Photography for Accident Reconstruction, Product Liability, and Testing C1729

Topics: Accident Reconstruction

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.

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

Day One
  • Introduction: It’s All About the Light
    • Light: Quantity, Quality, Direction
    • Fundamentals make the difference
  • Exposure (aperture, shutter speed, ISO)
    • Aperture: depth of field (DOF); backgrounds/foregrounds
    • Shutter speed: freeze or blur moving subjects; eliminate camera shake
    • ISO: reduce noise while keeping reasonable shutter speed
    • Digital noise
    • Reciprocity: how they all interact
    • Histograms: using in-camera
    • Highlight warnings
    • Exposure modes: Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program, Auto
  • Camera Menu Settings (how and why to set)
  • Camera Fundamentals - Part One
    • DSLR vs. mirrorless
    • Formatting memory cards
    • Eyepiece and shutter button
    • Camera LCD displays
    • Manual focus vs. autofocus
    • Using Live View for focus and composition
    • Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization
    • Camera resolution and file formats
    • Raw vs. JPEG
    • Color temperature and white balance
Day Two
  • Camera Fundamentals - Part Two
    • Sensor sizes (full frame vs. crop sensor vs. compact cameras)
      • Normal lens for full frame vs. crop sensor
    • Lens choice factors
      • Focal length and angle of view
      • Focal length vs. camera position
    • Perspective (most misunderstood and most important)
    • Depth of Field (aperture and focus point)
  • Gear (what works and why)
    • Remote releases
    • Tripods (best way to improve your photography)
    • Tripod heads
    • Filters
  • UV (clear protection)
    • Polarizer (vitally important)
  • Neutral density
    • Useful accessories
  • Flash (an essential tool)
    • Exposing for flash and ambient light
    • Manual vs. TTL
    • Fill flash vs. full flash
    • Tilting and rotating flash head
    • Flash duration and recycling
    • Reflectors
    • On vs. off-camera flash
    • Multiple flashes
    • Studio lighting setups (indoors, outdoors, on-site)
  • Close-up and Macro Photography
    • Reproduction ratio vs. magnification
    • Macro flashes
    • Macro and other specialty lenses
    • Macro accessories and supports
    • Securing loose pieces
    • Using scales
  • Night Photography
    • Show details or accurately render?
    • Gear needed: tripod, flash, flashlight
    • Noise reduction in-camera and in post-production
    • Light painting with flash and with flashlight
    • Raw vs. JPEG
    • Capturing ambient light
    • Monitor calibration and camera settings
Day Three
  • Techniques, Applications, Workflow
    • Depth of Field and Focus
    • Polarizer uses
    • Fill flash
    • Proper use of scales
    • Composition and details
    • Unrelated vehicles and people in photos
    • Documenting vehicle damage
    • Test facilities and testing: vehicle testing, chem lab, product liability, facility documentation
  • Post-Processing
    • Post-processing workflow
    • PDFs are not photographs
    • File naming
    • Metadata: IPTC and Exif
    • Monitor calibration
    • Raw workflow
    • Color space
    • Creating a Master File
    • Image and printer resolutions
    • Adjusting received and made photographs
    • Creating panoramic images
    • Focus stacking
    • Using stack median to eliminate traffic or people
    • Photo manipulation good and bad
This is a hands-on class and ALL 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.)
Thomas H. Vadnais

Tom 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.

CEUs: 2.0

Format: Classroom

Event ID: AM003

Location: Oxnard, California

Session Info:

8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Fees: $1,699.00

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