Can we capture the essence of UK manufacturing with a single ‘click’?

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Robert Lea, the Industrial Editor of The Times and EEF Photography Competition judge takes a look at what makes great UK manufacturing photography. 

 

Make sure the horizon is horizontal. Beware the photoshoppers. Sparks firing across a steelworks can produce a great picture - but is that the image of contemporary British manufacturing that we want to convey?

These are just some of the issues we have had to deal with over the years on the annual EEF photography competition.

As the industrial editor of The Times, on a professional level sifting through the hundreds of images the competition receives each year gives me a window into British manufacturing I might not ordinarily look through. 

In my job I get to go round plenty of facilities, some state-of-the-art, some in need of a bit of attention. But what the competition does every year is leave me saying: I just didn’t know we did this or made that here. That diversity is in itself a great advertisement for British manufacturing.

What makes for good photography?

Having the photographic professionals on the judging panel has made me appreciate composition, that the horizon shouldn’t be sliding out of the frame, how to spot when people have been touching up an image, the use of colour or monochrome, the need for a sense of scale or context.

Composition is everything. My favourite amongst the many is one from a few years ago of a giant ingot mould at Sheffield Forgemasters, in itself a prosaic product, but the image gave you a sense of awe at the sheer size. Steelworks are a favourite of many photographers because of the dynamism and colour of molten metal but my preference tends to be for images of process or products that are unfamiliar. For me, pictures of the manufacturing of strange looking subsea cable laying machines, for instance, never fail to catch the eye.

100% British manufacturing 

The perennial debate we have as judges is whether an image captures something positive and forward looking about British manufacturing. Technology can be difficult to capture in an image. On Britishness we often, for instance, get great images of wind turbines in a field or at sea. I rather monotonously ask: was it manufactured here? If it wasn’t – and the chances remain that it wasn’t – then it shouldn’t be shortlisted.

I’m hoping to see many competition entries and a wide range of images this year. I am lucky in my job to witness British manufacturing at first hand and every facility in the country must have a budding snapper or two. Their bosses should be encouraging them to pick up a camera to take pictures which will not only showcase their business but can also be entered into the EEF Photography Competition.

Author

Robert Lea is Industrial Editor of The Times and a longstanding judge on the annual EEF manufacturing photography competition.

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