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Photography in Traffic Accident Investigation

NCJ Number
Date Published
12 pages
Prepared for police officers, this guide to photographing a traffic accident addresses equipment, film, technical considerations, procedures to obtain complete coverage of an accident, and methods for coping with nighttime and poor weather conditions.
A photography plan should define responsibility for equipment, picturetaking, processing, and provide specific guidelines for photographing the accident scene. Any reliable camera can be used, but a roll film camera combines economy with rapid operation. Many police departments obtain more complete coverage by providing each patrol car with a 126-cartridge-loading camera and fast film. An accident photographer must understand the equipment's capabilities so he/she can quickly determine exposure, camera and flash position, and focus. Depth of field is of primary concern rather than high shutter speeds. A light meter is helpful, but wide angle or telephoto lenses are unnecessary. The following elements should be included to provide complete coverage of the accident: approach to the scene, eyewitnesses' viewpoint, position of the vehicles, position of victims, point of impact, overall view of the scene, and closeups of accident details. Because many accidents happen at night or in bad weather, the guide describes ways to supplement light already existing on the scene as well as open shutter, serial flash painting with light. It also recommends using a single, all purpose film for all photographs to avoid exposure and processing errors. Police can defray the costs of accident photography by making the pictures available to the involved parties at a fee for their insurance or legal purposes. Photographs are included.