Criminal Investigation Week 3
Crime Scene Photographs

Quiz on reading.

Lecture.  Hopefully, you learned from last week that photographs go hand in hand with the crime scene sketch and each gives relevance to the other.  Traditionally, crime scenes have been recorded with 35mm color or black and white film, though digital cameras are being used more and more frequently, so this course will ‘focus’ on digital cameras (pun intended!). 

            Although the step of photographing the scene and evidence comes before measurement and sketching, a sketch should accompany the photographs, which is why this lab comes after sketching. 

            Beyond the mechanics of taking quality photographs, there are a few basic steps to forensic photography which you must know and use.  The memory card in a digital camera may hold photographs from several crime scenes and you must have a way to define where one case ends and another begins; therefore, the first frame of a crime scene will always be the identification frame. 

            To create the ID frame, write the date, time, location, case number, and photographer name on a form made for this, or a piece of notebook paper, and take a photograph of it.  In this way, anyone looking at the memory card, or a compact disk made from it, will know that each frame after the ID frame belongs to this case.  This case ends where the next ID frame begins.  There are rare cases in a dynamic crime scene when it is necessary to bring shooting frames immediately.  If you have been counting your frames, and you should, then once the scene settles down you can make your ID frame with a notation that “this case starts 7 frames before this frame.” 

            Each frame you take must be recorded in your notebook for the eventual report of your activities.  The frame after the ID frame should identify the location where you are shooting.  This could be the address on the outside of the building, the business name, a street sign showing the intersection, or some other identifiable landmark.  From here work your way to the subject of the case, preferably following the route of the offender, if that is known.  Be sure to take a series of panorama shots of the evidence location, then get closer and closer to each piece of evidence, including a ruler or other measure when appropriate, and noting each frame in your notebook. 

            You will have evidence number stands next to each piece of evidence.  Take a photo with and without the number stand, to prevent an argument that the number stand was covering other important evidence. 

            For someone, like a prosecuting attorney, who is unfamiliar with the area of your photos, you will annotate your sketch with a mark showing where you were standing when you took the photo, the direction of your lens, and the frame number of the photo.  The mark should resemble this: 



            After you have taken your photos, remove the memory card, place it in a properly labeled evidence envelope and send it to the property room.

            Some cautions. 

        1. If you take a silly shot, like the camera accidentally takes a photo of your dirty tennis shoes, do not delete it.  I know that one of your readings says that it is OK to delete frames at the scene, but that is poor practice.  Note the frame in your report as an “accidental.” Any deleted frames will be obvious to a trained investigator and you don’t want to have to explain to a jury why you deleted potential evidence. 

        2. Do not change the file names of photographs to something cutsy, like “knife.”  Just leave them whatever the camera assigns to them. 

        3. Use the highest resolution that the camera is capable of.  If the camera automatically uses the flash, check the photo and consider retaking the photo without flash.  Some cameras will “burn” the subject (overexpose and make it too light) if it is close, or reflective. 

           4. Be careful if the ambient lighting is fluorescent.  Fluorescent light will produce a yellowing of the photo that distorts colors, which can be overcome by forcing the camera flash. 

            LAB: Photographs.  In two person teams, photograph a mock crime scene.  Teams that were inside the last lab, will be outside for this lab, and vice versa.  Make a rough sketch and take photos.  Turn in your photographs, a subsequent report with a description of each frame you took, and your sketch.  The sketch can be handwritten.

Reading Assignment for THIS week:

Text: pp. 103-107

CrimeScene Photography

Digital Image Admissibility

Digital Image SOPs

Crime Scene Photography-FBI

Fill Flash

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Christopher Bruno