Forensic photography is crime-scene, or accident-scene photography. It is all about making an accurate, photographic record of an event, after-the-fact, for the benefit of a court case or other legal proceeding.
photographers have to be very good
at making photographs that tell the full story of a scene. That
includes detail images as well as those that provide overall context. A
good series of forensic photographs would record as much as can be seen
scene as possible, to the satisfaction of all parties whose job it is
to accurately dispense justice.
Insurance companies use forensic photographs to document crime scenes in which they are expected to pay a claim. The images are used for in-house documentation, and to help root out cases of fraud. The Armed Services are also heavy users of forensic imaging.
This is not one of those photography jobs to be taken lightly: forensic photographs can make or break a criminal case, and the subject matter is often disturbing.
It's a safe bet that the real world of forensic photography is considerably less glamorous than the one depicted on TV shows like "CSI"!
Before we move ahead on this subject, here's a list of the other pages in this Macro Photography Careers section:
Forensic photography is, at its most basic, crime-scene photography. It is the job of the forensic photographer to produce accurate, detailed photographs that record crime-scene evidence clearly and without sensationalism.
Forensic photography serves the greater good by helping to keep criminals off the street, and to assure that innocent people go free. Criminal justice in democratic societies means a continual quest for the truth. Clear, objective photography of a crime or accident scene aids all parties involved in the quest to understand what really happened, and to hold people accountable for their actions.
A list of what is photographed at crime scenes would include blood-stains, bullet holes, evidence of struggles or break-ins: the list goes on and is as varied as crime itself. Special light sources, such as infrared or ultraviolet, are used to reveal evidence not visible to the unaided eye.
photographers will also be called upon to summarize their reports into
presentations, to be presented to judges or juries. With sophisticated
forensic tools such as DNA analysis coming into increasing use, these
presentations will pull together data from a variety of crime lab
sources. A forensic photographer with a flair for visual
communications is a valuable member of the team!
Most forensic photography jobs are in-house, working within the criminal justice system, rather than freelance.
Most forensic photography careers start with individuals who are trained as crime scene investigators (CSI) or police officers who then add photography to their job skills. This makes sense, since forensic photographers need to perform their duties without contaminating or disturbing evidence. An understanding of criminal justice, including how to conduct oneself at a crime scene, is therefore essential.
In addition, he or she must be (no surprise!) an excellent photographer! Photographs must be technically perfect: in focus, well-exposed, and well-illuminated. Images of marginal technical quality could be ruled inadmissable as evidence.
A forensic photographer must have a reporter's eye for telling a story with images. He or she must also have mastered digital photography, including presentation software and digital archiving.
|My first forensic photograph, made when I was 13. That's our car lying on its back in front of our neighbor's house. The car had been struck by a drunk driver while parked in front of our house late at night. No one was hurt, but the crash woke the neighborhood!|
Forensic photographs must have a
reference to location or sense of scale. When shooting close-up
photography, a ruler, coin, or other familiar object is
placed into the frame as a size comparison. Shooting conditions will
rarely be optimal: darkness, bad weather, and hard-to-access
locations must all be overcome.
Since forensic images are used as evidence in trials, strict ethical standards must be followed to assure the integrity of the photographic data. While digital image enhancement can clarify the subject matter of a photographic, it is important to not cross the line into image manipulation or falsification.
photography, Hollywood Style: In the movie comedy "My Cousin
Vinny", Marisa Tomei's character takes
the witness stand in an Alabama murder case. Using a photograph of tire
tracks from the crime scene, she testifies that the car leaving the
crime scene could not have been the one the defendants were driving,
thus blowing apart the case for the prosecution. It's a hilarious
scene, and Marisa picked up an Academy Award for her performance.
Many pieces of evidence found at crime or accident scenes are
small. Forensic photographers must have mastered the basic
principles of close-up photography and macro photography.
They will use appropriate macro lenses, macro
accessories, and lighting accessories, such as ring flash
Any institution that employs forensic photographers should recognize the importance of high-quality equipment, and outfit its photographers accordingly.
Photography equipment in this field must be rugged and able to withstand heavy use: insist on the best professional equipment available. Beware of the high cost of cheap equipment! Break-downs are expensive!
In the United States, two university-level programs offer training for forensic photography jobs:Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) has a Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program that includes courses in imaging and photography.
is difficult to find official data that projects the future of a
specialty area such as forensic imaging. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has
data on forensic science professions here, some of which could be
expected to overlap with forensic photography careers.
Technology has left its mark on all aspects of forensic science, including forensic imaging. As the tools have gotten more sophisticated, there will be a greater need for technically proficient individuals to make the most of them.