“I love the smell of concrete in the morning.”
That’s a joke – fresh concrete doesn’t smell like much – but Multivista construction photographer Matt Domanski likes to start his workday with a bit of humor, especially at 5:45 AM on an important concrete slab pour.
“Time management is critical,” Domanski says. “You can’t roll in and find out there is a slab halfway poured. Things are moving fast and they are usually tying up rebar right up until the last moment so you have to know when and also exactly what to shoot. I might take 2000 photos a day but critical milestones like this only happen once, there is no second chance to get it right.”
Multivista has over 130 construction photographers working from more than 50 international offices, trained professionals who have shot millions of photographs on thousands of builds across countless vertical markets, creating jobsite records that save countless hours and dollars in troubleshooting and repair. To get a better idea of what a day in the life of a professional construction photographer is like, we had three Multivista pros from around the globe join Matt for a quick Q&A.
Construction photography is a pretty specialized job, how did you get into it?
Ryan Murphy (USA): I grew up in construction. When the economy gave way in 2008 I had to find something new. The Multivista job posting said we are gonna document jobs by taking photos. I said, “People already do that.” And they said, “Not like this.”
Jamie Robertson (Canada): I started as a photographer in 2004.I was an electrician at the time but I wasn’t seeing a lot of advancement and was looking for something else. A seasoned construction background helps out tremendously with understanding and keeping an eye on the process of each build.
What does it mean to be a “Multivista Trained” photographer? How did you learn the skills?
Jamie: There is an intensive in-house training program on the process and equipment. Once you pass those tests you go out with an established photographer and basically learn the ropes. Accuracy is critical so it can take up to a year before someone is totally on their own.
Matt Domanski (Canada): You learn how to recognize and not miss the key shoots like the MEP before insulation or the in-floor heating. And you learn to shoot a certain way and to hotspot the plans the same way so that if someone uses a Multivista documentation program on one job and then again on another, they are getting parallel results whether it is the same photographer or not.
Sam McIntosh (UK): Building a solid relationship with a site contact and frequent communication is absolutely key to what we do in order to deliver the product in the best way possible. That was an important part of the training and my ops manager has been incredible at keeping me up to date with sites and their program. I am there on the ground to check-in and keep my finger on the pulse of each site.
What is the most challenging part of the job?
Ryan: Sometimes the site supers don’t care about us… until someone screws something up. As soon as something goes wrong we are like gold to them. That ability to go back and see, not a drawing or a blueprint of how it should have been built, but a photo of how it was actually built – that always wins them over.
Jamie: The biggest challenge is keeping yourself organized and how you manage your time. A good construction photographer’s real skill is being able to get a feel for each project and acting as the eyes and ears for the ops managers to help coordinate so that we have photos done at critical times. Communication with the site super and the trades is huge so no one has to alter their routine.
Is it difficult integrating with the other trades on a site?
Sam: Construction documentation is still quite a new service in the UK so I have had trades that are a bit apprehensive about the camera but after I show them what I do and how the system works they settle in and start to see the benefits.
Ryan: A lot of the guys I see out there now are the same guys I worked with when I was in construction so that helps tremendously. Things go pretty smooth as long as you have respect for everyone and their job, and build one-on-one relationships.
Matt: You hear things like, “Oh here comes the paparazzi!” You learn pretty quick which guys don’t want to be in the pics but you meet good guys out there and start counting on them to tell you when stuff is going to happen – “we’re going to insulate on Monday” or stuff like that.
What’s the best part of the job?
Jamie: You’d think taking pictures of a wall can get a little dry but by going to all these different types of construction sites you learn about so many different aspects and levels of the business. It’s enjoyable to arrive at a new build and bring that solid system and that level of training and experience into a new space then watch it all help people solve problems and save time and save money.
Ryan: For me it is being out in the field. Down here we have a lot of repeat customers, a lot of guys I see out there are the same guys I worked with when I was a site super. I also love architecture and I love seeing buildings pop out of the ground. That’s why I love our webcams and time lapses. Every time we go out I see progress.
In this day and age anyone can snap a picture on their phone – can’t people just take their own construction photographs?
Jamie: Anyone can, but to get our level of coverage they wouldn’t have time to do whatever other job they are supposed to be there for. And then there is the technology and the platform – every day ends with a Multivista photographer uploading their photos and hot-spotting the floor plans with reference arrows. Everything goes on a password-protected site and then we check the whole thing as if we were a client. It’s a full time job.
Matt: Everyone takes pictures but when it comes time that you need to review a photo it is always someone standing there zooming through their phones to find it. If people aren’t sure what we are doing I can use our new mobile app to show them how it works right there on site. We can stop right at any location and flip date to date so they can appreciate how the site has changed and how useful the documentation is.
Sam: That’s why the Multivista Standard was invented, for consistency, so that whoever shoots the site will be consistent with other Multivista photographers.
Ryan: It’s more than just taking photographs, it is the whole system. One site I had – a convention center and hotel – I shot about 50,000 photos for that job. 50,000 photos all linked to the floor plan. Three years later they are still logging in to that documentation at least once a week, whether it be maintenance or insurance or lawsuits or whatever. Three years later and our program and those photos are still helping them.