The other day, Andy and I got a tour of the Seattle Steam Plant.
While I often shoot industrial scenes, this time it was notable because we were actually invited inside and given a tour by two awesome employees, Harry and Hal. (that’s right, I found somebody else with my same name). More often, I’ll attempt to shoot industrial installations from the street, and instead of being invited in, a security guard will hassle me or even call the police.
This is also notable because, due to the aforementioned law enforcement issues, I’ve never been able to shoot INSIDE a major industrial installation before.
And let me just say, the inside is THE SHIT.
A lot of these photos are shot with a lighting technique that works really well with industrial photography. All of the light in this scene is available light; as in, I’m not bringing in any lights with me or gelling anything.
Most industrial installations use two kinds of lights at their facility. The first is typically Sodium Vapor. Sodium Vapor lights are incredibly efficient, last practically forever, and give off no heat. They also take a long time to “warm up”, but that’s not an issue when you leave them on 24/7. They also won’t short out if they break.
Sodium Vapor lights also have a green or yellow cast to them, but what’s most important is that they aren’t full-spectrum lights. What I mean by that is that most lights, including tungsten, fluorescent, and, well, the sun — even though they all put out slightly different colors of light — still emit all of the colors in the light spectrum. Red, green, and blue. With all these full-spectrum lights, it’s still possible to properly white balance your scene in post, or put a blue gel on a tungsten light for instance.
Industrial installations also will use tungsten (normal household lightbulbs, which have a yellow cast) in places where lights need to be turned on and off, or to light rooms. So, these scenes are light with two different kinds of light that both look yellow to the eye, except the Sodium Vapor lights aren’t putting out any blue.
That’s the other Hal, above.
So what I’ll do in post is white balance the entire image so far into the blue spectrum that the tungsten lights, which normally look yellow, look blue. However, the sodium vapor lights aren’t actually shining any blue light (remember, just red and green), so anything being light by those lights keeps it’s yellow or green hue. So effectively I’m gelling all the lights in post, and taking a flat yellow colored scene and making different colors pop to life.