Collision Photography is not about writing estimates from photos, rather it is the skill of documenting damage, repair processes and repair quality with images. Taking good images that show the subject is not as simple as “point and shoot.” Almost every person in a body shop has a camera after all, the iPhone is the most popular camera in the world. However, this does not make each person a photographer any more than placing a hammer in someone’s hand makes them a body technician.
Your Photos Affect Your Bottom-line
You may be thinking to yourself, no, my images have nothing to do with whether I make money or not. But, continue reading and you will see that your images can, and do, affect your bottom line in a variety of ways. First of all, your images are an important part of your overall file documentation. They are every bit as important as the estimate of damages, OEM procedures, parts invoices, sublet invoices, tow bill, quality control checklist etc.
You should really get into the habit of thinking about your images as “receipts” for the line items you bid on your estimates. As you are reviewing your estimate and the images you have taken, ask yourself, “do the images I am including with the file clearly show the part or repair operation I am including on my estimate?” If they do, move on to the next line, if they don’t, then return to the vehicle and take additional images to make sure you take one that does. You might be thinking, well, if I do that, I will be taking too many images and the bill payer does not want that. Often times, you can capture multiple estimate line items with just one image. Also, you should only include the very best image of the item or repair process. Uploading multiple images of the same thing can work against you. Keep in mind, your images should answer questions, not create them.
What Poor Photos Cost You
The first cost is actual money. Not completely documenting damages with images always cost you in lost labor and/or parts purchases. If you can see it then you can get an image of it so, why don’t you? An insurance payment is not all you stand to lose. What about liability? The liability that you may face if someone is hurt or killed in an accident where a repair may have played a part. The ability to show complete visual evidence of the damages, repair processes and quality control may prevent a court date.
What about time? Poor images cost body shops billions of dollars in wasted time. Just follow an estimating blog on social media and you quickly find out that most estimators spend a great deal of their time negotiating with claims adjusters. Completely documenting all the damage with images greatly increases the percentage of covered repairs and reduces time negotiating with insurance companies. Better customer service as estimators do not have to bring the customer into those negotiations. What about the time technicians spend advising estimators what they missed on the estimate? It is the job of the estimator to understand how the vehicle is repaired, what methods are used in repairing the vehicle and how to properly apply OEM and industry guidelines to the repair estimate and plan.
Taking good quality images that accurately and completely capture all of the damage, required repair processes and finished quality of the repair work, requires knowledge of your camera’s settings and practice to achieve. It is not as simple as pointing your device at the vehicle and pressing the shutter button. While todays cameras and smartphones have done a fantastic job of simplifying the complexities of the older cameras, knowledge of proper lighting, achieving proper focus and knowing how to frame the image correctly, are all important skills to learn and practice.
We don’t want to give you the impression that we are advocates for any one device to take your images. Each device has its pros and cons that should be weighed and considered before making the final decision. Ultimately, it is up to the individual management at the shop to determine what is best for that particular shop. What we do advocate for, is getting to know the device you are using very well. Learn how to use all of the features of the device. ISO or exposure settings, the flash settings, knowing how to focus where you need it to focus, the zoom or telephoto feature, the close-up or macro feature etc. Once you know and understand all of the settings of the device you are using and when to use them, you will be well on your way to taking higher quality images.
Consider the Lighting Source
On any given day, an estimator may take images in many lighting sources such as; outside in the sun, inside under fluorescent lighting and within the various compartments of the vehicle that are dark. Using the same settings in each situation will not produce the same outcome. For instance, many times, the built-in flash can work against you when you are trying to show the severity of a dent in a panel. The flash can actually “fill in” some of the shadows that you need to show. Think about this, if your daughter was getting married would you hire a photographer or just have everyone at the wedding share the images they took? The reason we hire a photographer is because of their skill. The skill of knowing how to frame the subject of the photo and adjusting to the conditions is necessary for the estimators in the same way.
Look at the image in Photo 1, the camera automatically chooses a focal point (subject) and, because of the bright sunlight behind the image, adjusts the ISO, reducing the amount of light into the camera, causing a large shadow to hide the damage. The subject of the image is very under exposed, while the surrounding area is correctly exposed. In Photo 2, the focal point was adjusted by the photographer to increase the amount of light and remove the large shadow. The subject of the image is exposed correctly, while the surrounding areas are overexposed.
Consider using reflections from the surrounding area to “bring out” the damage. If you are taking your images outside, consider using the painted parking lot lines, or light poles, telephone poles, sign posts or other types of objects that are commonly known to be straight lines, to show the damage. If you are inside, reflections of the horizontal and vertical lines of a block wall, or the reflection of an overhead light fixture can be used. You should avoid using objects that are not symmetrical in your images, such as trees, bushes, people etc. These reflections can also work against you.
Size of a golf ball
Size of a softball
What Kind of Camera
We are often asked, what kind of camera should we use in collision photography? Smartphone, Tablets and digital cameras all have the settings to take great images. A person’s skill at taking images is not defined by the camera. Stevie Ray Vaughn could have made a $20 guitar sing the blues. This is really a question of what works best for your shop. Do your estimators take all the images? Do you have CSR’s, estimators, blue printers, technicians and managers taking images throughout the process? What is your budget? What will actually last in my shop before I have to replace it? Consider all of these questions and realize that smartphones, tablets and digital cameras are designed to take the skill out of taking images so everyone can take decent images of their family, dogs or food (we all have that friend on Instagram). Because of this, all of these devices attempt to guess at the image takers intended subject. This is the reason Photo 1 has such a dark shadow over the intended subject area. We recommend that no matter which camera you use, each person using it should understand the basic settings and how to adjust them to get the best images possible.
Show Me the Money
By reducing the time spent negotiating with insurance companies, and allowing the technicians to perform the repairs instead of having to stop to educate the estimator, many labor hours are saved and can be applied to earning money rather than collecting it. Shops that capture all of the repairs and processes required to complete the job with complete photo documentation see an increase of dollars captured per estimate. We are not saying that taking better photos magically earns you more money, however, taking complete and strategic image documentation of the damage and repairs to a vehicle is essential to being a successful and efficient estimator. Continuous learning is necessary to effective estimating. Remember, the estimate becomes the invoice, so write invoices.