Responding to Crime and Accident Scenes: Equipping Yourself as a Crime Scene Photographer

by Elizabeth Hall
CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS / @CSI?cafe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to Robinson (2010), crime scene photography is a key evidence retainer for any type of crime scene, accident, or case that occurs in the photographer’s jurisdiction.  A crime scene or accident scene are always photographed to preserve a fair and accurate representation of the incident for police records and the court system.  Many factors can affect the quality of crime scene photographs, including type of evidence, time of day, lighting, using the proper settings for each separate photograph, having the right equipment, and knowing how to properly document the photographic evidence to maintain the integrity of the evidence to name a few.   A properly trai
ned and prepared photographer can make the difference in winning or losing a case.  In this essay, we will look at two different scenarios, involving different times of day and circumstances to document with photographic evidence, a midday accident scene with both injury and death, and a nighttime robbery with a shooting injury, weather considerations, and several different types of evidence and discuss the parameters of the photographic evidence.     
Scenario and Equipment
English: Photo of dust residue impression left...
English: Photo of dust residue impression left on the floor of a crime scene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Officer Jones is a crime scene photographer working a long shift beginning at 11:00 a.m. and ending at 11:00 p.m. because the department is understaffed and he could use the overtime.  He begins his shift by going through his camera bag to make sure he has the right equipment.  Staggs (2005) holds that the basic camera equipment needed to ensure the best quality photographs for any type of scene of course begin with the camera, which should be a 35mm and a high-resolution digital camera too.  From there the bag should include a 50mm lens, a wide-angle lens such as a 28mm, macro lens, 1:1 adapter, extension tubes, reversing ring, and close up filters.  Other equipment should include red, yellow, blue, green, and orange filters, electronic flash, and a remote sync cord that is used when the flash is utilized separately from the camera (Staggs 2005).
 Even more equipment for the basic bag includes extra batteries, locking cable releases, a tripod, and extra film in color notes Staggs (2005), UV, and black and white for different types of evidence and lighting needs.  This bag is not fully stocked yet, still needed are the owners’ manuals for all pieces of equipment, a notebook and pen, scaling material such as rulers, numbered pieces for distance and evidence markers, ABFO # 2 scale for photographs of injuries, flashlight, grey card for exposure accuracy, index cards, and finally a felt pen.
Now onto other equipment that may be useful to the photographer, such as reported by Staggs (2005), which includes lighting pieces, miscellaneous tools, and measuring instruments.  The lighting pieces are a supplementary light meter, helpful in lower lighting situations, a white handkerchief for flash diffusion, pieces such as wood blocks, clips, and clothespins to aid in holding evidence in place for close up shots.  You should also carry a 135mm telephoto lens in case you have to do any surveillance work.  For measurement a tape measure, levels, and color charts and patches for photographing and documenting injuries accurately (Staggs, 2005).  Officer Jones finishes with his bag, and waits for the first call.
First Call –Midday Accident
The first call arrives at approximately 12: 35 p.m. and is an accident scene.  The details given to dispatch are that two cars are involved, there is one fatality, and one injured party located at
Skulls on a Beach:
Skulls on a Beach: "Currents carry many dead things to Punuk Island making it the graveyard of the Bering Sea." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 325 Main Street.  Officer Jones heads out the door, grabbing his properly stocked camera bag on the way.  When he arrives, he talks to the first responder about what information has been found, which is proper procedure as noted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice State Crime Laboratories (WDJSCL) (2003).  The first responder informs Officer Jones, that the injured victim was taken to the hospital immediately (WDJSCL, 2003).  This is per protocol of securing the scene, which was marked off by police cars and ambulances already, and then of taking care of victims immediate medical needs (calling an ambulance to take the injured victim to the hospital), which amounted to severe head trauma.  The body has been thrown from the car by the force of the accident and rests roughly 20 feet from the collision point. 
Method of Photography
The crime scene photographer in this case Officer Jones, would decide which method would best fit the scene, which types of photographs, equipment, and where to start from here (WDJSCL, 2003).  He must take care not to move, disturb, or alter any portion of the scene until the officer in charge, in this case the first responder, releases the scene after sketching and documentation has occurred by him or her.  In this case, Officer Jones decides that it is best to photograph the scene from the outside in.  After doing a video walkthrough of the scene making sure to pan from side to side and up and down Officer Jones begins at the police cars blocking the scene near the point of collision, he is taking care to follow the cardinal rules of composition in each photograph (Robinson, 2010). 
A Crime Scene at the National Museum of Crime ...
A Crime Scene at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
These are, composing the primary subject, determining the proper exposure, and focus the camera for each type of photograph, and piece of evidence (Robinson, 2010); he opens his notebook and documents the case number, date, time, location, his name, and the roll number of the film.  The first photograph he takes is of the paper that he documented for the photo identifier.  Next, he begins his photo log on the next sheet of paper documenting the same information, camera used, films ISO, and available light sources, along with the number of exposures listed in log form with sections for lens, light, shutter speed, f-stop, and description (Robinson, 2010).  Officer Jones notes on his photo log that it is a bright sunny day, and that he has electronic flash, UV, fluorescent, and natural lighting available to him.  He also notes that one of the people involved in the crash, was taken to the hospital before he arrived.  He looks around the scene, deciding that the only perishable evidence is the debris blocking the roadway in between the collision point and the police cars.
Type of Photographs
Police photo of parts of the victim
Police photo of parts of the victim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Officer Jones goes to the debris blocking the roadway and takes several photographs using overall, mid-range, and close up shots of this evidence.  He can see that the evidence trail begins roughly 50 ft away from the point of collision, and begins to move to 70 ft away in order to properly capture the entire scene.  The ISO is set to 100 to accommodate the midday sun and manual flash should be used with an aperture of f16.  He takes some overall shots from this vantage point, taking care to get on driver eye level, and to photograph in all angles.  Walking towards the point of collision he stops at the tire marks made by the vehicle trying to stop, and takes overall, mid-range, and close up shots, but also climbing the embankment to get an aerial view of the marks. He takes four photos of each tire mark, documenting that he is using a polarizer filter due to the bright sunlight and the individual picture from each end, the perpendicular shot, and one to show the true side of the mark (Robinson, 2010).   
English: A crime scene photo admitted into evi...
English: A crime scene photo admitted into evidence shows the wooded area where Caylee Anthony's body was found. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
He also takes care to shoot all traffic control devices, defects and condition of the road itself, and view all possible obstructions.  He should take precaution to determine the first point of perception, actual point of perception, and the point that cannot be corrected, resulting in the accident (Robinson, 2010).  Before getting into the actual accident trauma, photos should also be taken to capture all witness vantage points.  Next Officer Jones takes close up, midrange, and overall shots of the damaged and non-damaged areas of the car.  He also takes pictures of any damage to other damage to the scene such as guardrails or other objects that may show involvement or damage.  Exterior and interior views should be shot as well, making sure to document the entire exterior of the vehicles involved (Robinson, 2010).  In the inside, dashboard controls such as the speedometer can provide valuable evidence if stuck in position, shoes of people in the accident, light filaments, paint transfers, and safety equipment should also be photographed.  Overhead and under carriage views should also be taken, as the purpose of the types of photographs vary (Robinson, 2010). 
Officer Jones then moves to the outer edge of the scene where the body was thrown, and begins to photograph it.  A midrange photo is taken to provide relation of the placement of the body to fixed points in the scene Robinson, (2010).  An isosceles triangle is the best measure for these types of photographs.  The next series is a complete body panorama.  This consists of a facial shot, from right over the body, then two more shots with a normal 50mm lens one from head to toe, and another from toe to head.  Then left and right side views should be taken notes Robinson (2010). 
Purpose of Photographs and Evidence Captured
English: Footwear impressions left at a crime ...
English: Footwear impressions left at a crime scene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to WDJSCL (2003), overall shots capture the generalities of the scene including location, general conditions of the scene, and borders.  Overall shots should include a 360-degree view, and in this case, aerial shots are required because of the distance, the body was thrown.  The midrange photos show the details of the scene, focusing on position, where evidence is laying in relation to other parts of the scene, and relation of objects.  Close up shots capture specific position and detail of evidence.  WDJSCL holds that there is also specific evidence shots utilized to record select pieces of evidence like tire impressions, footprints, and fingerprints to name a few. 
Second Call – Night Time Convenience Store Robbery with Shooting
The second call that Officer Jones takes on this shift happens around 10 o’clock p.m., and dispatch advises that it is a robbery of a Seven Eleven located at 485 Jefferson Street, shots fired.  Once again, he grabs his camera bag and heads out the door.  When he arrives, he notices that the scene is roped off, there are witnesses, and onlookers, gathering around the perimeter of the scene, and the officer in charge informs him that the suspect fled the scene before he arrived, and the victim has not been moved.  An ambulance is on the way and a light rain is present. 
English: A crime scene. .
English: A crime scene. . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
He gets his video camera out, walking the scene panning side to side and up and down to get an overall view of everything in sight (Robinson 2010).  Officer Jones then opens his bag, hurriedly prepares a photo identifier marking the case number, date, time, location, his name, and roll number.  ISO should be set to 400 for nighttime scenes with manual flash mode to keep the reflection of the blood from affecting the picture.  He then takes the identifier picture, sets the photo log up, takes overall, midrange, and close up photos of a partial shoeprint in the store leading from the front entrance to the counter,  with a 50mm lens, and an off camera manual flash setting (Robinson, 2010).  The photo log contains the information from the photo identifier plus camera, lighting, and flash details along with a description of each photo taken.  Officer Jones then moves toward the victim to get pictures of placement and visible wounds while the clerk is still waiting on the ambulance.  He then goes outside to the perimeter of the scene, taking overall shots and vantage points of potential witnesses.  Documenting the pictures as he goes along.  Next, he takes overall and mid range pictures of the scene.  When he goes over to the counter, he notices several different types of evidence that require different techniques to photograph correctly, which we will discuss I the next section (Robinson, 2010).
Photographing Different Types of Evidence
Soldiers of the United States Army Criminal In...
Soldiers of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division inspecting a crime scene. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Blood spatter on wall behind counter needs to be videotaped during the walkthrough per Robinson(2010), and then Officer Jones would take both close up shots and mid range shots to document size, shape, and castoff (Schiro, n.d.).  Color or infrared film would be utilized depending if the wall were light or dark in color.  Scaled photographs should be taken as well with a ruler or coins to document the size.  Measure how high up and how low the spatter goes on the wall.  Slide film is used to capture the pattern displayed on the wall.  Be sure to include a yardstick or tape measure in this photo notes Schiro (n.d.).  Luminal can be applied around the area and UV light can make blood fluorescent when Luminal is applied and lights are turned off except the UV using ISO 400, f/5.6, and 90 seconds on the shutter speed.  One should take pictures of the same points with electronic flash as well to provide a basis for comparison and proof of original scene where blood may or may not be visible.  The same for the bloody clerk clothing, but luminal may not be necessary, as the blood will be visible (Schiro, n.d.). 
Other evidence such as a bullet casing behind counter and a medical supply bag will need to have midrange and close up photos to capture spatial and detailed records of placement, type, and size of the evidence (Robinson, 2010).  The package of cigarettes and the bottle of beer on the counter should be photographed as is first for spatial placement, then dusted for prints and photographed and documented to midrange, close up, and macro sizes.  This is done to capture the ridge detail of the fingerprints setting the lens at the closest focus point then move the camera closer to the object for close up detail using a high-resolution digital camera (Robinson, 2010). 
Human blood droplets. An example of a forensic...
Human blood droplets. An example of a forensics photograph of an imitation crime scene. A scale by a common object (United States Quarter) has been used. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The role of the crime scene photographer is to document the scene in its entirety notes Robinson (2010).  This is done for the purpose of investigators, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and jurors so that they may have a record throughout the entire time from discovery of the commission of a crime to the sentencing phase of a guilty verdict.  It is for this reason that crime scene photographers must know their craft, utilizing correct settings for each piece of evidence collected at a scene.  The experience and knowledge of the photographer could be the difference in a criminal going free and an innocent person jailed based on the details contained or left out in the photographic evidence. 

Robinson, E.M., (2010).  Crime Scene Photography: Second Edition.  Boston, Elsevier, Academic Press. 
Schiro, G.  (n.d.).  Louisiana State Crime Laboratory.  Bloodstain Photography.  Retrieved From:  http://www.crime-scene-investigator.net/phoblood.html
Staggs, S., (2005).  The Crime Scene Investigator Network.  Basic Crime Scene and Evidence Photography Kit.  Retrieved From:  http://www.crime-scene-investigator.net/equip.html
Wisconsin Department of Justice State Crime Laboratories, (WDJSCL), (2003).  Physical Evidence Handbook.  Retrieved From: http://www.crime-scene-investigator.net/Physical_Evidence_Handbook_WI.pdf

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