How to Photograph Industrial Deserts

How to Photograph Industrial Deserts


how-to-photograph-industrial-deserts.jpgIn this post Csilla Csoke from shares some tips on photographing Industrial Deserts.

Do you know the places where the industry has ruined the nature? The whole area is filled with factories, such as oil refinery, metal production, recycling and power plants? These places are the industrial deserts of our time.

The most industrial landscapes are not designed to be charming but entirely functional. Try to notice the detail in the bold and rigid structures and to see its hidden beauty: shiny steel, bold architectural lines, and very graphic, aggressive visual elements.

Where to go

First of all, you need to know where you can find industrial areas. Use for example Google Earth to find out the best place to go and if you can come close enough by using a public way. You can start practicing in your own city, of course. The next places are always interesting:

  • Factories
  • Cranes
  • Industrial (old and empty) buildings
  • Machinery
  • Construction
  • Pylons
  • Harbors





If you will photograph industrial areas, you need to have more than a basic camera. A telephoto lens is the most important. More is better. A wide-angle lens is also useful, but you can also make a panorama if you do not have a wide-angle lens. You should also need a good tripod if you would like to photograph in dark conditions.


‘You’re not allowed to photograph this building’.


Anyone may take photographs of buildings from public places. If you want to publish these images, you should inform the law of that country.

Read more:

Stay on public roads and do not climb on the railing or barrier. Sometimes you can better ask for permission. Using the term ‘photo artist’ instead of ‘photograph’ can usually open doors!

Shooting Technique

Overcast days tend to be better for industrial photography. Rough weather fits perfectly with these subjects, but you can also take really special photos by night. High contrast settings on cameras or in post processing tends to look better than normal contrast. Cooler tones are almost always better than warmer tones for metal products.



While low depth of field lens aperture options are attractive for most images, industrial locations with plenty of steel look best with apertures of f8 or f11. Industrial photography is very similar to architectural photography in that sense.

Look for unconventional compositions. Try to capture the ‘power’ of the scene. Carefully chosen details results mostly in strong images. Analyze your subject and look for the best way to photograph it. Take the time!




Have you had experience in photographing industrial sites? We’d love to hear your tips and see links to some of your work in comments below.

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Some Older Comments

  • Frank Villafane February 14, 2012 01:04 pm

    Love the fotos, and the subject. Industrial sites and structures are my favorite subject. I particularly enjoy shooting bridges (see some of my shots here - I have a lot of shots of the Hatem Bridge in Maryland, the OuterBridge and Bayonne bridges in NJ. The Bayonne bridge posed a challenge as NYPD was not too keen of my shooting while on the bridge. Of course, I didn't specifically "ask" permission...but when I got to Bayonne, I did ask the Bayonne cops if I could shoot "under" the Bayonne bridge (those pics are still being processed - check back soon) and they had no problem with that. Like one commenter said..."it all depends". When shooting public structures (like bridges), just be aware that we are a nation under a terrorist watch...letting the local PD know of your intentions beforehand might save you a lot of questioning after the fact - then again, they might just say "no". Your call...

  • Doug McKay August 12, 2010 02:54 am

    I build industrial complexes refineries, power plants and such and I would like having more pictures of them. Obviously I see the beauty and the form as pleasing, well on the better designed ones anyway.

    I will give fair warning; do not take pictures of operating facilities as a tourist or just someone in the neighborhood. Security is a big issue and has been well before 9/11. The pictures and photographs you do see are done by photographers commissioned for a particular project or the “one authorized” employee along with a security detail. Anyone else inside the restricted area or sometimes near an operating plant are not allowed to have a camera or even a mobile/cell phone with a camera built-in these days. The punishment varies from a warning for a first offence to 6 month in jail and in some places deportation and lifelong revocation of a visa.

    In real life how things turn out depend on how well you can portray the story of innocence and what is going on in the life of the security/police at the time. I have been a guest of various police in the Middle East before 9/11. I have done so much better since then, not sure why maybe I am following the rules better or getting craftier or maybe the advent of digital images makes it so I do not have to take my photos to and outside source.

    Please know that it is not about rights personal or organizational. Photographs/images are indeed worth a thousand words. Even rather ordinary people like me who just happen to build and repair equipment in these kinds of plants a simple photo reveals so much. We can tell what the equipment is, what it does, and the approximate capacity, the basic set up of the whole complex, general location in the world, the direction it faces (north-south) and in some cases the exact unit because it is the first of a type or the largest or was bragged about within the industry. Of course not all the above can be determined from every photo or image but lots is there to figure out. Plus many of us that have built these from a patch of dirt so many times can figure out the probable road system, the utility systems, the kinds of transport most likely used, pipe lines etc. “Now just how scary could this be in the hands of some real experts who might be up to no good?”

    So please give the people in charge of keeping the world safe some due credit and not be so determined that the privilege to take a photograph of an industrial complex or particular infrastructure is your right.

    Otherwise “Good Luck” and if you don’t mind, share some of the shots with me that you are pretty certain we will not go to jail for ?

    Doug McKay

  • Gillian December 12, 2009 10:49 pm

    I'm very keen on this type of photogrpahy, the only thing that stops me doing it all the time is not having a car.


  • Bluefly September 5, 2009 05:39 pm

    Nice shots. I will say that in the USA if you are taking photo's of these areas be cautious, they may think your scouting the area for terrorism. I got stopped and asked what I was doing a few months ago. I have also been stopped when photographing trains, for the same reasons. It's a good Idea to talk to someone and let them know what you are doing.

  • Tim Collier June 13, 2009 03:43 am

    It's a shame that the excessive use of angles has been used. The images are fine and classic played on the horizontal and don't require any shift. Not sure why you would do this as there's enough dramatic impact in the images themselves.

  • Carlo C June 12, 2009 03:03 pm

    One of my shots from the Warehouse District in DT Los Angeles. New to "industrial photography" but love the genre.

  • John McCulloch June 12, 2009 02:16 pm

    This is a hard subject because I usually search for compositions where the beauty of the subject fills the viewfinder. I have tried a study of grim industrial scenes, as I live around a busy working harbour & my favourite pic is the one listed below

  • Grlafraid June 12, 2009 10:05 am

    I have always wanted to photograph places like this. There is a strange beauty to them. I thought I was the only one!

  • Patrick Mitchell June 12, 2009 04:28 am

    Well my hyperlink didn't work. How about just the website:

  • Patrick Mitchell June 12, 2009 04:25 am


  • Patrick Mitchell June 12, 2009 04:22 am

    Industrial? Sort of; Oilfield.

  • Jim June 12, 2009 04:00 am

    BE VERY CAREFUL when shooting industrial areas. Some industrial areas are regarded as national infrastructure assets and are subject to SEVERE photography restrictions.

    Take, for instance, 'harbours'. I'm not talking about picturesque fishing villages or harbours, but the big, heavy duty kind.

    When the International Ship and Port Security Code came into force back in 2004, ports worldwide banned photography. I've just been doing a bit of background research and, although i can't verify it, I was once told that the ISPS bans port photography.

    In any event, I was once detained and had my details passed over to CID (criminal intelligence dept) because I took a picture of a port. Now, this was damnfool of me because (a) I live and work in an Arab country (b) I just know better.

    It's ok to insist on your first amendment rights in the USA, but don't pull that sh%t elsewhere in the world. You will be detained.


  • JMarkLabbe June 12, 2009 02:17 am

    the tilting of the pictures is only annoying when view together such as this,... However,.. if they were viewed separately in a gallery or portfolio type setting,.. each picture would be very dynamic instead of straight and boring,.. I love the angles!,.. besides you never know,.. they could of been taken while the photographer was being tackled by security! LOL

  • Al June 12, 2009 01:59 am

    The right to photograph isn't that well established in the UK, especially with new anti-terror legislation in force. Be ready to get your collar felt if you're photographing anything that could be construed as 'sensitive'.

    (This includes bus stations - )

  • Adrian June 11, 2009 04:59 pm

    So glad to see this subject posted.

    Here is are some of the stuff I shoot

    Hope you like em'.

  • C. Csoke June 11, 2009 03:11 am

    Thank you for all the nice comments. I did not realized that I selected only tilled-angle pictures. I have taken a lot of photo`s, also with horizontal angle, but for some reason I found those pictures a little boring. I should ask to change some of them.

  • Keith Watson June 11, 2009 02:21 am

    Here are a few images I took of a refinery in Oakville, Ontario.

  • melabonbon June 11, 2009 01:11 am

    i love this topic. i find these sites very eerie and haunting and compelling in their own right, even though i am very much a nature lover.
    i see a lot of them when i take the train ride between detroit and chicago, or when i drive down to springfield from chicago. i've yet to stop and take photos at night (or up close), but they look fascinating the way they are all lit up like little cities.
    all of the photos i have taken have been out of the train window. with one of my cheap digital cameras, the movement ends up in sort of distorted shots that i find interesting.

    i do agree with the above comment that in a lot of these photos in the article the tilted angle is unnecessary and a bit annoying.

  • txmom2jami June 11, 2009 12:35 am

    It's always good to make sure the "important' people know what you are doing. I had a photography instructor who headed up the photography lab for a major chemical company for well over a decade. He was given the assignment to photograph the plant from several vantage points, but somehow security didn't get the "memo" and gave him quite a bit of grief before finally getting the a-ok from the "right people." A lot of it has to do with security/terrorism concerns ... photography is a great thing, but in the same way you shouldn't photograph people without their permission, don't be belligerent about "I'm standing on a public sidewalk and can do whatever I want" when taking pictures of private property, either.

  • Federico June 11, 2009 12:26 am

    Wow... Absolutely amazing pictures, and good tips! Thanks for sharing!

  • Eric Mesa June 10, 2009 10:12 pm

    Great shots in this post. New Jersey along the New Jersey Turnpike has a bunch of these - related to oil, I think.

  • Michael Herzog June 10, 2009 06:13 pm

    As an old urban explorer I love to take pictures of urban ruins (especially hospitals) and industrial deserts. There are plenty of them in Berlin and the Ruhr Area of Germany. (Beelitz Sanatorium) (Coal Mine Ewald)

    For the law - I just try not to get caught. Every piece of land is owned by someone and although there is not much terror paranoia here noone is safe from the spying neighbour who calls the police.

  • james June 10, 2009 05:56 pm

    How about trying to contrast the harshness of an industrial area, with it's surroundings.

    I took this photo almost by accident with a simple point and shot, but I love the way it turned out:

  • MeiTeng June 10, 2009 03:22 pm

    Good post but somehow I don't have any interest in this subject at the moment.

  • Ilan June 10, 2009 03:00 pm

    On your last photo you in this post used one of my favorite techniques (that's from some reason wasn't mentioned in the article) - Creating frames/compositions that will almost look like they are 2D.
    By that I mean that using you camera to flatten (on purpose) the frame, and creating what might look like almost an abstract.
    The closest example for I have in an urban frame, but you'll get the idea -

  • Peter June 10, 2009 12:46 pm

    Great post! it's fairly obvious that art is everywhere...and interesting photos overall...very nice comments regarding the 'law of the land' from everyone...personally, i appreciate it when the commentors have a nice variety of observations/comments to include. thanks everyone...

    a very instructive DPS article...

  • bobbyv June 10, 2009 11:05 am

    one problem nowadays with photographing infrastructure is this is post 9-11, and you better be looking like a pro photographer, lest you be accosted by the authorities.

  • DM|ZE June 10, 2009 10:53 am

    I agree with both Thomas and major bokeh, I love the shots and it is great advice. I've always wanted to try it just never got to that point. But the shift in horizon is disturbing, just my opinion though. Thanks for the article.

  • Vilmis June 10, 2009 10:34 am

    Oh, this statement - "Anyone may take photographs of buildings from public places.", must have remark: "Depends on country in which you are taking pictures". The law in US or Australia is so different from Russia or North Korea.

  • Baughman June 10, 2009 09:53 am

    I guess I meant photos 1-4 and 6; not all of them.

  • Baughman June 10, 2009 09:52 am

    Cool pics, but I'm not feeling the excessive angles on every made me feel sick.

  • Erin June 10, 2009 09:27 am

    As much as I'm always saying that photographers should be allowed to photograph anything that's public, I would point out that one should be very cautious when it comes to industrial subjects. My father works at an electric plant, and the employees are specifically instructed to watch out for people with cameras due to sabotage attempts and worries about terrorism. You might have to prove that you're not a terrorist if you're caught taking photographs at some of these locations! That's not to say that you shouldn't be allowed to photograph there, just that you should be aware of the situation.

  • Major Bokeh June 10, 2009 09:18 am

    This is a great subject matter and I enjoyed the post, but I find the shift of the horizon line is so many of them disturbing and unnecessary.

  • Thomas June 10, 2009 07:45 am

    (Forgot a link in my earlier comment. Sorry.)

  • Thomas June 10, 2009 07:44 am

    Industrial photographs are my favorite subjects to shoot.