Using Photographs to Document the Project
By: Gregory L. Shelton
Photographs provide the finder of fact (whether judge, jury, or arbitrator) with a wealth of information about a construction dispute. The owner may criticize a contractor for not performing work on a clear sunny day, but if the contractor presents photographs of the site covered in several feet of snow from a storm the day before, the contractor’s lack of action may be more understandable. So many things can be documented by a camera: manpower, equipment, access to the work, condition of the site, condition of work before its turned over to another contractor, interference, survey work (layout, elevations, etc.), defective work, weather; the list goes on.
When giving lectures on the topic, I make it a point to have the audience think of themselves as historians. You are recording the history so that someone else doesn’t do it for you.
To make your historical record more credible, adopt some simple procedures to make your photos count. Having a superintendent hand over a disk full of photographs is great, but I would also like to see each roll or digital sequence organized by date. Knowing when an event occurred is often as important as the event itself. The time/date stamp feature should be employed as a matter of course. It is also helpful to know the location of the item photographed. Without a notation (either in the photograph itself or in the photo log), one portion of the foundation looks like another.
If the photo includes people, it is very helpful to know their name, their role, and their employer. (I can’t tell you how many times people claim they weren’t at that meeting.) Also, make a record of the person taking the photographs, because at trial I will need someone to testify that the photograph is an accurate depiction of the object or scene at the relevant time. Having the photographer on the stand makes this process much easier and more convincing.
You can use outside objects such as rulers, tape measures, or newspapers to blunt attacks. Use rulers or tape measures to give the viewer a perspective of size of the object photographed. The newspaper may in some circumstances help substantiate the date on which the photograph was taken. The opponent cannot claim that an event occurred on March 1 when the event photographed includes March 10th’s newspaper.
You see where I am going here. It may be enough to take the picture, but if you want to blunt attacks to the relevance or credibility of the photo, more thought and effort is required. A practical and efficient procedure tailored to your company, or the project, goes a long way.
These observations and rules apply to videotaping as well. Videotape collects pictures and sound, so make sure you don’t put your foot in your mouth when the camera is running.