Watch the Flash
One of the most common mistakes in evidence photography is the use, or misuse, of the camera’s flash. A flash can be a great tool, but it can also erase evidence quicker than it records it. We’ve all seen the shots of a suspect’s face that appears whiter than a headlight. Don’t make that mistake twice!
Flash photography can be of great use, but only when used correctly. The camera will try to figure out what you want it to illuminate with the flash by focusing on the object closest to the center of the viewfinder. Here’s a photo trick to get great flash shots at night. Have a fellow officer shine a flashlight right at what you want to focus the picture on. Depress the shutter (the button that takes the picture) halfway, allowing the camera to focus on that exact spot. Then, have your buddy turn his flashlight off and take your shot, holding still. The camera will fire the flash to illuminate the area you have already focused on, giving you a perfect shot. This little trick should greatly improve your flash photography at night.
If you have the ability to do so, try taking those close-up photos of people inside a well-lit building. Turn the flash off and let the camera take the shot using the available light in the room. This will normally turn out a lot better than a whited-out flash shot taken outdoors.
Remember, with digital cameras you have the ability to check your work right after the shot, which leads to our next point.
Check it Out
The beauty of a digital camera lies in the ability to check your work right after the shot. Film left us clueless on what the photo would look like until it came back from the photo lab. Even Polaroids didn’t do the trick as well as digital cameras do today. Once you take the picture, check your work! Look at the LCD screen on the camera to make sure you’ve gotten the shot you wanted. If not, take another one or even a few more until you’re satisfied with the photo.
Digital cameras have advanced law enforcement evidence photography a long way in a very short time. However, this technology is only useful if all officers can use it to their advantage in the field. You don’t always have time to call for the evidence technicians or your department’s resident “camera guy.” Using these simple tips should give you a leg up when recording those crucial details at your next crime scene.
For additional reading on protecting crime scenes and gathering evidence, read Crime Scene Response for the Patrol Officer (POLICE, January, 2006). – Ed