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Photographic Processing and Analysis**

excerpted from "Motive, Means, and Opportunity, A Guide to Fire Investigation."
American Re-Insurance Company, Claims Division, 1996.

Review of photographic documentation of the fire scene is the most common analytic technique. Photographs serve as a visual record of the circumstances surrounding the origin and cause of the fire. They should provide a visual report of the fire. Here are some rules for fire scene photography:

  • Work from the general to the specific. Each photo sequence tells a story.
  • Don't be afraid of taking too many pictures:
    • film and processing are a lot cheaper than a lost opportunity to clear a case;
    • a credible case can be damaged if key evidence isn't documented;
    • when deciding what to photograph and how many pictures to take, remember it's better to err on the side of more.
  • During the fire:
    • photos taken during the fire are a valuable adjunct to the investigative record, especially if they can be tied to a particular point in time;
    • fire investigators can use photos to better understand the fire's point of origin and spread by providing a record of the fire while it was in progress;
  • Photos should be taken of the following areas:
    • exterior
    • entrances
    • interior
  • A photographic log should be kept of:
    • what was photographed
    • the angle at which it was photographed
    • how the photo was taken Without this information, it may be difficult to fully understand what a photo intends to illustrate. Fire scenes often produce poor photographic conditions, which the log will help to explain.

In addition, it's a good idea to give a lab analyst detailed floor plans to explain what was photographed and where the photographer stood while taking the picture.

Using Fire Scene Photographs

Photographic analysis is a widely recognized legitimate investigative technique and it should never be dismissed out-of-hand. However, it should not replace thorough on-scene investigative efforts.

Remember, many people will see the photographs taken at the scene, including forensic technicians, attorneys, and juries, and all for different purposes. Keeping the subject of the photos and the needs of these various viewers in mind should help the investigator choose the best photographs for a particular audience.

**This section is based upon and contains excerpts and quotes from "Basic Tools and Resources of Fire Investigation" that is written and published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the United States Fire Administration, January 1993.

Reprinted with permission.

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