Photographing the Dead: Forensic Photography

Crime scene investigation is not a simple matter. While it is easily dramatized on television, true forensic investigation is a complicated issue involving numerous individuals, agencies and roles. While cases can be solved when all of these components come together, many cases are never solved, or when the cases do go to court, they end in an acquittal or a mistrial. Crime scene investigation is important for both understanding what happened, but also for collecting enough evidence to prove what happened; without this evidence, the guilty will leave as the innocent, and victims will never receiver their due justice.

While forensic chemistry and psychology are the more popular aspects of crime scene investigation, with the internal and external dramatics of intellectual theory argued across countless networks, forensic photography is equally important. In fact, without crime scene photographs, theories can never be proven or even developed. Forensic photography deals with both pictures of actual crime scenes, and pictures of recreated accidents, murders, rapes or burglary. Both of these techniques help to solve cases, to prove guilt and to provide restitution.

The Art of Still-Life

Forensic photography at the crime scene will often involve photographs of bodies, weapons, locations, broken machinery, car crashes or other damages. Recreations will involve the same subjects, just rebuilt and repositioned after the fact in an attempt to provide a realistic account of a crime that happened in the past, or a crime that provided no actual concrete evidence. The ultimate goal of forensic photography is to provide photographs that are fit for use as court evidence, are untampered and are a true record of the criminal events.

Consequently, forensic photography is a type of art; photographers must choose their lighting, lens angles and viewpoints correctly or the photographs may not hold up as evidence before a jury. The photographs must be clear, and they usually include scales to help visualize the size of different objects and subjects. A variety of viewpoints also helps to solve the problem of parallax. Crime scene photographs must also be untampered, meaning every individual who touches the picture must be recorded. This custody chain ensures that the photograph, from initial taking to exposure, is honest, original and unedited. These sources also help when one photograph becomes evidence in multiple cases, such as criminal trials and civil lawsuits.

Forensic photography is most often conducted in color to better create an honest image of the crime scene. Black and white is sometimes used, and both 35mm film and digital images are acceptable in most courts. Surveillance cameras and even mobile phones are used as evidence, especially when the photographs are taken by witnesses or bystanders at the time of the accident or crime. Forensic photography professionals will sort through these amateur pictures to find acceptable evidence.