The word ‘industry’ doesn’t exactly conjure up glamorous connotations, does it? Compare it with ‘landscapes’, with their misty mornings and warm sunlight illuminating golden, rolling countryside draped in a veil of mist, that are glamorous, romantic and certainly photogenic – the sorts of scenes we all want to capture.
But put the word ‘industrial’ in front of ‘landscape’ and it becomes a whole different ball game. The mind pictures images of Lowry-esque scenes of grim Northern mills, smoke stacks belching out poisonous plumes and vast Eastern Bloc industrial plants polluting away like there was no tomorrow.
Industrial landscapes like that are few and far between, especially now that we are more environmentally aware. But there is still plenty of scope for industrial landscapes in Britain. So what do we mean by the term ‘industrial landscape’? To me, an industrial landscape is perhaps not the industry itself but the space or landscape into which that industry fits – and perhaps forms part of its own landscape.
I am not interested in the nuts and bolts of a production line, or what is being produced in a factory. Instead, I want to shoot the shape, form, texture and colour of the subject, to get a feel for its place in the wider landscape.
Access and location
Shooting industrial scenes does have one or two pitfalls, and probably the most important are access and security. In the course of my career i have been lucky enough to shoot for some very interesting clients in some extreme and often highly confidential industrial plants, and for all these i was briefed and escorted.
This, of course, is not going to be possible if you are shooting industrial landscapes on spec. There are, however, some things you can do to mitigate any potential problems further down the line. if you are shooting near sensitive areas, such as chemical plants or refineries, inform the front gate. Let them know who you are and what you are doing, and drop off a business card.
Keep to public paths and highways, and don’t skulk around in the undergrowth trying to hide. Also, try not to cause a major security alert at a major industrial plant as i did a few years ago – if it says keep out, then keep out!
If you can shoot a landscape, then you can shoot an industrial landscape. So what should you look for and where do you go for your industry? Although there are some small pockets of heavy industry left in the UK, you do not need huge sprawling steel mills or acres of petro-chemical plants for your industrial landscapes.
While these giants of industry can make for great subject matter, we do not all live with a huge rolling mill on our doorstep. Instead, look for power stations, building sites, bridges, pylons, roads, motorways, smoke stacks and industrial architecture. When shooting industrial landscapes, remember to take a look at the past as well as the present.
There are plenty of historical industrial sites with potential for atmospheric images, such as the slate mines of North Wales, the tin mines of Cornwall and the remnants of coal mining and ore smelting throughout Yorkshire and the northern counties.
If you plan to shoot near a major petro-chemical plant, oil refinery, or indeed any industrial area that could be considered a sensitive location, stop off at the front gate first and leave your business card. Let them know who you are and what you are doing. This could save you time and a great deal of grief later on.
Research your location thoroughly. Industrial landscapes are probably harder to access and shoot than traditional landscapes, so do as much planning as possible beforehand. The Ordnance Survey is a good source of information, with all
manner of public rights of way marked out. You will, however, need to sign up to the OS website.
Watch the news, read the newspapers and keep abreast of what the latest capital investment projects are. HS2 is a good case in point – if and when it goes ahead, research the planned route and fi nd out what is being built or tunnelled, and where, then check out the nearest footpaths for access to possible locations.
As with traditional landscape images, the weather plays an important role with industrial landscapes. Crisp, frosty days are ideal for large industrial scenes, while passing rainstorms can be great for locations such as the slate quarries, as wet, shiny slate with mountains capped in cloud can produce great moody images.
Hire a lens
If you have done a recce of a location and have found an angle that you particularly like but do not have a lens that is long enough or wide enough, why not hire one? There are now several online hire sites that offer good kit at reasonable prices. Work out what you need, watch the weather forecast, hire and shoot.
Why not shoot your industrial landscapes in black & white? Certain subjects will lend themselves to moody monochrome treatment, whereas colour could possibly make an image far too pretty. Even if full-blown black & white is not quite right, desaturate your colour image by 60 or 70% for a different feel or mood.
Be broad-minded about subject matter. When talking about landscapes, it is tempting to think of the bigger picture, the wide view or the sweeping vista, but with an industrial landscape I think we should try to convey a message or tell a story. Look for images with simple lines, strong graphic shapes and blocks of bold colour.
One of my favourite techniques is to shoot into the light and use a simple silhouette to help illustrate the subject – tower cranes on building sites are a good example of this. Search for things that help place the subject in its surroundings, such as pylons towering above woodland in the mist, heavy lorries on curving roads or container ships heading to port.
Keep it simple, as often the fewer elements in the image, the more powerful it will be. Also consider the shape, direction and angle of lines, and the direction, strength and colour of the light. And don’t forget, an industrial landscape can also be a close-up, a detail or a microlandscape. for example, a rusting padlock on a long-ago closed factory gate, the nuts and bolts of industrial neglect or abandoned machinery can all make for very interesting subject matter.
Research your locations and use the Ordnance Survey maps (or the app) and software such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris (photoephemeris.com) to work out sunrise/sunset times and their direction. Look out for vantage points that will enhance the shot. For example, a well-known industrial scene in Scotland has always been shot from the nearby hilltop golf course.
Church towers and multi-storey car parks have also provided a good source of viewpoints over the years, so think outside of the box. It’s not just the initial viewpoint that has to be taken into account, but also the time of day and the time of year.
Many of my industrial landscapes shot for stock are winter images: a lack of leaves on tree scan open up a view that was previously obscured; the colder temperatures usually mean more steam billowing from chimneys, and more steam can be good; and the quality of light on a cold winter’s day can be absolutely stunning.
At first glance, industrial imagery may not seem like everyone’s cup of tea, but there is potential for some strong, bold imagery. We can all do the pretty stuff, so it’s just a case of expanding your horizons and exploring a new subject that many shy away from – and adding the word ‘industrial’ to our landscapes.