If your construction data storage is getting overrun with photos, you’re not alone. Nowadays, nearly everyone has a camera in their pocket. It’s no surprise there is a growing pile of construction images to manage. These tactics and strategies will improve your photo quality, documentation, and management.
When your project doesn’t call for a third-party documentation provider to handle all of its image requirements, you are handling it yourself. The U.S. Institute of Building Documentation offers some guidelines to help you make the process easier. To start, you need a plan.
Yes, Planning is Important Here
Like everything in construction, a plan helps you complete the task with the fewest possible problems. What are the image requirements exactly? In most projects, you need images to document how things were built as a lot that gets covered up. Without a building information model, everybody has to resign to guesswork to locate the ‘hidden’ items.
Widely accepted practices won’t make up for nuances and design changes that made installations unique. So, images are extremely efficient for recording how things were built.
While you will surely mark up the plans, photos provide a deeper level of detail and can smooth the way for repairs and renovations during the structure’s lifetime.
The photo record is also helpful in call back issues, complaints, and disputes. While you will surely mark up the plans, photos provide a deeper level of detail and can smooth the way for repairs and renovations during the structure’s lifetime.
When planning your image needs, you need to consider their ‘other uses.’ Besides informing as-builts and helping with building management, images from construction can be used in your public relations efforts, your front-facing materials for potential clients, and your employee training programs. You might also use them to add details and depth to your responses to requests for proposals and bids. They also support the historical record of your firm.
Therefore, it’s important to know the intended uses before someone snaps the shot as well as the best format to support each intended use.
It Gets a Bit Technical Too
If you think you might need high-resolution images in the future, you might opt for using a professional camera and save copies in a Raw format, EPS or PDF. This way, the image will scale better. You might also decide ahead of time what photos are critical so that they can be taken the right people and with the right equipment.
These technical photo requirements must include subject and context. You need to decide what the picture must show. Without a clear idea of the photo’s goal, it is unlikely the photo will do its job.
Planning everything in advance is crucial for timing. If the photo is to show something that will be covered up, you can track it. This way you’ll know right away whether the item meets the requirements, giving you time, should reworking be needed.
Don’t Forget Storing and Managing
The next big question is your overall plan for storing and managing all your images. It’s likely you’ll store most with the project documentation. You might decide to store your photos for other uses in specific folders, making them more accessible to people who need them.
If you use Procore’s platform, the photo tool makes it easy to snap a shot and link it to the project drawings based on the work’s location. Sorting and filters speed up finding specific photos—you don’t need to go through multiple folders manually or scan hundreds of files. When you take photos, you can import them to Procore and share them through email or smartphone connectivity. By setting the permission levels, you ensure who has access to the images. This way you can make sure only the appropriate people have the authority to upload, view and download photos. A bonus is your photos get stored with no data limits on Procore’s backed-up servers.
Get your people into the habit of using keywords by making that action part of the photo requirements. Once they get in the habit, it’ll be like second nature, and your photo management will become a lot easier.
Regardless of the photosystem you use, you’ll want to make sure every photo has metadata added so that there’s embedded text describing its content. Many photo apps now allow you to add keywords to the photos you take. Get your people into the habit of using keywords by making that action part of the photo requirements. Once they get in the habit, it’ll be like second nature, and your photo management will become a lot easier.
Getting the Best Photos
A picture is often worth 1,000 words. However, that’s not the case when a picture doesn’t show what you need to see.
As mobile devices take over job sites, each with its own on-board camera, you’re probably seeing more pictures than words these days. The problem is many of those pictures are either blurry or don’t focus on the important item. They may be either taken at too great a distance to be of any value or so close you can’t get the context of the surrounding work.
Everyone might think they’re a photographer because they have a camera, but we don’t assume anyone with a scalpel is a doctor. Knowing what people need to know is the first step to snap useful images.
First, try to have people taking photos of things they know. If you expect a plumber to snap a shot of an electrical panel showing you the type of cable connectors used, they should know where the connectors are. Otherwise, you might just get a shot of the panel box just showing the breakers.
So, not only must the photo shooter know what to photograph, but they must also be aware of what details you want to see. That’s why it’s best to have people familiar with the work taking the photos. When someone knows the subject matter, you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining what you need in the photos. If they don’t know the subject matter, a little training is in order. And since you’ve already taken the time to define what you need the photo to show, there’s no guesswork or last-minute rush to figure it out.
Of course, if the photo is just a one-off, it might be easier to just do it yourself or have another trusted person do it.
Pay Attention to Content and Context
As mentioned before, content is as important as image quality. Sometimes you need a closeup to show details. However, even with closeups, you still needs context. Focus too close, and you can lose the context.
Consider a photo of a horizontal drain line. In most jurisdictions, any bends in the line need to have long-sweep elbows. If you get photos that don’t capture the entire fitting, then you can’t tell whether the elbow is the correct one. So, just a photo of the connections is not enough.
Since many of the modern cameras people use every day don’t have their own light sources, lighting is something you have to consider before taking a picture.
Other times, you need photos of how project details tie together or fit into the same space. Instead of taking a series of close focus photos, you might take a long shot showing the whole picture. Keep in mind that for both long shots and close focus, lighting is critical. Even for outside pictures, lighting will make or break a photo because photos are simply captured light.
Since many of the modern cameras people use every day don’t have their own light sources, lighting is something you have to consider before taking a picture. Many indoor construction photos happen in spaces where lighting hasn’t been even hooked up yet. Worse, photos of wall cavities and crawl spaces command even less light.
Focus on Lighting
So, get creative. Your phone might have a flashlight you can turn on. You might be able to open up a door or compartment nearby to provide more light. Of course, a flashlight is an option; nearby work lights even better.
Another big issue in construction photos is contrast. You often have to take pictures that have shade and bright sunlight simultaneously. Even professional cameras have a tough time balancing these extremes. If you are taking a picture of a brightly lit object, you might have to move from a shaded area to brighter light to help your camera catch the details. Otherwise, the critical points end up washed out.
When taking a shot from a brightly lit area into the shadows, you have to move into darker territory. Thus, your camera doesn’t have to try to balance the difference in lighting. If not, you’ll just have a dark spot in the picture with minimal details showing. The rule is: Once you know what you have to capture in a photo, think about the lighting on the subject and the lighting relative to where you are.
Image stabilization features on cameras, smartphones, and tablets vary greatly. Shoot some photos with yours to see where you get the clearest shots. Teach your people to do the same. Avoid using the zoom feature unless absolutely necessary. If possible, move in closer to the subject. The more you zoom in, the greater the chance the picture will come out blurry and grainy.
Plan your critical shots, train as needed, work out uses and technical requirements, and wrap it all up with a secure storage plan that’s organized and searchable.
If you must use the zoom, think of ways to steady the camera. Rest your camera arm on a door frame, or cross your belly with one arm and place the elbow of your camera arm in its palm. Place the camera on a pallet, box or other support, or rest it on a pipe or framing member. Then, stay still, and hold your breath as you gently press the button.
Great photos that you can use are well within reach. Plan your critical shots, train as needed, work out uses and technical requirements, and wrap it all up with a secure storage plan that’s organized and searchable.