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Energy Business Photography

More Oil and Gas Corporate Annual Report Photography for ExxonMobil

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The cover image was taken from a helicopter off the coast of Angola.

I’m a little late in posting this, (the 2015 annual reports were actually released during April of 2016), but I wanted to share some of the published work from the last ExxonMobil annual report.

Although we shoot all kinds of things:  lab technicians, testing, construction sites, high-tech control rooms, etc., for some reason this particular year, they featured several aerial photos of maritime facilities and ships.  These are always challenging to shoot, and we go through a lot of safety training including HUET (Helicopter Underwater Egress Training) just to be able to work out of aircraft offshore.  Basically, if you’ve seen the old Richard Gere movie, “An Officer and a Gentleman”, it’s very similar to that.  You’re dunked several times in a mock helicopter fuselage in a large swimming pool upside down and you have to unbuckle and swim out through a window.  Fun stuff!

The cover image was shot of the coast of Angola, and the spreads are from shoots in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Jubail, Saudi Arabia, Baton Rouge, USA, Qatar, and from the Gulf of Mexico.  We shoot thousands of photos in these various locations, and there are many rounds of editing, so it’s gratifying when you finally get to see some of the work in print.  I’m thankful for wonderful clients, and cool opportunities to travel the world, and I can’t wait to share some for he work from 2016 after it’s released.

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An ExxonMobil engineer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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A sunrise image of an LNG tanker in Qatar.

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A chemical plant in Saudi Arabia.

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A ship unloading at the Rotterdam refinery in The Netherlands.

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A tanker undergoing sea trials in The Gulf of Mexico.

Photographing an Industrial Deep Sea Diver for Scuba Diving Magazine

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver for Scuba Diving Magazine.

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver for Scuba Diving Magazine.

We recently did an editorial shoot for Scuba Diving magazine for a special issue they put together on the “Dirtiest Jobs” in the SCUBA diving industry.  The photographs were commissioned in various parts of the country by different photographers: a salvage diver, a diver from a nuclear reactor facility, a police investigator, an underwater logger, a croc-wrangler, and our cool assignment: an “industrial deepwater saturation diver.”

Our diver was a nice gentleman named Brian Lacey, and he travels all over the world diving deep underwater for the oil and gas industry, repairing rigs, working on pipelines, etc.  He spends up to a month on the job, living like an astronaut in a small pressurized chamber.  He’s been as far down as 900 feet, but on average works at around 300 feet below the surface.

I’ve taken many oil and gas portraits, but this was my first chance to photograph an industrial diver, and I was pretty stoked.

Photo assistant Michael Klein and I photographed Brian on a dock in Galveston with his super heavy deepwater dive gear.  We used two Profoto B-4’s and one Profoto Acute 600B.  I scouted the location previously, and due to the recent downturn in oil prices, several offshore rigs were parked in port, which provided us with a great background normally not seen next to shore.  It worked perfectly for the story, and the photo gods blessed us with a wonderful colorful sunset to complete the assignment.

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver.

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver.

The double truck layout from Scuba Diving Magazine's "Dirtiest  Jobs" issue.

The double truck layout from Scuba Diving Magazine’s “Dirtiest Jobs” issue.

Corporate Industrial Photography for ExxonMobil 2014 Annual Report

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Long exposure of Oil and Gas facility in the Middle East under a full moon glow.

Last year we had the awesome opportunity once again to create some really interesting oil and gas photography for ExxonMobil’s corporate annual report.  I’m very proud to have worked with this incredible company for many years.  We usually have several assignments that take us around the world, and this year was no exception.  We photographed oil and gas facilities in Scotland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, and West Texas.  We also did a few days of offshore oil and gas photography in the Gulf of Mexico, shooting from helicopters and living aboard a state of the art offshore drilling platform and drill ship.

Portrait of a mechanic in Scotland.

Portrait of a mechanic in Scotland.

For the European portions of the assignment, assistant Travis Schiebel helped out and we had a lot of cool experiences, including being surrounded by sheep while shooting long evening exposures near a plant in Scotland.

After a morning sunrise shoot in Antwerp, we were having breakfast, enjoying our waffles (hey, you have to, right?),  in a sidewalk cafe, when suddenly a parade of elderly French Foreign Legion soldiers came marching through.  We were able to follow them and hear some great stories of battles in Algeria as they went on their annual barhopping jaunt through the city.  You haven’t partied until you’ve partied with 85-year-old Legionnaires.

Saudi_fishDallas assistant John Sutton helped me out in Saudi Arabia, as we photographed in three different facilities there.  I had been there a couple of years before and it was great to see old friends again.  One of our friends there prepared a wonderful traditional meal of whole cooked fried fish, which we ate with our hands while sitting together on beautiful woven rugs.  The last time we were there, we enjoyed “mandi”, a lamb cooked in a tandoor oven ground pit and served over rice.  Both were fantastic.  I’m not normally a super adventurous eater, but I’m getting better about embracing and sampling the local cuisine wherever we go.  I felt honored that locals embraced us and were thoughtful enough to share their food and culture with us.

Saudi silhouette with   incredible twilight color.

Saudi silhouette with incredible twilight color.

Oil and Gas photo shoots usually involve a lot of long days, getting up super early for sunrise, and staying until late evening for sunsets, and these fun mid-day diversions make the assignments really fun.  By the way…..the light in Saudi was incredible – fantastic sunsets, and beautiful warm early light.  One night, we were lucky enough to photograph a new facility under the light of the full moon, which provided a wonderful backlit glow to the shiny new steel plant.

When the annual reports were recently released recently, we ended up with several well designed two page spreads.  Here are a few samples below.

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Annual Report Cover Photography for ExxonMobil

The cover of the ExxonMobil Annual Report, taken in Qatar by Houston photographer Robert Seale.

The cover of the ExxonMobil Annual Report, taken in Qatar by Houston photographer Robert Seale.

When I was growing up, my best friend was an overachiever who at age 9, was the Rupert Murdoch of the lawn mowing business in our home town. His empire stretched far and wide, and he spent his days in the summer and after school riding his hefty John Deere riding mower (which he bought with his own funds) around town.

My friend was a year older than me, but I often helped him with trimming, weed-eating, etc, and before long, I had talked my dad into letting me take his beloved John Deere riding mower, (which he was very protective of), into the neighborhood in search of elderly ladies who needed regular yard work.

Well the money started rolling in, you know….HUGE sums like 10, 15, even 20 dollars a week! I promptly blew through everything like a 10-year-old rapper with a new record contract, only my vice of choice was video games and candy – not hookers and Bentleys.  I loved banana Laffy Taffy, and I think I single-handedly kept that confectionary company afloat during the early 1980’s.

My mother, who ran banks for most of her career, saw this silliness and decided that I needed a lesson in financial responsibility. She promptly set me up with a checking account, and taught me how to balance and reconcile a bank statement. I was to use the account when I needed money, like for lawn mower gas or oil – her reasoning was that if I had to stop and write a check that perhaps I might think twice about my impulsive spending habits. She also made me set aside 150 dollars, which seemed like all the money in the world at the time (and to me, it certainly was…), and buy shares of Exxon stock with my little nest egg.

Well, I was pissed. Do you know how good I could have become at Galaga or Defender with 150 dollars in quarters?

One of the interesting things about being a shareholder, even with a mere 5 shares at the time, was that I would receive mailings and publications from the company. We used to get Exxon’s quarterly magazine (called “The Lamp”), and a big hefty magazine full of interesting color pictures once a year….which, logically, was called the Annual Report. It was impressive, and the photographs were interesting – lots of brightly lit refineries at night, colorful chemistry labs, and portraits of rig workers in the North Sea.

Some companies do different versions of these. The Summary Annual Report is exactly what it says, a condensed version, usually with a cover and a few pictures inside. The larger, full-blown version of the Annual Report is called the F&O, for Financial and Operating Review, and features many more pages of photos. Although the 1980’s heyday of the over the top, multi-page annual reports has passed, and some companies just file their reports electronically as website pdf’s, some companies still produce great printed publications for their shareholders.

Later, when I was in college studying commercial photography, I really admired the guys who did corporate photography for these big companies….Exxon, Coca-cola, IBM, etc. I always thought one of the coolest challenges was to make big heavy industrial facilities look sexy. After all, anyone can make a bikini model or a pro athlete look great…but how are you with the inside production line in a paper mill? Can you light it or compose it in an interesting way to make a cool frame out of it?  My parents didn’t understand how someone would make a living in photography, particularly in photojournalism, but when I pointed out the cool photography in these annual reports I think they realized that commercial photography could be a viable career.

Fast forward a few years, and after being “sidetracked” with a full time job that I loved at a sports magazine, I began to finally use some of those skills learned in college doing industrial photography for various oil and gas companies around Texas.  One of my goals was to shoot for ExxonMobil, the largest oil and gas company in the world, and eventually they became a client.

Although I’ve now worked for them for several years, and had several covers of The Lamp, and lots of published pictures big and small in various pubs, I am particularly proud to have made the cover of the BIG annual report (or F&O) for the company this year. The cover photo is an aerial photograph taken from a helicopter in Qatar, of a huge Q-Max LNG tanker leaving the port at sunset. It took quite a bit of logistical planning, support and effort to make, and I’m particularly proud of it.  It really is ironic and odd that I’m now shooting for the first corporate annual report publication I ever laid eyes on, as a 10-year-old.

Also amazing is that this particular frame was shot during our last pass around the harbor, handheld, wide open, on a Canon EOS-1DX at 2000 ISO during the last little flicker of available light.  A shot like this would have been impossible 4-5 years ago.  High ISO camera sensor technology has come a long way.

Anyway, I’ve finally created a new tearsheets gallery on my main portfolio website to share some of this work in printed form. There are various examples of my photography in print for a variety of clients, from oil and gas companies, aviation portraits, to Sports Illustrated covers. Check it out, it really is an eclectic mix.

Now if I can just figure out how to get John Deere as a client.   Hmmmm….

The new tearsheets section of the Robert Seale Photography portfolio site.

The new tearsheets section of the Robert Seale Photography portfolio site.

Houston advertising photographer Robert Seale announces launch of new portfolio website

Check out the new Robert Seale Photography website.

Check out the new Robert Seale Photography website.

After several years with another company, I recently made the change to an HTML 5 site from Rob Haggart’s APhotoFolio.   I wanted a clean, customizable design that performed very fast, and APhotoFolio fit the bill.  My blog will still remain here (with links of course on the new site), and my archive will remain with Photoshelter, and I hope to focus on making more stock available there in the near future.

The biggest change you’ll notice, right away on the new Robert Seale Photography site, is the scalable HTML 5 design.  You can literally grab the bottom right hand corner of the web browser window, and drag it to fill your screen on any device, from a laptop to a 30 inch monitor, and the photographs will scale to that size.  This is an incredible improvement over the old site, and I’m very excited about it.  It works well on Ipads and Iphones as well, but hopefully, you’re viewing it on a big monitor!

Security is still a bit of a concern, as we’re now uploading bigger and bigger photos onto photographer’s websites these days.  I’m happy to have people link to the actual articles, and I always appreciate those that ask for permission first, but sites that just screen grab stuff with no attribution – that’s a no-no.  None of the photos published on the site are in the public domain, by the way.  Anyway, the photos are registered with the US Copyright office, so if anyone is stealing stuff or publishing my photos without permission, I’ll chase them back to their caves in Afghanistan (or wherever it is that copyright infringing losers hang out these days…a dorm room in Baton Rouge?), and shoot them in their kneecaps before I sic the attorneys on them.

I’ve refined the categories somewhat and added a ton of new work.  I kind of have my feet in two worlds:  Sports Portrait photography that I do for both advertising clients and magazines (Sports Illustrated, etc.), and Corporate Annual Report Photography which I do for Fortune 500 corporations, design firms, and ad agencies.  If you’re a Houston photographer, a lot of the annual report and corporate photography is of course geared toward the oil and gas industry.

Here’s how I’ve organized the portfolio section on the new site:

Under the Advertising and Editorial Photography category, we have several sub-category portfolios:

SPORTS ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY – This features not in-game, traditional long-lens sports action photography, which I used to do a lot of, but instead, sports portraits featuring athletes in action or motion, or photographs that emphasize movement.  I find that 9 times out of 10, this type of photography involves me laying on the ground in goose poop or mud, destroying my clothes, and getting covered in chigger bites, but that’s usually what it takes to make players look like they’re levitating.

SPORTS PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY – This category features more traditional static portraits of athletes, including many high profile celebrity sports figures.  I’ve been able to photograph many athletes over the years like LeBron James, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Alex Rodriguez, although considering the trouble he’s in this week, it may be a while before Arod agrees to any photo shoots any time soon.

AVIATION AND SPACE PHOTOGRAPHY – As part of an ongoing personal project, I’ve been trying to make memorable portrait photographs of notable pilots, both civilians and famous military aviators.  I’ve also had the awesome opportunity to expand this body of work into working for several aviation magazines and aviation photography clients.  As a Houston photographer, I’ve also been fortunate enough to do several shoots with NASA astronauts including a series on the end of the Space Shuttle program.

REAL PEOPLE PHOTOGRAPHY – Although I tend to concentrate on annual report photographs and sports advertising , I don’t just limit my work to those two categories.  I often have opportunities to make environmental portraits of Texas musicians, Houston celebrities, sports celebrities, cowboys, barbeque pitmasters and just eccentric characters from all walks of life, and this category is a catch all for some of my other portraits that don’t fit these other main categories.

Within the Corporate  Annual Report Photography section, we have a few more portfolios:

OIL AND GAS-ENERGY PHOTOGRAPHY – Most photographers who live in Houston do their share of work in this area, and I enjoy this work very much.  The first photographers I admired were guys like Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, and Arthur Meyerson, and in corporate annual report assignments you kind of get to indulge that colorful and graphic inspiration first brought forth by these masters of the medium.  I also love challenges and problem solving, so for me, it’s really fun to be sent to a fluorescent-lit lab full of lighting challenges, an industrial factory setting, chemical plant, or refinery, and be forced to make good, interesting, well-lit, and well designed photographs out of something that looks unattractive to most people.  I’m fascinated by light/shadow, and good design, and man-made structures often have their own inherent beauty – you just to have to find it and make the proper composition in the right light.  This category focuses on photographs of people working within the oil and gas industry, some at-work portraits, offshore oil and gas drilling and production platforms, and aerial photography, which are all part of the job of an annual report photographer.

INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY – Over the years, I’ve been asked to do “beauty shots” or landscape photos – wide overall views of industrial refineries, chemical plants, oil wells, and other oil and gas facilities and details.  With the right time of day and long exposures, these can often be interesting and beautiful.  That, and I get to wear cool Nomex coveralls and safety glasses, too.

EXECUTIVE PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY – Dealing with athletes and sports celebrities for years has prepared me well for photographing busy CEO’s and other executives.  In most portraits of professional athletes, you have 5-15 minutes to get the job done, so preparation is key, and the same goes for corporate executive portraits.  Like the annual report stuff, finding an interesting background or setting to photograph an executive within the confines of an office building is an interesting lighting and logistical challenge.  We often scout ahead of time, show up super early, and have multiple lighting set ups ready to go and pre-tested in different locations throughout the building, so we can quickly walk from one setup to another and finish quickly to minimize the executive’s time commitment on set.

There are also sections for Press, which feature links and other news about me from other photography sites and blogs, a link to my Blog (robertsealeblog.com), which features behind the scenes info, lighting diagrams, and problem solving stories behind the photographs, and of course, the all important Bio page, where you get to read boring stuff about me.

I’m excited about the new site and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check it out.

Advertising Photography for ExxonMobil Chemical

I recently photographed a series of advertisements for ExxonMobil Chemical at one of their technology centers.  We worked with a fantastic team from McCann Erickson in New York, and they did a great job of conceptualizing the final ads.  The comp we were presented with showed a black and white image of an ExxonMobil scientist working in a lab environment with a detail breakout photo of a macro subject from their lab.

The labs were very tight and cluttered spaces – lots of scientific equipment everywhere, lots of hoses and pipes, and very few clean simple backgrounds.  We decided to shoot several different lab techs and scientists working with their respective equipment on white.  This was a serious challenge, as there was not ample room to do a normally lit white background.  We settled on placing a 6 x 6 scrim jim behind the subjects, just to de-clutter the room, and give the retoucher clean images of the subject and foreground equipment to work with.  This worked well, but it was a very tight squeeze all day.  To look good in B&W, the light needed to be fairly dramatic and contrast-y.  We used gridded softboxes, a Wafer 100 and a Wafer 75 in some cases, both with Lighttools 30 degree grids.

We also had great fun creating the macro images.  Kelly Clark, our art director, would work with us to pick out various interesting pieces of scientific equipment, and we would then set up lighting and photograph details, often with the Canon 100mm macro, which is just an incredibly sharp piece of glass.  It was interesting to create tight abstract views of everyday science equipment.

One of the cool shots we did, came about during the scouting trip.  We noticed that several of the scientists would write in wax pencil on the plexiglas cover of their lab enclosures….math formulas, notes, etc.  We decided it looked pretty interesting, and ran out to Home Depot to get a clean new piece of plexi to recreate the same look on white in the lab.  (Apologies to Neil Leifer and his iconic Bear Bryant portrait. )

Andrew Loehman did a great job digital teching for the day, and Nathan Lindstrom assisted.  Juan Guadiana, a stellar Houston-based retoucher did a masterful job of cutting out our subjects with their equipment for the final ads.  These were not easy to do.  Andrea Kaye, the art buyer at McCann Erickson, Valerie Sena, the account manager, and Kelly Clark, the art director were wonderful to work with, and we were able to enjoy a fantastic Tex-Mex meal with our ExxonMobil client at El Real, a cool new restaurant in the former Tower Theater during their brief visit to Houston.

Here’s the “before” photo in color…

One of the other ads….we created four of these.