Being a forensic or police photographer isn’t exactly a walk in the park: you’ll need a stomach of steel, the ability to work long, anti-social shifts, and an inquisitive and critical mind. The pay isn’t stellar, and most people will hardly be thrilled to see you. That said, the rewards are immense, as you get to play a vital role in the capture and conviction of criminals; and you’ll also get an inkling into the dark and deeply personal world of people’s private lives.

If that sounds like something you’d do, we’ve researched four steps to becoming the person with camera in tow at a crime scene.

 

1. What’s the job, Guv? It’s in the description.

You’ll need a passion for photography, and an eye for detail. Chances are you’ll have completed a photography course and have a deep understanding of perspective, scale and lighting. These snaps need to develop perfectly: remember, you’re going to present your findings at court and you want them to be as accurate as possible. You’ll be taking sketches and making notes  – an aptitude for neatness, and art, will go a long way. This occupation requires an accurate representation of the scene (this may be difficult in poorly lit areas or at road traffic accidents for instance). Expressive types beware: a good forensic photographer will avoid any artistic interpretation of the scene to avoid any misinterpretation. You’ll also need to acquire a National College Of Policing qualification, in addition to any you may already have, and a word of warning for the keen – this is extremely competitive process.

Following qualification, you’ll be in the enviable position of crossing the blue-and-white line at crime scenes. The truth is, dedicated police photographers are increasingly rare entities, so most individuals taking photos on behalf of the police will be SOCOs (Scenes of Crime Officers). Their responsibilities are (in descending priority) forensics, fingerprinting and, finally, photography. In the past, forces have had specialist photographers as well as SOCO. This proved to be too time consuming and repetitive in the present economic climate expensive to keep these roles distinct. The majority of your job, then, will be examining crime scenes for fingerprints, and of course, swabbing for trace evidence. This is not nearly as dire as it sounds — as obtaining these items is fascinating and poses its own unique challenges.

Chances are you’ll be working up to twelve-hour shifts (unless you’re on call) and will be given a list of jobs, in accordance to their urgency, a van, and told to get cracking. From there, you’re on the road, taking photos of crime scenes, dusting, seizing and swabbing. From then, you’re back in the office, doing your paperwork – and a lot of it – to ensure everything you’ve seized is evidentially sound. Whilst his may sound a bit boring, you’ll still be crossing that line and snapping whatever is on the other side – murder victims, serious assaults, and car wrecks.

 

2. Tools of the trade.

The equipment that is provided to SOCOs is quite simple. This isn’t primarily a matter of funding, it’s more a function of reliability. After all, SOCO need durable equipment that can be dependable in extremely tough conditions. The standard for years has been the Nikon FM2 with a 50mm lens. The move to digital photography equipment is, now, fairly widespread – but digital cameras pose a unique challenge in terms of auditablity (for court purposes it must be shown that the equipment has not been tampered with, and digital photos can be, potentially, easily erased). You’ll also be lugging a van full of equipment with you: tripods, lights, lenses. Mastering your equipment is crucial to becoming a skilled photographer. Familiarise yourself with the innumerable settings on modern cameras, so you can produce as realistic a shot as possible. It’ll be a good idea to build a portfolio of true-to-life shots, and refer to to them in your application.

 

3. The price for a good snapshot.

In terms of finances, this depends largely on which role you land: some forces have posts of Volume Crime Examiner or Forensic Vehicle Examiner in addition to SOCOs. Practically, working as this type of officer is going to involve far less training, and therefore the rewards are going to be much lower. Much of the work is going to be extremely repetitive – it’s called volume crime for a reason — but it will give you an excellent foundation in the basic skills you’ll need, plus a way to show experience in the relevant field. Volume crime examiners are paid around £14,000, plus a shift allowance. From there, there are four other levels of SOCO and reward is commensurate with training, level and skill — ranging from around £21,000 to around £45,000 for a senior supervisor. Not only are all these roles competitive and extremely difficult to get into, there will only be a few managerial positions in each force. That said, there is the potential for extensive training, and shift allowance also available.

 

In terms of training, if you’re fortunate enough to get the position, you’ll ascend to the Initial Crime Scene Investigator Course. Not only will this help you to manage and preserve your scenes, it will encourage you to think with a broad-minded perspective, which helps you determine what might have caused the incident – and detect things that the untrained might miss. From then you’re under a two-year probation and will spend a series of weeks shadowing other SOCO officers to learn how they work. During your development, you’ll be sent to a variety of courses, which includes everything from manual handling; health and safety; bomb scene management; and the packing of exhibits. Your work over the two-year period will be building a portfolio of competencies, so you can be signed-off as a qualified forensics practitioner. It’s after all this that you’ll attain the Holy Grail: the qualifying Forensics Diploma.

 

4. Signing the contract: getting to work.

If it all sounds good to you, you’re not alone. As we’ve said, the path to becoming a SOCO is extremely competitive and, with the popularity of shows like CSI and the sheer number of Universities now offering dedicated forensics courses, there are more applicants year on year.

If you want to get started, your best bet is to contact a local police force to get an idea of any vacancies that may be open. Your background will be essential to you landing the job, particularly if you have an aptitude for photography. They’ll also be looking at your decision making skills, and your ability to accurately evidence your actions. A potential way in is via a Volume Crime Examiner role, but again, nothing is guaranteed. Follow the application instructions to the letter. If you are fortunate enough to be granted an interview, think how to answer questions on why you want the job, and how you would cope with the gorier aspects of the work: these are two standard interview questions which are highly likely.

 

Your Turn: Are you a SOCO or a forensic photographer with a few tips for aspiring professionals? Are you an amateur photographer looking to ascend to this career? Let us know in the comments with your own personal experiences.

Comments

comments

40 Responses

  1. photo guy

    Hi there,

    I am an amateur photography with only D.T.P and Graphic design experience. I am very interested in hearing more about this as a position for me to connect with.

    Does on have to be a Citizen in the country they work in?

    I’d be delighted to hear your input, thank you for a very well written article.

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      Hello Photo Guy,

      We have additional articles about Forensic Photography (use our ‘Sherlock Holmes’ magnifying glass in the search window to your top right, on the Forensic Outreach menu bar and type in “Photography”). We also have an extensive article about the subject, including digital photography coming up soon so keep watching us.

      As for citizenship, it depends on whatever requirements your prospective employer needs. In the US, skilled photographers don’t necessarily need to be a native or a resident to provide good work, but in some jurisdictions, it may matter.

      Good luck with your career. Come back and tell us about interesting cases in which you will be involved.

      Reply
  2. Erika Jackson

    I am currently in school for a BA in photography and forensics is the field I want to go into. I found this article very comforting and informational. Thank you

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      Erika, congratulations and we’re happy that you will be using your skills and talents in the forensic field. We have quite a few good articles here on both forensic photography and educational opportunities in the forensic field, and we hope that you will have a chance to go through them.

      You will be in for some interesting tasks, once you land your position. Aim your portfolio towards making good exposures of scenes and details within those scenes. Great sharp closeups of objects you might find in a scene would be impressive for a CSI to know that you understand what it takes to document a situation. You can buy or even make rulers and exhibit markers (watch TV or search online for examples) and put them in some pictures (Take the shot with and without, like real forensic photographers do).

      As you advance in your education, stop by the local police department and see if you can intern for a summer, or even a shorter term. Even if you work for free, the references, experience and real skills you will get in return are priceless.

      Get ready for some interesting assignments. I have had to shoot detailed pictures of a mechanism as the detectives dismantled it looking for clues in a lab, I also photographed a ranch where bodies were being dug up after being buried there by a serial killer. Exciting, gruesome and thrilling all at once.

      Good luck in your career!

      Reply
    • The Forensic Outreach Team

      Hi Mary,

      Thanks for your comment! Hopefully you will find the resources on this website useful in your journey towards becoming a forensic photographer.

      Reply
  3. Rosey

    Hi, great advice! I am a second year BA Photography degree student, i would realy like to go into this feild of work. Whats the best advice for getting work experience or directing my style of photography to gain more expereince and a better understanding ? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      Thanks Rosey, we appreciate your comments.

      As far as getting into the field of work, there are a few steps that you can take on your own that would show your interest and dedication. First, you will need to show some samples of your work. So, maybe you could watch some CSI shows or Google crime scene photographs (or use our advice in several of our articles about forensic photography and crime scenes) to make a small portfolio that shows off your skills with light, depth of field, etc. Be sure when you show these to prospective employers that you mention that these were exercises, not real crime scenes, as you may need permission to show real photos — especially if the investigation is current. You will describe these as exercises to test light, etc. Next, call on your local police department, FBI office, defense attorneys, prosecutors or any other people in your area actively working in the industry and ask them if you can intern with them, or at least assist on a few cases pro bono — without pay — so you can both learn and help them with their case.

      If you can show excellent skills and work ethic, most prospects will consider taking on an intern as long as they don’t have to spend a lot of time training them, which could cut into their own productivity. You must be able to offer a service that offsets the investment in time they will need to make in you. Once you have an agreement, and you have work to do, continue to do your best and impress. Most interns who started like this, and who showed good results will ultimately find a paying job by networking within the professionals you will begin to know.

      Good luck and let us know how you fare.

      Reply
  4. cox

    am soon graduating with a bachelors in information systems and would like to take a masters in forensics photography. whats my way forward?

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      Hello Cox –

      Are you in the US or UK? Different countries have different specifications and requirements. Your tech background and degree will certainly help you, but a portfolio and photographic knowledge will be needed for any photography program, whether scientific, forensic or journalistic. National University in Costa Mesa, CA and Henderson NV has a Masters program in Forensic Science which includes crime scene photography. Do your research (a Forensic investigator’s best developed skill) and look into programs near you, discover the requirements, see if you meet them, and apply. Only you know your particular skills, qualifications as well as goals and desires, so applying yourself to that quest will certainly reveal your path.

      Reply
  5. chintan

    hello sir,
    this is chintan from INDIA i would like to know whether to get a job as froensic photographer is easy, if i had all the qualifications and guts. currently am pursuing a diploma course in vfx-filmaking,what should i do to get a job on education basis
    please help me for my amazing career !

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      Hello Chintan

      I suspect if you can do VFX filmmaking, you should be able to do crime scene and forensic photography. I do not have information about schools, requirements or courses of study for forensics in India. If you are thinking about college here, we have in our archives and answers to comments several suggestions about good programs. As I have mentioned before, a good way to show off your forensic skills is to do research, so start searching for schools near you that have forensic photography programs, go to their web sites and read their requirements. Using your personal knowledge about your background and skills, apply to the one that most interests you. Once you have the qualifications from the school of your choice, job hunting should be easy with assistance from your college counselors. Good luck!

      Reply
  6. Sara

    Hello! I am a first year student extremely interested in Forensic Photography. Could anyone give me tips on where the best place to start would be? Thank you very much!

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      Hi Sara – you did not mention which country you are in or what your course of study is – Photography? Criminology? Anthropology? I’m just guessing. The article is specific to the UK, but the general advice works for most countries. Look at our answers to comments above for some more advice about advancing into Forensic Photography. We also have another article coning out soon which will expand what we know about the subject. We also submitted a guest article about Forensic Photography to the Photoworks Blog – click here – http://bit.ly/1lRcQaZ – which may provide some more information. Write back about where you live and what you study and maybe we can give you more pointed advice.

      Thanks for your reply.

      Reply
      • Sara

        I am in the US, and I will be a second year student in the fall. I have no previous college credits for anything in Criminology; my first year I was a music major. My dream job is forensic photography.

      • Douglas Filter

        Thanks for your quick response. Well, music is a complex creative study, much like a language, but I have not yet heard of a Forensic musician. Photography should be an easy transfer, as it may be a part of the Arts program at your school. Talk with your counselor about making the change in your major, then start building up your skills and portfolio so that you can begin either interning or volunteering at a police department or other place as we have described above.

        Criminology should be your minor, there are summer sessions which include work at police stations in some schools, perhaps your criminologist professor could recommend such an experiment as a special project for your fourth year. There is no reason why you cannot achieve your goals. And you will still have your music with you for the rest of your life, which is super.

  7. Amy

    Hello, I am from New Zealand, and I am a 16 year old student in high school and I would like to get into Forensic Photography. Next year is my last year in high school and I would like some advice on what subjects I should take that would help get me there, or just any useful advice that you could give me. 🙂

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      Hello Amy,

      I am not well versed on high school subjects in New Zealand, but generally, subjects such as science, math and the other basics are always appropriate and will teach you skills that will be useful not only in Forensics, but in life. If there is a photography class, or even an after school program, definitely put some effort there. build a portfolio, look at articles on our site and the comments (especially those above) and find your passion. We have already posted a lot of useful advice in this article, the comments and in other articles that are relevant. Take some time and go through our site, and enjoy building up your repertoire.

      We look forward to hearing about your success.

      Reply
    • Jane

      Hi Amy

      I am a Forensic Photographer in Wellington. To become a forensic photographer in New Zealand you have to join the police force first and complete at least 18 months on the street as a front line police officer before you can specialise in photography. They are very sought after positions, but in saying that there are always opportunities. I would work on your photography skills and get some life experience as it is not like in the movies. There is a lot of hard and disturbing work that we do.

      I hope this helped

      Jane

      Reply
      • The Forensic Outreach Team

        Hi Jane,

        Thanks for leaving a comment and sharing your experiences. Happy to have other professionals surfing our website!

  8. Adam Rea

    Hello. My name is Adam and I’m a photographer myself. I would be really interested to get involved because I’ve always wanted to be a police photographer.

    Recently my work experience with the police was a great opportunity and I really enjoyed it.

    I’m currently a student at Northbrook college at Goring By Sea in Worthing, studying Foundation Photography Degree second year this September.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Adam

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      Hello Adam,

      Looks like you are on the right path to a fulfilling and exciting career. Keep watching our articles, we have more on Forensic Photography in the pipeline, and look forward to hearing about your adventures one day.

      Best of luck

      The Forensic Outreach Team

      Reply
  9. chole

    Hey there! Really appreciate you having this artice up! Ive been wanting to get back into school for a photography program for a while now. My question to you is this: Do you think a potential “employer” (for lack of better terms at the moment) would be more impressed about taking BOTH a digital and film photography class? I saw earlier that you had mentioned the fact that digital photography is so easy to manipulate these days. Also, are there any other classes you would suggest taking that would look good and better my chances? Thank you for taking the time to read, cant wait to hear back!

    Reply
  10. Allison

    hi there! I am currently in high school in the US and looking towards forensic photography as a career. any suggestions on colleges and classes i should start looking into?

    Reply
  11. Jess

    Hello,
    This article was really informative, thanks for writing it.
    I’m in my third year doing a BA in photography in Bristol and I really want to get into some sort of forensic photography field. I did a placement in a medical photography department in a hospital but I can’t seem to find out how to get work experience as a forensic photographer. Any help would be appreciated.

    Reply
  12. lana vee

    hi there, thanks for the article.
    i am returning to photography and would like to broaden my skills, and forensic photography is one that i see as being a great benefit to my potential career restart.
    the last cameras i used had 35mm film and i had between 120mm – 600mm, several flash guns and an array of special filters for very similar work. is there any advice you could give me?

    Reply
    • The Forensic Outreach Team

      Hi Lana,

      Thanks for commenting! It seems that in many places, the specific role of forensic photographer is disappearing. Crime scene officers/technicians are usually tasked with this now. You may want to contact public liaison departments within your local law enforcement offices to ensure this is the case in your area.

      Reply
  13. Cristina

    I am 38 years old and needing to go back to school for a new career. This specific field of Forensic Photography is what I have landed on after hours of contemplation on the direction to head in. I have a stomach made of steel and a fascination for crime-solving as well as justice. I have always adored photography and have taken photos as a hobby, however, would love for it to be my profession. The question I have is….Would this line of work be unrealistic for me to pursue at this juncture in my life? I am willing to put in the time and energy.

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      38 is still young. If you have a talent for taking pictures and patience for the detailed work it takes to fully cover a scene and get the right shots, you will be fine. I say go for it!

      Reply
  14. Becky

    I am currently a year 10 student choosing photography and biology as I am seriously considering studying in the area of forensic photography. I need to find a weeks work experience but am not sure that I could find any in this field or something attached to this field at my age. What do you think? I live in UK near London

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      Hi Becky – start by volunteering your services to the local police constabulary. First, build up a portfolio of shots of objects, a knife on the floor, perhaps, a broken lamp. And do some architectural rooms, well lit so details are clear. Perhaps a traffic intersection, detail of a motorcycle or a car tyre, things you would expect to encounter at a accident or crime scene. As long as the photos are well lit, detailed, in focus and look good, you should have no trouble asking for an assignment or two of real scenes.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  15. christopher

    i love article me being a photographer going for my BA i feel this is helping me out a lot on my 10 pages paper thanks and also will like to study more into this field

    Reply
  16. Adrian

    Hi! I’m really interested in this field. I finished a 2-year certificate program in Photography at the New York Film Academy. Do I need to have a College Degree or have a background in CSI to become a Forensic photographer? Hope to hear from you guys soon! Thanks!

    Reply
  17. Shane

    Hello!

    I have decided that I want a career in forensics – either as a forensic science technician or a crime scene officer. I have looked very carefully at the required qualifications and education needed and I am going back to college next month. I am 28 years old and I am from the UK. I have worked out that it will take a fairly long time from start to finish to acheive my goal of a bachelors degree in criminology and forensic science. The college I will be studying at will cater for everything regarding my chosen career…university will be for a degree only.

    My question is that is it possible for a UK citizen can work as a CSI/lab tech out in the US or do you have to be a US citizen?

    Also, how do I go about getting some experience in the field? The more experience the better I will stand out.

    Many thanks,

    Shane.

    Reply
  18. Sarah

    Hello, my name is Sarah. I am currently 17 years old and am highly interested in this field. I ha e been a photographer since I was 14, taking pictures of random objects outside, inside etc. I began to fall in love with the photography business and growing up all I watched was CSI, criminal minds, law and order. About a year ago I thought about reviewing the requirements to become a forensic photographer but never really looked in to it. As of last night I started doing my research. How much their salary ranges from, the requirements, everything. I realize that it will be a hard career to get in to due to the competition but I’m hoping that once I go to college and show some effort on how it interests me, maybe I’ll have a better chance of making it. I’m pretty good with lighting and how it affects a picture, how the picture would be different at different angles. Is there any advice you can give me to maybe make the possibilities of making it in this field greater? I would truly admire the advice, like I said I’m very interested in pursuing this career in my future. As of right now I have a portfolio of my photography that I’m trying to get in to a local photography studio with. Therefore furthering my education on this topic. Any advice will be much appreciated, thank you (:
    -sarah

    Reply
  19. Dean Sloan

    Hi Douglas,

    I’m 24, live in Scotland and my highest qualification is HNC photography. I have an interest in forensic photography and I found not only this article but the comments to be very helpful.

    After reading the article, my interest in this field of work has arisen. I have always been a fan of the grusome side of things, photography and analysing to perfection. This seems line of work seems perfect for me however, my weakness is essay work. Do you think that would be a problem if I was ever considered for this role?

    Other than researching for training courses ect what other advice could you give to an individual looking to find if this is right for him?

    Reply
    • Douglas Filter

      Hi Dean,

      Contact your local constabulary and see if they would like volunteer assistance with some evidence photography documentation, or if they have an officer who documents crime and accident scenes and see if he would allow you to follow him and perhaps mentor you. By the same token, see if the hospital requires some documentary photography, or look to a medical hospital. your objective would not only enable you to get some experience, but also see if you are good at the work. The resulting photography MAY be able to be used for your portfolio, if the images are cleared by the owners of the images – the hospital, the police department or the victims.

      In Addition, I think you already understand that paperwork will be a key part of the job of a forensic scientist. You will be required to report on what you did, how the images were handled and more. So, I hope you will learn to enjoy painting pictures with your camera AND your written words.
      Good luck!

      Reply
  20. Michelle Alvarado

    Hi I’m a high school student in the USA, and I’m really interested in taking these steps to become a Forensic Photographer but I’m not quite sure how to get there. What classes do I take to help me start a record on this particular field of photography? What Collages or Universities are focused in this type of field?

    Reply
  21. Anastassia Botskova

    Hello, I’m a second-year student of FDA/BA photography. London Based, I’m just very curious about the degrees. Would the Fda be enough or the best should be the BA or masters in Forensic photography? I was just thinking of leaving photography on Fda level and starting Forensic science, not sure now what should I do. I just want to be a forensic photographer, not sure if I want a qualification in science just yet. What is more important, the qualifications, (if yes than which is more important or the best would be to have both?) or a Portfolio? At this point I’m confused and I need to decide very soon. As I heard it’s very difficult to get a job in this sphere…
    Thank you.

    Reply
  22. Anastassia Botskova

    Hello, I’m a second-year student of FDA/BA photography. London Based, I’m just very curious about the degrees. Would the Fda be enough or the best should be the BA or masters in Forensic photography? I was just thinking of leaving photography on Fda level and starting Forensic science, not sure now what should I do. I just want to be a forensic photographer, not sure if I want a qualification in science just yet. What is more important, the qualifications, (if yes than which is more important or the best would be to have both?) or a Portfolio? At this point I’m confused and I need to decide very soon. As I heard it’s very difficult to get a job in this sphere…
    Thank you.

    Reply

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