Crime Scene - Forensic Photography

The Basic Steps to ensure proper Forensic Photography

Photography has often been portrayed as an art, a hobby and mostly a passion. Forensic Photography is photography with a twist! It requires the eyes of a forensic expert and the acumen of a skilled photographer who knows his camera the best!

“Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliott Erwitt, acclaimed American documentary photographer.

Contrary to this, forensic photography is all about the things that one sees and the perfect portrayal of it in the photographic reproduction. Forensic photography is a different class of photography altogether! It requires one to be bold, determined, precise and most often, emotionally impervious! So here’s all that you need to know about steps to ensure a proper and accurate photographic documentation.

1. Securing the Incident Scene

The first and the fundamental step in all forensic investigations is securing the crime scene. This is in line with Dr. Edmond Locard’s principle that the crime scene is a vital piece of physical evidence. It bears multiple silent evidence which the perpetrator may have obliviously left. Therefore, the incident scene should be preserved and protected against any tampering with any alteration/loss of significant evidence would be a step back in the relay of justice to the victim(s).

2. Evaluation of Conditions

Before capturing the crime scene, it is imperative for a forensic photographer to evaluate the existing weather and light conditions. This would enable him to adjust the ISO, aperture and other parameters suitably to do maximum justice to the photo. Adversity may strike at any place which means crime scenes can be located anywhere! It could be indoors – inside a vehicle or a building, or it could be outdoor or a combination of both. Thus, a single camera setting would never be apt for capturing all crime scenes.

3. Shooting the Scene

A forensic photographer should swiftly capture the crime scene before there’s any chance of further intrusion that may disturb or tamper the original condition of the scene. He should ideally start working through the scene from outside (overall photograph) to medium-range and close-up photos. Often, a forensic photographer needs to take multiple shots to showcase the position of each evidence with respect to the entire scene. Additionally, one should also capture the area above the scene so as to document other evidence or environmental factors.

4. Photographing the Victims

Subsequently, the next shots that are taken are that of the victim(s), if any. Forensic photographers need to precisely capture their location with respect to the entire crime scene, along with injuries, physical condition etc.

5. Photographing Critical Victims Later

In case a victim needs to be moved or attended immediately for treatment, the photographer should photograph his/her injuries later. Forensic photographers use colored filters and specialized lighting to highlight healing status and injuries such as scarring, bruising etc.

6. Capturing the Evidence

It is essential for the forensic photographer to capture every single piece of evidence accurately to elucidate its exact location. This helps establish the relationship of the evidence to the victim(s), the victim to the crime scene and so on. Care must be taken to eliminate distance distortions by capturing the photographs from the ‘straight on’ or ‘straight above’ position at right angles. Every piece of evidence should be captured in two ways – one that is juxtaposed to a scale to indicate the size and the other devoid of a scale.

7. Evidence Markers

Evidence markers are used to index evidence at a crime scene in order to offer more clarity while referencing and analyzing. Forensic photographers should thus make it a point to take photographs both before and after such evidence markers are placed. The “before” shots offer crucial insights into whether there has been any alteration in the condition of the crime scene or not?

8. Re-shoot for New Evidence

In case investigators mark new evidence during the course of the examination, the above-mentioned series of shots need to be repeated. This also includes the close-up shots of all evidence along with a scale to indicate the size.

9. Imaging and Lighting Techniques

Forensic photographers capture fine evidence such as tire track and shoe impressions, fingerprints, vehicle identification numbers (VIN), indentations and other minute evidence using special lighting and imaging techniques. Following are some of the techniques used:

Macro lenses – These help forensic photographers capture extremely close-up images of small elements such as tool marks or trace evidence.

Alternate light sources (ALS) – Light sources such as colored filters, lasers, and blue or green lights are often used in forensic photography for illumination and detection of obscure evidence such as latent fingerprints.

Oblique angle lighting – This involves the photography of an imprint or indentation with the help of camera flash, flashlight or any ALS at a low angle to cast shadows on them.

Since artificial lighting can largely alter the perception of a crime scene in a photograph, it is essential that a forensic photographer correctly documents the original lighting conditions at the incident scene. It is only after the original conditions are captured that a photographer should add artificial light to make up for the camera’s limitations in photographing the visible range of light.

10. Be Quick in Shooting

An important element in the composition of a good forensic photographer is proactivity! This is because certain environmental or natural factors such as traffic, snow, hail or rain can deter the execution of their duties. Therefore, a forensic photographer must be quick in using his lens to visually document as much as he can before the scene starts deteriorating!

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) – A valuable addition to the Indian Forensic Landscape

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) is a premier private forensic lab headquartered in Chennai and having an office in Bangalore. It boasts of a repertoire of forensic experts from all domains of forensic science and a state-of-the-art forensic laboratory. IFF Lab has rigorous experience in assisting the government and law enforcement agencies of several states of India in heinous and non-heinous criminal investigations by leveraging the latest in forensic technology and techniques.

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