By Douglas Gritz
Colorado Mechanical Services is a Denver business that specializes in HVAC, refrigeration, and plumbing contracting services. They first contracted me three years ago to create headshots for their staff. They’ve asked me back several times since as their staff has grown, so rapidly, in fact, that they had to move to a new, bigger location a year and half ago. They do very high quality work that they are very proud of.
It was shooting headshots for them again in October when they asked me if I also shot commercial photography. I said I did and asked what they had in mind. They replied that they were working on having a new redesigned website and they wanted commercial photography of some of their installation work involving primary HVAC systems.
To be honest, I’ve never shot HVAC systems. But I have shot landscapes, office spaces, and architecture, which I estimate to require similar approaches as shooting HVAC systems. So I pitched them on my confidence to create high-quality images and they agree to hire me.
For this shoot, they had four locations where they wanted commercial photography taken of their installations. The first two were build-outs they were in progress on for WeWork. CMS is doing all the plumbing for the new WeWork location at Wells Fargo Center and doing the HVAC systems at the new WeWork Tabor Center location. Following that I headed over to a police station in Northglenn to photography piping.
These commercial photos are from the WeWork Wells Fargo Center location. I was directed to a woman’s restroom build out on one of the Center’s floors. There they wanted photography of plumbing leading to a future row of toilets. This was the first time I would ever photograph plumbing, but I was game. I had brought my cart of lights with me, which was a lot work just getting to the location. Lot of winding around through halls underground and various elevators. Several other construction crews were busy on the floor building out other parts the facility, so there wasn’t a lot of room for me or my gear. Once I found a spot to stow my photo gear, I set up three different hot lights to create some shape on the piping and give the overall a scene a little bit of mood. After I completed my photography there, some the guys on the crew asked if they could get a group photo. Sure, why not!
At the WeWork Tabor Center, CMS is installing all the HVAC systems. So they wanted commercial photography of the HVAC fixtures attached to the ceiling. I set up a couple lights to edge out the tubing a bit and give it a little more shape (like the piping above).
So what do I mean by “shape”? Photography is a two-dimensional medium so part of my job as a photographer is making whatever I photograph look three dimensional inside a two-dimensional medium. So objects in reality have three dimensions. Light is what allows us to see those dimensions. So I’ll use light to carve out those dimensions for photos. This allows helps certain things in a photo stand out more than others. So since the attention in this photos needs to be on the HVAC systems, I edged those out a little light and used a warmer color temperature than the ambient light to help it stand out even more.
These photos are composites of multiple exposures. I took two different exposures just for the windows and others for being able to move the light around in different spots to the the HVAC systems with light in specific areas.
Next I was sent to a police station in Northglenn, a suburb north of Denver, to create commercial photographs of an air conditioning system CMS had installed. They wanted shots of the system with and without maintenance workers. The system was in a small room in the back of the parking lot area of the station. Two big doors opened up to the outdoors. So I took advantage of daylight coming in through those doors. Then I turned off the interior lights and set up my own 1K fresnel light off camera out of frame in a corner.
For a couple of these photos, I moved the light around to different areas of the room to get light on specific parts of the air conditioning system. I then combined these exposures together using Photoshop. So this is a great technique for creating a scene that might take 4-5 lights with one light instead. It also allows me to place the light in areas where it would be in the frame. But since I am creating multiple exposures, I have the ability to “paint out” the light stand later in Photoshop.
Outside were additional components of the air conditioning system as seen in the last photo. Here I took advantage of the sun’s position to help me out with creating a dynamic image here. The sun was low in the sky to the west (thank you December!) so I positioned myself looking west to capture the backlight hitting the air conditioning unit. The far wall was all in shadow. I framed the unit within that wall on purpose to keep the eye directed on the unit. Then I placed a bounce card on frame left to reflect a little sunlight back into the metal facing the camera to give it a little boost of levels.
Finally I was sent to another location nearby in Northglenn to create commercial photography of the mechanical systems above. I couldn’t tell you what these actually did, but I was happy to photograph and light them!
Again they wanted images with and without maintenance workers.
For the last five photos above, I used the same technique I used for the air conditioning system at the police station, which was move my lights around hitting different parts of the apparatus with several exposures. A photographer named Joel Grimes, who I went to see speak recently, calls this technique “platography.” Basically he refers to the different exposures that he composites later as “plates.” I didn’t occur to me I was already do the same thing! I’ve used the technique for years for all sorts of things (including a family portrait where the two kids would not cooperate the same time. So I took three different “plates” and later in Photoshop painted in the parts of each I wanted).
This room had two large doors, one on each wall facing the exterior. So I opened those up as big as they would go to get some help from natural light to help edge out these structures.
My favorite little detail in this whole sequence of commercial photography is the little specular highlight I got in the bottom photo. Beautiful!