The Best Body Shops’ Tips: How to Take Great Photos to Support Your Estimates

The Best Body Shops’ Tips: How to Take Great Photos to Support Your Estimates

Writing a proper estimate is an important component of running a successful collision repair facility.

There are many aspects to consider when preparing an estimate, and Roger Cada, senior consultant for Accountable Estimating, said collision photography is a requirement that is often overlooked.

When taking photographs to document repair damage, Cada said that a poor image could actually work against you, costing a body shop time and money.

During a webinar held in September and hosted by Dave Luehr’s Elite Body Shop Academy, Cada shared how to take pictures strategically to document damage as well as the repair process.

As collision repairers move into the world of ADAS systems and advanced high-strength steels, Cada said it’s crucial to keep good records for every vehicle.

“Photos are a big part of this and provide the record you need so if you are challenged later on, you have the documentation that tells a story of exactly what was needed and what was done,” he said.

Any information in the file also becomes evidence if it goes to litigation and can help protect your shop.

“As much as we might not like it, insurance companies are now expecting more information on the administration side,” said Cada. “If you build an estimate correctly, and you are challenged in a court of law, documentation is better than your word.”

When talking to webinar attendees, Cada drew on his 45 years of industry experience, which includes working in collision repair for 15 years. More than half of that time was spent as an estimator and business manager for independent shops and dealerships. In 1983, Cada joined State Farm Insurance and was a corporate lead trainer for estimators during the majority of his career. Part of this role included working alongside automakers and information providers to write the most accurate estimates possible.

He said it’s helpful to think about it this way: “If it’s not documented, it never happened.” As a result, he said his goal has always been to help shops achieve a positive outcome of success, so every detail of the estimate is covered and supplements are reduced, but not at the cost of reducing profitability for the shops.

After leaving State Farm, Cada began consulting with the collision repair industry. In 2018, he founded Accountable Estimating with Kent Ruppert, CFO, and Scott Ellegood, COO, with an emphasis on the creation of online estimator certification training courses. They are also working with AMi (Automotive Management Institute) to establish a certification program for estimators.

Since establishing Accountable Estimating, the team has aimed to bring what they learned in the collision and automobile insurance industries over the years to help body shops improve operations.

Some of the training and assistance they provide includes an online/on-demand collision photography course.

Not only can good images support the estimate, but Cada explained they also are an essential aspect of providing visual documentation to justify payment for the customer and help reduce the time spent negotiating estimating charges with insurance companies. In some states, photographs can also help demonstrate who is liable for the accident and at what percentage based on where the vehicle was struck, as well as how the accident occurred.

Over the years, Cada has found that images are a key factor in subrogation.

“Sometimes we make recommendations to our customers based on what we feel will be greater success,” he explained.

For example, Cada said, if a customer approaches the bill payer and that insurance company takes the images and estimates to the other insurer, the insurer will look at the evidence, images and documentation and pay based off the information provided.

“In the case of subrogation, they will review the estimate being presented and if it’s not presented well, they’ll knock hundreds if not thousands of dollars off the reimbursement to the insurers,” he said.

As a result, it can be very costly for all involved.

In addition, quality photographs can also help reduce supplements and lead to more efficiency, profits, quality and positive Customer Service Index (CSI) scores.

“You as an estimator have the ability to control all of this,” he said.

Rather than writing an estimate based on the images taken, Cada recommended taking pictures after the bid is written.

“You should take them after you write your most complete bid because it helps support the estimate and what you are charging for, so it becomes a receipt for the items bid on the estimate,” he said.

This can also result in less tension with insurance companies and a noticeable difference in profits.

“We’re building a record of the vehicle not only for your internal file, but also to get success from the bill payer,” he said.

There are three main types of images he recommends taking: damage photos, repair process photos and those that show the positive outcome of the car. All three are an important part of documenting what happened throughout the entire process. Whenever possible, he advises having the same person who wrote the estimate take the pictures.

Cada shared 10 tips on how to take better photos to support your estimate:

1) Whether using a cell phone, a point-and-shoot camera, a 35 mm or a tablet, Cada said to use the method that provides the most success. Better does not necessarily mean a more expensive camera.

2) Be aware of not getting too close to the car when taking pictures.

3) Consider taking comparative photos (i.e. both the damaged side of the vehicle and undamaged side) as well as ones before and after.

4) Make sure every image is based on supporting the estimate line item.

5) Minimize the use of props (such as arrows, fingers pointing, or writing on the vehicle). That can actually work against you if you are called to testify in court.

6) Take your shots at different angles, pay attention to the lighting and utilize the reflections in your natural surroundings.

7) Photos should be clear, crisp and showcase the damage in detail.

8) Ensure you don’t capture things you don’t want in the images; after reviewing, keep the best and delete the rest.

9) Utilize mirrors to show damage and validate quality control in hard-to-reach areas.

10) Practice every day to improve the quality of your images and be patient; taking good pictures is an acquired skill.

For more information about Accountable Estimating and the training provided, visit

For more information about Dave Luehr’s Elite Body Shop Academy, visit

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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