Forensic Photography is nothing but crime scene photography. Reproduction and reconstruction of a crime scene have an important aspect to solve a crime. These images are analyzed to reconstruct the crime scene. Crime or accident scene photographers commonly capture images in color but also in black and white. Forensic photography is an important subject for crime investigation. Forensic photography could be described as a combination of visual understanding and criminal nature. Forensic photography paves the way for justice, with the help of technology advances and recording of visuals are used as evidence.
The use of photography in the recording of a crime scene is very important and has become a steadfast part of the investigation process. As well as witness statements, the reports made by officers and other physical evidence provided by the crime scene itself, photography is used to provide an accurate account that cannot be altered. Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO) are charged with the task of recording the scene of a crime using various means; one of the most common of them being photography. Forensic science holds the branch of Forensic photography which encompasses documenting both suspected and convicted criminals, and also the crime scenes, victims, and other evidence needed to make a conviction. Although photography was widely acknowledged as the most accurate way to depict and document people and objects, it was not until key developments in the late 19th century that it came to be widely accepted as a forensic means of identification. Forensic photographs are used for measurement or analysis, to accompany forensic reports, articles or research papers. Forensic Photography is an integral part of criminal investigation procedures employed by police and security forces throughout the world.
Photographers must, therefore, follow a standard methodology and produce images of a rigorous technical standard so that they can be used as evidence in hearings, tribunals, and court proceedings. Since the subject matter often relates to the accident, injury or criminal investigations, Forensic Photographers will be expected to be able to work efficiently in distressing and challenging environments, without disturbing other evidence or interfering with the work of other investigators. Forensic Photography is a fascinating area of work suitable for highly organized photographers who combine excellent technical skills with a methodical and meticulous working practice. While it is the job of many other photographers to interpret a brief, it is the job of the Forensic Photographer to produce accurate, detailed photographs that faithfully record the location and evidence as clearly and as objectively as possible. Forensic Photographers produce a permanent visual record of the scenes of accidents and crime scenes for use as evidence in court. They must be able to produce detailed recordings of all the available evidence at the scene, including overview photographs as well as accurate images of tire marks, fingerprints, footprints, blood spatters, bullet holes and other unique evidence at the scene. They must also be able to take detailed photographs of injuries sustained through accidents or assaults and may also be required to photograph dead bodies. Much of the work is routine, but photographing crime scenes and road traffic accidents, or visiting patients in the hospital, can be emotionally distressing.
Required equipment for photography
The following items should be available to the crime scene photographer in order to photograph most scenes and evidence:
Camera – Most crime scene photographers use a high-quality digital camera or 35mm camera. Digital cameras which have ten megapixel, or greater, image sensors and manual exposure settings (in addition to any automatic or programmed exposure modes) are usually suitable for crime scene and evidence photography.
Normal lens – A normal lens provides the best perspective for most photographs. A 50mm lens is considered a normal lens for a 35mm camera.
Wide–angle lens – A wide-angle lens is needed when photographing small rooms or other space–constricted areas. A 28mm lens is considered a wide–angle lens for a 35mm camera.
Close–up lens or close–up accessories – Most normal lenses do not focus closer than about three feet. A macro lens or a close–up accessory for the normal lens is needed to photograph small items of evidence. Close–up accessories include 1:1 adapters, extension tubes, bellows, reversing rings, or close–up filters.
A polarizing filter is often needed for photographing through the glass and into the water. Colored filters (red, orange, yellow, blue, and green) are useful when photographing certain types of evidence with black–and–white film.
Electronic flash provides additional light that is often needed when photographing indoors, outdoors at night, filling in shadows in bright daylight scenes and for lighting evidence.
Remote sync cord for electronic flash
A remote sync cord allows the electronic flash to be operated when it is not mounted on the camera. Many photographs, especially photographs of certain types of evidence, cannot be photographed with the flash mounted on the camera.
Extra camera and electronic flash batteries
Batteries can expire without warning during the documentation of a scene. Extra batteries for both the camera and electronic flash should be included in the camera kit.
Locking cable release
A locking cable release is used to lock open the camera’s shutter during long exposures and when using the “painting with light” technique for photographing large nighttime scenes. Cameras that have a built-in feature that locks open the shutter do not require a locking cable release.
Tripods are necessary to steady the camera for long exposures and for positioning the camera during certain types of evidence photography.
Medium speed (ISO 100 or 200) color print film is most often used for crime scene photography. Black–and– the white film is used for certain types of evidence photography. Operation manuals for the camera, electronic flash and accessories Equipment operating manuals should be carried in the field for reference. With the many features on modern cameras and electronic flash units, it may be necessary to refer to the manuals for specialized photographic techniques.
Photo log, notebook, and pen
A photo log is necessary for recording information about each photograph taken at a crime scene. A notebook is valuable for recording other notes during the investigation. Scales and tape measure A variety of scales, including 6 inch and 36-inch sizes, must be available for photographing different types of subjects. Long tape measures with large numbers are sometimes necessary when photographing large items of evidence or large areas in a crime scene. ABFO #2 scale The ABFO #2 scale is the preferred scale for photographing injuries. Angle–finder An angle finder is used to help position a camera for photographing certain types of evidence at the crime scene.
Color chart or color control patches
Color chart or color control patches are used as color references in injury photography 18% gray card The 18% gray card is used as an aid in getting accurate exposures. Index cards and felt pen When a number or other identifier is needed in a photograph, simply write the number or identifier on an index card and place it in the photograph.
A flashlight not only helps you see in dark areas, but it is useful for previewing lighting during evidence photography. By shining the light on evidence from different angles you can see where it is best to position the electronic flash for a photograph.
Other Equipment to Consider
- Telephoto lenses– While telephoto lenses are seldom used in crime scene photography, they are necessary for most types of surveillance photography.
- Supplementary light meter – Supplementary light meters are usually more effective than the metering system inside the camera and are most useful for low light level readings, such as ambient light photography at night.
- Small tools – Small tools are helpful when emergency camera repairs must be done in the field.
- Devices for positioning evidence and scales – Blocks of wood, clothespins, clamps and other devices can be used for positioning evidence and scales for close-up photography.
- White handkerchief or other flash diffusion material – A white handkerchief or similar material can be placed over the head of an electronic flash unit to reduce the intensity of the flash.
Importance of forensic photography in a crime scene investigation
The crime scene is photographed to minimise the risk of conflicting statements and – if there is a corpse at the scene – it too will be photographed post-mortem so that a record of how the body was found, what position it was found in, and the nature of its mortal injuries can be documented for later inspection. In many cases, photographic evidence is very important for both the prosecution and defense counsels. It is also used as a means of displaying the nature of a crime scene to officers of an investigative team who were not able to attend. The means in which crime scenes are photographed are such that the most intricate of details can be recorded for future reference. There are many different types of lens, camera and indeed light that can be used for this procedure and even night vision photography is used in certain scenarios. Advances in modern technology have also meant that a crime scene can not only be photographed but also recorded a video to represent an accurate depiction of what was happening at the time; this can be useful in criminal proceedings and subsequent court cases.
Once a crime scene has been established it is important that all evidence is collated, cataloged and recorded for further reference. This task is normally performed by the Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO) and is carried out using a variety of methods.
Methods of Preserving and Recording
Evidence that is loose and perhaps lying on the ground should be bagged up and catalogued; each piece of evidence is given an individual identification number so that it can be cross-matched against corresponding investigative reports. The evidence is bagged in clear plastic bags, which are sealed airtight so that no contamination can take place. Each of these bags is accompanied by a ‘custody chain’ document; this document is to be filled out by any officer who wishes to use or view the evidence. This is necessary to reduce the loss of evidence and/or cross-contamination by individuals who should not have contact with it. The area is photographed in meticulous detail and any signs of injury such as bloodstains are marked, numbered and photographed. These photographs are often important in the piecing together of an event so that officers who were not able to attend the scene can get an understanding for how it looked. Nowadays with the advent of technology digital technology such as video cameras are also used to record the nature of the scene. SOCO may also make audio recordings as to their findings while they go. Fingerprints are taken where possible and if the crime scene is outdoors the area is marked out and searched; these searches can take the form of a linear search (a single row of officers moving in unison in a straight line), a grid search (a single row of officers moving in unison in a series of squares), a quadrant search (one officer is allocated a particular area of ground to search) or a spiral search (officers start from the middle of the crime scene and work their way outwards in a spiral pattern so as to identify possible pieces of evidence that have spread further than the crime scene itself.
Soil samples are also taken as the chemical makeup of soil will vary from place to place; a corpse may have soil on the soles of their feet or under their fingernails, which may not have been gathered at the location where the body was found. It is sometimes necessary for dogs to be used at a crime scene; this is done so that evidence that may not be visible to the naked eye can be detected. Internal crime scenes are photographed, blood spatter patterns are measured and documented, and bloodstains on carpets and floors are measured for radius. Regardless of the location of a crime scene it is imperative that all of those personnel involved in the recording and preserving of it are dressed correctly in protective clothing. This clothing which normally takes the form of plastic trousers and jacket; protective hat (to minimise the possibility of the hair of those personnel investigating; contaminating a scene), and shoe covers which are used to reduce the risk of bringing materials from other locations to the scene of the crime.
Photography is extremely important to crime scene investigation because it establishes what the crime scene looked like at the time that investigators got there. This is extremely important for helping investigators to truly understand what the crime scene looked like in its totality. It is also important for showing a jury the same thing so that they can have more of a feel for what the evidence looked like at the scene. One of the main goals of crime scene investigation is to understand exactly what happened at the scene. Photography helps to make this clear. Good pictures of the whole crime scene and of the individual pieces of evidence preserve the crime scene in a sense so that investigators can go over it again and again in ways that they could not do with the actual physical scene. Photographs allow investigators to look at exactly where each object was found and what was around it. This allows them a much more complete understanding of the events that happened than they would have if they only had the evidence separate from its context. Once the case goes to trial, good photographs can be important as well. They can give the jury a clear sense of what the investigators found, making the investigators’ case seem more compelling. For these reasons, photographs of a crime scene are very important.