flexiblefullpage -
billboard - default
interstitial1 - interstitial
Currently Reading

Intelligent construction photography, not just pretty pictures

Intelligent construction photography, not just pretty pictures

Our expert tells how to organize construction progress photos so you don’t lose track of all the valuable information they contain.


By By Ryan Abbott, SUNDT Construction, Inc. | March 1, 2012
Geo-tagged image shows the exact spot where the photo was taken (red dot) and th
Geo-tagged image shows the exact spot where the photo was taken (red dot) and the angle at which it was taken, as well as date,
This article first appeared in the March 2012 issue of BD+C.

If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, it’s not surprising that the construction industry loses an untold amount of dollars every year due to poor photo filing. Construction progress photos are worthless if they get filed away without an easy way to locate them, or if you don’t know when and where they were taken.

Commercial construction is extremely complex and becoming more so as we move to combine tens of thousands of supply chains in new synergistic ways—energy recovery systems, variable volume air distribution, and dynamic building controls being a few examples. With all of these moving parts, progress documentation has become essential to the construction process, thus requiring us to take lots of photos. Imagine you could see through walls, above ceilings, and underground, but had no idea where you were looking. That’s roughly the current status of construction progress digital photography.

Let me tell you a story that illustrates my point.

A month after moving a client into a beautiful laboratory building, I received a phone call from one of the facility managers telling me that the exterior lights were out—the breaker had been tripped. We checked the lighting loads and conductors, replaced the breaker, safely reset it, and—ta-da!—the lights worked.

Exactly 30 days later, the same phone call. In desperation I turned to the installation photos. What I found was a mind-numbing pile of digital photos, including one shown here labeled “BOB 005.” The entire collection lacked a meaningful file name, structure, or location. I had no clue as to where the photo belonged or when it was taken. In fact, all the photos had the exact same date, the day the project was closed out.

As it turns out sheer luck led me to the solution. I’ll give you a clue: grey conduit met white conduit and, magically, on the one day in the month when the trees on this desert property were watered, the site lighting would short out. The experience inspired me to find a way to organize digital construction photos so that they could be useful in situations like this.

'Simple isn't the same thing as 'easy'

My first instinct was to try to simplify the process. However, that meant requiring our construction field teams to: 1) take photos of anything that could not be seen after construction; 2) download the photos on a regular basis; 3) name and date the photos in such a way that a third party could find their way back to the point of reference where the photo was taken; and 4) make the photos truly searchable.

This first idea was to develop a complex file structure that was located on a project SharePoint site. The idea was that each folder would hold only photos of that specific room, product, or site location; anyone could post and use the library at any time in the future.

As you’ve probably guessed, my plan fell short at the implementation stage. The operations group members weren’t downloading photos on a regular basis, couldn’t remember where photos had been taken, and didn’t post them into the correct folder. As a fallback, I thought about hiring a couple of project interns whose only job would be to document photos, but that, too, would have been too labor intensive.

What we needed was a solution that didn’t add labor costs and would actually encourage our field staff to take construction progress photos. In short, we needed a tool that could see through walls, above ceilings, and underground—a tool where all the pertinent information could be automatically stored with the photo the moment it was taken.

Increasing the level of photo sophistication

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer. The solution turned out to be “geo-tagging,” which is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to images through a global positioning system (GPS) digital camera. Such cameras are all over the market. We tested Nikon’s P6000, Samsung’s CL65, and several models by Sony; we chose the Sony Cybershot DSC-HX5 for its reasonable cost, GPS accuracy, and the fact that it utilizes a nonproprietary memory card that could easy be removed to transfer photos onto our project servers.

The data-rich file itself is not the end-all; it’s what you can do with it that counts. To draw a parallel, a digital song file comes with the image of the album cover, the name of the song, the artist, and the date it was recorded. It doesn’t matter what kind of device you play a digital song on, you still have access to the data.

Similarly, a geo-tagged photo comes with its latitude, longitude, altitude, compass direction, date, and time recorded. Having all that data embedded in your geo-tagged photos allows you to create so-called “mashups.”

According to Wikipedia 2012, a mashup is “a Web page or application that uses and combines data, presentation, or functionality from two or more sources to create new services.” The main characteristics of mashups are “combination, visualization, and aggregation” that make existing data more useful for professional (or personal) use.

When a construction progress photo has been geo-tagged, it can be viewed in any of a number of mapping programs that recognize latitude and longitude; with a little work, it can even be viewed in programs that recognize x-y-z relationships to a given reference point.

One of the simplest of these mapping programs is Google Maps. In the case of the geo-tagged photo and Google Maps mashup on page 21, the red pin represents the precise location where the photo was taken. The blue cone emanating from the pin is the image angle, indicating the direction of the photo. In other words, the person taking the photo was standing on the red pin and facing in the direction of the blue triangle.

Once your photos have been geo-tagged they can be paired (i.e., mashed) with any number of backgrounds through a variety of interfaces. The three primary interfaces that we use are: 1) the typical file view (sort by name or date); 2) a very useful calendar view; and 3) a map view.

Finding your construction progress photos now becomes much easier. If you know the approximate date, use the calendar view. If you know roughly the location, use the map view. Let’s say you are a supervisor of several construction projects, and you want to find a photo from your job in Phoenix. No problem: using the software that comes with the GPS camera, just zoom in to the location.

Moreover, you don’t necessarily need a GPS-enabled camera to geo-tag your photos. You can download freeware (e.g., Picasa 3, GeoSetter, Geolmgr) that will enable you to manually geo-tag your new (and old) photos that were taken with a non-GPS-enabled camera. Using the map view, you simply drag and drop your photos to the location you remember being at.

However, this method makes you do all the manual work yourself, which from a field perspective creates a disincentive for taking project progress photos

The most elegant solutions are often the simplest. In the brave new world of open source data and cloud computing, data sophistication is paramount. Thanks to GPS and digital cameras, now you can see through walls, above ceilings, and below ground, as if you were really there. +

Ryan Abbott (raabbott@sundt.com) is the Science & Technology Group Leader with SUNDT Construction, Inc.

Related Stories

Market Data | Jul 1, 2022

Nonresidential construction spending slightly dips in May, says ABC

National nonresidential construction spending was down by 0.6% in May, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors analysis of data published today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Building Team | Jul 1, 2022

How to apply WELL for better design outcomes

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) cites attracting top talent, increasing productivity, and improving environmental, social or governance (ESG) performance as key outcomes of leveraging tools like their WELL Building Standard to develop healthier environments.

Building Team | Jul 1, 2022

Less portable potty, more movable restroom

Some contractors are packing up their portable potties and instead using the H3 Wellness Hub.

Market Data | Jun 30, 2022

Yardi Matrix releases new national rent growth forecast

Rents in most American cities continue to rise slightly each month, but are not duplicating the rapid escalation rates exhibited in 2021.

Headquarters | Jun 30, 2022

Lenovo to build its new global headquarters in Beijing

Washington, D.C.-based architecture and design firm CallisonRTKL has announced it will create the new global headquarters in Beijing for Lenovo Group, a Chinese multinational personal technology company.

Mass Timber | Jun 29, 2022

Mass timber competition: building to net-zero winning proposals

The 2022 Mass Timber Competition: Building to Net-Zero is a design competition to expand the use of mass timber in the United States by demonstrating its versatility across building types and its ability to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment.

Laboratories | Jun 29, 2022

The "collaboratory" brings digital innovation to the classroom

The Collaboratory—a mix of collaboration and laboratory—is a networking center being designed at the University of Denver’s College of Business.

Airports | Jun 29, 2022

BIG and HOK’s winning design for Zurich airport’s new terminal

Two years ago, Zurich Airport, which opened in the 1950s, launched an international design competition to replace the aging Dock A—the airport’s largest dock.

Laboratories | Jun 28, 2022

The California Science Center breaks grounds on its Air and Space Center

The California Science Center—a hands-on science center in Los Angeles—recently broke ground on its Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.

Contractors | Jun 27, 2022

Reverse mentorship: A model for the future of the construction workforce

Reverse mentorship can help seasoned professionals develop new skills, stay connected with younger generations, and gain future-forward insights for life and business.

boombox1 - default
boombox2 -
native1 -

More In Category


Building Team

How to apply WELL for better design outcomes

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) cites attracting top talent, increasing productivity, and improving environmental, social or governance (ESG) performance as key outcomes of leveraging tools like their WELL Building Standard to develop healthier environments.



halfpage1 -

Most Popular Content

  1. 2021 Giants 400 Report
  2. Top 150 Architecture Firms for 2019
  3. 13 projects that represent the future of affordable housing
  4. Sagrada Familia completion date pushed back due to coronavirus
  5. Top 160 Architecture Firms 2021

 


Magazine Subscription
Subscribe

Get our Newsletters

Each day, our editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe

Follow BD+C: