The Best Use of Photos on a Construction Project
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The Best Use of Photos on a Construction Project

You’ve heard the expression a million times. It’s a cliché. A photo is worth a thousand words. I say that and I must tell you there are dozens and dozens of situations I have been involved with where there is a great photo record, but nobody has any earthly idea what the photos are of, why they are significant, or why they were taken. The point here is that, yes, a photo is worth a thousand words. But most photos, if they have no words accompanying them, are virtually useless.

Be like Officer Obe when documenting your project with photos

When I talk about photographs, I am often reminded of the song, “Alice’s Restaurant.” Yeah, I have a couple of gray hairs. In that song, Officer Obe had taken twenty-seven, 8 x 10, color glossies and had annotated those pictures with circles, arrows, and a paragraph on the back explaining what they showed. Well, you don’t need 8 x 10 color glossies, and you probably don’t need circles and arrows. You may not even need a whole paragraph. But, wow, just a little bit of information goes a long way in terms of making a picture extremely valuable.

I will give you the best example I have ever seen of pictures used effectively. We were working on a bridge project and the bridge could reasonably be split into two projects. On one side, concrete girders supported the bridge deck. On the other side, steel girders supported the bridge deck. On the concrete side, the concrete girders were supported on tall, slender piers.

When building these piers, the contractor had a serious blowout of the forms. One of the piers had to be demolished and reconstructed. Theoretically, that could have led to significant delays on the project. On the steel side of the bridge, they didn’t have any problem with the piers, but they discovered when they brought the steel out to erect, that there was a design error and the steel didn’t fit where it was designed to go. There were delays at the end of the project. The contractor alleged that it was due to the steel design error and, as you can imagine, the owner alleged that it was due to the form blowout.

The contractor, thinking ahead, went out on the bridge deck and took a picture back over the concrete portion of the bridge. Not only were the girders in place, but the deck was poured, and the barriers were in place. It was not striped yet, but it was essentially complete. The contractor then turned around and took a picture out over the steel portion of the bridge. There no barriers, no concrete, and no form work. There was nothing.

The blowout of the piers couldn’t possibly have delayed the project, because here we were standing on a completed concrete section of the bridge, waiting for the steel section to progress. Whether or not that was an accurate portrayal of the project, it was a wonderful way of simply making an important point. Of course, the project manager ultimately had to explain why those pictures were taken, how they were related, and why they were significant. So, it wasn’t that there weren’t words needed in order to make the point.

That is why we describe pictures as being worth a thousand words. They can make important points in a simple, straightforward, easily understandable way.

Construction photos in the electronic age

Another thing we need to acknowledge, when it comes to pictures, is that we are in an electronic age. People can take a lot of pictures, so we need systems on our project that:

  1. Allow us to store those pictures in a useful way, and
  2. Capture descriptions with the picture.

There are services out there, and I mention them here simply because I have found them to be incredibly useful. They will come to your project, stand at the same place every month, and take a picture. That picture then is loaded up on the web. It is loaded up in such a way that you know the vantage point of the picture, the point on the project from which it was taken, and the day it was taken. It becomes, because there are literally hundreds if not thousands of photos taken at each one of these photo sessions, a pictorial record of the construction of the project. Additionally, many projects today have aerial cameras mounted on a building or pole, adjacent to the project, that take photos every hour. They can also capture continuous videos of the site.

It is immensely valuable when we are trying to document a situation where a project is not making progress because it is insufficiently staffed. That is always a difficult issue to address. If you have a documentary record of pictures taken, each and every day throughout the project, you can actually track and identify where people are and what they are doing. It becomes a great way of looking at that issue. I know that one of the companies that provides these services is MultiVista. If you think a service like that might be helpful on your project, it is at least one of the firms you might want to check out.

Scott Lowe is a Principal of TRAUNER and is an expert in the areas of critical path method scheduling, construction claims preparation and evaluation, and specification writing. He can be reached at scott.lowe@traunerconsulting.com.

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