A Best Practice Guide to Efficient 360° Construction Photo Documentation
Photo documentation on construction sites can be a systematic productivity killer. With numerous workers, machinery and equipment, it can be hard to keep track of when and where photos were taken, not to mention where they were stored. But with the increasing use of technology in the construction industry, the photo capturing process has also changed for the better.
Photo documentation in construction has evolved from physical photo albums to digital photos saved on local machines, then photos saved on file sharing systems and finally to 360° photos stored in the cloud. The latter has created a lot of conversation within the industry, as 360° cameras became the second most used capturing device on construction sites in 2018.
However, simply buying more 360° cameras is not the solution. More photos mean more managing of those photos, which inevitably leads to more wasted time. It is important to set yourself up for success by choosing a toolset that enables you to manage photos by location and time before starting your jobsite documentation.
The purpose of this guide is to outline best practices with respect to 360° photos captured on-site and managing them in a way that saves you time and money.
During the pre-construction or design phase, it is important to think about setting up your project documentation in a way that can scale. The following are some tips to keep in mind when beginning your project.
- Tracking Log/Break Up the Site Into Areas — It may be helpful to break up your site into approximately 100–250 square foot areas and use a tracking log to help track weekly progress photos. Various Field Engineer’s (FE’s) can be responsible for separate areas. Assume area “A1” is not fully photographed due to some ongoing work (demo, steel, crane activity, etc.). The responsible FE should note this on the tracking log and resolve it later by making sure to document this once the area is accessible again. Appoint someone to track this log and remind the team every couple weeks should an area be missed, ideally each member should track the progress of their own areas.
- Label Your Cameras — If you have multiple cameras to be used by various FE’s it is helpful to number/label each one and document who is using which camera. As with other field tools and equipment, it is helpful to use some form of a tracking log and store the cameras in the same location, so cameras are not misplaced.
- Software Storage — Use a cloud-based solution to backup your raw photos. This way if damage occurs locally to your machine, the photos are still accessible. Cloud-based storage solutions can organize and store a huge amount of data and are often accessible on any device with a web browser. Organize your photos with a naming convention that is consistent across the project.
- Documentation App — When a 360° camera is paired with a smartphone and the manufacturer’s app, images are usually captured and stored within the app and/or the camera, without being organized with any relation to the actual construction project they belong to. By using a dedicated 360° construction progress tracking app for the capturing process you can make sure that all pictures are linked to the proper location on the sheet/floor plan of the project and are also organized by the time that they have been taken.
- Visualization Software — 360° photos need special software to view them properly. Without a 360 viewing system, the images are skewed as seen below in the left image. Most 360° camera manufacturers offer free visualization software, but they can often only process one image at a time, whereas dedicated tour solutions can process multiple ones. Besides, it is important to get every member of your photo capture and viewing team set up to view 360 images properly.
The construction phase is often the time when most pictures are taken to document progress. This is a crucial stage in planning photo capture with a 360° camera.
- Camera positioning — 360° cameras are best utilized with a tripod. A light-weight tripod can be easily carried and only requires one hand to transport. Standing at a distance while the image captures allows an unobstructed view of the camera’s surrounding. Holding the camera over your head, maybe even mounted on a monopod, as the image captures also provides an unobstructed view.
- Photo Location — Photos are most effective when captured in the same location. This location can be hard to pinpoint due to changes in the surrounding environment with ongoing construction. Physically marking the location of the camera/tripod with a marker could improve consistency. Overhead markers may serve better as they will encounter less wear. Also mark tripod/camera locations on a floor plan, for a static reference.
- Lighting — Invest in a proper light source that will illuminate darker areas to be photographed especially if your site does not have permanent lighting. Most 360° camera produce mediocre photographs when there is poor lighting in the area. An LED lantern that can be mounted between tripod and camera, an LED light wand or some other task lighting that disperses light well to surrounding areas will be very helpful in this case. On the other end of the spectrum, bright lighting conditions will also alter the quality of your photos. Be sure to check your photos in the preview screen after capturing and adjust for your condition.
- QA/QC — Appoint someone on the team to review photos for proper location/categorization on about once every couple of weeks. Sometimes while on a walk and documenting the site, photos will be taken by accident or saved in the wrong location. It will be helpful to have someone checking for these issues on a regular basis. Thorough checks will prove time-consuming so naturally, some of these issues will arise while viewing the photos during regular project use and should be brought to the attention of the administrator to be deleted accordingly.
In the final stages of a project, the management and storage of photos become paramount. Often if the organization process has been neglected, it becomes almost unmanageable at this point. Many photos would need to be quickly accessed to check work for final payment, locating material, and presenting to clients. The process can be streamlined by doing the following.
- Delivery — Deliver your photos to the client in a manner that is easy to navigate. Photos with descriptions, markups, or identifiers help the client understand what they are looking at. Using a software solution to communicate those photos eliminates the need for physical copies and can often make for pleasant customer experience.
- Provide Relevant Photos — Clients appreciate relevant photos of their site including those taken during all previous phases of the project. Before and after pictures at the same location may also provide value, as it shows progress and gives them more visibility over their site.
As you might have guessed from some of the links in the article, as a documentation software solution provider we recommend to best pair these best practices for taking photos with a 360° camera with the use of our platform HoloBuilder.
HoloBuilder is a 360° cloud-based photo documentation solution that has revolutionized the way photos are captured and managed on site. With the mobile JobWalk App working seamlessly together with the Web Editor and Viewer, you can markup images, compare images from different times side-by-side to monitor progress, live-stream 360° video, and much more.
With the many integrations for Autodesk BIM 360, Procore and more you can store your raw project data where you like and work between the platforms seamlessly to eliminate data silos. And when you are working in a corporate environment, you can easily manage your projects & teams with the Enterprise Dashboard. When your project reaches its close-out phase, you can keep a permanent record of your 360 construction documentation for offline viewing and sharing with stakeholders by using the Offline HoloViewer.
With all 360° images taken by your team, which cover every angle of the site, being organized by location and time in HoloBuilder, you can finally put an end to your construction documentation headaches.
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