Evidence photography has come a long way in the last decade. Most departments have transitioned from taking Polaroids to digital. Although these new-age cameras are certainly high-tech and have a lot more power and control than their film predecessors, they are still only as good as the officer holding them.
Digital cameras aren’t tough to use, regardless of the make and model your department has issued. This month, we’ll look at a few simple tips aimed at improving our evidence photos, and at exposing the myth that digital cameras are “too tough” to use in the field.
More so than any other type of photography, the proper perspective is critical in law enforcement photos. Perspective isn’t something most of us think of when snapping away at our kid’s baseball game or on vacation with the family. However, it needs to be the first thing we think of when lifting the camera from the duty bag. The proper perspective of an evidence photo can save a case, or allow a criminal to walk out of the courtroom with freedom he didn’t deserve.
When taking an evidence photo, think as both a district attorney and a defense attorney. Make sure you document all angles and all viewpoints possible when collecting your shots. Whenever possible, take a photo from the view the offender would have seen when committing the offense. This will cut off the all-too-common “he couldn’t see clearly” defense a lawyer may throw out in court. This technique is especially useful when recording traffic collisions and crimes dealing with vehicles.
Also, be sure you note the time of day the photos were taken, as well as the approximate time of the offense. Was the photo taken after dark, even though the offense occurred in the late afternoon? This makes a huge difference in court. Sunlight can make a crime scene a lot more open, just as darkness can make the same scene look secluded and out of the view of potential witnesses. Also be sure to take as many pictures as you need to accurately represent the crime scene, which leads to our next point.
Digital Film is Cheap!
OK, so there really isn’t film in that digital camera, but that is exactly my point. The photos you are taking aren’t going to cost your department anything to develop, and they have the ability to sit on a computer for years not taking up any space. So, feel free to shoot away! Digital photos are cheap, but the evidence they provide can be the difference between life and death in any crime. Remember, you never know what little point of evidence will turn crucial in a case.
Be sure you take shots from every angle and perspective you can think of. If you don’t need them later, they can be deleted. However, if you need a shot you didn’t get while at the crime scene, it is likely lost forever. Don’t be afraid to shoot a ton of pictures. Your district attorney and department will thank you later for the little extra work you put in at the scene.