The Three Main Types of Crime Scene Photographs

Smash & Grab Burglary

The goal of photographing a crime scene is not just to document the items present on scene. Good crime scene photography establishes information relevent to the criminal act. Criminal acts are defined by criminal statutes. As such, there are typically a number of “elements” or conditions that must be met to show that a crime has been committed (let alone who committed it). While every crime scene is different and may require specilized photographs to be taken (like aerial), there are three main types of photographs that CSI’s generally take.

Overall Photograph

The “Overall” photograph depicts the location of the crime scene or area of interest. It may be a photograph of a building, a vehicle, a field, etc. It shows the jury where the crime was committed or a particular area of interest where evidence was found. It may also show things like security barriers (crime scene tape), people on scene, damage to a structure, or general weather conditions but those are incidental.

Mid-range photo showing damage on the wall relative to furniture

The “Mid-range” photograph is the second type taken by CSIs. Some people mistakenly believe that the mid-range photo is just a “closer” photograph than the overall one because sometimes they document the same areas. But the purpose of the mid-range photograph is to document relationships between items of evidence or areas of importance (such as how close is the gun to the victim or the location of bloodstains to the point of entry) .  Mid-range photographs are the most common type of photograph shown to juries because they tend to support theories, reconstructions, or statutory elements of the crime.

Close-up photo showing condition of revolver cartridges

The last type of photograph is the “close-up”. These are also referred to as “identification” photographs because they are intended to “identify” a person, place, or thing to the jury or others not at the scene. This may include photographs of a victim’s face, a fingerprint, or a vehicle.  In court, they may be used to establish that the item of evidence being introduced is the same item recovered at the crime scene. Sometimes they show the “condition” of the item as it was encountered by the criminalist. It may be a vehicle parked haphazardly, a gun with a reddish-brown stain later determined to be the victim’s blood, or a forged check.

Many of you may not want to get into this level of procedural detail in your novel but the distinctions between these photos may assist you in describing what your characters are seeing or noting. “Hey, look how the suspect parked his vehicle on top of his neighbor’s trash can…maybe he was drinking. We should get a picture of that”. You get the point.

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About forensics4fiction

Hi there. Thank you for visiting my BLOG for crime writers. I hope you will find it interesting. I would love to hear your questions and thoughts regarding forensics and criminal investigations. I hope that the information here will help answer your questions or ignite your imagination. I am a retired senior criminalist with 15 years of forensic experience. I have served as the president of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, Rocky Mountain Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, and the Rocky Mountain Division of the International Association for Identification. I am triple board certified in forensic related fields and one of only 40 board-certified bloodstain pattern analysts and 80 board-certified footwear examiners worldwide In addition to writing over 60 scientific papers, I have worked as the editor of the Journal of the Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction, been interviewed by and consulted for television, books, magazines, and newspaper articles including documentaries on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic.

Posted on May 26, 2011, in The Crime Scene and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.


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