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Forensic Photography

written by: Mayflor Markusic•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/19/2009

You love photography but you are not an artist. Your analytical mind wouldn’t allow you to see photo shots that evoke strong emotions. You might be interested in a photography career that will further develop your methodical mind. This career is in forensic photography.

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    The forensic photographer

    The forensic photographer plays an important role in criminal investigations by taking accurate images of the crime scene and of the evidences. Artistry is the least concern of the photographer. The forensic photos should be accurate to help the police reconstruct a crime and find evidences. This is why the typical forensic pictures have dimension scales. The photos should also withstand the scrutiny of the court. Thus, professional knowledge in lighting and angles are crucial. But the most important aspect of the forensic photography job is a strong tolerance to possibly gruesome crime scenes. The forensic photographer should not be squeamish. The good news is that the average forensic photography salary is $50,000.

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    Forensic photography equipment

    The forensic photographer needs to take a lot of pictures from different angles, in color, in black-and-white, in infrared, and under ultraviolet light. For example, in a residential homicide, the forensic photos must include evidences found outside the residence, the entrance to the crime scene, the room where the body is found, other rooms relative to this room, the victim’s body from five different angles, close-ups of wounds, weapons, evidences of struggle, view of witnesses, and the autopsied body. Using infrared or ultraviolet, bloodstains can be found. Forensic photos can be small and barely visible (such as fingerprints and bite marks) or large and with lots of details (car crashes and burglaries). Pictures are taken at any time of the day (criminals are not considerate of other people’s need to sleep), anywhere (e.g. desert, playground, tunnels), and in any weather (rain or shine).

    Thus, the most basic set of forensic photography equipment is several times bulkier than that of a photography hobbyist. Aside from the camera and normal lens, some important equipment and accessories are a wide angle lens, macro-lens, filters, electronic flash, cable release, tripod, extra batteries, scales, a gray card to help determine the best and most accurate exposures, and an extra camera. It also helps to have index cards, notebook and pen, flashlight, blocks of wood, and tape measure. If the forensic photographer’s job is to take surveillance images, then telephoto lenses should be added to this long list.

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    Becoming a forensic photographer

    The typical route of a forensic photography career begins at the police force, in which the officer with photography skills becomes the crime lab’s forensic photographer. The investigative skills of the police officer are valuable in finding the crucial images of the crime scene. But it is also possible to launch this career from forensic photography schools. The forensic courses include the basics of scientific photography, flash and night photography, lighting techniques, forensic procedures, and even making emergency camera repairs. After taking these forensic photography courses, a photographer can obtain certifications from the International Association for Identification (IAI). Aside from the general forensic photography certification, the other certifications that can be obtained are bloodstain pattern examiner certification, footwear certification, forensic art certification, and latent print certification.