Use Smartphones To Document Your Installations

With the continuing evolution of the smartphone, you finally have all the capabilities to document your onsite work for future reference.
Use Smartphones To Document Your Installations
I shot this photo with my iPhone of some work being done in a local park in my hometown this summer. Photos taken with the latest generation of smartphones can provide quality documentation of your installation work.

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I’m going to make a guess about how an important aspect of your onsite system installs has improved dramatically over the past several years: Documentation of the complex process of putting a system together is much easier and better … and you have the smartphone to thank for that.

Now that you carry a sophisticated mini-computer on your hip every day, it’s much easier to show customers or regulators exactly how you connected that drainfield line to the D-box or leveled the septic tank in the hole. Having immediate access to a decent camera and a variety of handy instant-communication tools reduces worry at the work site and your liability months and years down the road in the event that a system fails early.

And at the risk of sounding provocative, I’ll say this: If you’re still using that aging flip phone rather than upgrading to a feature-rich hand-held device, you’re doing your company a disservice. Take it from someone who was a late adopter to this trailblazing small-business technology.


Two years ago, I came kicking and screaming into the age of smartphones. I don’t generally think of myself as backward when it comes to technology. I embraced the personal computer long before most because my work required I do so. And over the past decade, I’ve invested in all of the iDevices, like the iPod, the iPad, the iBook and iMac.

But – and this is difficult to admit as someone who likes to dabble in investments – I didn’t understand the appeal of the iPhone when it was introduced. I will forever regret – and be reminded of – selling my small holding of Apple Computer stock before the iPhone sent it rocketing into the stratosphere … making Apple the richest company in the world.

I’ve been scratching my head for years over my early disregard of smartphones. How I didn’t see the importance of these tools is beyond me. But my own experience has shown my iPhone to be indispensable for many reasons. And I witness how the devices are helping installers every day. How? A picture is worth 1,000 words, as the old saying goes.

If for no other reason, every installer should be carrying a smartphone for its vastly improved photography capabilities. Years ago I would cringe when a contractor mentioned using a cellphone to shoot a photo of something I might want to include in the magazine. Early camera phone images were blurry, grainy and of such poor quality they were useless at showing any details of an install project, to say nothing of producing a photo we could publish and share with readers. Even four to five years ago, these photos provided almost universally poor quality. The cameras on early phones were more of a gimmick than anything.

But that is no longer true. Phone cameras have improved so dramatically over the past few years, they have rendered the point-and-shoot digital camera nearly obsolete.


Think of the mental gymnastics you’d have to go through in the past to shoot a photo and transfer it electronically. Going from camera to computer and then sending through email was a challenge most people were ill-equipped to meet. I can recall trying to arrange to receive photos of a wastewater project, and it seemed like designing an advanced system was faster work than sending photos.

Now I’m delighted to say that shooting photos with a phone and getting them to the right destination is a nearly seamless operation. Contractors get fantastic point-and-shoot results, and I can pass photos back and forth for a story almost faster than I can call and explain they’re on the way. The images are generally crisp and clear, exposed properly in many lighting situations, and often meet the strict requirements we have for print publication.

I have a qualifier to my praise for smartphone cameras. The images still don’t match those taken with a quality digital SLR camera in the hands of a professional photographer … and they never will. This is why we hire professional shooters to provide photos for our Contractor Profile stories and magazine covers. High-end cameras have quality lenses,  great low-light and flash performance, and bigger files to show more detail.

But for many purposes – including your project documentation and some of our feature stories – I can now say a smartphone does a great job. I used mine to document a directional boring job when I stopped at a work site last winter. The phone did a great job of capturing the details I needed to show, and the result was a trade publication photo layout shot entirely with my phone.

The list of field tasks you can perform by smartphone is always growing. You want good video of an excavator working in tight quarters? Push a button and it’s done. No clipboard and you want to create a voice memo? It’s a finger touch away. A machine stops working on the job site? Quickly access your maintenance records to diagnose the problem. You’d like to take instant payment from customers after a repair? Get a credit card reader and improve your cash flow. If you can imagine a need in the field, there’s probably an app for that.


The ease of use and quality performance of today’s smartphones makes it a snap to send us photos of your latest challenging install. And we’d love to see them. I’m always on the lookout for our next System Profile feature, where we provide a step-by-step glimpse at an interesting onsite project. Because it’s not always practical to arrange for a photographer to be on hand for the duration of an install, we typically rely on contractors to provide these images.

Between designers, installers and regulators on the job, we usually have a good variety of photos to work with. The benefit of those involved with the project taking photos is that they know what other Onsite Installer readers will want to see. Your keen eye is valuable – we want to document the job the same way you do.

If you want to shoot and send us photos of a recent project, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, we enjoy seeing more than the pipes in the ground. We want to show your hard-working crew behind the controls of the equipment, displaying their skills in the field. We look for a wide range of photos that will document the project from beginning to end. That means capturing everything from the excavator digging trenches to the technician activating the control panel.

If you have more questions about photography or would like to discuss a potential system profile story, please contact me at I’m looking forward to hearing from you! 


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