Photo Composition: Too Much Wasted Space

I’m sure you’ve seen many photos like the one below. [Click on image to enlarge, then click back arrow to return to this post.]

Left front of truck with bad composition. (Nikon D850 with ZEISS Milvus 50 mm f/2 macro lens and Nikon SB-910 fill flash.)

What is the subject? The tire and wheel? The intruding part at the upper left (which was actually from an unrelated truck)? The gravel? Is there something important that I should be seeing in the gravel?

It was actually the tire and wheel. But if you draw a vertical line down the middle of the photo, almost the entire right half of it is unrelated to the subject.

In the image below, the tire and wheel are still featured, but now you can see how they relate to part of the truck’s frame rail and steering system, too. [Click on image to enlarge, then click back arrow to return to this post.]

Left front of truck with good composition. (Nikon D850 with ZEISS Milvus 50 mm f/2 macro lens and Nikon SB-910 fill flash.)

This photo makes more sense and eliminates unnecessary and confusing elements. It’s easy to pay so much attention to your subject that you forget what it looks like in the frame. Make sure you haven’t included too much empty space or too many unrelated elements that are not only distracting and confusing, but look sloppy, careless, and unprofessional.

Photography for Accident Reconstruction, Product Liability, and Testing Class Outline

From August 12 through 14, 2019, I will be teaching the third Photography for Accident Reconstruction, Product Liability, and Testing class for SAE. This time it will be at Southeast Toyota Technical Center in Jacksonville, FL. We’ll cover a lot of material in the three days, and you’ll come away making better quality, more professional photographs from that point on, regardless of the location or lighting conditions. After all, your photographs are at least as important as any other part of your work. You’re a professional, and your photographs should reflect that professionalism. After this class, they will.

Here’s a detailed outline of the class: SAE Forensic Photography Class Outline_2019-07.

Please contact me if you have any questions or would like more information about the class.

Photographing Testing Personnel

While working so intensely together to conduct testing for publication, it is worth taking the time to make photographs of all those who participated. The photos can be useful for a report, any paper presentations, and the websites of the participants. (Click on image below to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return.)

Three testing partners with tractor trailer (ZEISS 50 mm f/2 macro lens on Nikon D810.)
From left to right are truck and truck ECM guru Greg Wilcoxson (Wilcoxson Consulting, LLC), truck, data acquisition, and, well, everything else guru Wes Grimes (Wes Grimes, Collision Engineering Associates), and me. In an earlier post, you’ll find a link to the papers we wrote together from this testing.

Even with my hat, I was hardly in their league. We did have fun in the evenings when I would walk into a restaurant first, and tell the hostess or host that I was their bodyguard, and needed to get them a good table. We should have recorded their reactions.

A photograph of something as long as a tractor trailer is often best presented in a panoramic format (much wider than tall). This focuses attention on the subject by eliminating excessive sky and foreground.

Measuring & Photographing Flange Wear on Aluminum Truck Wheels

About half the truck wheels sold today are aluminum rather than steel. As with anything, there are trade-offs when comparing steel and aluminum wheels. Aluminum wheels weigh less but cost more than steel wheels. Aluminum wheels don’t rust, of course, but they can suffer from flange wear. Alcoa recommends checking for excessive flange wear using a simple go-no go gauge (Part No. 000700).

Alcoa Rim Wear Gauge Go-No Go. (From 2015 Alcoa Wheel Service Manual.)
Here’s a photograph of the gauge in use. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return.)
Alcoa Rim Wear Gauge on rim flange. (Made with ZEISS Milvus 50 mm macro lens on Nikon D850 with flashes.)
While the gauge is quite easy to use, it is more challenging to photograph. It can be tricky to hold the thin aluminum gauge in the proper position while also making a photograph. To make the photograph above, I used a Wimberley The Plamp II with one end clamped on the wheel center hole, and the other end clamped to the gauge.
Using Wimberley The Plamp II to hold Alcoa Rim Wear Gauge in place for photography, with flash. (Made with ZEISS Milvus 50 mm macro lens on Nikon D850 with flashes.)
The Plamp II is fantastic since it is flexible enough to get into any position, yet stiff enough to remain in place once released. Here’s a link on B&H: Wimberley The Plamp II from B&H. The Plamp II allowed me to quickly and steadily hold the Alcoa gauge perpendicular to the rim and properly up against the flange. It was easy to focus and shoot without any motion from trying to hold the gauge by hand. It also allowed me to get the flashes into position with no shadows from my arm across the photo.

If you need to photograph something like a gauge or ruler, it is worth taking the few minutes to secure it and light it properly. You can often just tape it in place, but that wouldn’t have worked to position this flange wear gauge.

Truck Acceleration SAE Technical Papers

In March 2016, friends and colleagues Wes Grimes (, Greg Wilcoxson (, and I conducted a series of heavy truck acceleration tests using tractors with automated manual transmissions (AMTs) in full auto mode. In auto mode, the transmission chose all shift points without input from the driver.

These were straight-line acceleration tests from a stop using two different truck tractors and two different test drivers. For each truck and driver combination, we ran tests with empty, partially loaded, and fully loaded van semitrailers. The drivers were asked to do half of the runs at what they felt was a “normal” acceleration. The other half of the test runs were at full throttle acceleration. There was a slight slope along the 300-foot test distance, so runs were made in both upslope and downslope directions. Our tests showed the slope, load, and throttle position all influenced when the transmission chose to shift. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return.)

Panning during Kenworth Acceleration Test (ZEISS 50 mm f/2 macro lens on Nikon D810.)
Technical papers describing the results of both test series have now completed the peer review process and have been published by SAE. We presented these papers at SAE’s World Congress Experience WCX 17 in Detroit on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. SAE has these paper available through these links:

2016 Kenworth T680:

2016 Freightliner Cascadia:

Special thanks to Contract Freighters, Inc. (CFI) and XPO Logistics for the generous use of their tractors, trailers, loads, scales, facilities, and test drivers at their facility in Joplin, MO.

Effects of Wide Angle Lens on Vehicle Photo

Often, a vehicle we need to photograph will be crammed in between other vehicles or in a small garage or storage area. I’ve encountered the same problem when trying to photograph a whole tire in a small conference room. A wide angle lens then becomes necessary to capture an overall photo in a single frame. But doing so will inevitably cause the vehicle or tire to appear distorted. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return.)

Van with Normal 50 mm Lens. (ZEISS 50 mm f/2 macro lens on Nikon D810.)
Van with Wide Angle Lens. (ZEISS 25 mm f/2 lens on Nikon D810.)
These two images show the same van, but the top one was made with a ZEISS 50 mm lens, while the bottom one was with a ZEISS 25 mm lens. To fill the frame with the van, I made the photo with the 25 mm lens much closer to the van than with the 50 mm lens. The photograph made with the 25 mm lens looks like the van was the long wheelbase version while the 50 mm photo looks like it had the short wheelbase. This closer distance to the subject caused the wide angle lens to stretch the appearance of the van.

The best solution is to try to capture as much of the subject as possible with a lens as close to a 50 mm “normal” lens as possible. This might entail getting a higher vantage point, or shooting between obstacles. When that’s not possible, take the wide angle shot, then normal lens shots of parts of your subject.

Other effects of using wide, telephoto, and normal focal lengths for vehicles, accident sites, and for tires will be discussed in future posts.

Don’t Move That Truck!

After a truck has been involved in a wreck, driving it even a couple feet at the crash scene without first disconnecting the vehicle speed sensor (VSS) will almost certainly destroy any last stop data recorded by the Heavy Vehicle Event Data Recorder (HVEDR), whether it is an Engine Control Module (ECM), an Electronic Control Unit (ECU), or some combination. This loss of digital evidence has often been cited as evidence spoliation, which can have serious repercussions.

This situation is easy to avoid by locating the speed sensor near the transmission output shaft, and disconnecting the electrical plug from the speed sensor. Let the plug hang free. The truck many then be driven or towed without danger of overwriting and losing important data.

It is important to make this common knowledge for truck drivers, wrecker drivers, investigating police officers, and truck service and maintenance personnel. This information can be disseminated through training classes and service bulletins. Labels on trucks near the VIN, near the toll-free number decal for the trucking or adjusting company, and on the accident packet can also help at the crash scene. Here’s a suggested label:

After a crash, do not drive or move vehicle at all without disconnecting vehicle speed sensor.


Out of Service (OOS) Brake Defects and Brake Force Calculations

Various CVSA (Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance) Out of Service (OOS) violations may be found when inspecting heavy trucks. These can be maintenance or safety items that fail to meet the criteria in Appendix G of Subchapter B of the FMCSR (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations) (40 CFR §396.17). This post will focus on brake issues only.

CVSA uses the term “defective” to denote a brake condition that does not meet specific criteria. CVSA declares a vehicle OOS if twenty percent of the brakes are defective. A common three axle tractor with a two axle semi-trailer will have ten brakes total. Twenty percent of ten brakes means the truck would be put OOS if two brake defects were found. (Click on image to enlarge, then click on back arrow to return.)

CVSA brake defects often result from inadequate maintenance. One important purpose of a CVSA inspection is to catch maintenance issues before they adversely affect the stopping ability of the truck. While it is essential to properly maintain vehicles for safe operation, the presence of one or more OOS brake defects does not necessarily mean the braking ability of the truck was compromised at the time of the accident. So there are two separate, but related issues: -1- Were there any problems with the truck? -2- Did any of those problems affect the truck’s ability to stop during this particular incident? Continue reading “Out of Service (OOS) Brake Defects and Brake Force Calculations”