NOTE: This is the student outline for the Crime Scene Photography course in the Crime Scene Investigation Certificate Program at the University of California at Riverside. Instructor: Steven Staggs.
I. TECHNICAL PHOTOGRAPHY A. Basic equipment for crime scene photography 1. Camera(s) 2. Normal lens 3. Wide angle lens 4. Close-up lenses or accessories 5. Filters 6. Electronic flash(s) 7. Remote or sync cord for electronic flash(s) 8. Extra camera and flash batteries 9. Locking cable release 10. Tripod 11. Film 12. Owner's manuals for camera and flash 13. Notebook and pen 14. Ruler 15. Gray card 16. Index cards and felt pen 17. Flashlight B. Lenses 1. Normal lens 2. Wide angle lens 3. Other lenses C. Care and maintenance of crime scene photography equipment 1. Cleaning lens and camera 2. Camera repair 3. Protection from extreme heat and cold 4. Protection from rain D.Film 1. Color vs. black and white 2. Print film vs. slide film 3. Film speed 4. Matching film to the light source II. CRIME SCENE PHOTOGRAPHY IS TECHNICAL PHOTOGRAPHY. A. Photographs must be correctly exposed, have maximum depth of field, be free from distortion and be in sharp focus 1. Correctly exposed a. Exposure is controlled by the shutter speed and lens aperture b. Automated camera exposure systems and automatic flash units can be fooled and give incorrect exposures c. Front, side and back lighting d. Light meters e. Flair f. Using gray card g. Bracketing exposures 2. Maximum depth of field a. Depth of field is the area in a photograph in which objects are in sharp focus b. How to control depth of field c. Zone focusing (1) Preview depth of field 3. Free from distortion (must have good perspective) a. Use a normal focal length lens when ever possible b. Keep the camera as level as possible c. Photograph with the camera at eye level when ever possible 4. Sharp focus a. Keep the camera steady b. Focus carefully and use maximum depth of field c. Look at the frame of your scene III. FLASH AND NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY A. Types of flash illumination 1. Manual flash a. Set f/stop for the flash-to-subject distance 2. Automatic flash a. Uses distance ranges b. A change to a new range requires a change in f/stop c. Never work an automatic flash at its maximum range, especially in less than ideal conditions d. When in automatic flash, make sure the shutter speed dial is set to the flash synchronization speed e. When photographing a high key scene (light or reflective background) bracket <197> opening up one or two f/stops 3. Dedicated flash a. Sets correct flash synchronization speed when the flash is in operation. Still uses automatic sensor and ranges. The photographer must set the appropriate f/stop for the distance range OR b. Sets the correct flash synchronization speed and f/stop for the automatic range selected 4. Dedicated TTL (Through-the-lens) a. Uses a sensor inside the camera b. Use smaller f/stops for short distances and larger f/stops for long distances c. For compensation or bracketing use the exposure compensation dial B. Problems with electronic flash 1. Flash synchronization 2. Coverage a. Distances -- inverse square law of light b. Long distances when outdoors at night or at arson scenes 3. Reflective surfaces a. Automatic flash units can shut off too soon due to reflected light 4. Rain C. Lighting techniques 1. Electronic flash (NOTE:Disregard the light meter in the camera when using electronic flash) a. Flash mounted on camera b. Flash off camera c. Bounce flash (1) Bounce off a white or light colored surface (2) Manual flash: add the distance up and down for the flash-to-subject distance then figure in the absorbance loss (one to three f/stops) (3) Automatic flash with sensor facing the subject: use a range for two times or more times the actual flash-to-subject distance d. Multiple flash (1) Distance the flash units to provide the same f/stop for each flash 2. Available light (no electronic flash) 3. Painting with light a. The shutter is left open while the light source is moved around until all of the scene is properly illuminated b. Procedure (1) Mount the camera on a sturdy tripod (2) Equip the camera with a lens shade (if available) (3) Screw a locking cable release into the camera shutter release (4) Set the shutter speed dial to B (bulb) (5) Determine the f/stop based on the flash to subject distance (not the camera to subject distance) (6) Focus carefully (7) Depress the cable release and lock it to hold the shutter open (8) Fire the electronic flash to light areas of the scene. The number of flashes and angle of the flashes will depend on the size and character of the scene. Do not point the flash directly at the camera and keep yourself out of the view of the camera (9) Unlock the cable release and allow the shutter to close (10) Advance the film IV. CRIME SCENE PHOTOGRAPHY A. Purpose of Crime Scene Photography 1. To record the original scene and related areas 2. To record the initial appearance of physical evidence 3. It will provide investigators and others with this permanent visual record of the scene for later use 4. Photographs are also used in court trials and hearings B. Admissibility of photographic evidence 1. Three major points of qualification of a photograph in court a. Object pictured must be material or relevant to the point in issue b. The photograph must not appeal to the emotions or tend to prejudice the court or jury c. The photograph must be free from distortion and not misrepresent the scene or the object it purports to reproduce 2. You do not need to be an expert in photography to take crime scene photographs or testify about them V. GENERAL CRIME SCENE PHOTOGRAPHY A. Photographs are one way to record a crime scene 1. Field notes 2. Photographs 3. Sketches B. Photographs 1. What photographs can show 2. What photographs do not show C. Five steps in recording the crime scene 1. Secure the scene 2. Take preliminary notes 3. Take overview photographs 4. Make a basic sketch 5. Record each item of evidence D. Taking overview photographs 1. Purpose a. To show the scene exactly as it was when you first saw it (1) If something was moved before you arrived, don't try to reconstruct the scene as it was. The photographs should show the scene as you found it 2. Major crime photography a. First discuss the crime, evidence and photographs needed with other investigators at the scene b. Be careful not to destroy any evidence while taking the photographs c. Outside the scene (1) Exterior of the building where the crime occurred and in some cases the whole locale (2) Aerial photographs of the scene and the surrounding area can be useful in some types of cases (3) Original series of photographs should also show all doors, windows and other means of entrance or exit d. Inside the scene (1) Begin with a view of the entrance (2) Then photograph the scene as it appears when you first step into the room (3) Next, move around the room to get photographs of all the walls (a) These photographs should also show the positions of any potential items of evidence (4) Include photographs of other rooms connected with the actual crime scene 3. Using video to record the crime scene a. Frequently valuable to show an overview of the scene E. Photographs to record items of evidence 1. Take two photographs of each item of evidence a. One should be an orientation (midrange) shot to show how the item is related to its surroundings b. The second photograph should be a close-up to bring out the details of the object itself 2. Measuring and marking devices a. Take two photographs if a marking or measuring device is used (1) One photograph without the device, the other with the device (2) So the defence can't claim that the scene was altered or that the device was concealing anything important VI. PHOTOGRAPHING SPECIFIC CRIME SCENES Note:Each crime scene has unique characteristics and the type of photographs needed will be determined at the scene by the investigator familiar with the crime. A. Homicide 1. Use color film 2. Photographs (example: homicide inside a residence) a. Exterior of the building b. Evidence outside the building c. Entrance into the scene d. Room in which the body was found e. Adjoining rooms, hallways, stairwells f. Body from five angles g. Close-up of body wounds h. Weapons i. Trace evidence j. Signs of activity prior to the homicide k. Evidence of a struggle l. View from positions witnesses had at time of the crime (1) Use a normal lens m. Autopsy B. Suicide, other dead body calls 1. If there is any doubt, photograph the scene as a homicide C. Burglaries 1. Photographs (residential or commercial burglaries) a. Exterior of building b. Point of entry c. Entrance into scene d. Interior views e. Area from which valuable articles were removed f. Damage to locks, safe, doors, toolmarks g. Articles or tools left at the scene by the suspect h. Trace evidence i. Other physical evidence D. Assaults, injuries 1. Photographing injuries a. Face of victim in the photographs b. Bruises c. Bite marks (1) Orientation shot (2) Close-up at 90 degree angle to avoid distortion (3) Ruler in same plane as bite mark (4) Focus carefully (5) Bracket exposures 2. Equipment a. Always use color film and no filter b. Use color charts and rulers c. Flash unit with diffused lighting E. Traffic Accidents and Hit and Run Cases 1. Photographs at the accident scene a. Where the vehicles came to rest and in what position (1) Photographs should show the relationship of each vehicle with each other b. Damage to vehicles (1) Technical photographs of damage to a vehicle (a) Do not take any oblique or corner photographs to show damage for reconstruction purposes because they are not aligned with the axis of the vehicle. They tend to conceal the amount and direction of the damage. (b) Take six photographs. Two from each side in line with the axles. Take one of each end of the vehicle, straight on. If possible take one more from overhead (c) Use electronic flash to fill in shadows within the damage c. Debris or marks on the roadway d. View each driver had approaching the key point of the accident. e. View from the point a witness observed the accident, at witness' eye level f. Evidence to identify hit and run vehicles 2. Night photography a. Use multiple flash, paint with light or available light for extra long skidmarks or to show two vehicles some distance apart VII. USING FLASH FILL A. Steps 1. Set the shutter speed to the camera's flash synchronization speed (usually 1/60 second) 2. Use the camera's light meter to determine the correct f/stop. Set that f/stop on your lens. 3. With the flash on manual, find the flash to subject distance for the above f/stop. 4. Position the flash unit at that distance and take the photograph. VIII. PHOTOGRAPHING EVIDENCE A. Fingerprints 1. When to photograph fingerprints a. Before lifting on major cases or if the latent may be destroyed when lifting b. To bring out detail in a latent 2. Equipment a. 1:1 cameras and copy cameras b. 35mm cameras with macro or close-up lens attachments c. Gray card for available light exposures 3. Films a. Well defined fingerprints can be photographed with color film but black and white film provides more contrast and is preferred for latent print photography (1) Kodak T-MAX film. Develop in T-MAX developer while increasing the development time by 25% for increased contrast. (2) Kodak TECHNICAL PAN 2415 film has a variable contrast range between high and low and a variable speed of ISO 25 to 320. (a) For high contrast expose at ISO 100 and develop in HC-110 (3) Kodak KODALITH film for highest contrast (a) Packaged as Kodak Ektagraphic HC Slide Film (HCS 135-36) and has an approximate ISO of 8. (b) If developed in D-76 or HC-110 there will be a limited gray scale. (4) Ilford XP-2 black and white film can be processed in color processors (a) ISO 400, fine grain with good sharpness & resolution can be processed in C-41 color chemistry 4. Filters a. Color filters, when used in black and white photography, can be used to build contrast by either lightening or darkening the subject (latent print) or by lightening or darkening the background (background drop-out) (1) To lighten a color, the color filter closest to the color is used (2) To darken a color, the opposite color filter is used (3) See Filter Chart for examples 5. Procedures a. Establish the location of the latent b. Close-up to show detail (1) A 1:1 camera or device must be used, or (2) A scale must be included in the photograph on the same plane as the latent (3) Photograph with the film plane parallel to the latent surface (4) Get as much depth of field as possible, especially for curved surfaces c. Exposure (1) Available light exposures of latents with normal contrast can be metered using a gray card (2) Bracketing may reveal more detail in "low contrast" latents. (a) Underexposing the film will separate the steps on the white end of the gray scale. Overexposure will separate the steps on the black end of the gray scale. (b) The latitude for black and white film is generally two stops underexposure and six stops overexposure. d. Specific types of fingerprint subjects (1) Normal, dusted prints (a) Usually can be photographed with no problem (2) Impressions in soft substances (wax, putty, clay, adhesive tape, grease, etc.) or in dust (a) Use cross lighting at an oblique angle (b) Preview with flashlight lighting (3) Porous surfaces (a) May need to use close to a 90 degree lighting angle (b) Preview with flashlight lighting (4) Glass and mirrors (a) Glass -- place white card or cloth behind glass, use low oblique angle of light (5) Perspiration prints on glass (a) Use back (transmitted) lighting and diffusion screen (6) Ninhydrin fingerprint (a) Use normal black and white film (T-MAX or PLUS-X) with a green filter and increase development time 25% B. Impressions 1. Footprints and tire tracks a. Procedure (1) Take an orientation photograph to show where in the scene the impression is located (2) Take a close-up for detail (a) Use a scale on the same plane as the impression (b) Keep the film plane parallel to the plane of the impression (c) Block out ambient light and use a strong light source at different angles to find the light angle(s) that shows the best detail in the impression -- then put the electronic flash or light source at that angle for the photograph (3) Photograph tire impressions in sections showing one circumference of the tire (a) Use a tape measure for overlapping photographs C. Bloodstain photography 1. Use color film 2. Orientation photographs to show locations of bloodstain evidence at the scene 3. Close-up photographs to show detail a. Use a scale on the same plane as the bloodstain b. Keep the film parallel to the plane of the bloodstain c. Use a low oblique light angle D. Toolmarks E. Serial numbers F. Small items, copying, etc. 1. Close-up lenses and devices 2. Lighting
For 34 years Steven Staggs was a forensic photography instructor and trained more than 4,000 crime scene technicians and investigators for police and sheriff departments, district attorney offices, and federal agencies. He was also a guest speaker for investigator associations, appeared as a crime scene investigation expert on Discovery Channel's Unsolved History, and provided consulting to law enforcement agencies.
Steve has extensive experience in crime scene photography and identification. He has testified in superior court concerning his crime scene, evidence, and autopsy photography and has handled high profile cases including a nationally publicized serial homicide case.
Steve is the author of two books on crime scene and evidence photography, the text book Crime Scene and Evidence Photography and the Crime Scene and Evidence Photographer's Guide. The guide is a field handbook for crime scene and evidence photography, which sold over 10,000 copies and has been in use by investigators in more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies.
Steve retired in 2004 after 32 years in law enforcement, but continued to teach forensic photography and crime scene investigations at a university in Southern California. He is the President of Crime Scene Resources and Webmaster of the Crime Scene Investigator Network, the world's most popular Crime Scene Investigation and Forensic Science website (www.crime-scene-investigator.net).