deCroce blog of photography

Industrial Photographer

After capturing this image, I knew I wanted to write an article entitled Industrial Photographer. But the image needed some work. And as I worked on it, it began to transform into a drawing. I wonder, at what point does a photograph become an illustration?

Long stories about the making of photographs are usually boring. But occasionally they’re better than the actual pictures. How I grabbed this shot is epic.

This particular industrial plant near Denver is surrounded by electrifying fences with voltage so high that people fry then die. Armed guards and guard dogs patrol the perimeter at all times. Tales about charred the remains of two reporters and an un-savvy industrial photographer were probably just old legends… Or were they?

Denver industrial photography night shot depicting oil refinery in mid winter
Every indutsrial photographer should know that smoke and vapors are accentuated in sub zero weather. This image depicting an oil refinery near Denver was created at 4:00 a.m. With a few inches of newly fallen snow and a sub zero temperature (-10º) this is one industrial photograph that I might not care to duplicate.
Getting the Shots we See

Driving a car with a photographer’s eye is frustrating. Our vision is constantly set for high sensitivity as we scan each moment for possible pictures. And when do we see something really cool, we only get glimpses of a potential composition. The flow of traffic is too heavy and too fast. It’s often impossible to turn off. Alas, the best vantage point is usually from the three-lane highway. That’s true on mountain freeways and it’s true for the section of industrial Denver called Commerce City.

I had wanted a night photograph of this refinery for a long while. Smoke and vapor exuding from the stacks is accentuated in sub-zero weather. So I waited for my perfect night. 

Knowing the security would be tight, I donned black jeans and black jacket to blend with night. For some uncanny and unknown reason, I decided to wear the steel toed boots that I typically wear on industrial photography photoshoots. They had been worn so many times before, that the shortness of my wide feet caused the toes to curl upward. The sight of those pudgy feet in curled up toes was straight out of an 18th century caricature.  

Using Google maps, I found my way on back roads and parked far away, maybe a mile or two. My nervousness grew with each stealthy step as I got closer to the electrifying fence and the armed guards. Then suddenly it was there in my viewfinder. Giant plumes of odorous funk mixed into the cold night air like oil into water. 

I shot ferociously. 

In previous commissions as an industrial photographer, I learned to exhaust every idea and every possible angle. Being satisfied at the job-site is a good feeling. But I also knew that, once back at in my lightroom, I’d want more. Too much in never enough. 

A photographer immersed is a photoshoot is like a monk in meditation. Everything else disappears. Less and less concerned with the obstacles of security, I was meditating long and deep. And that’s when a brilliant idea hit me like an epiphany. In front of me was a giant cable, maybe a foot wide. It stretched as far as I could see and led to what I hoped would be a terrific vantage point. The only problem was, It was 12 feet high …and I’m not 25 years old anymore. 

I weighed the risk of injury versus the chance of getting a great image. Falling would be problematic in two ways. I could get dead or I could get discovered by guards. But before I knew it, forgotten boyhood adrenaline hoisted me up. With a backpack balancing the camera dangling on my front side, I shimmied up the frozen pole. My first step on that metal cable rope was an omen.

The cable wasn’t exactly stable. Nor was it taught. And in any previous life experiences had I done no training whatsoever for even an amateur circus. But I pushed on –– the lure of one magnificent picture representing an industrial photographer was too much to ignore. I grew more confident with each wobbled step. And then it happened. The point when I knew a fall was eminent was exactly like the moment you know you’re going to vomit. And there was nothing I could do to prevent it.

I remember hearing at least one of the guard dogs barking as I began to plummet. My mind raced with thoughts of doom. Was I going to get hurt bad or get busted or both? But somehow, nimbleness took over. I swear, it felt like I was slow motion stunt-double in a James Bond action film. And then everything stopped. I found myself hanging upside down dangling from that metal cable by the turned up toe crease in my steel-toed boots. What I did next is what any normal industrial photographer would do.

I shot ferociously. 

Industrial Photographer: The Real Story

Denver industrial photography night shot depicting oil refinery in mid winter

And sometimes it’s fun to write fiction. The real story of how I got this shot is mundane and a little embarrassing. Although the fences might be electric, guards and guard dogs are pretty friendly.

I did follow Google maps to find the back roads, that part is true. After I parked near the plant, I climbed a steep snowy hill that the highway is built on. This was almost the exact vantage point I saw while driving by so many times before. With my camera on tripod, I made a plethora of exposures in the arctic frozen night air. By the got back to the car, my body was frozen stiff. The shot in this article was made from the warm cushion of my heated front seat.

The Evolution of Industrial Photography

Industrial photography is not a popular subject matter. In fact, almost no one likes it. Even the folks who hire me as an industrial photographer expect cleaned-up glamorous shots of their facilities. When I recently asked a fellow photographer for his opinion of the composition, he talked instead about how industry is at odds with the natural environment.

And that’s just the point, isn’t it? The political left talks the big talk about environmental change. But can humans ever actually alter their behavior? What giant catastrophe will it take for us to clean up our planet? And that’s why I shoot scenes like this. The way I see it, I’m chronicling the end of the industrial age as we know it.

Time For Action

Climate crisis is the biggest threat to both human existance and to the natural world we call earth. Of course, the dreadful possibility of nulear anialation will never disappear. But climate change is happening NOW. And it’s happening faster than we realize.

What action can each of take to battle the worsening effects of our overheating planet? I believe the first step is to educating ourselves and our communites. One organization I’ve found to be especially productive is The Climate Reality Project. Visiting their website provides information and ideas for participation.

“At The Climate Reality Project, we believe that equity, fairness, and the fully voiced engagement of frontline communities most impacted by climate change are essential components of any enduring climate solution and that to solve the climate crisis, we must pursue a just transition to a clean energy economy that nurtures healthy and sustainable communities and ecosystems.”

As an industrial photographer, I believe the phrase “frontline communities most impacted by climate change” needs to include more than those most imapted by rising seas, hurricanes and wildfires. I believe the political left and climate activists need to consider the good folks who’ve spent their lives toiling to bring carbon fuel to the rest of us.

The time for political divisivness must end!

To see more images representing Industrial Photographer please visit my industrial protfolio on the main commercial site

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