Industrial Photographer? Photographers Rights are Shot!

oil rig, aerial oil rig, landscape, lake turkana.

Oil Rig lost in the landscape near Lake Turkana

As a professional corporate photographer the most effective way of obtaining new clients is to constantly update my portfolio with stunning new images and video clips. These can then be sent out to my agent and potential clients by email for her to promote. This is easier said than done, for a number of reasons that many aspiring photographers may not realise.

aerial, clearing land, road through the desert,

Preparing a future camp in Mozambique

There is the job of choosing which new pictures you think will make someone want to hire you as oppose to someone else. It might not necessarily be the shot that took 4 hours to take against all odds, or the one that your client raves about.  I do a lot of industrial and oil and gas photography but never know what to show, so I usually end up narrowing it down and asking a couple of other visually minded pro’s their opinion.

For most industrial, landscape and lifestyle  I especially ask Melody, my agent whose judgement I trust.   However I digress, as this is not my point.

The main issue is copyright and the right to publish your own work. I work mostly for large international corporations and my contracts with them are often 30 pages long. Written into every single one of them are paragraphs about copyright, sometimes very artfully worded but inevitably denying the photographer the right to publish any pictures appertaining to the brief of the photo shoot.

oil and gas worker, worker on rig, safety harness on rig,

Man in safety harness high on a rig in Africa.

As far as the client is concerned, I am working for them, they pay me and all my expenses, so therefore the work is theirs. As a photographer I will argue that I made that picture the way it is, therefore, although they have all rights to use it as per the contract, the actual image belongs to me! I have had many long discussions over copyright with agents, other photographers and lawyers on both sides. It is a sticky issue that is becoming rapidly in favour of the client.

oil rigs, oil pipes, oil and gas photography,

Oil pipes

I understand their reasons, particularly in oil and gas photography, which is a controversial topic anyway. There is a big market in stock photography and some of it comes from assignments paid for by companies for their self-promotion and they do not want to see it misrepresented elsewhere. Publishing images of people without model releases is a dangerous way to go anyway. All main agencies such as Getty ask for all images to be rights free.

In view of the above, the best I have negotiated is to be allowed to use my images to promote myself. This means publishing them on my website, in blogs and sending out some recent images to prospective clients as copyrighted images. I hear you say, ‘that is not so bad’, except that I have to ask them first and I have had a lot of  ‘we would rather you didn’t show that!’

Personally, I have always protected my clients and never irresponsibly sold my images. A couple of years ago I was contacted by someone who saw one of my oil and gas images in my portfolio and asked me if her company could buy it for use in an external marketing campaign. Although it was tempting I had to refuse. I told her why and she congratulated me on my integrity. ‘You are exactly the sort of person we would like working for us’, she said. I’m still waiting!


What you need to know about becoming an Oil and Gas Photographer

Offshore oil rig

offshore oil rig

Photographing both offshore and onshore oil rigs and gas installations is exciting, dramatic and hugely photogenic. People often ask me how I got into it. For me it began for me almost 15 years ago when my then photography agency Blackstar, found me an assignment for a small exploratory oil company called Triton that had discovered oil in Equatorial Guinea.

From that first helicopter ride as the rig appeared I was hooked. The speck in the ocean became this massive metal construction, full of cranes and pipes with the derrick towering up, looking like a giant Meccano set, full of bright colours. I immediately knew that there were going to be some terrific pictures to take and this was not going to be a one off photo shoot of this kind.  I have to admit that although I was already an established photographer with several industrial corporations to my name it had never occurred to me to specialise in oil and gas photography. Most oil and gas photographers work in other fields too, and like me, are already working in industrial, corporate, advertising and landscape photography first.

oil and gas photography

Miud on the drill floor

It is a major decision to decide to do this type of work as anyone working offshore is required to hold a number of special certificates such a BOSIET with HUET training. This is not for everybody. It involves being strapped into a makeshift helicopter, dumped into the water upside down and having to escape by unstrapping yourself and knocking out the window beside you. You have to learn to save others and use inflatable lifeboats and there is more too, such as fire fighting and general first aid. The course is expensive and the first one lasts 3 days with renewals every 4 years that can be done in one day.

oil and gas photography

Washing down the drill floor

For that first oil photography assignment I didn’t have a BOSIET and one wasn’t asked of me, it was later when I was contacted by another large company that this certificate reared its ugly head but since there was no other way, I complied, and now keep it up to date.  A special medical certificate for offshore work is also required as well as a medical and liability insurance, so becoming an oil and gas photographer requires a special consideration.

Safety is a major issue for oil companies. Everybody visiting a rig for the first time has to watch a safety video and some companies make you complete a test questionnaire to ensure that you have understood the main safety issues. Permits to work are also required, as are hot permits and these can take some time as several people from different departments have to sign them. A gas detection device has to be carried and no flash or strobe lighting of any kind can by used. Any additional lighting needed must be continuous, LED being probably the best for various reasons.

To take great pictures you do need access but due to safety issues you may not be able to stand exactly where you think you would get the best shot, particularly on the drill floor, so you have to look around.  It is a good idea to read up about oil exploration and familiarize yourself with the terminology and vocabulary that you’ll hear. This is all available online.  Once I get onboard I always ask what work is going on and when.

I always arrive with a long list of required shots and however long you stay time onboard is rarely long enough.

oil and gas photography

Offloading Tanker showing the hoses

On one of the rigs I was on at the end of last year, it took a whole day to obtain all the permits needed to shoot video and stills. Admittedly a drone was used for a part of the assignment so this was a consideration. Many of the most dramatic shots are taken from the air, especially when the door is open and you are sitting on the floor. Although there is two way radio contact with the pilot, some are more compliable than others and I have been blown away by some of the angles I have been able to achieve thanks to a good pilot saying, ‘OK, lets give it a try but be quick!’

To sum it all up, oil and gas photography ticks all the boxes with me. Stunning landscapes ands seascapes, dramatic, graphic industrial images, interesting and diverse portraits and people working, with a multi-national workforce with faces from all over the globe. An assignment overseas will often also include photographing some corporate responsibility projects in rural towns and villages, enabling making photographs of local populations and discovering another aspect of both the corporation who sent you and the country you are in.