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Forensic Photography Careers and Schools

forensic photographer photographing crime scene

A forensics photographer might already be a working police officer or investigator, transitioning to this position, or may be a civilian photographer.

Either way, expert knowledge of not just photography, but investigative police work and crime scene investigation is necessary.

Forensic Photographer Job Duties

Forensic photographers use photography to support evidence in a legal case in a court of law. They usually work for police departments, a coroner’s office, or sheriff’s department providing the following services:

  • Taking photographs of evidence and accidents or crime scenes
  • Using digital imaging to enhance images like fingerprints
  • Being present at a coroner’s examination
  • Taking autopsy pictures for detectives
  • Maintain photography equipment

Depending on the department and the seniority, additional responsibilities can include:

  • Maintaining data security integrity
  • Image authentication
  • Advanced forensic image processing techniques
  • Latent print photography
  • Preparing exhibits for court and providing expert testimony

Being a forensic photographer requires more than basic photography skills. They need to know precisely how the picture they take can accurately, or inaccurately, reflect the scene, and attention to detail is imperative. Understanding the uses of lighting in evidence collection, including the use of ultraviolet and infrared frequencies, is just an example of the specialized photography needed.

What Education is Required?

There is no specific certificate or degree required to work as a forensic photographer and eligibility requirements can vary from employer to employer. However, as much experience as possible in police work, forensics, crime scene investigation, and photography can make an applicant more competitive.

Be aware that education does affect a job hunt and salary potential. Degree programs in forensic science, law enforcement, criminal justice, crime scene investigation, or criminology, and additional courses in photography can help set you apart. Some education programs also help students make connections for internships, professional networks, and local police departments.

What about a photography degree?

While a photography degree does not preclude someone from this career, knowledge of crime scene protocols, criminal investigative procedures, and forensic evidence collection are all important skills not taught with a photography degree. If you are looking at education in order to start a forensic photography career, choosing forensic or criminal justice degrees over photography will provide an edge for the forensics field.

Certification

The International Association for Identification (IAI) offers a certification for forensic photographers that have:

  • At least three years of photography experience
  • 40 hours of classroom photography courses from a college, police academy, FBI academy, IAI training course, or related institutions
  • A current job in the forensic science field where forensic photography is one of his/her duties

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for forensic science technicians, the classification under which forensic photographers fall, is $61,930.

Employment of forensic science technicians is expected to grow at a rate of 11% through 2031, which is faster than the national average of 5% for all careers.

Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.