Picture perfect

A practical and cost-effective guide to building the ultimate crime scene photographer's toolkit


     It has always amazed me that in close proximity to most police academies lies police supply distributors. This is not a coincidence. We all know an academy graduate (me), who upon completion of training hit the police supply store and purchased the latest and greatest in policing and crime scene processing equipment, 10 colors of latent powder in both standard and magnetic, five different types of latent brushes in several sizes, every type of fingerprint lifter known to mankind, both clear and frosted tape in multiple sizes along with white and black pre-printed latent backing cards. We may not have known what we were doing, but we sure looked good doing it.

     After a couple of years we get smarter, ditching everything but the basic black powder, a good fiberglass or feather duster, and plain 3-inch by 5-inch cards. We got rid of all the other stuff that made us look like we knew what we were doing to make room for the equipment we needed and used daily.

     The same is true of new crime scene photographers. I, for one, am like a kid in a candy store when I go into the local camera shop. But even for me, coveting was replaced by practicality over time.

     With all the equipment available, deciding what is absolutely essential on the job can be confusing to the novice, and even seasoned, photographer. But like the appliance repairman who needs the correct tools to fix an appliance during the first repair call, the crime scene photographer needs the right gear to get the job done right at the crime scene, where there may not be a second chance. The following article suggests basic equipment for the crime scene photographer and showcases a couple "nice to have" items as well.

     Because budgetary constraints are at the forefront of all law enforcement manager's minds, this article presents how to assemble a basic photographer's toolkit at either end of the budget spectrum. The article covers official "crime scene photography" equipment as well as inexpensive do-it-yourself products that will save time and money.

Bags and tripods

     First and foremost in the photographer's arsenal of equipment must be a good camera bag or case. The photographer should not skimp on a carrying case for an expensive camera, lenses and flash. Some photographers opt for a hard-sided camera case with customizable foam inserts or a less expensive soft-sided padded camera bag. Whichever style you choose make sure the case or bag adequately protects the equipment. For other photography tools, a gadget bag from camera or electronics stores will do the trick. If cost is an issue, a padded, insulated, partition-able lunch box works just fine.

     As any good crime scene photographer knows, a high-quality, sturdy tripod is essential equipment that must be readily available at the crime scene. Tripods are necessary when photographing impression evidence, blood spatter or when camera shutter speed falls below 1/60th of a second. Just as the photographer should not skimp on camera bag quality, he should invest in a high quality, sturdy tripod. For crime scene work the tripod must have a head or center shaft that can be mounted upside down. Another good feature to look for is a mount shoe that can be detached from the tripod head, mount to the camera bottom and remount to the head. Digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras are particularly heavy so a tripod with a heavy-duty head should be obtained. I find tripods with metal quick-release latches, as opposed to twist-type friction locks, on the legs are more user friendly and durable.

Lens care and lenses
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