Crime scene photography is almost as old as photography itself. The ability to capture an environment as it lies is incredibly useful for crime scene investigators. This captures evidences and provides ways to find clues for solving a crime. Crime scene photography is a profession that most photographers do not think of first when choosing their photography career path.
Where can a crime scene photographer work? There are multiple applications for the skills of crime scene photographers. They can work in a variety of settings to help organizations better document and solve crimes. Some of these applications include:
- Police departments
- Coroner’s office
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Private Investigators
- Freelance Crime Scene Photography
Many of these workplaces are heavily intertwined, all with the goal of preserving evidence and using it to successfully solve crimes. Crime scene photographers are also referred to as “forensic photographers” and must be highly skilled, methodical, and detail-oriented to capture the scene. A variety of agencies hire these experienced photographers in varying capacities.
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Work Opportunities for Crime Scene Photographers
Crime scene photography centers mostly around government agencies that are responsible for solving crimes. These agencies are the ones who do most of the hiring for this sect of photography. Here are the different departments that hire crime scene photographers and what they use them for more specifically.
Of all the forensic photography jobs, police departments are almost exclusively responsible for hiring. They are the ones who must respond to a crime scene and try to solve a case. They will hire a crime scene photographer to show up and document every detail related to the crime. City governments hire crime scene photographers to work for their police department.
Police departments will either hire from within and put the person through on-the-job training or find a photographer with experience. Hiring those already hired by the police department is attractive as the individuals already have a clear understanding of law enforcement and the photographer’s role at a crime scene. Teaching the photography skills comes with practice.
Those who are hired outside of the department must have at least 3 years of experience to be considered, and more is preferred. These candidates must have superior photography skills that really emphasize detail and clarity. They can be taught about law enforcement and protocol as they work.
Many crime scene photographers recommend working in law enforcement before pursuing photography. This requires greater levels of education as the forensic field as a whole is competitive. Working at these agencies beforehand gives you the necessary experience in law enforcement and will provide you with better networking opportunities to secure the job.
A coroner’s office is used to hold and investigate the deceased related to a crime scene. The role of the coroner varies from scene to scene. They can be administrators or oversee how the body is handled. The coroner may be in charge of having the body transported to the morgue without ruining the crime scene or destroying evidence.
They are charged with determining the cause of death and overseeing any tests that need to be done postmortem. These tests are conducted by those with medical training, above the level of a coroner. After the photographer has been to the crime scene and taken the necessary evidence, they may be need to document injuries that were not visible at the scene.
Crime scene photographers may need to photograph a body once it has been transported to a morgue. A coroner can better determine issues related to the victim in the future if they have digital evidence from both the crime scene and during the physical examination at a morgue.
Photo evidence may be needed to:
- Document physical evidence of wounds and lacerations
- Reveal images of internal organs and body
- Show the body once it is undressed for research and evidence
These can then be used as further evidence in courtroom proceedings. A coroner may use these images as they testify at hearings and trials. The coroner’s office establishes detailed records of victims to be used against a suspect and aid in the solving of a case.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
The FBI uses crime scene photographers to assist in solving cases at the local, state, federal, and international levels. They employ highly trained scientific and technical photographers to provide all sorts of photographic evidence.
Photographers provide on-site documentation for a variety of incidents:
- Crime scenes: Employ similar tactics as police departments to accurately document overall shots of a crime scene as well as individual objects and pieces of evidence.
- Plane crashes: Aerial technology can show these atrocities from the air as well as document the area to determine how a plane landed.
- Bombings: Site details from photographs can determine the type of bomb, where it came from, the distance it came from, and more details surrounding the incident.
- Accident reconstruction: Photographs are taken and put into advanced software to reconstruct a crime scene digitally. This can tell you what the scene looked like before a crime and how different elements impact each other.
- Bullet Trajectory: Detailed and accurate photo evidence can be used to determine the trajectory, location, and direction of a bullet. This could give details into where the bullet came from and lead to more evidence and details surrounding the cause of the crime.
The advanced technology used by the FBI allows for geo-referencing of crime scenes, allowing for the creation of diagrams, reconstruction of a scenario, and gives agents the opportunity to interact with the scene and its surroundings digitally. All of these are possible with very clear and accurate photography taken by employees in the Photography Operations Program.
For crime scene investigations, superior technology allows for detailed imaging using:
- 360 spherical technology: Used for videos and still shots.
- Aerial photography: Shows a vivid image from above to gain perspective of the entire scene.
- High resolution still photography: Provides very detailed imaging of scenes and objects.
The resources available to photographers at the FBI are unmatched by most local and state police departments and other government agencies. These jobs are also highly competitive. Photographers at the FBI have degrees in photography, forensics, and criminal justice as well as certifications. They are highly skilled, have a clean record, and must pass security clearances.
Private investigators (PIs) are hired to investigate crimes by a client. They work independently but often in conjunction with law enforcement. They may be called to a crime scene to assist police or to serve the interests of their clients. Private investigators typically dive deeper behind the scenes, so photographers on the crime scene are less common and used more for surveillance.
These photography services are often required at the scene of a crime, but not necessarily during the active crime scene. Private investigators may hire crime scene photographers to document the area after the crime took place and take photos of other areas that may be related to solving a case.
Private investigators use photography for:
- Surveillance: Following suspects and recording their whereabouts with images in various locations. This is one of the most common uses for forensic photography in the private investigation field.
- Evidence: Can be used at the crime scene or desired locations that may be useful for the solving of a crime. This information can be taken to law enforcement, private clients, and anyone assisting a private investigator in their work.
Crime scene photographers are typically used to handle the detailed work during an active crime scene, but also possess the necessary skills to help document areas surrounding a crime. Private investigators do a lot of digging to get to the bottom of crimes and crime scene photographers can help them with excellent evidence and detailed observation in their shots.
Freelance Crime Scene Photography
Some crime scene photographers are not employed by a government agency but hired for specific jobs. This gives the photographer more flexibility as well as the ability to work with more clients and take on additional photography jobs. Freelance crime scene photographers are still hired by police departments and other government agencies for work.
Insurance companies and lawyers will also hire freelance crime scene photographers to investigate crimes. This could be related to fraud and other issues that may require the use of insurance, such as a car accident or a fire. Lawyers will also hire freelancers to gain evidence to strengthen their argument in a court case.
Freelancing is a good way to gain experience working with a variety of clients on many different types of crime scenes. It gives the photographer the opportunity to work in this career field with lots of options for career advancement into higher level jobs and different photography fields.
Freelance crime scene photographers should have the same skill sets and training as those hired by a police department or other governing agency. This role is typically filled by someone who had previous experience working in one of these departments directly.
How Does One Become a Crime Scene Photographer?
The demand for crime scene photographers will always be present as long as crimes occur. This is not a good thing for the safety of our communities, but it does suggest job security in this profession. There are different strategies as well as important skill sets toward becoming a crime scene photographer.
Skills and Education for Crime Scene Photography
Crime scene photographers must be incredibly detailed and aware of the specifics associated with proper and thorough investigation. This separates them from other types of photographers who work in lower pressure career fields.
Necessary Education for Crime Scene Photography
To be hired as a crime scene photographer, there are varying levels of education that a department may require. You must have a high school diploma or GED equivalent to be considered for this field of work. Many departments will also require or prefer an Associate’s degree. This can be in photography, criminology, forensics, or any related fields.
With an increasingly competitive market for photography jobs, many government agencies will choose someone with a Bachelor’s degree in photography. Online courses and certifications can also be obtained for forensic photography. These are catered to the skills and knowledge you will need on a job rather than a broader photography degree.
Internships are also a great way to obtain experience in the field and set your resume apart from other photographers. While they are not as common as in other career fields, police and fire departments do have opportunities for you to shadow experienced photographers. A more general photography internship can also provide you with the necessary experience.
Many crime scene photographers begin their careers in law enforcement as police officers and other related positions. Because crime scene photographers work most commonly with law enforcement, starting on the inside and branching out can be incredibly beneficial as you would have the knowledge of what strong photo evidence is needed.
Professional Certification for Crime Scene Photography
Once you are working as a crime scene photographer, the International Association for Identification offers a Forensic Photography certification. This certification shows that you are up to date on all practices and procedures associated with the career field. This will most definitely make you a preferential candidate when looking for new positions in the field.
The process for becoming certified is comprehensive, making this difficult for many crime scene photographers to qualify for and want to go through the process. This certification makes you more attractive to employers and proves your competency in the profession.
Requirements for the Forensic Photography certification include:
- At least 3 years of photography or digital imaging experience
- 40 hours of completed photography courses, college work, FBI training, police academies, or similar institutions
- Must be currently employed in a forensic science role that includes photography
- Submitting two letters of recommendation to obtain certification
If an applicant qualifies for all of these requirements, they will be required to take a 100 question written exam in three hours. This test is designed to prove their competency in photography skills. They may be given more rights and privileges related to assisting in a crime scene if they are known to have this certification.
Test topics for the IAI Forensic Photography certification include:
- History of Photography
- Digital Imaging
- Cameras and Lenses
- Composition Elements
- Lighting and Filters
- Depth of field and close-up photography
Because crime scene photography is so detailed, knowing the ins and outs of the craft is necessary to be deemed competent and skilled in your field.
Crime Scene Photography Skills
There are many skills required to be a good photographer, but even more specific skills associated with the detail and importance of working on a crime scene. Employers look for these skills in your work to make sure you can handle the high-stress environment.
Crime scene photographers are required to be:
- Calm and professional in violent and intense environments
- Detail-oriented to capture all necessary angles and shots
- Knowledgeable in crime scene protocol and law enforcement methods
- Proficient and up to date in all photography techniques and technology
Having a clear understanding of both photography skills and the workings of law enforcement are required in this profession. They are both equally necessary to properly conduct work. Missing a small detail may be the difference between solving a crime or not. Personality is one of the most essential factors for this job. It requires clear focus in a stressful environment.
There are certain types of shots that are required of a photographer to take on the job:
- Context images: Show a piece of evidence in the context of the crime scene or space
- Close-up images: Showing fine details of objects and scene materials
- Overall shots: Shows general layout and wide view of a crime scene to understand view the entire scope
Crime Scene Photography Jobs
Working as a crime scene photographer is not for the faint of heart. The job requires intense focus, great attention to detail, and an ability to handle seeing and accurately documenting gruesome and violent crimes. These photos must accurately represent the crime scene with little bias and be usable in a courtroom. They are the digital evidence that lives on.
With photography experience and ideally experience in forensics or law enforcement, a career in crime scene photography can be exciting and challenging. It offers lots of opportunity for career advancement, especially within law enforcement.
Beyond a police department, crime scene photographers are valuable in a coroner’s office, at higher government enforcing bodies such as the FBI, for private investigators, and for insurance companies and lawyers who can use the evidence to file claims and support their arguments in a courtroom.
Crime scene photography has many important uses, all meant to solve cases. If you are considering becoming a crime scene photographer, make sure your skills are sharp, you have an understanding of how law enforcement operates on a crime scene, and that you are prepared to face the challenges associated with working in a highly stressful and intense environment.