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A guide to Crash Scene Photography

Ian Cook describes the difficult work a Crash Scene photographer does.

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By : Ian Cook.

e-mail : [email protected].

A Crash Scene Photographer must work confidently and quickly to get the necessary photographs before the scene is cleared. There is little time to sort out the technicalities of photography or to consult a reference manual. The Photographer must have a good understanding of the capabilities of the equipment and be able to quickly and accurately determine exposure, camera and flash position and focus. The serious nature of the incident means that the final photographic evidence will end up in a court of Law, Coroners Court or both! The question of failure to produce the evidence does not arise!

Fiesta XR2 having collided with a streetlight, note the outward bulge in the drivers door. An unrestrained front passenger crushing the driver through the door cased this! Scene painted in with open flash, Pentax ME-Super.

There is little need for most Crash Scene Photographers to concern themselves with the rendition of perspective in their photographs. Most Crash Scene Photographers will use a standard lens on their cameras, and standard print sizes made from the full negative will yield normal perspective. The Photographer should not be tempted to get better coverage of a scene by using a wide-angle or telephoto lens. Unless the negatives are properly enlarged or prints identified with the taking lens focal length, they may raise questions as to their appropriate interpretation.

The height at which the camera is positioned can have a bearing on the validity of the photograph. For general road views of a scene as seen by a driver, the camera should be positioned at the drivers eye level, obviously this can vary tremendously between vehicle types e.g. cars and LGVs. Equally the position of the camera should be changed to the appropriate height of any eyewitnesses to give their view of the incident.

Where the Crash Scene Photographer seeks out a high vantage point to get an overall view of the crash scene, the vantage point should be photographed from the crash scene to establish its direction and height. The slope of a road may have a bearing on the crash investigation, leveling the camera with a spirit level will establish true vertical.

Generally a series of photographs of the Crash Scene are taken, showing the approach from all parties concerned, it is usual to take several photographs of each view from different distances. Eyewitness viewpoint to corroborate their statements. Position of vehicles, several photographs prior to the vehicles being moved. Position of victims. Point of impact, this can be determined by the use of physical evidence found on the road surface. This could be in the form of a deviation in locked wheel marks (remember Newtons Laws of Motion? Well they are applied to moving vehicles a moving vehicle with its wheels locked will slide in a straight line and will continue to do so until it comes to rest, unless an outside force such as another vehicle or a pedestrian etc. acts on the vehicle causing it to deviate. When the vehicle deviates it will do so in the direction of the force applied, so the skid marks will have a link in them!). Photographs in the form of close ups of Crash Scene details, vehicle damage, skid marks, broken parts etc.

The Carlton came from a side entrance and collided with the nearside of the Astra, the wheels of the Astra had locked prior to the impact, the deviation to the right. Shows the point of impact. Scene lit with open flash, Pentax ME-Super.

All too frequently the Crash Scene presents problems that challenge the Photographers ability to get useful photographs. Many incidents happen at night or in bad weather, the most usual method to employ is to mount the camera on a sturdy tripod a Manfrotto 055, stop the lens down to about F/11 to F/16 to enable sufficient depth of field, and then set the shutter to B. The Crash Scene can then be painted in using open flash for the duration of the exposure, if the parameters of the angle of view of the lens are noted, it is possible to walk the scene out of the field of view painting the scene in with open flash. A powerful flashgun is required, a Metz 60 series being the norm, however I have had great success with a Vivitar 283.

This photograph shows a collision between a Fiesta and a Pedal Cycle. The shot shows the impact marks from the rider on the bonnet, windscreen and roof. The scene was painted in with open flash, Pentax ME-Super.

Film stock is always colour negative due to its forgiving exposure latitude. As for Camera choice, the accompanying photographs to this article were all taken with a Pentax ME-Super with standard lens. This camera worked without fault for many years with only a few minor problems usually the shutter release button falling off! only being replaced by Medium format kit. Why not use Digital you may ask? Problems associated with authenticity of the original image are the main reason. Lawyers will argue about anything! Try explaining in Court to the uninitiated that a digital image has not been doctored in Photoshop; yes there is software available that lets you know if digital files have been altered, but if you have a batch of original negatives this issue will not arise.

A Porsche 944 had been racing a Capri 2.8i, both lost control on approach to the Pelican crossing. The Porsche was in situ; the Capri had been moved to the kerb in front of the Porsche.

A Close-up of the Porsche, note the holes in the drivers door, these are holes caused by the metal railings acting as spears the driver was uninjured! Scene illuminated with open flash, Pentax ME-Super.

The remains of a Mini that collided with a brick wall. Scene illuminated with open flash and portable flood lighting, Pentax ME-Super.

The purpose of this article has been to give a brief insight into crash scene photography using only modest equipment, it is not intended as the definitive guide. Identities of the vehicles in the photographs have been purposely removed so as not to cause unnecessary distress to anyone.

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