Inside IIHS: Crash test photography

A crash happens in a fraction of a second, much too fast for a person to grasp with the naked eye. So in order to understand what’s really happening in a crash test we need to slow the action down significantly, and to do that we have to rely on sophisticated photographic equipment like special lights and high-speed video cameras. These are some of the tools we use at the VRC every day. I’m Pini Kalnite and one of my responsibilities at the Institute is making sure that the photography we do is the very best of its kind. The VRC is more than a scientific laboratory, it’s also a specialized production facility where we produce footage and pictures that engineers use in scientific analysis and that we also use to communicate our findings to the general public. We designed this crash hall with high quality photography in mind. Photographer 1>>Lights! Photographer 2>>Lights! Pini Kalnite>>In some respects it’s like a Hollywood sound stage with a very high ceiling and a grid that holds a custom-built lighting array that produces 750,000 watts of soft, diffused light. It’s important that the light doesn’t cast hard shadows and reflections and it has to be very bright for our state-of-the-art digital imagers or slow motion cameras. These high-tech cameras are completely file-based, no film or tape, and they accept cinema quality lenses. They can record in extreme slow motion which makes it possible for our engineers to examine every detail of a crash, and because of the techniques we use they produce very high quality images that are suitable for television. Our technical photographers set them in a number of positions throughout the crash hall. Photographer 2>>Go ahead and plumb bob then check height. Photographer 1>>Breach tests. We have a set of predetermined positions for all of our digital imagers. We want to make sure we’re getting the exact same shot that we got the last time we ran this test so we can compare vehicle to vehicle if we need to but also make sure that we’re consistent all the footage that we get. Photographer 2>>With our digital imagers we have a monitor attached here that allows me to adjust exposure, focus, and I can actually get a full readout on the monitor so I know all the settings for the test. Photographer 1>>This is one of our small digital imagers and we use these cameras on board during the crash. It’s ruggedized so it can take the impact of the crash. This one will be looking at the driver dummy to see how he interacts with the steering wheel, the airbags, and what’s happening during the crash. Photographer 2>>I just finished installing our overhead digital imager. This gives us a really nice top-down view of the impact. Pini Kalnite>>We set up cameras in various locations so engineers can analyze the crash from multiple angles and so that we have the shots we need to tell the story. All of the digital imagers are connected on the same network and start recording at the exact same time. In addition to our slow motion cameras we use a number of real-time cameras to convey a sense of how quickly a crash really happens and a still camera to shoot a very high resolution image of the moment of maximum crush. Photographer 1 >>This is our high resolution still camera that we used to take the action shot of the crash test as well as the post-crash photos. Photographer 2>>After the test we move the car to the photo studio where there’s a large overhead light box and a fully programmable light control board as well as a seamless background and a turntable that sits on air casters. That allows us to lift the car up and spin it to any position that we wish. We also have digital imagers and a lighting grid in the sled area, where we test vehicle components like seats and head restraints. The slow motion cameras capture the action which occurs in a fraction of a second. Pini Kalnite>>The last step for the footage is our post-production room where it’s color corrected and edited. Jeff Babcox>>Once the raw data is loaded onto our file servers I can access that information and translate it into video that accurately represents what the eye sees. Then I edit that footage into various video products. Pini Kalnite>>The images we produce are more than just tools to help engineers understand what happens in a crash test, they’re also a vital part of our communications effort. Brian Williams>>The new crash-test results we have for you tonight… Pini Kalnite>>Photos and footage produced at the VRC have appeared in countless news and television programs, automotive advertisements, and even Hollywood motion pictures. The Institute is respected worldwide for the excellence of our scientific research and we’re widely known for our consumer information and our vehicle ratings. One reason for this is we’re able to provide high-quality images and footage to the media and the public to help illustrate our findings and this extends the reach and the impact of our work.

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