him to take a picture with me. The one with the aforementioned strobe was unavoidable because it was a place where no one was working and there was no light at all.

Have the workers do their usual work

When photographing the work scene, I ask them to let me film it, and then I tell them to do their job as usual. Having said that, everyone’s movements became stiff immediately after I spoke to them. In such cases, I try to follow the work for a while and take pictures when they have forgotten about my presence. In this way, I can take a cool picture of their work.

Use telephoto lenses sparingly

I usually take three lenses: a 16-35mm zoom, a 24-70mm zoom, and a 70-200mm zoom. I use the 16-35mm zoom lens the most. One of the reasons for this is that I often shoot in small spaces, but when I want to capture the workers and their surroundings in a single photo, I tend to use a wide-angle lens more often. The most rarely used lens is the 70-200 zoom lens. This is because using a telephoto lens will put you at a distance from your subject, making you look like a third party. As I mentioned earlier, I want people to feel like they are there when they see the photos, so I want to avoid being a third party’s point of view as much as possible. The only time I use a telephoto lens is when I can’t get close, or when I need a compression effect.

Shooting at the same place as the workers

I am tempted to enter the off-limits site because I want to photograph it from the perspective of the people involved. Shooting from the outside, I can’t help but feel like I’m an onlooker. Also, even when we are allowed to go inside and take pictures, “Please let me take a picture right by the workers. I’m asking them to do the same. Permission is not always granted, but if I don’t ask for it in advance, I may only be allowed to do interviews from the tour course.

Some of you who have seen my photos have said, “Nishizawa is deliberately trying to avoid taking pictures of people. That’s not true. In fact, there aren’t as many people in the field as you might think. At the site I photographed before, the factory was 600 meters long, and there were sometimes three people working there. Also, these people are in the control room, not near the machine, so it’s not so easy to get a shot with a powerful machine. In addition, if you want to shoot without direction in a limited time, you have to wait for the worker to make a cool move in front of a good background, which increases the time risk.

Technology and equipment will be kept out of sight

In order to convey the atmosphere of the site, the presence of technology and equipment is kept as inconspicuous as possible. As you can see from my earlier discussion of lenses, I don’t use any special equipment. In terms of technology, I shoot straightforwardly when I shoot, and when I develop, I only do things that have been possible since the analog era, such as adjusting color and contrast, and covering and burning. If you want to do it, you can do various things with image processing software, and there are modern development methods. However, if the technique is shown in such a way that you can see it, your eyes will be drawn to the places where it deviates from the content of the photo, and if the processing is out of date, in 10 years’ time, the photo will only show an old smell, so I try not to do that kind of thing as much as possible. The value of a photograph is partly due to the fact that it is a “record-keeper,” so I will not diminish its value myself.

That’s a picture anyone could take

My photos are taken with safety in mind, so there is no sense of urgency as if I’m risking my life. Also, since there is no eye-catching image processing, some people may think that this is a photo that anyone can take if they are in the field. It’s not like I’m using a special technique that only I know about, so in a way, that’s correct. But the question is, will he be in a position to take a camera at the scene? Sometimes you have to put your life on the line to be in that position. I think my shoots are like that.