Browse Learn C1729

Photography for Accident Reconstruction, Product Liability, and Testing C1729

Many technical projects, most vehicle and component testing, and all accident reconstructions, product failure analyses, and other forensic investigations, require photographic documentation. Roadway evidence disappears, tested or wrecked vehicles are repaired, disassembled, or scrapped, and components can be tested to failure. Photographs are frequently the only evidence that remains of a wreck, or the only records of subjects before or during tests. Making consistently good images during any inspection is a critical part of the evaluation process.

Anyone involved in these technical pursuits must be able to create professional images regardless of the lighting or physical conditions. Photographs should not be “okay” or “close enough” any more than calculations or analysis should be. If the project is important enough for accurate calculations, it is important enough for accurate photographs.

For testing and projects, results must be presented in court, to boards, management, or peer groups, or published in reports and technical papers. This course will provide the skills necessary to consistently produce high-quality photographs for any purpose.

This is a hands-on class and students should bring the following with them to class:  a camera (with manual exposure mode preferred) with the instruction manual; battery; normal or zoom lens; macro lens (if available); flash with batteries; circular polarizer; and tripod with head; laptop computer with card reader and photo software (if available, as this will be helpful to review images and set up workflow.)

This course has been approved by the Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction (ACTAR) for 20 Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Upon completion of this seminar, accredited reconstructionists should mail a copy of their course certificate and the $5 student CEU fee to ACTAR, PO Box 1493, North Platte, NE 69103.

Learning Objectives
By attending this seminar, participants will be able to:
  • Consistently produce quality photographs
  • Create complete and meaningful photographic record of any project, accident, or testing
  • Ascertain what equipment works, and when, why, and how to use it
  • Describe the photographic process used, from equipment through post-processing (necessary for many court proceedings and peer-reviewed papers)
  • Develop a consistent methodology for post-processing and distribution of images

Who Should Attend

This course is designed for individuals who must take photographs as part of their field of work. This may include accident reconstructionist, product failure analysts, forensic scientists and engineers, testing and development engineers, human factors experts, biomechanical and biomedical experts, police agencies, government agencies, and anyone needing to illustrate technical papers or books.

Individuals should have some familiarity with taking photographs within their field of work, but even first-time photographers will benefit.

  • Why Your Photography Skills Matter

    • Lights off demo (there is always enough light)

  • Camera Fundamentals (w/hands-on)

    • Camera formats: DSLR, p&s, mirrorless, full frame, crop sensor
    • Equivalent focal lengths
    • Raw vs. JPEG
    • Camera settings: white balance, sharpening, color profile
    • Exposure: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, histograms, reciprocity, noise
    • Focus: manual vs. autofocus, DOF, where to focus
    • Perspective
    • Live view: when and how to use
    • Composition: distractions, dead space, level, reference elements, parallax
    • Light and shadow
    • Lens choices: zoom, prime, fixed, macro, angle of view


  • Flash Fundamentals

    • Exposing for flash
    • TTL vs. manual - when to use which
    • On vs. off-camera flash
    • Multiple flashes
    • Flash accessories, modifiers, reflectors
    • Macro

  • Equipment That Works

    • Polarizer
    • Camera support: tripod, monopod, ground pod, bean bag, windshield mount
    • Ladder, pole, or drone for high viewpoint; tethering
    • Camera cases, bags, belt systems, strap
    • Remote release
    • Batteries: camera, flash, accessories
    • Flashlight: head lamp, focus assist, equipment at night
    • Camera, lens, and equipment cleaning

  • Close-up and Macro Photography (1 hour)

    • Specialized equipment: macro lens, ring flash, macro tripod or ground pod, close-up lenses, macro focusing rail
    • Focusing
    • Micro photography

  • Photographing Outdoors

    • Overall establishing shots
    • Closer detail shots
    • TPE to locate sun angles
    • Sequences to show sight distance
    • Sequences to show vehicle or pedestrian movements
    • Equipment: polarizer and monopod
    • Vehicles: 360° coverage, multiple angles and elevations, polarizer plus fill flash
    • Components and broken pieces: Temporarily label potentially ambiguous subjects (LR, A2RI, etc.). Don"t deface.
    • Weather: wet reflections, glare, fog limiting sight distance, wet streaks across vehicle evidence, snow, hail, etc.
    • Night photography: ambient (visibility), flash, flood, or painting with light, ambient &and headlight blooming, documenting conditions as seen, tethering


  • Photographing Indoors

    • Ambient light, continuous supplemental, flash
    • Supplemental light: flash, LED, work lights, light modifiers, light stands, effects of windows and doors
    • Balancing ambient and fill

  • Photographing Testing)

    • Documenting equipment, facility, and test subjects (before and after tests)
    • Including scales
    • Vehicle and component testing: document vehicle, test equipment, dynamic tests
    • Rollover and truck braking examples
    • Chem lab testing: sample area before, sample being removed, sample area after, sample itself, labeling
    • Mechanical lab testing: test subject before and after, including pieces, if applicable

  • Post-Processing Workflow

    • Develop a consistent methodology: varying workflow is less defensible
    • Calibrate monitor: for color, for night photography
    • Download images
    • Sort: delete test shots, out-of-focus, bad exposure, duplicates, group and organize similar subjects (“derandomize”)
    • Rename photos: CO_file number_sequential number; add descriptor if helpful (LF, A2RO, etc., if not labeled in photo)
    • Back up files
    • Image resolution: screen vs. printing
    • Optimizing Images: camera calibration, noise reduction, sharpening for screen or print, lens correction, exposure, shadows, highlights, clarity, vibrance
    • Resizing and saving images - NOT PDFs!
    • Distributing images: online file sharing sites, physical storage
    • Printing for deposition or trial exhibits

  • Reading and Interpreting EXIF Data

    • Camera and focal length
    • Date original photo made

  • Video

    • Equipment: camera type, video head, vehicle mounts
    • Camera stationary or camera moving

  • Special Topics

    • Panoramas: tripod-mounted, handheld, drone, taking overlapping images, stitching in post
    • Photographing travel routes from vehicle
    • Photographing sight distance traffic patterns
    • Photographing for photogrammetry
    • Adjusting photos from other sources and extracting detail from night photos
    • Pattern matching: tire track over body
    • Creating photo exhibits: merging photos, adding visibility obstruction to accident site photo, demonstrating effect of long lens compression
Thomas H. Vadnais

Tom began his engineering career as a tire development engineer at BF Goodrich and later as a consultant in tire failure analysis and vehicle accident reconstruction for SEA Limited. He continues to consult in those fields and has added forensic photography as an area of expertise.

A long-time Nikon shooter with a passion for photography, Tom became an early adopter of digital photography and promptly divested himself of all vestiges of film photography.  He took every course or workshop he could find on digital capture, post-processing, and digital printing, as he mastered each part of the process and has been teaching photography and post-processing in lectures, workshops, and classes since 2004.

As a long-time professional engineering consultant, professional photographer, and photography instructor, Tom is uniquely suited to teach both the fundamentals of digital photography and the specific practical use of photography in technical projects, accidents, and forensics. He is a registered professional mechanical engineer, and has been an SAE member since 1980. Tom was Atlanta Section Chairman 1987/88, and was active throughout the life of SAE's AIRP (Accident Investigation and Reconstruction Practices) group, including a stint as the chairman of the heavy truck forum group.  Tom has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland.

Hotel & Travel Information

Fees: $1795.00
SAE Members: $1436.00 - $1616.00

2.0 CEUs
You must complete all course contact hours and successfully pass the learning assessment to obtain CEUs.

To register, click the Register button above or contact SAE Customer Service 1-877-606-7323 (724-776-4970 outside the U.S. and Canada) or at

Duration: 3 Days
May 6-8, 2019 (8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.) - Troy, Michigan
August 12-14, 2019 (8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.) - Jacksonville, Florida