Capturing the details of a crime scene, a forensic photographer plays an important role on a criminal investigation team. A forensic photographer takes digital imagery that provides specific details and serves as a record of evidence that may be used by attorneys and potentially, by a jury. Forensic photographer qualifications vary by agency, but there are specific skills required for the job. Technical photography knowledge, a certification in crime scene photography and a degree in criminal justice will give you the edge in this career field.
The importance of forensic photography goes beyond taking photos. As a permanent record-keeper, a forensic photographer must have extensive knowledge of conditional evidence, which is important in crime scene reconstruction, and understand what to capture to assist in a criminal investigation. A strong stomach, a calm demeanor and an attention to detail are just a few important traits needed for this position. Some requirements for this important job include:
Maintain Composure: A crime scene is often chaotic and riddled with emotion. A forensic photographer must remain calm and objective as they fulfill their role on the investigative team.
Use Proper Methodology: To avoid contamination of the crime field, a forensic photographer must use technical methodologies and forensic photography equipment. Setting up the equipment on a grounded platform, ensuring that the scene is undisturbed and taking precautions to protect evidence are critical parts of this job.
Take Purposeful Photos: A crime scene photographer must use the subject, a reference object and the scale of the scene as a framework for taking photos. Since photos are a collection of clues, biological evidence, trace evidence, patterned evidence and chemical evidence must be captured in pictures or digital form.
Attention to Detail: A forensic photographer must have a keen eye for detail during the shoot and as the pictures are developed. Since the images are evidence that may be used in a court of law, a forensic photographer must document everything and make sure that the photos are preserved during processing.
While a formal forensic photograph education program is not required for this position, the knowledge needed is often gained through coursework or certifications. If you seek a degree in criminal justice or law enforcement, you’ll have an advantage in this field. You can also become certified as a crime scene photographer, which requires:
- Forty hours of college coursework in criminal justice or photography.
- Training in forensic imaging.
- Two letters of reference.
If you earn this certification, you’ll meet the common forensic photographer qualifications in the industry.
Some forensic photographers work independently, and others work for law enforcement agencies. A salaried position often will offer more job security. In most cases, you’ll need your own forensic photography equipment for the job. Since the occurrence of crimes is unpredictable, expect irregular hours and on-call work schedules.
Years of Experience and Salary
An experienced photographer with a background in criminal justice or law enforcement work is often paid more for this position. Similarly, if you’re self-employed, you may be able to secure more work, if you have several years' experience. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median annual salary for a photographer was $34,000. Median means that half earn more than this, while the other half earns less.You may earn more if you’re independently employed or are a seasoned veteran of the field.
If you live in an urban setting, you may be able to secure multiple contracts as a forensic photographer. Some forensic photographers are paid to testify in court. You may also be able to supplement your income with other photography jobs outside of the field.
Job Growth Trend
You can expect a 6 percent decline in photography positions between now and 2026. A 17 percent increase in forensic science technicians is expected in the same time period. Job availability will vary by location. Urban areas may offer more job growth for this position.