“General Scene Photography”

I just found several comments that were somehow diverted into my “spam‿ folder. I’ve now posted all of them with the exception of a few that I’ll be responding to in “post‿ form here on the main page as soon as I can.

Kate asked:

Do you generally take photos from all angles when picking up a body, or just a few? I’ve often found them to be very useful, though they don’t always seem so right at first.


We generally take quite a few photos of the decedent, the scene, and any obvious or suspected mechanism of death. Oftentimes the law enforcement agency working the death takes photos of the scene, but we still take our own photos because what we find to be of interest may differ from what they elect to photograph. If we rely on other agencies’ photos, then we risk not getting the photographic documentation we may need later on in our investigation. Plus, when working with some of the smaller agencies, our camera may be the only camera at the scene.

As for the body, we generally take distant photos that show the body in relationship to the overall scene. We then take a couple of photos of the body itself in full frame and an i.d. photo of the face.

If there is an obvious or suspected mechanism of death (firearm, ligature, pill bottles, aerosol cans, etc.) or other pertinent evidence present, then we photograph those as well. At minimum, we like to get a shot of the mechanism or evidence in relation to the body, an overall photo of the item, and a close up of any evidence on the article itself (such as blowback on a gun or vomitus containing macerated pills).

If there are any fatally traumatic injuries to the body, then we get a close up shot of the injury with an anatomical landmark for reference. Of course these injuries are photographed at the morgue as well, but taking photos of them at the scene ensures that they are documented prior to being disturbed during transport.

Thanks to digital photography, we’re able to take as many scene photos as we like without the added expense of developing and we are able to see the photographed image as we take them. When digital photos were first used at crime scenes, there were grumblings about their technical susceptibility to being altered, but we’ve found them to be just as admissible in court as the old 35mm photos. When it comes down to it, it is the testimony of the expert on the witness stand that “vouches‿ for the photos as an accurate representation of the actual scene.

These of course are just the broad strokes of how we document scenes photographically and should only be perceived as a thumbnail sketch of forensic photography.

A Douglas


3 Responses to ““General Scene Photography””

  1. August 2, 2006 at 11:20 pm


    I’d been wondering about the photos after seeing the mix of seemingly meaningful and seemingly random photos taken on CSI, etc.

  2. 2 Patricia
    August 8, 2006 at 8:43 am

    I was just wondering if you will ever post any of the photos? Maybe with just the face blocked out, and the story that goes with it?

    No.  While our reports are public record, our case photos are not.

  3. August 10, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    I’m relatively new to your blog, but I’ve been reading since early July. I’m hooked! Very interesting stuff!

    You know, at the back of my mind, I sometimes doubt my current career path and wonder if I’ve got what it takes to be a medical examiner. I doubt that I’ll ever go down that road, but it’s tempting nonetheless.

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