When you are a photographer you like to take pictures. There are different ways to say this, I prefer to make images rather than take images. To me this implies I try to put effort into my craft and not just stand there and click a button. I mean no criticism of others when I say this, it is just how I view the process.
Several months ago I had an opportunity to watch a crash test at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It was not my first crash test, over the last 20 years I have seen several. But this time I decided to take my camera after first making sure it was okay to do so. I was told pictures are fine, just don’t post online before the Institute releases the crash data for this particular vehicle.
Having witnessed crash tests before I knew the layout of the crash hall and how the hall will be lit and more importantly the vantage point that is available to spectators. The car is accelerated toward an offset barrier using a catapult. Just a few feet short of the barrier the vehicle is released so it impacts the barrier under its own inertia. The engineers make the vehicle hit the barrier at precisely 40 mph. With the car located down an enclosed ramp from the crash hall, it makes the several hundred feet or so trip to impact. It is worth noting the crash hall and ramps are climate controlled and the crash test dummies are put in the cars only moments prior to the test. The dummies have specific requirements for temperature. This is just a small part the highly scientific work these researchers and engineers conduct. Crash testing is a lot more than just running a car into a barrier.
Getting back to the crash test and how I planned to shoot it. Remember I’m trying to craft an image and not take myself too seriously when I say this. The car starts accelerating toward the barrier and you only have a few seconds before impact. From my vantage point I figured I would shoot high speed multiple shots and blend them in Photoshop. I could have used the 10 shop multiple exposure setting in my camera, but since I only had one shot at this, I decided I would just let the camera run at 9 frames per second and I would blend them later. My other option would be to use a slower shutter speed and hope for some motion blur, perhaps next time. Hopefully there will be a next time…
In case you are wondering the photographers at the IIHS use a medium format camera with a digital back that is triggered by a switch placed on the floor just in front of the barrier. They only get one shot, but it is at the decisive moment. The bright lights overhead also allow for incredibly high speed video cameras that shoot the crash from multiple angles.