Before you load your camera and rush off to the junkyard, be sure you understand
what role your photos will play in the case. Discuss this with your attorney/client,
so that both parties agree on the mission. Perhaps the purpose is to show
to angle of impact of two vehicles, or perhaps there are important paint transfers
to document, or possible product liability cases, (like seat belt or air bag
defects). If you don't take this first step, you may take technically great
photos, only to find out at a later date that you didn't show the most important
aspect of the case.
2. EIGHT MAJOR PHOTOS
There are eight major photos that should be taken of every vehicle. Visualize
placing a clock over the vehicle, with 12 at the very front of the vehicle
and six at the back. Take your first four pictures at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock.
Your second set of four should be at 2, 5, 7 10 o'clock. Then move in for
close up shots of damaged areas showing such things as direction of force,
paint transfers etc.
3. ID THE VEHICLE
It is always important to positively identify the vehicle. If the license
plates are still on the vehicle, be sure and include them in the front and/or
back shots (12 and 6 o'clock). Always make sure you shoot at least one of
the VIN numbers, preferably two. The most visible is located on the dashboard,
but a shattered windshield sometimes make this one very difficult to photograph.
A second VIN number is on the B pillar post. I suggest you shoot both, if
possible, because if there has been tampering with the VIN, as in stolen vehicles,
it seldom has been effected with both numbers.
4. ANGLE OF CAMERA TO DAMAGE
A very serious consideration is the angle of the camera to the surface of
the damage. It is very important to keep your lens at a 90 degree angle to
the damaged area. This is particularly important when photographing any kind
of measuring device, such as a drop rule, tape measure etc. If you are not
shooting at the 90 degree angle you tend to get distortion at the point where
the measuring device crosses the leading edge of the bumper, or the bottom
of the damage.
Photos of bumpers are usually very important, particularly in rear end collisions.
These help to give you a graphic demonstration of the amount of force that
was delivered to the struck vehicle. The most effective way is to first shoot
the whole bumper, full frame, end to end. Then shoot your next two pictures,
full frame, from the mid point, (usually the middle of the license plate),
to first the left hand corner, and then the right hand corner, at the same
height as the first picture.
Many times there is significant trace evidence, like a paint smear, that
you want to document with your photos. Unfortunately, a paint smear on the
drivers door, and a paint smear on the passenger door, can both look alike
when photographed up close. There are a couple of ways to show the relative
position of the trace evidence. My personal favorite is to use colored tape
such as you use to wrap Christmas presents. A strip of contrasting color tape
underneath the trace evidence will pinpoint the location on a photo taken
at a distance and then show it is the same evidence when photographed close
up. Another way is to use stick on numbers, and then do basically the same
routine. The problem with the latter is by including the numbers in your close
up, you end up with less space to show the trace.
One very expensive lesson I learned a long time ago is that is is a lot
cheaper to replace a sixty dollar filter, than a three hundred and fifty dollar
lens. Personally, I keep a polarizing filter on my lens at all times, others
prefer a daylight filter. Either one will serve the purpose of protecting
a lens, but I find myself using the polaroid filter a lot. The polarizing
lens helps eliminate reflected glare from sun spots, on the finish of a vehicle.
When doing site photography, polarizing filters are especially helpful in
bringing up skid marks that just aren't visible to the naked eye. Polarizing
filters are also very helpful in doing interior shots of vehicles, where you
have light reflecting off broken glass, consoles, mirrors etc.
8. COLOR CARDS
When the accuracy of the reproduction of colors is important, such as showing
a paint transfer from one vehicle to another, always use a color card early
on the role of film. I usually make that the second shot, the first one being
a film identifier. When the prints are made you can have the lab technician
match up your shot of the color card with the card itself and then all of
the colors throughout the film will be reasonably accurate. I say reasonably
because there are other factors, such as the angle of the light, shadows etc.,
that can effect the faithful reproduction of color. Always keep these factors
in mind when shooting and try to compensate accordingly.
9. SEAT BELTS
Photographing seat belts has many purposes. The most common is to show blood
spots, or fluid stains, on that area of the belt that is normally within the
housing unit when not in use. This shows that the belt was in use at the time
of the accident. Another use of photos is to show that the belt had too much
slack in it prior to lock up and thus was not properly protecting the occupant.
Photographing seat belts is another situation where a filter can come in handy.
Dried blood, on a brown or tan surface, can sometimes be very difficult to
see, but the use of a polarizing filter will many times enable you to highlight
10. FILL FLASH
Fill flash is just that, using your flash unit to fill in for the available
natural light. I know it seems a little strange to be using your flash unit
outdoors, on a bright sun shiny day, but that's usually when it is most important.
The flash tends to remove shadows and bring out detail that may be lost. On
a very sunny day it will also remove the bluish cast, you can end up with
on light colored surfaces. Depending on your camera, you can usually use fill
flash while still using the full automatic function. A few minutes with your
owner's manual can quickly remove the mystery from the process.