Forensic-photographer-credit-jack-spades_bannerForensic photographer © Jack Spades

Forensic Photographer

Industries:
Photo Imaging
Personality type:
Scientist
Departments:
Photographers

The lowdown

  • Producing a permanent visual record of accidents and crime scenes for use as evidence in court, and for measurement and analysis

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • have a thorough grasp of photographic principles, particularly those involving non-standard techniques, such as high-intensity and low-level aerial imaging
  • have excellent technical skills in photo imaging
  • appreciate the importance of your work
  • take a precise approach to image and data recording
  • be highly organised
  • pay close attention to detail
  • use the best equipment and techniques for each different environment and lighting condition
  • capture images that have maximum depth of field, are free from distortion and are in sharp focus
  • have a solid grounding in police methods
  • possess a sound understanding of anatomy
  • take images that record the appearance of physical evidence without appealing to the emotions of those judging a case
  • keep detailed records of the location the image was taken, the type of camera and lens used, and whether flash or artificial lights were used
  • have good communication skills in dealing with a wide range of professionals
  • demonstrate tact and discretion in dealing with victims of crime

What does a Forensic Photographer do?

Forensic Photographers produce a permanent visual record of accidents and crime scenes for use as evidence in court. Forensic photographs are used for measurement or analysis, to accompany forensic reports, articles or research papers.

They must be able to produce detailed recordings of all the available evidence at the scene, including overview photographs as well as accurate images of tyre marks, fingerprints, footprints, blood spatters, bullet holes and other unique evidence.

They must also be able to take detailed photographs of injuries sustained through accidents or assaults and may be required to photograph dead bodies. Much of the work is routine, but it can be emotionally distressing.

Forensic photography is an integral part of criminal investigation procedures throughout the world. Photographers must therefore follow a standard methodology and produce images to a rigorous technical standard so that they can be used as evidence in hearings, tribunals and court proceedings. Forensic Photographers are expected to work efficiently in distressing and challenging environments, without disturbing evidence or interfering with the work of other investigators.

Many Forensic Photographers are forensic scientists employed directly by the police or a specialist forensic services company. They work pre-defined shifts, are part of an on-call rota and enjoy the benefits of a salaried post. There are also other independent Forensic Photographers who provide services to lawyers, insurance companies and some police forces. However, most of these will have worked as Forensic Photographers with a police force or the Forensic Science Service before branching out on their own.

Will I need a qualification?

To become a Forensic Photographer, you will normally start out as a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) or a Scene of Crime Officer (SOCO). The qualifications you will need to gain work as a CSI or SOCO are good passes at GCSE or Standard Grade, including English and either science or maths, and at least one A-level or Higher in a science subject.

If you are considering taking a photo imaging course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the photo imaging industry and awarded the Creative Skillset Tick for the high standard of education they provide and the extent to which they prepare you for a photo imaging career:

Photo imaging courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

The LBIPP offered by the BIPP (British Institute of Professional Photography) has a good reputation with employers.

Employers may support work-based qualifications, such as Apprenticeships and NVQ/SVQs.

In smaller forces, CSIs cover their own forensic photography requirements after an intensive training course in forensic photography, which is often conducted at Centrex, the Central Police Training and Development Authority centre.

You could also take a specialist course dealing with forensic photography and forensic imaging, or a forensic science degree course that includes a photo imaging module. More specialised training in fingerprints, footwear, vehicle examination, lighting and documents is often conducted within the photographic units of the police forces or forensic science companies.

You are likely to be subject to physical stresses from carrying heavy camera gear indoors and out, in all seasons, come rain or shine. You should therefore seek training about appropriate techniques for lifting and moving equipment. You would also need to understand Health & Safety legislation and manage the risks associated with the use of electrical lighting, equipment and props.

What’s the best route in?

To become a Lead Photographer in a Forensic Photography Unit, you will usually need to have a strong background and qualification in photography. However, most Forensic Photographers start as Crime Scene Investigators (CSIs) or Scene of Crime Officers (SOCOs) before specialising in photography and forensic imaging.

It is not necessary to have a formal photographic education in order to gain work as a CSI. That said, a photographic qualification or previous photographic experience will often enhance the chances of selection.

Once working as a CSI, you will usually receive general training in crime scene photography at Centrex, the Central Police Training and Development Authority or on an approved university short course.

Further specialist training is often conducted in-house by the Forensic Science Service and other forensic service companies.

Most forensic scientists in the UK are currently employed by the Forensic Science Service (in England and Wales), by specific police forces (in Scotland), and by regional government (in Northern Ireland).

You might also be employed by private companies which also specialise in providing primary forensic science services to the police. Aside from these, there are a number of other organisations which focus on specific areas of forensic science such as fire investigation, questioned documents, and advising the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence.

You could also gain work providing services to the insurance industry and legal profession. Again, the route in is usually to have been a CSI or photographer working within the armed forces as a Staff Photographer, having received training in forensic photography before branching out into independent work.

Vacancies for Forensic Photographers are advertised in the national press and in specialist journals such as New Scientist and the British Journal of Photography.

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