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Forensic Photography

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The advent of digital has seen the near demise of film in popular photography. With its instant results and ease of getting images into the computer and onto the internet, digital simply offers a lot more flexibility and ease of use for the average photographer. Gone is the need to develop film, to replace film rolls, to keep track of hundreds of film strips. Indeed, a lifetime’s worth of photographs can be made to fit into a single hard disk

Photographs, as frozen stills images of crime scenes serve as a valuable tool in court proceedings. However, the same ease of use that digital presents also present several challenges in the admissibility of digital photographs as court evidence. Even though film manipulation has been a constant threat over the years, it is much more easier to do this in digital and it is sometimes difficult to prove that no manipulation has occurred. Whereas in film, photo manipulation would require a darkroom, and a specialist to work on the film – a very complicated procedure that leaves obvious traces. To do this with digital photos only needs a computer and the latest copy of popular image processing programs. These programs can add, subtract or even modify elements in the photo to reflect a false representation of reality (Nagosky, 2005).

To ensure the integrity of digital photographs, law enforcement have to take certain precautions in dealing with digital images. One possible way of ensuring the integrity of digital images is to store images in a format which can only be written to once such as a CD-R as compared to a CD-RW which permits multiple writes. In doing this, there is a guaranteed original copy in the archives of the police departments. Moreover, there should always be two copies with one copy being stored for archival and the other copy being used to create copies and prints. Photos should also be stored in their original file format to prevent loss of resolution due to compression and conversion effects. All images should also be kept irregardless of their quality to prevent the possibility of selective evidence gathering. Lastly, steps should be undertaken to make sure that these guidelines and precautions as well as other protocols by the agency in dealing with images are known by all personnel (Nagosky, 2005).

With the handling of photographs in place, there should now be a concrete protocol in taking the actual photographs. Officers usually use a three-step approach in photographing crime scenes for evidentiary purposes. These three steps include the following (Staggs, 1997)

  • Overview Photographs illustrate the entire area of the crime scene
  • Mid Range Photographs show the location of pieces of evidence in relation to the entire area
  • Close-up Photographs are detailed pictures of individual pieces of evidence.

Done in a traffic fatality scene, overview photographs would most likely show pictures of the entire street where the event happen. These photos would show where the victim is in relation to the street, landmarks and objects in the area, and other possible important details such as the location of traffic lights, a bar or club near the area and other possible objects which may be needed to clear up the story. These overview photographs also ground the traffic fatality, showing how far or near the victim was from the street, any tire tracks or scattered pieces of evidence. Multiple views are also important, possibly from viewpoints of any potential witnesses (Staggs, 1997).

Mid range photographs start going inside the crime scene. Photos of the debris field, or of tire tracks and of the victim are important. These things start to tell the story of what happened, possibly indicating the direction the vehicle was traveling, the relative speed at which the accident occurred and any possible evasive maneuvers which the driver may have taken to avoid the accident. Close up photos then will involve detailed and scaled pictures of the victim’s injuries, identifying markings on the body and the vehicle, the view from the driver’s seat (to show possible distractions) and the interior of the vehicle. These help provide a picture of the individual pieces of evidence to be used in the investigation (Staggs, 1997).


Nagosky, D. (December 2005). The Admissibility of Digital Photographs in Criminal Cases . In Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved August 9, 2008,

Staggs, S. (1997) Crime Scene and Evidence Photographer’s Guide. Wildomar, CA. Staggs Publishing.

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