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Forensic Photographer


Description

The person who walks around a crime scene snapping photographs is called a forensic photographer. Using computers, cameras and related visual equipment, forensic photographers record visual and legal evidence at the scene of a crime, in hospitals or in a forensic laboratory. They attempt to depict the crime scene from multiple angles, using multi-functional cameras, and through different lens sizes and distances. They develop visual aids and charts for lectures and the presentation of evidence and provide a permanent evidential record for use in court.

Forensic photography is a sector of scientific photography focusing on criminal evidence. Forensic photographers use a variety of specialized materials and techniques, including infrared and ultraviolet films, macro-photography, photomicrography, photogrammetry and sensitometry. However, they also work for personal injury lawyers and other law firms to help build evidence for cases. These photographs are used mostly for negligence, injuries, vehicle accidents, medical malpractice and products liability cases.

Forensic photographers usually specialize in an area, such as hospital or crime scene photos. The primary differences between these specialities lie in the subject matter, work site, type of equipment used, and the amount of training and precision required for design and composition of the photograph. Yet, all forensic photographers use the same basic technical skills, unless they are operating sophisticated machinery for a particular project. They concentrate on lighting, shutter speeds, camera settings, apertures, lenses and developing. Forensic photographers either use traditional cameras with 35mm film, digital cameras or other scientific devices and instruments that record images electronically. Also, their tasks are very specific, serving the investigative needs of detectives, doctors, morticians and researchers. Digital and computer-aided photography is playing an ever-increasing role in forensic photography.

Forensic photographers take photographs using their knowledge of specific forensic procedures. With photographs used in the courtroom, forensic photographers must make sure they use the proper lenses so that their photographs will be admissible by a judge in a courtroom. They must also have a good understanding of human anatomy since they take photographs of human bodies and try and use angles that will capture a convincing image. They may work closely with medical illustrators, police and doctors to prepare presentations for court trials, lectures or textbooks.

This is a highly technical field, using specialized techniques such as ultraviolet and infrared photography, fluorescence, and even x-rays to obtain information. Photographers often use very delicate instruments, such as optical microscopes, attached to a camera. Today, with microscope adapters and strobes that can fire at unbelievably fast speeds, photography's partnership with forensic science seems limitless and shows us worlds invisible to the naked eye.

At times forensic photographers may find the job to be very emotional and heartbreaking since a majority of their photographic subject matter is of the injured and deceased or anything ruinous or sad. Eventually, forensic photographers get used to photographing such images and learn how to deal with grieving victims.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Entry Level Salary:
$14,640
 
Average Salary:
$24,040
 
Maximum Salary:
$49,920

  Interests and Skills  
What does it take to become a forensic photographer? Besides having a fascination for criminology, science and photography, they must have extensive, detailed knowledge of these areas. They must have great manual dexterity, be detail oriented and have a good sense of timing. Those who work with people must have great communication skills, patience and have the ability to put people at ease who are being photographed. Successful forensic photographers enjoy composing and arranging innovative pictures and working with cameras and new scientific technologies.

Since a forensic photograph can be recorded in a hundred different ways, it is up to the forensic photographer to use proper lighting, composition and other techniques to present that crime scene in the best, most imaginative way possible. Forensic photographers that constantly practice their skills in order to become professionals are most likely to succeed.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with police, detectives, hospitals or scientific companies and promptly determine the type of equipment needed
  • Select appropriate cameras and recording machinery, such as ultraviolet and infrared photography or x-rays
  • Study requirements of a particular assignment and decide on type of camera, film and lighting to be used
  • Determine picture composition, make technical adjustments to equipment and photograph
  • Study a scientific or forensic area and familiarize oneself with scientific data
  • Adjust cameras for desired focus, exposure, composition and other settings
  • Choose lenses designed for close-up, medium range or distance photography
  • Select the type of film, filters and lighting equipment (i.e. electronic flashes, floodlights or reflectors)
  • Set up lights to achieve the best balance and the most flattering illumination for the subject
  • Take numerous photographs and choose from the best
  • Test and maintain all equipment
  • May process and develop exposed film in darkrooms
  • Working conditions for forensic photographers vary depending on the type of photographs one takes. Forensic photographers may work both indoors and outdoors and be routinely required to lift photographic equipment. Due to the wide variety of assignments, scientific photographers' working hours and environments are extremely varied. Also, the job can get very emotional and stressful, therefore forensics photographers must be constantly prepared to deal with such issues.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Forensic photographers work for hospitals, photographic studios, newspapers, magazines, pharmaceutical companies, lawyers and private detectives. Some are employed by the government and police force, while others may be self-employed. In fact, half of forensic photographers either work as independent freelancers or full time for a specialized company.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Since the fields of professional photography and forensics are quite competitive, versatility is an important and often critical element in obtaining work as a forensic photographer. Many start out as assistants and learn the fundamentals about cameras and forensics.

Some forensic photographers may decide to teach at a university or college or train those working in police departments. These days, it is important to learn about digital cameras and related computer programs in order to move ahead with the speed of technology. Those with the proper training may also become scientists, police officers or engineering technicians and technologists.
 

  Educational Paths  
Although there are no required educational steps involved in becoming a forensic photographer, in today's competitive job market, schooling has become an important component for finding employment. Most forensic photographers have a background in science or forensics coupled with photography. Many get an undergraduate degree in criminology or science and then attend community college and take related photography programs. Community colleges and universities offer some specialized training and courses in photography and forensics, but sometimes one can take a roundabout route and still get to learn the specifics of forensics.

Most forensic photographers learn by practice and work in related fields. These days, computer skills are essential for digital photography and are becoming increasingly required in other forms of photography. Volunteering for high school and university newspapers is a good way to acquire photography experience. Also, taking as many science and criminology courses as possible is important to really understand what images one is taking.
 

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