How to Improve Your Polished Concrete Photography

Tips on equipment, lighting and composition to help you improve your camera skills for polished concrete floors photos.

Photo 1a. With full control of where the camera is focusing, you can choose to a focus point near the camera to highlight the exposed aggregate (Photo 1a).
Photo 1a. With full control of where the camera is focusing, you can choose to a focus point near the camera to highlight the exposed aggregate (Photo 1a).

When photographing polished concrete floors you are faced with some fairly unique challenges. You often have to shoot a surface that is large, uniform, and highly reflective. And whether you are shooting during the polishing process or after the project has been completed, you are often dealing with less than ideal conditions. And of course, many contractors are trying to do their own photography while simultaneously trying to run a successful business.

For the four years I have spent in my current position, one of my responsibilities has been to photograph my company’s products being used on polished concrete floor projects throughout the Midwest. I have by no means mastered the art of shooting these floors. In fact, most of the knowledge supplied in this article was gained by first learning how not to photograph concrete floors, making one mistake after another, learning my lesson and moving on to the next mistake.

Equipment

Let’s start at the beginning: the camera. You have a lot of choices for here, one of which is probably in your pocket right now. Most phones are great at snapping quick shots and sending them out to social media sites, and this is a great way to share your images far and wide. However, you should be aware that your iPhone photo is probably only good for social media sharing. For any use beyond that, whether that is putting photos in a brochure, article submission, or online gallery, you are going to need more photographic power.

I would recommend a professional or prosumer type camera that can give you a little more flexibility than a point and shoot camera and much higher quality images than a phone. In my experience with polished floors, I have found that these floors provide some challenges that require a more flexible and powerful camera.

When photographing polished floors, especially during the construction process, chances are the available lighting will be less than ideal, so your camera needs to have good performance in low light conditions.

Unlike taking a photo of a person or a specific object, a large concrete floor can have a number of possible points of focus to choose from and this choice can greatly affect the photo. That is why I also recommend a camera with manual focus or focus assist features will allow you to be in control of the focal plane.

For these reasons, I highly recommend a professional or prosumer camera like a SLR (single reflex lens) or mirrorless camera. Don’t be intimidated though, most of these cameras use some fairly innovative technology to combine their powerful capabilities with user friendly features.

No matter what equipment you are shooting with, always shoot in the highest resolution setting the camera has, short of RAW format. Large memory cards and hard drive storage are cheap and getting cheaper, so I see no reason to limit your photographic possibilities by limiting your resolution.

Challenges in photographing polished concrete floors

When I am shooting polished concrete floors, I usually find myself dealing with compromised light conditions as well. This can cause some headaches when trying to get a good shot, particularly when it comes to lighting. My best advice is to be aware of the lighting conditions you are in and how it will affect the shot.

Harsh light conditions. I was photographing some polishing work at a school in Bentonville, Ark. It was a great looking floor in a beautifully laid out school. The entire west side of the foyer was a window wall allowing lots of natural light to stream in. But late in the day, as the workers were finishing up the final cleaning of the floor, the evening sun was pouring in through the glass windows and as a result, was creating long harsh shadows across the length of the floor. I decided to come back the next morning knowing the light would not be a strong coming from the west side windows. And indeed, in the morning, with the different angle of sun, the harsh shadows were gone and the floor was washed in a nice soft light giving me some great reflection on the floor.

Low-light conditions. I touched briefly on the low-light conditions that often exist on construction sites. So let’s talk about to overcome them. First off, there are some situations in which any sort of good photography is just not going to happen. I have tried to shoot a floor in an enclosed building that didn’t have any electrical wiring in yet. Suffice to say, no matter what I did, there was not enough light to shoot anything worthwhile. But if you are in a low-light situation, there are few things you can do to exploit the light that you do have and still get a good photo out of the situation.

When the camera senses that there is not enough light present, it will just use the flash to provide its own light into the shot. This can work for taking photos of people, but for shooting highly reflective concrete floors, I rarely find a flash helpful. In fact, on the contrary, a flash can often ruin the shot. Unless you have a professional diffused flash and know how to use it, I would avoid using a flash for any polished concrete photography.

One advantage to shooting concrete floors is that, unlike the subjects of other types of photography, floors really don’t move much. That means if you can also stop the camera from moving, you can use a long exposure time to overcome a lack of light.  In order to accomplish this you will need a way to steady the camera (most effectively done with a sturdy tripod). Then you can simply set the Shutter Speed on the camera to 1/5 of a second (or slower depending on the amount of light). This will leave the shutter open to let in enough light to properly expose the shot. Below, you can see the difference between using a flash, and getting a steady shot with a longer exposure time. Much more even lighting resulting in a much more attractive photo.

Composition of polished floor photos

When I go to a jobsite to shoot some photos of a polished concrete floor, I often catch myself taking the same photo over and over. Go to the far end of the floor, put the camera close to ground, go as wide as the lens will go, and snap away. If the floor was done well, and I set the camera properly, I will usually come away with the nice shots that really show off the floors reflectivity. While consistent high quality photography is important when showing off your work, so is variety. Finding a few interesting ways of composing your shots can make the work you do on the floor really stand out.

But even if you are a contractor with solid knowledge of photography, there are times putting your project photography in the hands of a professional is a good idea. On large jobs or projects with a lot of prestige, a professional photographer with professional equipment might be well worth the money if it means a bigger, more engaged audience for your marketing message.

In writing this article, I am hoping to provide a little guidance and encouragement for those contractors who want to improve upon their photography skills and therefore improve their ability to market themselves. These tips are only meant as a base for further exploration. Even with something as seemingly straight forward as a polished floor, the possibilities are vast. And that brings me to my only universal rule in photography:  practice, practice, practice. Shoot a lot of photos, see what works and what doesn’t work, then go out and shoot some more. Soon you will begin to build an impressive photo portfolio that you can use to show off your impressive floor portfolio.

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