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Industrial photography in a foundry

  |   Article, Articles and reviews, Black and white, Composition, Photography Business, Photography Ideas   |   1 Comment

Industrial photography in a foundry

Why molten metal can make such interesting photos

It’s part of what we do at Northlight, but a chance to look round and photograph a steel foundry really appeals to Keith’s engineering background.

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Casting the steel

A few notes about a photograph produced for an industrial client.

This is as close as it’s safe to get.

The molten steel could fracture the mould. Unlikely, but this is not a place for the close up wide angle lens ;-)

Pouring molten steel into a mould at a steelworks

Pouring molten steel into a mould at a steelworks

Before any shots like this you talk to all the safety people and make sure you have your line of exit mapped out. There are safe(er) places to get the shot, and unwise places to even think of going.

If something goes wrong, then I’m leaving any kit I’m not holding, and trusting to insurance ;-)

The people in the shot don’t know, nor care about my presence – I’ve decided that this particular vantage point offers the chance of getting a good shot, and I’ve taken several dozen shots at different focal lengths (24-70 zoom)  Some look good while others, moments later, just don’t work.

With the low light conditions I’m using a tripod. I could probably get quite a few good shots at 1/25th hand held, but at slower speeds I want to concentrate on what’s going on, not standing very still.

It’s a planned shot in that I knew where the ladle would be and what people would be doing, but the actual image that works still has an element of good fortune. In this shot for example, someone could have just walked through the background…

Converted from colour with Silver efex Pro 2, using selective contrast enhancement to draw attention to the people. Selective vignetting of the corners also draws attention in to the ‘action’, whilst the position of the workers heads takes your attention to the steel.  The triangle of heads and the metal (and particularly the gaze of the man at the left) create a more dynamic feel.

I’d love to say that I worked out all that stuff when I took the shot, but it’s the sort of thing that to me comes largely unplanned in getting a ‘feel’ for what works as a shot.

If you read any book on composition, you could easily get the impression that ‘real pro’ photographers consciously juggle all the rules to come up with what works. That may (sometimes) be true in the studio, but my own composition tends to come as a combination of a feel for more complex symmetries when I’m  taking the shots, along with cropping and processing the image to get what I want afterwards.

I keep all my shots, I never delete files in-camera – it’s interesting to go to 20-30 shots of a scene that you had a feeling that should work. I look at the one(s) that jump out at me, but I also look at the runners up and the also ran’s – what didn’t work? Can I see why?

I look at lots of other people’s photo’s, however I’d be hard put to name many famous photographers, since I tend to see the image and rarely the person behind it (my qualifications and experience are not in arts or photography ;-)

These and my own images are what helps develop my own style – if I’m lucky, this will appeal to clients and some of my industrial photography work will pay the bills ;-)

removing impurities from molten steel

“You’ll be OK standing over there Keith…”

This particular assignment gave me a lot of flexibility in choosing what I was shooting – more commonly, I have specific items or activities to capture. This is not a problem – being a pro photographer, in my book, means being able to take great shots of stuff you are not so interested in as well as what inspires you.

Many of the images I captured were destined for large decorative prints in offices and meeting rooms. The idea was to include examples of the whole process from molten steel, to machined finished castings going out of the door.

Image sizes

Steelworks - making steel castings, pouring molten steel

I’d note that the black and white image above was intended as a print, so it’s quite difficult to show the detail in a 560 pixel wide web image.

Understanding how output medium and size affects our perception of images and image detail is critical if you are preparing large prints. Click on the small thumbnail to the right to open up a 1200 pixel wide version of the file, in a new window.

I’ve noticed that some prints that work at large sizes (A1/A0) don’t look so good on the web or as small (A4) prints.

I’ve always put it down to there being a hierarchy of image structures at different sizes, and their interaction with typical viewing distance, angle of view of the lens used, differing visual processing of the periphery of view, and how we resolve differing spatial resolutions.

This is not the same as the resolution, resampling and any applied (localised) print sharpening, which can be limiting factors on print size.

Recent work shows a number of interesting neurological reactions to different types/styles of art, whilst analysis of information content (complexity) shows a distinct peak in complexity for a wide range of artists (old to modern). Too simple and we’re bored, too complex and our processing of the image falls down.

Of course, knowing this doesn’t help create works of art, or pictures that ‘work’, but as an artist with a scientific background, I find the way that these things link together quite fascinating, rather than any challenge to my creativity (YMMV)

Preparing to pour off slag from a ladle of molten steel

Preparing to pour off slag from a ladle of molten steel

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  • Tim Parkin | Jul 26, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Working in steel plants is great. I worked in Ravenscraig Nr Glasgow for a year and they had a ‘breakout’ on a 600 tonne ladle – imagine the one in your pictures but three stories high and imagine it being emptied in the middle of a warehouse.. 300 tonnes poured out in 30-40 seconds.. I was about 100 yards away (in the same warehouse) and it singed my hair! We used to get told not to wear plastic soled boots but weather leather instead because if we did we’d slip over on the molten steel lying around :-)

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