One of the most important aspects of a crime scene is the proper recording of all of the evidence, and photography can play an important role in that. Training as a professional crime scene photographer will require understanding many different aspects of crime scene investigation and learning about the types of photos needed to document clues and details. These photographs can later be used in investigation and prosecution efforts, which means they are essential to the criminal justice process.
Photographers will often be at the crime scene while it is still active, so they will need to know what to do so that they do not damage or destroy evidence, and they also need to know how to properly collect, store, and authenticate their crime scene photos.
Those who want to pursue a forensic photography career should be interested in photography, naturally. They should also want to learn more about the specifics of crime scene investigation, as they will need to know how their photos can be used to document evidence. Together, the career provides a blend of science, law, and photography.
While forensic photography can and often is learned on the job, having a strong academic background in criminal justice and crime scene investigation techniques is the best way to embark on this interesting and unique career.
Pursuing a well-rounded crime investigation education that incorporates forensic photography courses can help prepare aspiring professionals to photograph the scene properly and handle those photos such that they may be submitted into evidence and interpret those photos in the context of the larger investigation to help solve the crime.
|Featured Crime Scene & Photography Programs|
|Purdue Global||BSCJ - Crime Scene Investigation||Visit Site|
|Arizona State University||Art - Digital Photography (BFA)||Visit Site|
While a career in forensic photography does not require a degree in the practice itself, the right education can go a long way towards helping those who aspire to the career. Online options can be particularly useful for those who want to become forensic photographers but do not have the time or ability to attend on-campus classes.
Online courses and certificates in forensic photography do not culminate in an official degree but can still offer professional advancement. Courses and certificate programs tend to focus on basic training in photography as a form of documentation, rather than an art form, as well as details of crime scene investigation and criminal procedure.
An online certificate in forensic photography can help working professionals who already have employment in the law enforcement or criminal justice field to further specialize in crime scene photography. They are ideal for those with a background in photography who want to understand better how to use photography as a means of crime scene documentation.
Florida International University’s Global Forensic and Justice Center
The Global Forensic and Justice Center at Florida International University offers an online digital crime scene photography course. Students who purchase the course have access to the full set of online videos for 60 days and are offered a certificate of completion if they pass a final test with at least 75 percent. Some working forensic professionals can count this particular course towards continuing education credits.
This course will help students capture accurate and true photographic documentation of any scene. It covers lighting strategies, digital camera basics, and methods for capturing bloodstain images and impression evidence. Graduates will learn to ‘paint with light,’ handle photo challenges and capture a drop of water in motion. They will also prepare for courtroom testimony.
National University offers an online course in forensic photography as part of its College of Letters and Sciences. The course teaches students the basic principles of photography, such as lighting and composition, and specifically how to apply those principles to a crime scene. Students can expect to learn how to use single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras and skills to present photographs as legal evidence. This course is part of the master’s in forensic science program
University of California (UC) Riverside Extension
University of California (UC) Riverside Extension offers a crime scene photography course that can be completed as a standalone course or as a fulfillment of an online crime scene investigation (CSI) certificate. The professional certificate in crime scene investigation program is a 20-unit program that teaches the basics of crime scene management, including evidence collection techniques with an emphasis on photographing evidence.
This certificate program is open to high school graduates and is designed for students who want to pursue careers in crime scenes or are already employed in law enforcement. The time to completion for this program is eight to 12 months. An intensive version of the same certificate program can be completed in six weeks. Students must provide their own photography equipment.
Neither undergraduate nor graduate degrees are available in forensic photography, per se. More typical forensic photography courses are incorporated into online degrees in related subjects, such as crime scene investigation. This degree can help graduates earn a place in law enforcement or a crime scene investigation unit.
Earning a degree online is a great choice for those students who are self-starting and need the flexibility that online education allows. However, an online degree in the forensic sciences requires a commitment to regular homework and consistent interaction with faculty. Students who want to further their education online should look for programs that focus on crime scene investigation.
Florida State University Panama City offers a bachelor of science (BS) degree in crime scene investigation. Though not exclusively on forensic photography, the degree requires one course in crime & accident scene imaging & reconstruction, which includes a hands-on lab that takes students through collecting and analyzing images of crime scenes. Applicants to this program must already have an AA from an accredited community college.
This 120-credit program includes courses such as forensic science in investigation; evidential reasoning for research & investigation; criminal investigation; crime & accident scene imaging & reconstruction; impression and pattern evidence; trace & biometric evidence; forensic death investigation; and crime scene professionalism.
Purdue Global offers an online 41-credit crime scene technician certificate. While not specific to forensic photography, it includes training in all aspects of crime scene assessment and evidence collection, including photography. Credits earned in this program can be applied towards a Purdue Global associate’s or bachelor’s degree program.
Applicants must be high school graduates or possess a General Educational Development (GED) certificate or another equivalency diploma. They are also encouraged to complete orientation before they start classes. Students can expect to spend 15 to 18 hours a week on this ten-week course.
As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as criminology; criminal investigation; forensic fingerprint analysis; supervisory practices in criminal justice; homeland security; forensic chemistry and trace evidence analysis; and managing criminal justice organizations.
University of California at Riverside
The University of California at Riverside offers a 16-unit online forensic nursing certificate program for LPNs/LVNs, registered nurses, and other licensed medical professionals. It provides California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) credit for these licensed professionals. This is another program that is not specific to forensic photography but includes a course related to it.
Some of the topics students will delve into include forensic photography in the healthcare setting; occupational considerations in forensic nursing; forensic approaches to blunt force and firearm injuries; introduction to forensic science in healthcare settings; sworn testimony for the healthcare specialist; and introduction to forensic pathology for health care specialists.
The George Washington University (GW), as part of the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences, offers a hybrid master of science (MS) degree in crime scene investigation. The degree includes one upper-level course focused solely on forensic photography. Overall, this program emphasizes practical skills in crime scene investigation techniques, including forensic photography. It features coursework in photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop and SketchUp. Designed for working professionals, both online and offline courses are required to complete the program.
This 36-credit program includes additional courses in the fundamentals of forensic science; the science of fingerprints; digital image processing; criminal law for forensic scientists; crime scene investigation; forensic pathology; medicolegal death investigation; firearms and tool mark identification; and bloodstain pattern analysis.
Stevenson University’s online master of science program in crime scene investigation also has a course in crime scene photography. This program provides students with the knowledge and skills required for evaluating crime scenes and selecting the appropriate steps that need to be followed to document, collect, preserve, and process evidence.
The major admission requirements to this program include a completed online application, a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, official college transcripts from all previous academic work, a cumulative GPA of 3.0, and a personal statement.
As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as the survey of forensic science; crime scene photography; physical evidence & crime scene; crime scene investigation; pattern analysis; and the crime laboratory: structure and operations.
Graduates can take up roles such as evidence collectors, crime scene technicians, crime scene photographers, forensic artists, and fingerprint and DNA specialists.
Notably, Stevenson also offers an 18-credit graduate certificate in crime scene investigation.
Online learning is not for everyone. Some students simply learn better with personal interaction and the structure of a campus program. For those students, both certificates and degrees in crime scene investigation and criminal justice may be the best option for pursuing a career in forensic photography.
Here are some of the options available for offline learning that will help with the fundamentals of forensic photography:
West Virginia University in Morgantown has one of the preeminent forensic science programs in the U.S. While they do not offer an official certification in forensic photography, they do offer two onsite forensic photography courses as part of their forensic examiner curriculum. These teach best practices for forensic photography.
The first course in forensic photography (FIS 335) is a three-credit course focusing on photography fundamentals and the basics of photographing fingerprints and crime and disaster scenes. This course is a prerequisite for the second course titled “advanced forensic photography” (FIS 435). This three-credit course is designed specifically for those who wish to pursue forensic photography as a profession and teaches more in-depth skills.
Additional courses in this 120-credit program include principles of biology; introductory analytical chemistry; introductory biochemistry; forensic chemical analysis; crime scene investigation; latent fingerprint; and forensic quality assurance.
Forensic Pieces has in-person training for working professionals and organizations who want to expand their forensic photography repertoire. This course can be combined with the two-day advanced topics to make a 40-hour course if desired. At the end of the course, a certification exam is offered. It should be noted that this program is not accredited in a traditional sense, it is approved by the International Association for Identification (IAI).
Topics covered in this course include the importance of evidence photography; camera switches, dials, menus, and functions; evidence photography standard operating procedures; aperture priority mode; direct lighting, oblique lighting, and bounce lighting; fingerprint photography on various surfaces; and image metadata, among others.
Columbia College offers an 18-credit crime scene investigation certificate that can be a good choice for students who live close to one of their locations, which are spread throughout the country. The certificate program is also offered online for students who do not live near a Columbia campus.
The certificate includes a course on crime scene photography and requires twelve credits of core hours and six elective hours. Students who complete the CSI certificate will have this designation on their academic transcript, available to students with an associate or bachelor’s degree from another regionally-accredited school.
Other courses covered in this certificate include an introduction to criminal justice administration; criminal investigation; crime scene investigation; forensic anthropology; bloodstain evidence; fingerprint evidence; shooting incidents; and forensic pathology.
Salem University’s bachelor of arts program in criminal justice has a concentration in crime scene investigation. This concentration includes a course on crime scene photography. Notably, for students who need to be able to fit class around their busy lives and current jobs or live out of state, this degree can also be taken in a fully online or blended ground-online format.
Core courses in this program include criminal law; criminal evidence and constitutional procedure; criminal investigation and forensics; crisis intervention; domestic violence; terrorism; constitutional law; and ethics in criminal justice. The crime scene investigation specialization includes courses such as crime scene photography; latent prints & fingerprint identification; blood patterns & crime scenes; ballistics & firearm identification; and digital evidence.
Earning an education from an accredited institution can be very important for the future career prospects of graduates. Further, those wishing to pursue graduate or doctoral-level coursework in forensics or criminology will be much better off earning an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Both online and on-campus programs should advertise their accreditation status, which indicates that the program was evaluated by a third-party organization for its curriculum, faculty, and facilities.
Programs can be accredited either by forensic-specific organizations such as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) or a more general accreditation for higher education such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) or the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).
Professional certification should also be a consideration for those seeking a career as a forensic photographer. Professional certification in the field is available from a few different sources, including the IAI.
These certifications may help forensic photographers advance their careers but are not required by any government agency to gain employment. Details of the requirements for these certifications are available on the organizations’ websites.
|Featured CSI & Forensic Science Programs|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Science (BS)||Visit Site|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Science (PSM)||Visit Site|
|Grand Canyon University||MS - Forensic Science||Visit Site|
|Purdue Global||BSCJ - Crime Scene Investigation||Visit Site|
|Stevenson University Online||Forensic Investigation Grad Certificate||Visit Site|
|Stevenson University Online||Online Master of Forensic Science (MFS)||Visit Site|
|Stevenson University Online||Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation||Visit Site|
|Southern New Hampshire University||BA in Psychology - Forensic Psychology||Visit Site|
|Southern New Hampshire University||BS in Accounting - Forensic Accounting & Fraud Examination||Visit Site|
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).