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Matinee: 'The Forensic Photographer' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

24 October 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 108th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Nick Marsh, The Forensic Photographer.

In this six minute video, forensic photographer Nick Marsh talks about the craft of discovering and presenting evidence. But, as he suggests right at the start, it's more a way of life than a craft.

Go to a restaurant with him, he says, and he'll pick up the cutlery only to observe, "Oh, that's a nice fingerprint."

He uses photography, he explains, to enhance of the crime scene, making obvious what may not be visible to the naked eye.

That's the general approach but, as he says, "We never know what's going to happen for that day." The specifics of any case may require any number of different approaches from special lighting to high speed video.

'In reality if we didn't do these techniques we are missing huge chunks of evidence.'

Crime scene evidence gets to the jury as photographs. The job of forensic photographer requires you to set the scene for the jury in the minimum number of photographs, he explains.

"For us it's a thought process as much as a physical hands-on process. And that's why the camera in most types of photography we undertake is irrelevant. It's about light."

Then it gets really interesting.

Marsh discusses how types of evidence require different wavelengths of light to reveal them. Differently tuned lasers, ultraviolet light, infrared light are all used to look for different kinds of evidence. He gives a few examples we'll bet you've never seen on any CSI show.

But, he adds, technology has had a massive impact, decimating the profession of forensic photography as untrained officers are outfitted with imaging equipment to take snapshots of crime scenes.

He gives a couple examples of what can go wrong:

  • Using a wide angle lens to portray a scene makes everything seem twice as far away, giving the jury a false sense of the scene.
  • Shooting a property on a copy stand may not properly light it. He'll shoot horizontally instead of vertically to have more flexibility in lighting the evidence.

"In reality if we didn't do these techniques we are missing huge chunks of evidence," Marsh says.

A forensic photographer doesn't enjoy the typical rewards other photographers get from their work. There's no admiring fans, no gallery show, no print sales. No one says, "Hey, man, nice shot!" In fact, after the case closes, the work goes into a box perhaps never to be seen again.

The reward for a forensic photographer, Marsh says, is knowing you contributed to the outcome of the case, helping the jury understand what really happened.

Which, when you think about it, is a remarkable achievement.

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