Crime Scene Investigator Network

Crime Scene Investigator Network Newsletter

MARCH 2021

Lighting Methods for Copy and
Evidence Close-up Photography

Steven Staggs

Since most laboratory photography is made with steady burning lights (quartz lamps, photoflood lamps, fluorescent lamps, etc.) it is relatively easy to choose the best lighting method for photographing a specific item of evidence. All you need to do is try different lighting methods while looking in the camera's viewfinder, and select the method that gives the best results. The following lighting methods are effective for photographing various evidence subjects.

45-degree lighting

45-degree lighting uses one or more lights positioned at 45-degree angles. If only one light is used, a white or silver reflector can be placed on the opposite side of the evidence to reflect some of the light back toward the evidence, reducing shadows.

45-degree lighting is used for photographing the average item of evidence where the objective is to show the item's shape and size.

Direct reflective lighting

In direct reflective lighting the light is reflected directly off the subject into the lens. This is done by placing the subject at a 10-degree angle from the lens to film plane and placing the light source at a 10-degree angle from the subject. The light source reflects at a 20-degree angle into the lens.

Direct reflective lighting is used to minimize shadows within the evidence. However, this method creates very high contrast and does not show the dimensional shape or texture of the evidence. Also, the light source may need to be diffused to prevent hot spots.

Oblique lighting

Oblique lighting uses a light source positioned at a low angle. Oblique lighting is usually used to show detail by creating shadows on the surface of the evidence.

Oblique lighting is commonly used when photographing impressions, tool marks and certain types of fingerprints. A very low oblique angle of lighting can be used to photograph dusty footwear impressions and indented writing.

Bounce lighting

Bounce lighting uses light bounced off a white or reflective surface. The bounce surface may be positioned at different locations (above or to one side of the subject) to create the desired effect. This usually produces even non-glare lighting with low contrast.

Diffused lighting

Diffused lighting uses an opaque material placed between the light source and the subject to soften the light. This usually results in even lighting with reduced reflections and hot spots. The opaque material can be as simple as a section of a white bed sheet or an empty water bottle, or can be a commercial device designed for laboratory photography.

Diffused lighting is usually used for photographing evidence with shiny or reflective surfaces.

Transmitted lighting

Transmitted lighting uses light that shines through the evidence toward the camera's lens. The background becomes shadow-free. The angle of the transmitted lighting can be adjusted from 90-degrees to 45-degrees for the desired effect.

Transmitted lighting is used for photographing transparent or translucent subjects. It is effective in photographing evidence such as a fingerprint on a drinking glass.

< read the complete article and view example photographs >

The information presented in this article is from the book Crime Scene and Evidence Photography, 2nd Edition © 2014 by Steven Staggs

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This Month's Featured Resource on the Crime Scene Investigator Network Website

Erika Di Palma, Yvette Gonzalez and Roger W. Vargo
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Scientific Services Bureau

This interactive guide covers the following topics:

  • General crime scene photography
  • Night time available light photography
  • 2D shoe impressions
  • 2D latent/patent impressions
  • 3D shoe and tire track impressions
  • Painting with light - Insufficient light or large area
  • Alternate light source photography - Photography of seminal fluid
  • Luminol photography
  • Aerial photography
  • Depth of field, shutter speed and ISO chart

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department has made this interactive PDF available free of charge. The PDF may be saved on your smartphone for access at a crime scene.

<Read/download the Publication>

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Crime Scene Technician
Tacoma Police Department, Tacoma, Washington, USA

Final Filing Date: March 18, 2021
Detecting, collecting, preserving, packaging, and transporting evidence; Processing for latent fingerprints; Performing forensic photography and producing crime scene diagrams. Crime Scene Technicians also prepare comprehensive written reports and testify in courts of law.
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Forensics Manager
Orlando Police Department, Orlando, Florida, USA

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Forensic Technician
Santa Monica Police Department, Santa Monica, California, USA

Final Filing Date: March 25, 2021
Conducts entry-level crime scene investigations. Documents, collects, and preserves physical and biological evidence including fingerprints and DNA. Performs field and laboratory processing of physical evidence collected at crime scenes and performs subsequent chemical processing for the detection of latent fingerprints and DNA.
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Evidence Technician
North Carolina Department of Justice, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA

Final Filing Date: March 18, 2021
Evaluating, inventorying, and receiving incoming evidence submissions. Ensuring the proper identification, barcoding, and remediation of items of evidence. Proper storage placement of evidence and record of chain of custody. Delivery and pick up of evidence to/from assigned sections.
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Forensic Scientist I, Forensic Biology
North Carolina Department of Justice, Hendersonville, North Carolina, USA

Final Filing Date: March 16, 2021
The Forensic Scientist I is an entry level forensic scientist professional that analyzes forensic evidence in a crime laboratory setting. Employees examine and analyze evidence from simple to moderately complex casework for chemical indications of the presence of blood and/or other body fluids and/or perform a DNA typing test to determine the donor of a particular body fluid.
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Forensic Toxicologist or Trainee
Department of Forensic Science, Roanoke, Virginia, USA

Final Filing Date: March 29, 2021
The candidate will independently analyze human fluids and tissues in postmortem, DUI/D and other criminal cases using chemical and instrumental methodologies, critically evaluate data, prepare Certificates of Analysis, and interpret and defend results in courts of law.
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Criminalist I - Pattern Evidence
New Hampshire Division of State Police, Forensic Lab Unit, Concord, New Hampshire, USA

Final Filing Date: March 17, 2021
Conducts chemical and physical analyses and comparisons on specimens of physical evidence in the Pattern Evidence (e.g., fingerprints, footwear, impressions, tire tracks) unit in connection with criminal investigations, and testifies as an expert in criminal trials.
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Medical Examiner Investigator
Macomb County, Mount Clemens, Michigan, USA

Final Filing Date: March 18, 2021
Under direction, performs investigations of deaths that occur within Macomb County; prepares detailed reports and analysis on investigation of cases; ensures that evidence, death scene and specimens are preserved for authenticity in cooperation with local law enforcement activities;
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