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.
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.
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.
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.