Checking your list, and checking it twice

Checklists and logs for the crime scene photographer

The following are items to be considered when developing a photo log and crime scene photography checklist to use at the crime scene. This information should be incorporated into a photo log containing camera information and settings used at the time each photograph was shot.

Most necessary information for a photo log is incorporated into the Exif or Meta Data recorded in today's digital SLRs. Exif/Meta Data, which includes camera make, model, date, time, image number, lens focal length, aperture, shutter speed, white balance setting, shooting mode, image quality selection, image format and flash settings, are viewable and printable through the software included with the camera and in programs such as Adobe PhotoShop CS. The data also are recorded and archived with each image on the recording media and in subsequent transfer to CD/DVD or file server. The Exif/Meta Data is extremely useful in troubleshooting improperly exposed or apparent blurred images.

The right info for the job

What information should a photo log include? The date a crime took place and the case number. The photographer should also detail film speed, the number of exposures left on the roll, the film roll number, media type and size if using a digital camera, camera make and model, lens and lenses used, and shooting mode (auto/manual/shutter priority/aperture priority). For each photo the photographer should list the photo or image number, shutter speed selected, lens focal length, aperture, whether or not a flash was used, type of photo (overall, mid-range, close-up), whether or not a scale was used in the close-up photography, and a brief description of the photo or object photographed.

The rule of thumb when creating such a list for the crime scene photographer is to consider everything and then teach your photographers to check their list, and check it again, to make sure they cover all the bases before the first image is shot. Following the shoot and before departing the crime scene, an inventory of all equipment and paperwork should be in order. Most agencies have a payroll deduction plan for the replacement of forgotten, damaged or lost equipment attributed to negligence. This just happens to be one pay plan I do not wish to participate in.

Troy Lyons is a 17-year veteran with the York County/City of Poquoson (Virginia) Sheriff's Office, where he spent three years in the patrol division before being promoted to the investigations division. Lyons served as the agency's primary crime scene tech for seven years, processing and photographing hundreds of crime scenes with both film and digital SLR cameras. Lyons regularly teaches crime scene processing and scene photography. He can be reached at

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