Crime scene investigation is the meeting point of science, logic and law.
While you do not need to be a photography expert to take crime scene photographs or testify in court about these photographs, you do need to have a solid understanding of the proper way to photograph a scene.
According to Krista Glover, standard for photographs of crime scenes and evidence is that the photographs must be of sufficient quality to be admissible in a court of law. Crime scene photographers must understand how to get the correct results when using their cameras and lighting equipment for a variety of subjects and in a variety of lighting conditions.
The often gruesome images are set in such normal locations like the steak house, the parlour, the family’s home, a beautiful restaurant or the street which thus elicit a morbid curiosity in the crime investigating officers. They’re strangely like everyday life, yet entirely different and wholly unsettling. And thus, the expertise of a crime scene photographer lies in making a case with as few photographs as possible – accurate with the most detail revealing angle and not at all at clicking a thousand images which one has to keep on going through every point of time of the crime investigation process.
Well at the same time its also important to weigh the requirements case by case. Sometimes you might also need to take as many pictures as needed to best represent the finding.
Remember this – Never ever delete a picture no matter how bad it is!!!
Also, photographs should not be manipulated – its unethical, it’s a crime to do so. Again if you are using photographic software to enhance an image, the original image should not be deleted, and for each altered image, a detailed documentation needs to be provided to the investigators or the department handling the case of how it was altered and what was the necessity.
Firstly, it should be borne in mind that processing a crime scene is a long, physically and mentally straining process which involves purposeful documentation of the state at the scene and the collection of any physical evidence that could possibly illuminate what happened and point to who did it.
“There is no characteristic crime scene, there is no characteristic body of evidence and there is no characteristic investigative approach.”
Prior to taking photographs
Victim’s identification information should be captured foremost.
If photographs are required to be captured ofa patient after his/her treatment in the hospital then patient’s name, medical record number, date, and time should be noted.
A hospital ID sticker will give you all the required information. Next, a picture of the photographer’s ID i.e your own ID should be taken.
The photography equipment
Always remember – Equipments costing an arm and a leg are not at all necessary!!
What you need is a good-quality point-and-shoot camera which helps take sufficient images.
The camera should capture pictures of the following dimensions –
- At least six megapixels
- Camera should have macro lens capabilities. (shown by “tulip” icon)
- Macro lenses allow close-up shots.
- A built-in or separate flash is also required.
- Image sensors that are twelve megapixels or greater can produce photographs capable of enlargement to 16″ x 20″ for court exhibits
- Other requisite include spare batteries, media cards, computer cable, reference scales for measuring length, cleaning supplies, and the camera manual.
- A tripod or monopod might as well be required for positioning.
- File format should be particularly set to ‘JPEG’.
Image quality should be set to ‘fine’.
- Image size should be set to ‘largest’.
At most of the times of investigating the sites, the camera can be kept in automatic mode, which will choose the correct settings and capture desirable images. However, for close-ups, the mode dial should be necessarily kept to the macro setting as discussed in the bulleted points above.
- Correct exposure
- Maximum depth of field
- Free from distortion
- Sharp focus
Technical photographs are photographs that show as much detail or information about the view or object pictured as possible. The best technical photographs have four characteristics. They are correctly exposed, have maximum depth of field, are free from distortion, and are in sharp focus. While frequently there are conditions that make this difficult or impossible (e.g., close-up photographs will always have shallow depth of field), crime scene and evidence photographers must strive to take photographs with these characteristics.
- Technical photographs must be correctly exposed. Correct exposures are necessary for the film to capture detail in all parts of a scene, including highlight areas and shadows. Underexposed photographs lose detail in the shadows while overexposed photographs lose detail in the highlight areas. Exposure is controlled by the shutter speed and lens aperture.
- Technical photographs must have maximum depth of field. Depth of field, often called the plane of sharpness, is the area in a photograph where objects are in sharp focus. Crime scene and evidence photographs should have as much in focus as possible (a deep plane of sharpness). This is because out of focus areas of a photograph can become issues in court. You will usually be using a 50mm lens (on a 35mm camera) because it provides the best visual perspective .
- The most common cause of distortion in photographs is improper lens selection. The lens that will provide the least distortion, and will provide photographs that look similar to what you see at the scene, is the “normal focal length lens.” You should use a normal focal length lens whenever possible (a 50mm lens is considered the normal lens for a 35mm camera). Long focal length lenses give a telephoto effect, and short focal length lenses produce wide-angle distortion. Distances in photographs taken with long and short focal lenses will be deceiving-the viewer will think distances are shorter or longer than they actually were at the scene. This could create discrepancies in court when a witness testifies to a distance that appears in error when compared with a wide-angle photograph on display.
- Technical photographs must be in sharp focus. To insure your photographs are in sharp focus keep the camera steady during the exposure. You should mount the camera on a tripod if the shutter speed is less than 1/60 second and focus carefully. Also, maximizing depth of field will result in sharpness in a larger area of the photograph.
Painting with light:
It is especially useful for lighting large crime scenes at night when a single flash will not provide adequate lighting coverage. Painting with light is also used at night traffic collision scenes to provide lighting for large areas. Painting with light is accomplished by opening the camera’s shutter for an extended period of time while a light source is moved around until the entire scene is properly illuminated. The light source can be a flashlight or a spotlight, but the most effective light source is usually an electronic flash unit with a “test fire” button.
Forensic photographer’s State of mind:
- You unarguably need to get fit physically and mentally dealing with the most grisly cases that might disturb the hell out of you.
- Also, crime scene photography demands a lot of crouching, stooping, bending, climbing and reaching to get detailed shots at varied angle in between all the things lying down which cannot be even mistakenly displaced.
Its important to be emotionally ready to work in crime scenes that might be bloody or gruesome.
- You should be ready to receive a phone call to reach a crime site at any time of the day or night.
- You should be ready to sacrifice your personal time for your work.
- You should always be in a wake state of mind so as to not to miss any minute detail which might make your case or rather spoil it.
- You should deal with utmost responsibility as you are working with a law enforcement team which is not a joke.
- Being high or o excessive alcohol is not at all ethical as you loose your conscious state of mind while at the crime scene.
- In photography practice is essential not only in learning how to operate your camera equipment, but is essential in reaching and maintaining the skill levels necessary to become a crime scene photographer. Reading instructions and looking at example photographs is usually not enough.
- You must try the techniques and keep practicing them because practice does make perfect.
And the most important, always remember that your goal is to provide the most comprehensive record possible of every crime scene and the evidence found there. You are not trying to prove guilt or innocence—that’s the jury’s job. But if you do your job well and provide a clear, thorough document of the evidence at the scene, then the jury can see exactly what you saw and can use that evidence to do their job well.