A better understanding of midrange photographs in a crime scene

The true purpose of a midrange photograph is to establish the location of specific items of evidence


By Casson Reynolds, MSCJ, CCSA, PoliceOne Contributor

In an attempt to simplify the steps when photographing a crime scene, crime scene investigators may have lost the true meaning of a midrange photograph. 

Many crime scene investigators will treat a midrange photograph as a photograph between an overall photograph and a close-up photograph, and nothing else. A midrange photograph is much more and requires a great deal of forethought.    

This photo is taken at a line parallel to the line between the reference point and the item of evidence allowing the viewer to see the true distance. (Photo/Casson Reynolds)
This photo is taken at a line parallel to the line between the reference point and the item of evidence allowing the viewer to see the true distance. (Photo/Casson Reynolds)

An overall photograph is easily defined as a photograph that captures the entire scene or an area of a scene. A close-up photograph is easily defined as a photograph that captures just the piece of evidence with and without scale. As long as the photographer uses proper composition and follows Robinson’s three cardinal rules in "Crime Scene Photography" by Edward Robinson – fill the frame, maximize depth of field and keep the film plane parallel – then the photograph will depict what it is intended to depict. 

In regard to a midrange photograph, the crime scene investigator must remember that its true purpose is to establish the location of specific items of evidence. As Robinson points out, “A midrange photograph is one composed to show just one item of evidence in its relative distance to a fixed feature of the scene.” These photographs should consist of the item of evidence, the fixed feature and the undistorted or un-skewed distance between.

In order for a midrange photograph to be properly composed, the photographer must follow the cardinal rules and specifically determine the fixed feature (or reference point) for a specific item of evidence. 

Fill the Frame

Once the photographer has selected the piece of evidence and the fixed feature, they need to minimize the wasted space and have the piece of evidence on one side of the photograph and the fixed feature on the opposite. This will ensure the photographer fills up the frame of the photograph with only the necessary and primary details. 

This photo does not have a reference point and does not fill the frame with any valuable information. The viewer is unable to determine where along the wall the item is located. (Photo/Casson Reynolds)
This photo does not have a reference point and does not fill the frame with any valuable information. The viewer is unable to determine where along the wall the item is located. (Photo/Casson Reynolds)
This photo fills the frame with a reference point (the outlet) to the item of evidence. (Photo/Casson Reynolds)
This photo fills the frame with a reference point (the outlet) to the item of evidence. (Photo/Casson Reynolds)

Maximize Depth of Field

The film plane is not parallel to the item of evidence so the viewer cannot see the true distance between the door frame and the item. (Photo/Casson Reynolds)
The film plane is not parallel to the item of evidence so the viewer cannot see the true distance between the door frame and the item. (Photo/Casson Reynolds)

The photograph should be clear from the foreground to the background of the photograph to ensure that the entire area the image captures is in focus and not distorting or blurring any aspects.

Keep the film plane parallel

This aspect is often overlooked or misunderstood. Draw an imaginary line between the piece of evidence and the specific fixed feature. 

Place the camera film plane, eye piece, or LCD display parallel to the imaginary line.

conclusion

Following the cardinal rules will ensure that the photographs accurately capture the scene in order to provide the most information for further analysis. 

Reference

Robinson EM. Crime scene photography, third edition. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Academic Press, 2016.


About the author

Casson Reynolds, MSCJ, CCSA, is an instructor/developer with the North Carolina Justice Academy tasked with instructing and developing courses in advanced forensics and investigations. He is a Certified Crime Scene Analyst through the International Association for Identification, has a Masters of Science in Criminal Justice from Boston University and was sworn in law enforcement for 14 years. He is the co-chair of the Training Committee of the North Carolina Division of the International Association for Identification and an adjunct professor in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Forensic Science Graduate Program. He has been recognized as a subject matter expert in federal and state courts in crime scene reconstruction, shooting reconstruction, bloodstain pattern analysis, latent print development and identification, and general crime scene investigations. 

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