A few weeks ago I found myself in a factory in Matamoros, Mexico that does all kinds of parts manufacturing for various industries. My goal was to spend a day photographing and come away with a couple hundred usable photographs that would range from showing high tech circuit board and wire harness assembly to showing workers bending large sheets of metal that are used to make rack mount shelving for servers. The facility was well over 100,000 square feet and, like most heavy production facilities, required eye protection, ear protection and safety shoes.
My main camera and lens combination was the Nikon D800 and the 24-120mm f4.0 VR zoom lens. The camera does low light well and I was able to handhold shots that didn't have subject movement at shutter speeds down to 1/30th of a second with confidence.
Working across the border is interesting. We had to check in with the Mexican immigration folks to get a work visa for me. A lot of people might skip this and rely on the "idea" that they can get away with being tourists but there are spot checks at the factories near the border and not having a valid work visa could cost serious time and money.
I don't speak much Spanish beyond what's on the menu at my local Mexican food restaurant even though I've been married to someone who is fluently bi-lingual for the last 30+ years. I'm used to working here in Austin and it was interesting to work with folks who didn't speak my language and vice versa. We did fine with equal amounts of limited Spanish and limited English and a bit of pantomime.
My working methodology in the factory was to have all the gear I needed in the rolling case and to leave the rolling case in one of the front conference rooms, and just putting the camera and lens on a Gitzo tripod with a bullhead to walk around with. If I knew I might need a faster lens I stuck it in a tiny camera bag that lived on my shoulder. I kept an extra battery in my pocket and, with a 256 GB, UHS-II card in the SD slot, I rarely needed to revisit my gear depository.
Most of the work I did was on the tripod. Some of the shots, like the person using a grinder (above) were shot handheld. The tripod allowed me to get depth of field when I wanted it and to plumb the depths of vibration reduction when needed.
I also carried around a small, pop-up Lastolite gray/white color balancing target. I kept it clipped, with a carabiner, to one of my belt loops, and I would grab it and take a new reading as I moved from location to location. I was trying to get close with the dominant light source in any area knowing that, in RAW file mode, I'd be able to nail white balance exactly in post. If you start too far away it can be difficult to correct across the full spectrum.
While I spent most of my time with the 24-120mm f4.0 VR on the camera I did get a fair amount of use out of the 85mm f1.8 and the manual focusing 28mm f2.8 lenses I brought along. There are times when the fast aperture of the 85mm makes more artsy looking images. Clients still like it when the background goes out of focus.... The 28mm was useful because it's so well corrected for distortion. Stuff just looked better in some instances when I shot with that lens.
On several occasions I switched over to Jpeg from RAW so I could use the in-camera HDR feature. A three stop range (the most you can get in-camera with a D800) was sometimes very useful in wide shots when I could not control all the light.
I love assignments like this because it's fun to spend a day playing with photo toys and doing continual technical problem solving. Tossing in some light from an LED panel for one shot, a little bit of flash, bounced off a wall, for another series of shots.
What would I do differently if I could re-do this assignment? 1. I'd listen to a Berlitz CD that teaches Spanish for the entire six hours I spent on the way down in the rental car. 2. I'd bid it as two shooting days instead of one because I kept seeing in my mind, after the fact, all the shots I missed or could have done better. A second day would allow for new thinking and a certain amount of "do overs" that might yield a bunch more keepers. But, 3, I'd stop being dumb and stop driving half way across Texas when I could have flown to Brownsville (the American side of the border) in 45 minutes on Southwest Airlines. But I guess I'd never get the opportunity to listen to the language CD, right?
I chose to use the Nikon D800 rather than the Panasonic GH5 because most of my shooting was done in marginal lighting and I really needed good looking files at ISO's like 3200-6400. I did, in fact, take the GH5 and the 12-100mm lens and used it for two different video interviews. The Panasonic system was perfect for that!
The real star, as far as I am concerned, was the 24-120mm lens. You could shoot just about anything with that and have it look good. Go get one. (Or the equivalent in the system you prefer). I already have an equivalent lens for the GH5; it's the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0, a remarkably sharp and stable lens for the smaller format camera. Primes? Sure, when you have an agency tagging along as a client and don't want to spoil them by moving too fast......
The tripod comes in handy when you need to have a person in the frame and
there's no one else around.
From the light of an acetylene torch.....