Good Job Site Photography Helps Protect Contractors From Liability Claims

More technology education is necessary for the onsite industry to fully realize the potential of digital photography to document installations.

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I enjoyed the Editor’s Notebook column (Power in the Pixel, August 2014) on the capability of the smartphone to take and process photos to document the installation of onsite wastewater treatment systems. Very well stated.

As a designer and regulator, I find that the problem with taking photos of installations and documenting the installation process is not with the technology or equipment, but more with the inability of practitioners in our industry to understand that the time spent to take good photos is not wasted.

I speak with many installers a week and find that when I ask most of them if they have photos of the installation of a component, the almost universal response is no. ... It wasn’t part of installing a system 20 years ago and doesn’t have to be now. Most installers I discuss this with would rather risk digging up a component to be inspected than spend the time taking a photo of it. To me, it is human nature at work. If we mentally marginalize the value of the photo, then we do not have to take pictures.


Another complaint I hear is that photos take too much space on a computer, and there must be time spent saving and cataloging them. Most installers I talk to just do not feel they have the time to save their photos. That generally prompts them to take too few photos and not save them all.

This year I bought a 2-terabyte USB connected storage device. I know that 2 terabytes means nothing to the average person in our industry, or the public at large. But I calculated that if I took 50 photos of each job I visited, and each photo was 5 megabytes in size, I could save 4,000 jobs on that drive; all for $115. Fifty photos on a job is way more than I see anyone in the industry take, and almost no one works on more than 100 jobs a year, so 2 terabytes is more than enough storage for a very long time, and an end to excuses why we don’t take and properly store photos.

One aspect that you did not cover – and I am sure it was because of space – is what to take photos of. I advocate taking multiple photos of each component, from different angles, and also making sure that a site landmark is in the background, to be able to prove that the photo was taken at the site claimed.

I have hundreds of files with photos that show only a hole in the ground; there is nothing shown to tie the photos to a specific site. A few lower tree trunks or some grass and a hole. Why not take a couple wider-angle shots of the site to show the locations of the holes with reference to the rest of the site? Few people think about what they are taking photos of, or how they will relate the photos to a point on the site or to someone who has never seen the site.

The mindset seems to be that a photo is a photo is a photo, and if I take a picture, I have done my duty. Your statement that “A picture is worth a thousand words” could not be truer, but it takes training and understanding on the part of the person taking the photo to ensure the photo has value.


Lastly, the art of framing photos to take a meaningful picture may not have completely died out, but it is definitely on life support and will not be in existence, except for professional photographers, in a very short time. The advent of “point-and-shoot” has brought us just that: point that camera, push the shutter release and off to the next task.

Most of the time, the onsite photographer doesn’t even check the photo to see if it captured the important detail of the project. I see way more photos of people with 6 feet of wall space or sky above their heads than I do well-framed pictures, which actually look like what the photographer thought they were taking/wanted.

Better and easier-to-use devices come every year – in the form of smartphones, cameras, storage devices and software for our computers. I have high hopes that our industry will embrace these new technologies and work to understand the value installation photos can have.

At most, taking photos might add 30 minutes to an installation or 10 minutes to a site assessment or system troubleshooting. But that time can pay for itself several times over back at the office when well-taken photos can be reviewed rather than making another trip to the site to verify something.


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