6

For purely aesthetic reasons, I want to be able to photograph places like power plants, factories, railroads, (industrial) farms, and so on. However, owners and operators of such facilities are not likely to want photographers around for reasons such as:

  • The site is dangerous to untrained personnel and they want to avoid liability
  • They don't have time for someone to give a tour or accompany me
  • They don't want the details of their operation made public for PR or IP reasons
  • Laws or security rules prohibit photographing certain sensitive facilities

Additionally, sites can be hard to find because they aren't advertised and usually rather hidden away.

Does anyone have experience photographing such places? I'm curious whether certain types of facilities are easier to get into than others, what kinds of places can be photographed from the outside without needing permission, and so on.

5

I'll try to pull together some thoughts for an answer to what really has no definitive solution, I think.

First, where you are may make a difference. Familiarize yourself with the laws in your jurisdiction. In the US, with some exceptions, you can photograph anything you can see from public areas where you are normally allowed to be, however even then there are a lot of exceptions - including trademarks in view for example, some facilities deemed sensitive for national security, some buildings are copyrighted, some types of usage (e.g. advertising vs journalism) may require property releases. Perhaps more to the point, you can often expect some uncomfortable encounters with security even if you are legally allowed to shoot. In other countries this may be more open, or (perhaps more commonly) more restrictive.

The second option is to try to get permission. I've been involved in corporate management of relatively industrialized facilities over many decades, and the fundamental issue you face is not finding them (I think you can if you try), but getting permission -- there's no up side for most operators. You have nothing they want, and lots of downside -- you might get hurt, the photos might be used against them by competitors, in litigation, etc. To get permission you need some hook to interest them. Possibilities might include:

  • Go through all your friends and associates, and see if any are employed (preferably in a senior capacity) in some facility, and can get you entre.
  • Find some that might be advertising heavily. Offer your services for free in return for being allowed to do some art photos while there (perhaps throw in the offer to let them review and approve any such to remove sensitive material).
  • Talk to the city/county business development folks in your area. They are often trying to recruit new industry to come to the area, and may benefit from marketing photos, and in turn they will have contacts and may be able to arrange access to local facilities. Again, you're trading your photos for access, just to a different place.
  • You might get with a local paper or regional magazine who might be interested in doing a story of some local facility, and who can get you access in return for photos. This is likely easier if there's some reason for interest, e.g. expansion, corporate takeover, etc. But if you have no prior experience with journalism they probably won't even return your calls or email.

Fundamentally the deck is stacked against you. Imagine if someone came to your door and said "I am intrigued with your decorating skills, may I come in and photograph your home, for use in my portfolio. Oh, why yes, of course I'll show it to lots of people, and tell them where you live". Without something more, I think at best people would say no and shut the door immediately, some would report you as suspicious.

0

Linwood's answer is very good.

I would just add.

Prepare yourself a portfolio of your "purely aesthetic reasons".

Take photos of where you do not have that problem. Public places, "abandoned" facilities (Do not trespass :oS ), small workshops, cityscapes, bridges.

Then, when you ask permission you can show your work and the people in charge could consider it a serious project.

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