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What Does It Take To Be A Crime Scene Photographer?

Michael Gabriel Michael Gabriel April 1, 2013 advice career crime scene

When one mentions professional photographers, most people think about those that work in a studio, wedding photographers, newspaper photographers and others. Only a few think about crime scene photographers.

Forensic photographers have gained a lot of recognition through television shows such as CSI. But did you know that it is not an easy and glamorous job? For one, you would need to be a highly skilled photographer who has very technical skills. You would also need to be very organized, meticulous and methodical.

Crime Scene Photography
photo by Alan Cleaver

Your experience and skills as a photographer will come in really handy because you will have to photograph different crime scenes, and you don’t have the entire day to figure out your shots and your angles. You should also be able to choose the best equipment to use for a variety of environments. For example, you should know what settings to use in low light conditions or when capturing moving subjects. All crime scene photographs should be properly lit, adequately exposed and sharply focused. In addition, it should be free from distortion and have good depth of field.

The importance of crime scene photographs

Crime scene photos are used in a variety of ways. They could be instrumental to solving a crime, or they can be used for analysis and measurements. They can also be attached to research papers, articles and forensic reports.

A crime scene photograph, therefore, would need to be accurate and detailed.

A crime scene photograph can tell a lot of stories. For example, if the crime happened at a house, a good crime scene photograph will not only give investigators an accurate record of what happened, such as where the body was found or where the murder weapon was located, but also clues into how the victim or the suspect lived, and what his or her personality was.

A crime scene shot outside could also give context to the crime. Did it happen in a bad neighborhood? Were there CCTV cameras in the area or perhaps a hidden nook that could make it easier for criminals to hide?

As a crime scene photographer, you would need to come up with images that adhere to rigorous standards, or else they would not be admissible as evidence in court. You would need to be very methodical and you should have an eye for detail. You must be able to faithfully record a crime scene using still photographs.

Moreover, you must have a strong stomach. You will be expected to work in challenging and distressing environments. If you cannot stand the sight of blood, dead bodies or gruesome scenes, then it might not be the right profession for you.

The Job Description

Being a crime scene photographer, you would be producing a permanent and visual record of the crime or accident scene. Remember that these photographs will be or may be used in court. This means that your photographs should be accurate and very detailed.

For instance, if you are tasked to take photos of a car accident site, then you must be able to get overview pictures, as well as pictures of the fingerprints, footprints, tire marks and other details.

Further, you would be working with a variety of professionals, such as police officers, investigators, doctors and lawyers. So you should be able to comfortably interact with different kinds of people.

Crime scene photographers work in shifts and have a salaried position when they work with a police department. There are also freelance crime scene photographers who are retained or hired by insurance companies, lawyers and police departments that are in need of temporary photographers for one reason or another.

Where To Start?

While a crime scene photographer is expected to have great skills in photography, some of them start out as a crime scene investigator or a scene of the crime operative. This will give you a sense of what is important in a crime scene and what constitute evidence.

Then you would have to show your skills as a photographer, either by showing previous experience in photography or completing a course on it.

You should also have a good grasp of how the police works, as well as a working knowledge of anatomy. If fashion photographers and portrait photographers try to interpret and tell a story, a crime scene photographer should be able to capture a crime scene without drama, so that it would not be construed as trying to influence juries and the court.

Required Equipment

To become a crime scene photographer, you should also have the right equipment. What are the basic equipment you need?

Obviously, you would need a camera and both normal and wide angle lens. For a 35mm camera, you should have a 50mm normal lens and a 28mm wide angle lens.

You should also have lenses that allows you to take close-up photographs, like macro lenses, a 1:1 adapter, close-up filters, extension tubes, reversing ring and bellows.

You will need to have flashes for environments with low lighting conditions, as well as different colored filters (orange, blue, green, yellow and red are recommended).

Plus, the last thing you would want is to run out of batteries while shooting a crime scene. By their very nature, crime scenes are time sensitive, so it is out of the question to have the bodies lying around while the photographer waits for his or her batteries to charge. You should have extra batteries, as well as an extra camera in your bag.

Other basic things you would need in your kit are:

  • Tripod
  • Locking cable release
  • Film
  • Notebook
  • Pen
  • Scales
  • ABFO #2 scale for photographing injuries
  • Index cards and felt pen
  • Flashlight
  • Telephoto lens (for surveillance photos)
  • Tools for emergency repairs on your camera
  • Clothespins, blocks of wood and other things you would need for photographing evidence up close
  • Tape measure

The Finishing Touch

There you go! Now you should better understand what you need in order to qualify as a crime scene photographer. It is not enough to be a very skilled photographer having all the right equipment, but you should also have the personality for it. You should also be familiar with police work and what is important, or in other words, you should know what to capture in a crime scene and how to capture it.

For example, in photographing a scene that happens indoors, it is not enough to know the correct exposure, but also to make sure that you have captured the crime scene itself, the objects in the crime scene and even the surrounding areas as well as other parts of the house that might be important to the investigation (i.e., the body was found in the bedroom, but blood stains lined the hallway and the stairs). Also keep in mind that you may be called to photograph other events such as fires and car accidents.

Michael Gabriel

About the author: Michael Gabriel

Michael Gabriel L. Sumastre is an experienced freelance writer for hire. He has been professionally writing articles, blogs posts and tech content since 2005. Michael loves to take pictures of the countryside when he is touring with his motorcycle. He maintains his professional writing portfolio and personal blog at www.TheFinestWriter.com.