Section 2.1: Crime Scene Photography

Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation by Adam J. McKee

Crime scene photography is a critical element of any investigation, serving as the visual documentation that can make or break a case. Its purpose extends beyond mere picture-taking—it aims to comprehensively capture the scene in a way that accurately tells the story of what occurred, facilitating a clear understanding for all who review the case later, especially in court.

The Importance of Thorough Documentation

In the era of digital photography, the constraints once imposed by film costs no longer apply, removing barriers to comprehensive scene documentation. This shift emphasizes the importance of erring on the side of excess rather than omission. Every detail, no matter how seemingly insignificant at the moment, could prove pivotal as the investigation unfolds. This foresight is crucial; what might initially appear irrelevant could later become a key piece of evidence, challenging or supporting the initial theories about the crime.

Systematic Approach to Photography

Crime scene photography encompasses a structured methodology, from wide shots that capture the scene’s context to detailed close-ups that focus on specific evidence. This progression from overall to specific ensures no detail is overlooked:

  • Overall Coverage: These shots provide a panoramic view of the scene, setting the stage for the finer details that follow.
  • Mid-range Coverage: Focusing on establishing the location of evidence within the larger scene, these shots bridge the gap between the broad context and specific details.
  • Close-up Coverage: Zeroing in on individual pieces of evidence, close-ups capture details crucial for analysis and presentation in court.

Photographing evidence involves meticulous care, taking shots both with and without measurement scales and identifiers. This dual approach serves to preserve the evidence’s context within the scene while also providing detailed views essential for analysis and courtroom presentation.

Adherence to Legal Standards

For photographs to fulfill their role in the investigative and judicial processes, they must be admissible in court. This requires that they accurately represent the scene, are free of distortion, directly relate to the case, and are presented objectively. Additionally, the “maggot rule” underscores the need for photographs to offer probative value that outweighs any potential prejudicial impact, ensuring they contribute to the pursuit of justice without unduly influencing the proceedings.

Crime scene photography, with its rigorous standards and strategic execution, is indispensable in the modern investigative process, providing a reliable, detailed account that supports the thorough examination and analysis of every crime scene.

🔍 Reflect

Considering the evolving landscape of crime scene investigation, how does digital photography enhance the capacity for thorough and effective documentation of crime scenes?

Photographing the Deceased at Crime Scenes

Photographing the deceased is a sensitive yet crucial part of crime scene documentation, offering vital clues to the investigation. Proper photographic technique and respect for the scene’s integrity are paramount. Here are structured guidelines to ensure thorough and respectful documentation:

Comprehensive Photographic Coverage

  • Multiple Angles: Capture the scene from various angles to provide a full perspective of the deceased’s position and surroundings.
  • Detailed Views: Include close-up shots of the face, hands, and feet to detail the condition and positioning without disturbing the body or altering its state.
  • Wound Documentation: Photograph all visible wounds at close range, using multiple angles to capture the extent and nature of injuries accurately.

Perspective and Lighting Techniques

  • Dual Perspectives: Aim to photograph the body from both a standing viewpoint and at the body’s level, offering a holistic view of the scene and how the body lies within it.
  • Use of Oblique Lighting: Employ oblique lighting techniques to highlight wounds, employing scales where necessary to provide a reference for size and severity.

Post-Removal Documentation

After the body has been removed:

  • Scene without the Body: Document the area where the deceased was found, noting any indicators of activity or disturbance such as turned-on appliances, displaced items, or signs of a struggle.
  • Evidence of Activity: Capture evidence suggesting the timeline or activities leading up to the death, including undisturbed items like food or drinks, scattered personal items, or signs of an altercation.
  • Environmental and Forensic Clues: Look for and document any potential forensic evidence left in the vicinity, including tool marks, shoeprints, fingerprints, or drug paraphernalia, that could contribute to understanding the events or identifying suspects.

Photographic Log and Secure Storage

  • Documentation of Timing: Record the time frame in which photographs were taken to provide a timeline of the documentation process.
  • Secure Storage: Following departmental protocol, ensure the photographs, whether film or digital, are securely stored and properly logged for accessibility and preservation.

Adhering to these guidelines ensures that the documentation of the deceased is conducted with the thoroughness, sensitivity, and precision required. This careful approach aids in reconstructing the events leading to death and provides critical evidence for analysis and potential court proceedings.

🔍 Reflect

How does the meticulous photographic documentation of the deceased and their immediate surroundings contribute to the reconstruction of events and the overall investigation process?

Best Practices for Impression Evidence

Photographing impression evidence requires precision and attention to detail to ensure the most accurate and useful documentation for analysis and court presentation. Different types of impressions demand specific techniques to capture their details effectively.

Tire Impressions

Capture the entire circumference of the tire through a series of overlapping photographs. This method ensures no detail of the tire pattern is missed, providing a comprehensive view of the impression.

Impressions on Glass

For impressions left on glass:

  • Protect Latent Prints: Take care not to disturb any potential fingerprints while setting up for the photograph.
  • Contrast Enhancement: Place a colored card or cloth behind the glass to contrast with the impression, enhancing its visibility in the photograph. Note this technique in the documentation for clarity.

Impressions on a Mirror

When dealing with mirror surfaces:

  • Oblique Lighting: Position the flash to the side to avoid direct reflection and to highlight the impression details.
  • Use a Tripod: This helps avoid accidental inclusion in the photograph through reflection.

Dust Impressions

For impressions in dust or soft materials:

  • Reflective Lighting: Use oblique lighting to enhance the visibility of the impression. If necessary, block ambient light and adjust the light source until the impression is clearly visible.

Impressions on Porous Surfaces

When photographing impressions on porous materials:

  • Optimal Lighting: Experiment with light positioning, often finding that a 90-degree angle offers the best contrast and detail visibility.

Photographing Bloodstains

Bloodstains, especially on challenging surfaces, require careful handling:

  • Color Accuracy: Use color film or a digital camera to capture the true appearance of the stain.
  • Perpendicular Photography: Align the camera so it’s directly facing the stain, with the ruler placed on the same plane for accurate scale.
  • Contrast on Glass: For stains on glass, a contrasting colored background can enhance the photograph, similar to impressions on glass.

General Tips

  • Lighting Adjustments: Proper lighting is critical across all types of impression evidence, with adjustments made to capture the best possible detail.
  • Documentation: Always document the techniques and settings used for each photograph to provide context and understanding for later review.

By adhering to these specialized techniques for photographing different types of impression evidence, investigators can ensure that they capture the most detailed and informative images possible. These photographs then serve as vital pieces of evidence, aiding in the analysis and presentation of the case.

🔍 Reflect

How do specific photographic techniques tailored to different types of impression evidence enhance the quality and utility of crime scene photographs?

Close-Up Photography in Crime Scene Investigations

Close-up photography plays a pivotal role in crime scene investigations, especially when documenting detailed evidence such as wounds, serial numbers, and other minute traces. Whether using digital or film cameras, the approach to capturing these details requires precision and a strategic use of technology to ensure the photographs serve as accurate, reliable evidence.

Capturing Detailed Evidence

  • Color Accuracy: For film users, it’s crucial to use color film for wounds to capture their true appearance. Digital cameras should be set to capture high-resolution, color-accurate images.
  • Perpendicular Positioning: Position the camera so that its lens is directly perpendicular to the evidence, ensuring that measurements depicted in the photographs are as accurate as possible.
  • Use of Scales: Incorporating scales in the photographs provides a reference for size and distance, critical for analysis and courtroom presentation. Ensure that the scale and the subject are on the same plane to avoid distortion.

Lighting Techniques

  • Optimal Contrast: Adjust the lighting to enhance the visibility and contrast of the evidence. This may involve experimenting with different angles and intensities of light to highlight the details effectively.
  • Dynamic Lighting: Especially for documenting wounds or bruising, take multiple photographs with varied lighting positions to capture the full extent of the evidence. For wounds that change over time, like bruises, consider retaking photos at different intervals to document these changes.

Special Considerations for Serial Numbers and Vehicle Identification

  • Accurate Scaling: When photographing serial numbers on weapons or VIN numbers on vehicles, the placement of rulers, placards, and the camera itself is crucial. Ensure everything is aligned on the same plane and that the camera lens is perpendicular to the subject for scaled and undistorted images.
  • Vehicular Evidence: Documenting vehicular damage, license plates, and registration decals requires careful framing and lighting to ensure all details are legible and accurately represented.

Documentation and Storage

  • Time Log: Record the start and end times of the photography session in your notes to provide a timeline of the documentation process.
  • Secure Storage: Following departmental protocols, ensure that all photographs, whether on film or digital media, are securely stored and cataloged for easy access and preservation.

Close-up photography, with its emphasis on detail and accuracy, is indispensable for the thorough documentation of crime scene evidence. By adhering to best practices in camera positioning, lighting, and scale use, investigators can create a visual record that stands up to scrutiny in investigative and legal proceedings.

🔍 Reflect

How does the application of precise close-up photography techniques impact the analysis and presentation of detailed evidence in criminal investigations?

Integrating Aerial Photography

Aerial photography, including both traditional methods and modern technological approaches, plays a critical role in crime scene investigation by offering a broader perspective on geographic relationships and scene context. This method helps in understanding the layout and proximity of various elements within and around the crime scene, providing insights that ground-level photography might miss.

Traditional Aerial Photography

  • Helicopter or Plane Shots: Capturing aerial photographs from aircraft allows for wide coverage of the scene, offering a comprehensive view of the geographic relationships between different locations or objects.
  • Alternative Aerial Sources: In some cases, news footage may serve as a valuable resource for aerial imagery, providing additional perspectives or covering angles that might not have been captured by investigation teams.

Overhead Photography

  • Elevated Positions: Overhead photographs are taken from high points within the scene’s vicinity, such as buildings, ladders, or cherry pickers. Unlike aerial photos taken from an aircraft, these are captured from elevated positions on the ground, offering a detailed view from above.

Modern Technological Advances

  • Drones: The use of drones for aerial photography has become increasingly prevalent in crime scene investigations. Drones offer a flexible and cost-effective means to obtain high-quality aerial and overhead shots, capable of capturing images from various altitudes and angles with precision.
  • Google Maps and Satellite Imagery: Modern investigations can also incorporate satellite imagery, such as Google Maps, to provide additional context and an overview of the crime scene’s location. This technology aids in understanding the scene’s surroundings, access routes, and potential escape paths.

Documentation and Storage

  • Digital Storage: With the shift towards digital photography, ensuring the secure storage of images is paramount. Digital photographs should be downloaded and stored in a secure location, following departmental regulations to maintain the integrity and accessibility of the evidence.
  • Overlapping Coverage: Whether using traditional methods or modern technology, aerial and overhead photographs should be taken in a series that overlaps, ensuring comprehensive coverage of the area without gaps.

Aerial and overhead photography, enhanced by new technologies like drones and satellite imagery, enriches the crime scene investigation process. These methods provide invaluable perspectives that ground-level photography cannot achieve, offering a macroscopic view of the scene that is essential for reconstructing events and understanding the spatial dynamics involved in the crime.

🔍 Reflect

How do advancements in aerial photography techniques, including the use of drones and satellite imagery, enhance the documentation and analysis of crime scenes compared to traditional methods?

Video Documentation in Crime Scene Investigations

Video documentation has become an increasingly valuable tool in crime scene investigations, supplementing traditional still photography with dynamic visual records. It captures the scene’s complexity from multiple angles and distances, providing a more holistic view of the environment and the relationships between different elements within it.

Planning and Execution

  • Strategic Planning: Before filming, plan the video shoot to cover the scene comprehensively without disturbing any evidence. This includes identifying fragile evidence to document first and establishing a safe route through the scene that minimizes impact.
  • Comprehensive Coverage: Record the scene from various angles and distances, ensuring both overall views and detailed close-ups are captured. Use techniques like panning in a single direction and avoiding unnecessary zooms to maintain focus and stability.

Techniques for Effective Videography

  • Lighting: Proper lighting is essential for revealing details and ensuring clarity. Experiment with front lighting for general use and side lighting to highlight specific features like tool marks or textures. A blue filter can help simulate daylight conditions when using artificial lighting.
  • Stable Footage: A tripod is recommended to stabilize the camera, especially for long, narrow spaces or when zooming is required. This prevents shaky footage and ensures the video accurately represents the scene.
  • Audio Settings: Typically, audio is turned off to focus solely on the visual aspects of the scene and to avoid capturing unnecessary background noise that could distract from the video’s purpose.

Special Considerations

  • Recording Transient Evidence: Prioritize video documentation of temporary evidence, such as bloodstains or latent prints, to capture their condition before any alterations occur.
  • Systematic Recording: Approach videography systematically, moving from the scene’s exterior to the interior and from general views to specific details. This methodical approach ensures no critical evidence is overlooked.
  • Documentation of Changes: Note any alterations to the scene during the recording process, such as the introduction of artificial light or the positioning of equipment, to provide context for the video footage.

Recording Specifics

  • Exterior and Interior Views: Document both the outside and inside of the location, including all potential entry and exit points and paths that may have been used during the crime.
  • Angle and Movement Considerations: Use high angles for tight spaces and slow, deliberate movements for all recordings to enhance clarity and detail. Avoid walking while filming to prevent unstable footage.

Post-Recording Procedures

  • Note-taking: Complete detailed notes on the videography process, including any events that occurred during recording and the exact times the recording started and finished.
  • Secure Storage: Following departmental protocols, ensure the video footage is securely stored, whether removing physical media from the camera or downloading digital files for safekeeping.

Video documentation adds a dynamic layer to crime scene investigations, offering a fluid perspective that still photographs cannot. By adhering to best practices in videography, investigators can ensure their recordings serve as effective and reliable evidence for analysis and courtroom presentation.

🔍 Reflect

How does the addition of video documentation complement traditional photographic evidence in crime scene investigations, and what are the key considerations for effectively integrating video into the investigative process?

References and Further Reading

Modification History

File Created:  05/02/2019

Last Modified:  04/03/2024

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