Autopsy photos are photographs taken of a body during the course of an examination by a coroner, medical examiner, or similar legal professional. These photographs are designed to supplement the written autopsy report which discusses the condition of the body and the manner of death, and they are entered into the permanent record on the case. Autopsy results, sometimes including photographs, are available to members of the public by request in certain regions of the world.
In some cases, a medical examiner retains an assistant who takes photographs throughout the autopsy process, documenting the steps taken by the medical examiner and the findings of the autopsy. Other medical examiners take their own autopsy photos. As with other forms of forensic photography, the goal with autopsy photos is to create an accurate, clear record without sensationalization. The medical examiner starts with overview photographs, documenting the body as it is brought into the lab and as it is stripped of clothing for examination. Then, the camera moves in for more detailed midrange shots, followed by focus on areas of interest.
Medical examiners use autopsy photos to document findings of note, ranging from distinctive bruises to trace evidence found on the body. They are also careful to take pictures before engaging in any activity which will disturb or damage evidence, as for example before making the Y-incision to access the body cavity for the purpose of examination. Photographs are also used to document the procedures used by the medical examiner in case these procedures are challenged in court or during the course of investigation.
In addition to being used in the autopsy report to document the state of the body, autopsy photos are also used in the course of an investigation to identify issues of interest, such as a boot print on a body which could be traced to a suspect, and they are used in court, to present the case. Police officers may also utilize the photographs to search for an identification of an unknown victim, distributing head shots so that people who recognize the victim can call with information.
Autopsies are usually conducted in the case of any suspicious or unattended death, and they may also be requested by doctors or hospitals when a patient dies for a reason which is not readily discernible, or when a doctor wants more information about the course of a patient's disease. Family members should be aware that while they can request a complete autopsy file, autopsy results can be traumatic to review, and it can be a good idea to ask for a simplified and redacted autopsy report to avoid seeing things which may arouse discomfort.