What is Forensic Photography?

A crime scene photographer, also commonly referred to as a forensic photographer or an evidence photographer is a professional photographer who is skilled in the art of producing only the most exact, detailed photographs that record the crime scene and the physical evidence within the crime scene as objectively and accurately as possible.

Crime scene photography is an important part of the collection of evidence at the crime scene, as it documents the appearance and location of victims, shell casings, footprints, bloodstain patterns, and other physical evidence and produces a permanent, visual record.

Crime scene photography is a highly technical profession that requires correct lighting, proper lenses, and accurate angles as to produce professional photographs that can be analyzed, enlarged, and submitted in court hearings, proceedings or trials.

Producing tangible images suitable for a court of law is the ultimate goal of crime scene photography, so it is important for crime scene photographers to provide context images (showing evidence in context), close-up images (showing fine details), and overall images (showing the general layout of a crime scene).

Crime Scene Photographer Job Description

Forensic photographs are often used in a crime scene investigation for measurement and analysis purposes, and they often accompany related reports and papers. Forensic photographers must therefore follow exact methodologies as to produce images that meet rigorous, technical standards.

It is common for crime scene photographers to process their own film or use a specific lab for doing so as to eliminate the possibility of contamination or tampering of the photos. Crime scene photographers, depending on the requirements of the law enforcement agency or local courts, as well as their own preferences, may use 35mm film or digital images.

These CSI professionals must be able to work efficiently in chaotic, challenging, and often emotionally distressing environments without disturbing physical evidence or other members of the evidence team.

Crime scene photographers must have technical knowledge in photographic principles, and they must take a meticulous approach to their work. They must be able to select and use the best equipment and techniques, and they must take into consideration any number of environments or lighting conditions. They must ensure that all photographs are correctly exposed, lit, focused, and that they possess a maximum depth of field.

Beyond technical skills, crime scene photographers must also have an understanding of law enforcement methods and conventions.

Common duties of crime scene photographers include:

  • Setting up the site for the shoot
  • Selecting proper film type, camera, camera settings, exposure, and angles
  • Monitoring and maintaining photographic supplies
  • Video recording crime scenes, as necessary

Crime scene photographers may be employed directly by law enforcement agencies, by private forensic services companies, or they may be self-employed.

Minimum Requirements for Crime Scene Photographers

Crime scene photographers must have specific knowledge, including:

  • Knowledge of photographic principles and processes
  • Knowledge of crime scene and evidence recovery procedures
  • Knowledge of latent print development
  • Knowledge of alternative light sources for photography
  • Knowledge of camera formats and films
  • Knowledge of photographic printing

This knowledge is gained through a formal degree program in photography. Although a number of employers accept an associate’s degree in photography, many more require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in photography. Further, because knowledge of crime scene investigation and evidence recovery is an integral part of this profession, internship experience is also often required by employers.

Professional Certification for Crime Scene Photographers

Due to the highly technical nature of the field of forensic photography, CSI photographers who can stand out from the competition are often afforded more attractive professional opportunities.

The International Association for Identification offers the Forensic Photography certification, which requires candidates to be employed in the field of forensic photography. To qualify for this designation, candidates must possess at least 3 years of experience in the area of photography or digital imaging.

Further, candidates must show proof of the completion of at least 40 classroom hours of photography courses or college coursework. Qualified training through the FBI, state and local institutions, or forensic imaging workshops may include:

  • College photography
  • Digital images
  • IAI conference classes or workshops
  • Training in photography
  • Image analysis
  • Digital imaging

Candidates must also submit two letters of endorsement with their application for certification. Qualified candidates will be required to complete an examination, which was developed by the IAI Forensic Photography and Digital Image Certification Board. Individuals will have 3 hours to complete the examination, which includes 100 questions on the following topics:

  • History of photography
  • Cameras
  • Lenses
  • Film
  • Exposure
  • Depth of field
  • Light and color theory
  • Lighting
  • Filters
  • Close-up photography
  • Presentation
  • Digital imaging

Recent job postings reveal that crime scene photographers earn an average salary of between $24,960 and $51,000, with salary ranges often dependent upon experience.

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