Guest Lecturer – Keith Smith – CSI Photographer

We recently had a lecture from a guest photographer Keith Smith, who works for the police as a CSI photographer. He began by explaining the importance of a photograph as evidence, and said that the photograph helps to ‘take the crime scene into the court’. He mentioned how he typically works in team of 5, who are on constant rotation and attend jobs across the country. He then explained the problems he has encountered when on the job, mainly to do with accessing the crime scenes.

He gave us a few example of the work he has had to do, and the areas he has had to work in. These included alleyways full of rubbish and dangerous objects, heavily muddied water and swampland, and scenes of arson and accidental fire. All of these locations provide difficult challenges that must be overcome to obtain the evidence that could decide if a criminal is convicted or if someone is innocent. There is also the risk of contamination, not just of the crime scene but the equipment used. If a piece of evidence from one scene is brought onto another by the equipment the photographer used, then this could have disastrous consequences for the outcome of a case. The images also have to be perfectly clear, wherever the location as the photographs have the power to decide a case. This means that the equipment must be of a high standard, but the skill of the photographer must be even higher. This puts the photographer under a great deal of stress, as some evidence may be damaged over a short period of time. This could include a shoe print underwater, or fingerprints in the rain.

He then gave us a brief history on CSI Photography. A man named Mr Bertillon is claimed to be the ‘father of CSI Photography’, after standardising a system for identifying people, and was one of the first to use fingerprints as evidence. Evidence is key in convictions, due to the fact that people’s descriptive opinions and memories of an incident can vary wildly, and so the need for a standardised way of identifying people was great.

He described his work as ‘documentary style photography’, as the images have to walk the jury around the crime scene. To begin with, the photographer must take an overall shot to set the scene, which will vary depending on the conditions at the time and the size of the crime scene. The evidence must the be identified, and then a context shot taken that includes all of the evidence. If this isn’t possible in one shot, then the photographer must take multiple images from different angles, so that all of the the evidence has been photographed. The evidence must then be photographed individually, with a scale and even light on all of them, so that their are very little shadows. By having a scale, it is easier to match real life evidence with the photographed evidence. For example the sole of a shoe could be matched up accurately to a photograph of a shoe-print in mud. By having an even light, all the indentations and grooves will be visible, and their will be a clear indication of depth and length.

Another issue CSI photographers have to face is in post mortem photography. This usually involves being directed by a pathologist in a lab, and because all labs are different (in regards to lighting and layout etc), there is never a standard way to illuminate the subjects. Also the flash usually creates reflections when photographing wet substances, such as the inside of the human body. Protective gear must also be worn when working in a morgue, which is also an issue on other jobs too. We partook in an activity that involved some of the equipment and protective gear that csi photographers sometimes have to wear on a job. These ranged from thin paper suits to full chemical-proof suits with oxygen masks and thick heavy rubber gloves. Wearing this equipment makes even simply tasks like pressing buttons on a camera impossible.

Another technique these photographers use is painting with light, which is where a scene may be too dark to photograph normally and so has to be illuminated using a torch and long exposure photography. Some of us were given the opportunity to try this on the day, however we had run out of time before our group chad the chance to partake.

Overall I enjoyed the day, as it made a nice change from the usual lectures that we would’ve normally had. I enjoyed seeing how photography is involved in other specific careers such as this, and the difficulties that photographers might have to face in different circumstances. Below are some images that our group took on the day:


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