What is a Forensic Photographer?

ATTENTION HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

I have become well aware that there is a textbook used by many schools in which students are assigned the project of interviewing a forensic photographer. I have received many requests over the years, too many. Since I don't work full time as a forensic photographer (I use the skills within my crime scene analysis work), the questions don't apply to me. Please do NOT send me the list of questions from your textbook. And please tell your teacher that many other teachers are using the same book and that the same questions are being sent to the same people, over and over.


Forensic Photographer

A person skilled in the technical aspects of photography and knowledgeable of the specialized forensic requirements involved in the photographic documentation of evidence and in the presentation of photographic-based demonstrative evidence in court.

A Forensic Photographer must -- first -- be a highly competent photographer who can reliably take good quality photographs. A  Forensic Photographer is expected to produce clear and complete images which will adequately document the evidence items, injury, or scene. A Forensic Photographer must be able to produce good images of evidence items -- both wide and close up; crime and accident scenes (with the ability to recognize the significant elements); injuries on live bodies; and full documentation of dead bodies at the scene and at autopsy.

Forensic photography often requires an unusually high creative application of photographic principles and technology. Forensic photography is often done outside of the studio environment; in the real world where you have to find a way to get the shots you need without disturbing the scene. This is due to the fact that many forensic photography "targets" such as crime scenes,  bodies, explosives, and evidence items like bloodstains, body parts, fingerprints, etc are usually highly transitory, perishable items which will only be available to document for a limited time and/or which cannot be manipulated or positioned for the best photographic angles and lighting. 

Although evidence and crime scene photography are the most common tasks for forensic photographers, there is also a specialized area of image analysis. This includes such tasks as determining if an image has been manipulated (commonly called "photoshopped"); identifying persons, objects, or locations in an image; determining the type or model of the camera which took the image, and other related tasks. 

Additionally, while there are many highly skilled and experienced photographers, only a few understand the special legal requirements involved in producing images to be used in court, litigation, and/or legal documentation. 

It should also be understood that the complete duties of a Forensic Photographer have not been formally defined. Most agencies utilizing FP's have their own idea of what the role is and isn't. Many governmental agencies expect that a FP also be skilled in the use of video production and basic video editing and in the use of digital image editing software like Photoshop.

A Forensic Photographer should also be someone with the experience and credentials sufficient to qualify as an expert witness in court.


How Do You Become a Forensic Photographer?

To my knowledge, there are no accredited schools providing a degree or course of instruction in forensic photography. The most common path is simply to learn the basics of photography and then build up experience on-the-job while working for a law firm, law enforcement agency, crime lab, etc.

The accredited organization which certifies Forensic Photographers: The International Association for Identification. The requirements for certification are quite rigorous. You can learn about the requirements from the IAI website.


ATTENTION HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS

I have become well aware that there is a textbook used by many schools in which students are assigned the project of interviewing a forensic photographer. I have received many requests over the years, too many. Since I don't work full time as a forensic photographer (I use the skills within my crime scene analysis work), the questions don't apply to me. Please do NOT send me the list of questions from your textbook. And please tell your teacher that many other teachers are using the same book and that the same questions are being sent to the same people, over and over.