Properly Photographing a Vehicle Following a Massachusetts Car Accident

Massachusetts insurance companies hire people to photograph vehicle damage following a motor vehicle accident.  These photographers are skilled at taking photographs from angles which downplay the actual damage sustained to the vehicle.  It is for that reason that you need to know how to properly photograph your vehicle after your accident. 

Here is a great article filled with wonderful tips, byJack Murray, CIE, CFE, on how to properly photograph the damage to your vehicle after your Massachusetts motor vehicle accident:

1. UNDERSTAND THE MISSION
 
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.
 
5. BUMPERS
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.
 
6. HIGHLIGHTING
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.
 
7. FILTERS
 
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 norm
ally 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 it.
 
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.

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