Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
October 2004

Vol. 9, No. 42 Week of October 17, 2004

PETROLEUM DIRECTORY: Images for industry

Judy Patrick’s experience as a photographer helps her adapt to the changing oil and gas scene

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News Contributing Writer

Photographer Judy Patrick’s evocative images continue to depict the beautiful but challenging world of Alaska oil exploration and production. Through her photographs of responsible, environmentally sensitive development, Patrick has become something of a champion for the oil industry as well as providing a valuable service for her clients.

Although Patrick’s career in industrial photography stretches back more than 15 years, her work with the Alaska oil industry started in 1995 when she began shooting pictures for Petroleum News. Since then Patrick has established a busy industrial photography service and has expanded her business interests into graphic design and advertising.

North Slope photography

Patrick loves photographing winter exploration on Alaska’s North Slope — especially the opportunity to capture images of a world that few people see.

“That’s the thing I like to do most — it’s what I live for,” Patrick told Petroleum News. “It’s exciting because you’re out there and it’s beautiful and it’s cold and it’s remote.”

Patrick also really enjoys watching and illustrating the ingenuity of constructing facilities in remote locations — seeing how people build things.

“There’s always a challenge in how they solve a problem,” Patrick said.

For example, Patrick photographed the construction of the Northstar island and production facilities in the Beaufort Sea. Patrick used her camera to capture every aspect of the development, from placing the gravel for the island to laying the pipeline.

“The way that that (project) was accomplished still blows my mind,” Patrick said. “Every facet of it had something that was unique.”

New customers

In recent years Patrick has seen changes in her portfolio of clients, with several of the smaller independent oil companies entering the Alaska oil industry.

“I just can’t really emphasize enough how excited I am about the new people coming in ... the dynamics are changing permanently on the North Slope,” Patrick said. “They’re excited — and it’s a big deal ... they’ve never seen anything like this.”

Along with a sense of excitement, these entrants to the Alaska oil scene are bringing a new emphasis to Patrick’s work. For example, she sometimes finds that she has to highlight in pictures the cost factors in North Slope development — the ice roads, the big drilling rigs and all the other challenges of working in the Arctic.

“In some cases they’re trying to justify cost and so they need to show the difficult logistics,” Patrick said. “I try to show things, so that they can clearly illustrate to their superiors and then to their investors that the money was not unwisely spent.”

In addition to diversifying to new customers in the oil industry, Patrick has recently done an assignment for the Department of Transportation, illustrating initial investigations for the construction of the Colville River Road on the North Slope.

Experience counts

Although hiring a professional photographer like Patrick might sometimes seem expensive, the cost of the photography more than pays off in both the quality of the images and the experience that the photographer can draw on when selecting subject matter, viewpoints and camera angles. Patrick’s depth of experience normally gives her a good sense of what her clients are looking for.

“I try to rely as much as I can on my past knowledge,” Patrick said. “I try to consider all the (potential) uses (for the photographs).”

During an assignment Patrick always tries to find out about any unique or challenging features in what she’s photographing. The client will often want photos that illustrate these features.

“Whoever drives me around, I always make them explain the project to me and then something invariably comes out that’s been a technical challenge or construction challenge or something like that,” Patrick said.

Patrick can then use her camera technique — viewpoints, choice of lenses and lens settings — to express what needs to be shown in the photographs. For example, in one assignment she had to photograph some unusually high ice islands that the client had constructed at considerable expense.

“So I spent some effort making those islands look 20 feet tall,” Patrick said.

Regardless of the assignment, Patrick usually finds that she has to shoot several different types of image to capture all aspects of what is happening.

“There’s a balance that you have to strike between the beauty shots, the people ... shots ... and then the technical/industrial nature of it,” Patrick said. “You have to represent all those things.”

Digital photography

Patrick has delivered images on CD to clients for several years and has recently started using an 11 megapixel, high-end professional digital camera.

Patrick likes the way in which her digital camera has all but eliminated the need to carry film supplies. But she finds that the most useful feature of her camera is its ability to make color balance adjustments digitally, without the use of optical filters. The interiors of drilling rigs, for example, contain light sources of varying color temperature.

“Lighting’s a huge challenge,” Patrick said. “... I can correct for the light in the camera, so I can get nice looking pictures without having to worry about it so much.”

But digital cameras aren’t cheap and bigger computers, printers and other equipment, all of which have to be upgraded regularly, generate costs that offset the savings in the cost of film and film processing. Then if you add in the hours that a photographer like Patrick now has to spend on the computer selecting and editing images, you find that the total cost of digital photography turns out much the same as traditional film photography.

“My costs have all gone up ... especially going digital,” Patrick said. “Clients think that because you’re shooting digitally that your film costs will go away and you’ll somehow be cheaper.”

Advertising services

Patrick has recently moved her business into downtown Anchorage, where she shares an office suite with Salt + Light Creative, her graphic design business, and with Lyford Strategy and Communications, owned by Willis Lyford. Salt + Light designs and publishes printed material such as brochures and advertisements. Lyford, Strategy and Communications is an advertising agency that works in a wide range of advertising media. — Willis Lyford is a talented writer.

Together, the three businesses that share the downtown office enjoy considerable synergy.

“Willis and I ... collaborate on several projects and then he uses my design business as well,” Patrick said.

With low office overheads and a wide breadth of skills, the three businesses can produce high quality advertising material at very competitive prices, Patrick said.

“There are a lot of graphic design businesses out there but they don’t have the depth and the knowledge that we have here with the combination of people that we have,” Patrick said. “And we have a built-in photo library so we can operate super quick — we’re not bureaucratic at all.”

Future expansion

Patrick sees a limit to how much photography she can take on — her photographic business entirely revolves around her own individual photographic genre. However, she sees endless possibilities to expand her busy graphic design business, adding new staff as necessary.

“Judy Patrick Photography is Judy Patrick — that’s me taking pictures ... there isn’t anybody else that takes pictures like I do,” Patrick said. “Whereas Salt + Light Creative is other people and there are other designers.”

But it’s still the beauty of the North Slope that forms the core of Patrick’s work.

“I do constantly think how what’s in front of my camera is going to be viewed and how I want it to be viewed and it’s always with some beauty,” Patrick said.

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