Tips for taking accident photos

By: 
Judge Donald Watts, Lessons from the Bench

Judge Donald Watts

Manistee Justice Court

I think only my mom and two other friends still have flip phones; most of us now carry smart phones. One of the features that I did not particularly care for on a smart phone when they first came out was the camera. I could not imagine why I needed this on a phone. Now, I use the camera all the time on my phone and cannot imagine not having it. Most of us use the camera feature to take pictures of our family and friends. From the bench, I am seeing more and more people using this technology to document traffic accidents.

I think taking pictures at a traffic accident is a good idea. However, be careful when you’re taking the pictures that you do not walk into the lane of traffic. Many drivers only pay attention to the accident and not to people walking around. I remember one traffic accident I was investigating when I was an officer where eight other cars ran into each other because they were looking at the accident and not where they were driving.

As a former photographer for the police department, let me give you some tips on taking pictures. Your first picture should be of the license plate; the judge will want to know the pictures go with a specific car. The next four pictures should be each side of the car: front, back, right side and left side.

After you have taken the basic pictures, then look at the damage that you want to document and take what I call “gradual photos.” For example, if the damage is on the right rear fender, then you would take a picture of the rear half of the car, then a picture that is a little bit closer and then finally take a close up of the damage you want to show the judge.

Digital pictures are great; it is very difficult in a court of law to argue about the extent of the damage when you are looking at a picture. Don’t forget the judge doesn’t want to see the pictures on your phone. Print several copies. So each person can look on while you describe it.

Lesson from the bench: The old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” is only true if the judge can see what it is.

Judge Watts’ webpage is: www.DonaldWatts.info.

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