Home > GENERAL > Forensic > Picture Speaks A Thousand Words

Picture Speaks A Thousand Words


To most people, a picture is just a medium for them to keep their precious memory or moment, but for forensics, it is more than that. A well taken photo can aid an investigator, scientist and also the court in their search for the truth. It can give a thousand of information regarding the crime scene.

Bell 2006, said that, crime scene photos can be obtained from two different places, first is in the crime scene itself and second is photo taken when the analysis of the evidence in the laboratory and also during autopsy in the mortuary.


The word photography is derived from two Greek words; ‘photo’ mean light and ‘grapho’ meaning drawing or writing (Redsicker 2001) as well as Robinson, 2010, also defined photography as a two Greek words, ‘photo’ mean light and ‘graphia’ mean writing or drawing. 

Therefore, those two concepts refer to writing or drawing with the light.

Forensics photography can be defined as the fair or accurate recording of a scene or object of legal interest, by a camera. 

History of forensics photography

Photography become one of the forensics tool, when a photo of forged document was present in the court and allowed as courtroom evidence in 1851(Luco vs U.S.,64). Since then, crime scene photography became cutting edge in the 1870s and new technologies have expanded.

Since 1820s, fixing an image permanently has been possible and it comes in a variety of ways from the daguerreotype, to silver plate to film and now digitally. From black and white image to color image.

The first recorded cases using a colour photo in a court is; Green VS City and County of Denser at 1943. The crime was selling a putrid meat. In that case, the photo of the putrid meat taken at the crime scene was compare with the fresh meat. The whole court accepted the validity of the colour photography and the defendant found guilty. (See Conrad 1957 for more detail).
The latest development of forensics photography is the use of digital camera in the crime scene investigation but still it became a debate due to the viability of the photo which can be manipulated. In technical aspect, the advantage of digital camera is it can produce so many photos and fast even the quality of the photo far better compare with the film photo. (Hulick 1990, Jackson and Jakson 2004, Robinson 2007).

In every crime scene photo shot, accuracy and particularity is very important because there is only a chance to capture all the picture of crime scene and evidence. If the evidence had been remove before the crime scene is photographed or the photos were shot after the crime scene had been release by the investigation officer, the photographed was not admitted as evidence in the court (Gilbert, 2004;95). Therefore, when the crime scene searched, all important information must be tagged before it can be photographed to avoid any evidence left out.

Basics tool for crime scene photography 

Technique in Forensics Photography

In forensics photography, there is no prescribed length of time it takes to photographically document a crime scene (Inman & Rudin 2001; 196). The amount of time spent depends on the size and compilation in the crime scene, how much there is to document and environmental factor like weather or danger to the investigative team. It can consist of thousands of pictures and hours of work.  

A basics rule in crime scene photography is progress from general to the specific. It involves using 3 major types of vintage point: long range, mid range and close up range. (Berg and Horgan 1979:42, Adam et all, 2004; Fisher 2004; 82)

Every point will result the different type of photo that can give a full picture of the crime scene connected between evidence with the crime scene.

For long range photographs, the photo would cover the entire crime scene. It includes areal of overhead photographs, exterior and interior. The purpose of the technique is to assist the investigation officer to identify the location of the crime.

Next vintage point is mid range photographs. The photo should take from normal viewing height, the same perspective (eye level) any person in the crime scene. The photographs provide an orientation of an object within a scene and also connected between evidence with crime scene. 

The third technique is close range photography. In this technique, each evidence which has been identified in the mid-range technique will be re-photographed with a scale, whereby the scale is placed adjacent to the evidence concerned to indicate its exact size.

Figure show main techniques in forensics photography
(a) long range (b) middle range (c) close up range.

Important Of Crime Scene Photography

Photograph is one of the method use in crime scene documentation other than sketch and video. Base on crime scene investigation procedure, the evidence must be tagged before it is documented and after it has been documented the evidence will be packed and sealed, and then it will sent to laboratory for analysis.

The importance of photography in crime scene investigation is to record the aftermath of the event (crime). It is because there are several factor that can interfere with the crime scene such as taphonomic process and also human factor (investigator). Therefore, crime scene must be recorded as soon as possible to avoid any contamination.

The other importance of crime scene photography is to assist investigation officer in describe a big picture of crime scene to the court in other word ‘bring the crime scene to a court’. So, to simplify the crime scene reconstruction process, the photo must be arranged accordingly. 

The photo of evidence at the crime scene such as weapon use in an assault case, can be use to compare with wound pattern found on the victim. It will assist the investigation officer to exclude the weapon if the pattern was not match with the weapon found at the crime scene.

In a courtroom, photographs can be used to corroborate and refute of statement from both suspects and witnesses. Crime scene photos can support the statement of the witnesses. (Jakcson and Jakson, 2004)

By using the different techniques in forensics photography (discussed early), the resulting photos will link the evidence with the crime scene (Gilbert, 2004; 105). This can assist an investigator to located the evidence found at the crime scene when giving a statement in the court.

When the size of the evidence is important, photo of the evidence must be shot with the scale. With that, the investigator can describe the evidence more accurately to the court (Safersatin, 1990; 34). In the mortuary, every single wound will be measured and the photo is taken with a scale. When the size of wound is available, it will assist the investigator to search the related weapon use to assault victim.

Figure show a photo of gun shot wound. The photo was shot along with scale.


With the development of photography technology, crime scene photo become very important in assisting investigator to explain the crime scene in the court. Every single picture can give a thousand information and have a story to tell.


  1. Adams, T.F., Caddell, A.G. &Krutsinger, J.L. 2004. Crime investigation.2n dedition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
  2. Bell, C. 2006. Concepts and possibilities in forensic intelligence. Forensic Science International 162: 38-43.
  3. Berg, B.L.& Horgan, J.J. 1979.Criminal investigation.2nd edition.New York: McGraw Hill.
  4. Conrad, E. 1957. Color photography, an instrumentality of proof. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 48(3): 321-332.
  5. Fisher, B.A.J. 2004. Techniques of crime scene investigation. 7 t hedition. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
  6. Gheorghe POPA, 2004. Important of the Legal Photograph in Forensics Fire Scene Investigation. Romanian-American University, Bucharest, Romania.
  7. Gilbert, J.N. 2004. Criminal investigation.6th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
  8. Green, D. 1984. Veins of resemblance: Photography and eugenics. Oxford Art Journal 7(2): 3-16.
  9. Hulick, D.E. 1990. The transcendental machine? A comparison of digital photography and Nineteenth-century modes of photographic representation. Leonardo 23(4): 419-425.
  10. Inman, K. & Rudin, N. 2001. Principles and practices of criminalistics. New York: Open University Press
  11. Jackson, A.R.W. and Jackson, J.M. 2004. Forensic Science. Pearson Education Limited: GB.
  12. Lee, H.C. & Harris, H.A. 2000. Physical evidence in forensic science. Tucson: Lawyer &Judges Pub. Co.
  13. Luco vs U.S.,64 U.S (23 How.) 515, 162, L. Ed 545 (1859)
  14. Redsicker, D.R. 2001. The practical methodology of forensic photography .2n d edition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
  15. Robinson, E.M. 2007. Crime scene photography. Elsevier: USA.
  16. Robinson, E.M. 2010. Crime scene photography.2nd edition. London: Elsevier.
  17. Saferstein, R. 1990. Criminalistics– an introduction to Forensic science. New York: Prentice Hall.
  18.  Thompson, T. J. U. (2008) ‘The role of the photograph in the application of forensic anthropology and the interpretation of clandestine scenes of crime’, Photography and Culture, 1 (2), pp.163-182.
Last Reviewed : 8 September 2015
Writer : Mohd Faizul bin Abd Wahab
Accreditor : Dr. Sharifah Safoorah bt. Syed Alwi Al Aidrus