Photographer’s Pick: Best Images of 2017

By Jonathan Castner | Dec 29, 2017

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CompanyWeek Chief Photographer Jonathan Castner picks his favorite manufacturing photos of 2017.

As CompanyWeek's chief photographer, it's a real treat to go to so many fascinating companies and show the rest of the world what they do through my lens. A big part of my job as a photographer is to go into new situations with an almost childlike sense of wonder and find the images that will give the reader a different and inspiring way of seeing something familiar, or else a dynamic look at something entirely new.

Each assignment is its own challenge. I don't have much control over what I can do in so many ways. I rarely can do much with the lighting which is photographically speaking often ugly. I am limited as to the angles and positions that I can put myself into to get the photo that I really want -- OSHA does tend to frown on guys like me crossing over the yellow safety line so that I can basically get inside the big machine to peek through, or climb on top of the 5-Axis CNC so that I can get a cool bird's-eye view on things.

On top of that, people are working so I can't just direct them like I would a professional model. I generally have to make chicken salad out of chicken, uh, parts. But that is the fun -- walking in and thinking, "Alrighty, what the heck can I do with this cluttered mess?" And then, moments later, I'm scampering about with a wild grin on my face as the photos unfold before me.

Of the 145 assignments that I shot for CompanyWeek in 2017, here are my 20 favorites in chronological order:

Schlosser Signs: The repeating figures in their paint booth were a graphical delight.

McClostone Amplifiers: I am also a guitarist so when I got the assignment I knew that I needed a portrait that was warm but clearly said that these lovely tone machines are made by hand.

Golden City Brewery: Give me a tiny and strange looking brewing system with a dude who is obviously a brewer and you get this.

Circa of America: In June, CompanyWeek shipped me to San Francisco to set up the basis for the new California edition. Circa is a leather goods company and their factory was enormous and filled with skilled, hands-on manufacturing. This detail shot is so clean and the gesture of the hand brings it all together.

Anchor Brewing: This legendary craft brewery was a delight as much of their building is still largely 1930s period and lovely everywhere you look. Their brewer stirring in the hops in their huge glowing copper kettles was just timeless.

Tenere: This one would have daunted many photographers: people attending big, blocky injection molding systems making little parts. Very little hands-on anything. What I do in situations like this is to find an interesting patch of light and see if something interesting happens. I got lucky where this lady had a lovely face and made that little gesture which pulled it all together.

Frangiosa Farms Honey: Beekeepers! A lovely day and dudes dressed up, myself included, in neat-o bee suits tending to the hives. This one was memorable for just being there but it made for such a different photo for a business publication.

Cappello's: The clean graphics and the touch of color from her gloves just made an elegant image.

The Saint Louis Brewery: I did this shoot in St. Louis this summer and one of the problems that you often encounter when doing this sort of work is the dreaded phrase "Oh, something broke so we are down until it gets fixed." I only had one day to get our shots and had a lot of workers standing around while the bottling line was getting repaired. I saw this guy watching the repairman and noted that shooting him through the smudgy glass door emulated the often steamy environment of these places.

FROST'D.: When people are working, they tend to have blank or very concentrated expressions. Sometimes that works but what I want is a look that is fleeting but very human and relatable. Here I was able to catch Jessica in a moment where she is looking at her partner, and her expression made for a dynamic that is interesting for its questioning quality.

Advantage Manufacturing: When photographing industry, sparks and flames are what rainbows and reflections are to a landscape photographer. They always make the photos interesting and you are willing to make all sorts of gyrations to get them into your frame. I got lucky for this one at Advantage in Colorado Springs as I've never shot two guys welding side by side before. It was just spark-o-rama.

Lone Tree Brewing Company: Rarely do you find scenes where there is a bit of mystery. In this situation, she was watching a gauge that was just out of the frame but the way that she crouched and touched the hoses with the dappled light on her face made for a very different image from a brewery.

Troubadour Maltings: Two guys and a big metal box could be awful, but it gave me some interesting abstract graphical elements to work with at this craft maltster in Fort Collins.

3D Systems: More geometric graphics. Squares in squares in squares.

Cottonwood Creek Farms: Cute kids hugging chickens. 'Nuff said!

Jack Rabbit Hill Farm: Just a great expression from Lance Hanson, founder of the distillery and winery in Hotchkiss.

Morgan Handmade Rations: Not every subject is such a cool dude who is willing to have fun with the photos like he did. Huzzah!

Hyperflesh: Simply one of the strangest images that I've ever created.

Butcherknife Brewing Company: Color, light, moment . . . all there.

Tharp Cabinet Company: Not only is the light and posture dramatic, but the fact that he's distressing that custom cabinet door essentially with an ice pick just makes it a standout.

There you have it. Some of my favorite images from the year. I hope you enjoyed them and the stories that they illustrated.

Words and photos by Jonathan Castner.

Other Year in Review features:

Editor's Choice: Best of Colorado and Rocky Mountain manufacturing 2017.

Editor's Choice: Best of Utah manufacturing 2017.

Photographers Pick: Best manufacturing images of 2017, Judson Pryanovich, Utah.