Suggested Guidelines for Digital Photos

Advantages of Digital Photography

There are many advantages to using digital photographs. Digital cameras produce instant images, allowing the photographer to view the images and immediately decide whether the photographs are adequate. Digital photographs are easily stored, do not take up additional physical space and can be widely disseminated electronically with virtually no time delay. The concern is that the photos ultimate reproduces at trial or hearing could be subject to attack as having been altered. Such attacks are rare, but to ensure the integrity of digital photos, the following steps are suggested.

Prior to taking the photos:

  1. Whenever possible, use the default settings for the camera. If you make any changes such as turning on red eye reduction, just note that in your log.
  2. Some recommend that if the default file format is JPEG or BMP, to change to TIFF for a more raw data format. This can reduce possible arguments about “compression” later.
  3. Confirm that the date and time stamp is correctly set.

While taking photos:

  1. It is best not to delete or rearrange photos from the flash media card. A lot of time can be spent trying to explain later what was deleted. If you make such changes, make a note as to why and what was done.
  2. Do not alter any images on the flash media card – such as to change orientation or the file number, name, or date. Do this work on stored copies, see below.
  3. If taking photos for more than one inspection per flash card, consider shooting a photo of a placard at the beginning and ending of each case/site (perhaps a shot of the front of the business could be the first shot).

After the photos are taken:

You need to preserve the original unaltered data that is stored in your camera’s flashcard; this requires either storing the flashcard or downloading it onto your computer or other storage device. The key is to preserve this data in its original condition.

Keep notes or follow a standard protocol about how you handle you data from when it leaves the camera’s flashcard to when you print it out. This is the chain of custody for this evidence.

If you download the photos onto your computer, make one file “read-only” (on that cannot be changed), this is your “master file’ i.e. your new original. If it is necessary to enhance photographs, the new image files created should be saved as new file names. The original file must not be replaced (overwritten) with a new file.

If it is necessary to change the contrast or touch up the photo, it is a simple matter to show the original and then so the altered photo and explain how the enhancement was done.

Some recommend downloading to a CD or DVD. Copy all images directly from the flash card to a blank CD-R or DVD-R (not CD-RW or DVD-RW). Select the “finalize” option in the software. This CD/DVD is the “Master File”. Mark the CD/DVD as such. Make at least one other copy for other uses (using the same procedure as above) and mark as duplicates. These duplicate filed can be manipulated, if needed.

Remember, the bottom line is that the inspector or some other person who was present is able to authenticate the photos at a later date and establish that the photos “accurately depict the scene on the date and time in question”.

Related Issues with Photos

If you take non-related photos within your numbering sequence you will be questioned why there is a gap in numbering and what was removed. Be prepared to produce the non related photos.

It may not be advisable to take pictures with your team in them. If anybody does not have all the specific equipment, safety gear, gloves, etc it may be questioned even if it is not required gear.

Scale – if it will help, try to find an object to identify the scale of what you are taking (a coin, pen, telephone pole, tractor, etc). Taking different angles you can use an object for reference. A tree or pole in a north facing photo with the same tree or pole in the west facing photo can help the photos relate to locations.

When photographing something with a glass or reflective surface (like a dial, meter or window), stand at a 45 degree angle to reduce flashback.