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What are Crime Scene Photographs?

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  • Written By: Margo Upson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 28 October 2016
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One of the most important tools that a crime scene investigator has is the pictures taken at a crime scene. Crime scene photographs are used to record the crime scene in its original form, before evidence is collected and anything is moved around. Taking crime scene photographs, on either 35 millimeter film or with a digital camera, is one of the most important steps to processing a crime scene because it allows investigators to view the crime scene weeks, months or even years after the crime took place.

Crime scene photographs are important for preserving a record of the original crime scene. Photographs are normally taken at three levels: overall, mid-level and close-up. Overall shots show the overall crime scene. Mid-level shots show distances and relationships between objects. Close-up shots show the details of evidence or anything else relevant to the crime.

It is important that these photographs are taken before anyone has the chance to wander through the crime scene, potentially moving things from their original location. It is done after the nature of the crime has been determined and a general theory about the crime has been put together. This theory, which may include the criminal's entrance and exit points, any potential weapons and how the crime was committed, will help to direct the photographer towards the shots that need to be taken.

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After they have been taken and developed, crime scene photographs become an essential part of the case file. Even though a sketch of the crime scene will also be created, the photographs provide investigators with the opportunity to return to the original crime scene to look for anything that may help to solve the case. Crime scene photographs can help investigators remember little nuances of the crime scene, and can be compared to witness and victim testimonies, allowing for accuracy checks.

Crime scene photographs are considered visual evidence, and can be used in court cases. The pictures must use scales, where appropriate. For example, the size of blood splatters could be shown by placing a quarter, or other small and easily identifiable object, on a clean surface near the splatters. The camera angles used must also be taken into consideration. Overall views of the crime scene must be taken from several different angles. Pictures of smaller objects and areas should also be shown from several different perspectives. In order for pictures to be usable, they must also be clear, without distracting dirt marks on the lens, deep shadows or blurring that would make details difficult to see.

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ZsaZsa56
Post 3

I saw an exhibition of actual crime scene photographs from prohibition era New York. I think they usually avoid displaying that kind of stuff publicly, but so much time had passed and many of the crime scenes depicted correspond to famous events.

gravois
Post 2

Do the police keep photos of a crime scene forever? And are all the pictures that they take stored in digital formats these days? I ask just because it is amazing to think of all the crime scene photos that will be stored going into the future. One day it will constitute a vast and macabre archive, but one that it will be vital to preserve.

summing
Post 1

I friend of mine has a huge blown up copy of a forensic crime scene photo that he had framed and hung on his wall. It is not of a body or anything but it does have the chalk outline and some faint hints of blood.

It is an interesting idea for an art project. When you think of crime scene photos you only really think about the documentary aspect of it. But they have an aesthetic dimension as well. The police tape, the blocky outline, the menace suggested by the familiarity of the entire scene. It makes for an oddly compelling wall hanging.

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