What is Crime Scene Photography? (with pictures)

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Crime scene photos are often used as demonstrative evidence.
Crime scene photos are often used as demonstrative evidence.

Crime scene photography is a branch of the field of photography which is focused on taking accurate photographs of crime scenes and criminal evidence, so that these photographs can be used in the investigation of crimes and in the prosecution of criminal activity. Some police departments and law enforcement agencies retain professional crime scene photographers who have received special training in forensics and photography, while others rely on officers who can take photographs in addition to investigating.

Law enforcement agencies hire crime scene photographers to take pictures of crime scenes.
Law enforcement agencies hire crime scene photographers to take pictures of crime scenes.

People have been taking photographs of crime scenes since the camera was invented, realizing that photography could be a powerful tool in criminal investigation. Modern crime scene photography is designed to create an accurate, detailed, and truthful image of the scene, and to meticulously document both the scene and the subsequent criminal investigation.

The first people allowed into a crime scene are the photographers who document the whole area.
The first people allowed into a crime scene are the photographers who document the whole area.

Crime scene photographers are the first ones allowed into a crime scene. They start by taking overviews of the scene, providing a context, and they slowly move in to take midrange shots and closeups of specific areas of interest. They must frame images carefully to retain relevance and scale, and they may include evidence markers, rulers, and other tools to provide context and references. Crime scene photographers try to work without disturbing the scene so that detectives can see an untainted scene, and they also document the investigation of the crime scene, including the tagging and removal of evidence.

Officers can use crime scene photography in crime scene reconstruction and the investigation of a crime. The photographs may also be used in interrogations, and in the courtroom, to provide the judge and jury with evidence of what the scene looked like. For example, in a stabbing, the photographs could show the knife as it was found at the scene, along with documenting the path of the knife through evidence.

Digital cameras have vastly expanded the field of crime scene photography, as they allow photographers to shoot indiscriminately, capturing every possible relevant detail at the scene, including shots of the crowd around the crime scene which may be useful later. Photographers in this field tend to err on the side of excess, believing that it is better to sift through hundreds or thousands of pictures than to miss something by being conservative with the camera.

Training in crime scene photography is offered by several law enforcement organizations, and some people also learn on the job. In addition to requiring photographic skills, the field also requires forensic skills, such as knowledge about how to retain the integrity of a scene, how to handle evidence, and how to take photographs which will be admissible in court as evidence.

Although this branch of the field of photography is practical in nature, some crime scene photographs have become works of art in their own rights, in addition to being useful evidence. For example, snapshots of crowds present at lynchings have been displayed in museums and art galleries.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Scrbblchick

Crime scene photography has been around for over 100 years. My dad was always interested in the Lizzie Borden case, and there are a lot of photos of those scenes -- some more gruesome than others.

I guess most people have run across the morgue photos of the Jack the Ripper victims. Those are really bad. At least they're in black and white.

But crime scene photography documents a scene in a permanent form and lasts long after human memory of it has dimmed.

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    • Crime scene photos are often used as demonstrative evidence.
      Crime scene photos are often used as demonstrative evidence.
    • Law enforcement agencies hire crime scene photographers to take pictures of crime scenes.
      Law enforcement agencies hire crime scene photographers to take pictures of crime scenes.
    • The first people allowed into a crime scene are the photographers who document the whole area.
      The first people allowed into a crime scene are the photographers who document the whole area.