Poor Images Cost You Money, and Believe Me, Your Images Are Poor

Poor Images Cost You Money, and Believe Me, Your Images Are Poor

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.

Photography Skills

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.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Consider Reflections

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.

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Why do you take photos of Collision Repair?

Why do you take photos of Collision Repair?

Why do you take photos of Collision Repair?

When asked, “Why do you take photos of collision damage?” many will answer, “because the insurance company requires it.” That may be one aspect of “why,” but do you even consider if your shop should require photos for your own documentation and protection? Forget about insurance company requirements for a moment and think about what photos your business should require.

Pull up an old customer pay file and review all of the documentation in it. Your photos, invoices, OEM repair procedures, product procedures, equipment procedures, quality control photos, estimate and so forth. Now, put yourself in your customer’s position and ask yourself, “Would I pay that bill based on what I see in the file?” Be honest with yourself. Does your file documentation support 100% of the charges? If it doesn’t, and that is more than likely the case, what do you need to include or improve in order to make sure your documentation and your photos support 100% of the charges?

We are focusing this conversation on photos, which are one of the most important aspects of file documentation, for several reasons. There is no doubt that your photos are currently used in large part, to justify payment, but they should do much more.

Think of your photos as evidence

Recent litigation proves that your file documentation plays a huge role in protecting the shop, owner(s) and all of the shop personnel individually involved in the repair process from potential lawsuits, and your photos are a huge part of proper file documentation. Think of your photos as evidence, should you ever be called into court over a repair issue. Also, think of your photos as receipts for every line item on your estimate/repair plan.

Taking damage photos is the only consistent stage of collision photography that is commonly practiced in the collision repair industry. Most shops do not even consider taking photos of the OEM procedures as they are being performed. Having a copy of a procedure in your repair file verifies that you took the time to research and determine the correct way to repair the vehicle, however, it does not verify you actually performed it.

What about quality control? Do you have a quality control process? If you do, are you taking photos to verify the repair quality? Taking photos should not be an afterthought. You should have a well thought out, planned process for taking photos that should be followed every time.

Consider this scenario; your daughter is getting married, would you (a) hire a wedding photographer, or (b) ask all of your guest to take lots of photos on their smart phones and send them to the happy couple. Of course, you would hire a wedding photographer. Why? Because a good photographer knows how to properly frame the subject of the photo, correct for inadequate lighting and properly adjust the focus on the subject so the photo speaks for itself. The same fundamental skills are required for collision photography.  Documenting your repair file with good photos does not happen by accident.

Look at this photo of a field of flowers. Where is your attention drawn in this photo?

Most say the yellow flower in the center of the photo draws their attention. Why do we focus on that particular flower and not the one with the red highlights? After all it is the most unique flower in the photo.

The answer is that the photographer properly framed the subject, adjusted the focus so that the subject is crisp and clear, and made sure that the lighting was correct. By following these steps, the subject of the photo is very clear and the viewers are not left to try to figure out what the photographer was trying to show them. Learning, practicing and continually using these same skills will make the subjects in the photos you take very evident to the viewer and will answer questions, not create them.

Take the Collision Photography Course

Why do you take photos of Collision Repair?

Consider this scenario; your daughter is getting married, would you (a) hire a wedding photographer, or (b) ask all of your guest to take lots of photos on their smart phones and send them to the happy couple. Of course, you would hire a wedding photographer. Why?…

Structure vs. Frame

As we provide training to collision repairers across the USA and Canada, we find there is a considerable gap in understanding how to write structural repair. Estimators have been convinced that a structural repair is different than a frame repair. We have also seen structural repairs written at the body repair labor rate…

Pre and Post Measuring Collision Damage

I am sure you have seen the commercials where the latest model vehicle will parallel park, brake, keep you in the correct lane or even put your boat in the water all by itself. While all the new technology is great, the collision industry is missing an important correlation between Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and structural alignment. In fact, we can confidently say the majority of collision repairers are missing about 40% of structural misalignment. To put it another way, approximately 4 out of 10 vehicles you write estimates on have structural misalignment and there are no visual indicators such as, misaligned panel gaps…

Estimator Quick Tip: Using Images To Support Scanning

Documenting the presence of damage to Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) components with images verifies the need for scanning and calibration….

Poor Images Cost You Money, and Believe Me, Your Images Are Poor

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.”…