Digital Photography for Investigators 2003

By James W. Harbert CLI, FCI


The question most investigators ask me is: “Would you go back to film after having used digital?”.  The answer is no.  I will never use film again.  I can do things with digital that I have never done with film.  “Was digital easy to get into?”  No.  No one told me how to set up the equipment, what software to buy, and how and what to use.  “Is Digital cheaper than film?”  No.  The cost of paper and ink are about the same as film and processing.  There are exceptions to this.  When you get into really large images digital can be much cheaper.  The equipment is the expense and the equipment changes often.  The digital photographer must keep up with what’s new in the industry.
Why do Investigators buy Digital SLR’s and why did I buy Nikon.  A digital SLR gives the photogrpaher more control over his images.

Zoom more quickly,
Very rapid auto focus,
Greatly improved image quality because of the difference in the quality of the glass of a point and shoot and
the glass in an interchangable lens (entire lens mechanism itself). 
Ability to shoot more photographs in succession without delay,
Ability to shoot several frames quickly,
Auto bracketing that you can see. 
The ability to use speciality lenses that you alrady have. 
Use of ring flash,  more flexibility in macro work.  Narrow range with 995.
Set the white balance for the exact lighting conditions
Vary the film speed up to 1600 ASA 
Security: The investigator and the client are the only people to see the images. 
Use of long lenses and more detail in the images taken with a telephoto. 

I bought the Nikon because mainly because I have Nikon lenses: but it was also priced the best among the competition ($2000).  I can use the same Medical Nikor lens on the D100 that I bought 23 years ago for my Nikon F, F2 and F3 cameras.  I love the adaptability of Nikon products. I liked the Fuji Finepix S2 because it was built on a Nikon N80 body but it was $400 more than the D100.  Cannon has a great Digital SLR as does Kodak  and Minolta. 
Did I need an expensive Ddigital SLR?  I was perfectly happy with the Nikon Coolpix 995 but I needed the flexibility of the Digital SLR.  That is what this article is all about. 
Like other electronic equipment the digital cameras quickly change.  The newest and most controversial are the single lens reflex digitals.  They are the cameras that work just like your 35mm.  They have interchangeable lenses and all of the features of a good 35mm, as well as being digital. Right now the digital SLR’s are expensive.  The manufacturers are constantly researching new ideas to make their cameras stand apart from those of other manufacturers.  It is also inevitable that the price of these cameras will come down.  I think price is the biggest roadblock to most investigators.  These cameras are just too expensive.  The questions that concern the investigator that takes a lot of photographsare:  1.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of digital photography? 2.  Is it something that I need to be using right now, or can it wait?  3.  I have already been using digital equipment but not single lens reflex equipment, do I really need it?
The biggest advantage of digital photography is the complete control over the image as it is being taken.  You can edit the photograph as you take it.  As you are taking the photograph you can closely examine the image to determine if your subject is framed properly, the lighting is correct and above all if the focus is sharp.  The investigator can do this with each image as it is taken.  Another advantage is that you don’t have to rely on some teenager who just learned how to operate a one-hour photo machine to produce your photos accurately. You get your results instantly.  No lost film with lame excuses, no lost photographs and no one else looking at what you have been photographing.  The security aspect can be especially appealing to investigative photographers.   Digital photogrpahy is what Polaroid photography should have been but never was.  Digital imaging is not necessarily cheaper than film but it offers a great deal of control and ease that you didn’t have with film. Ten or fifteen years ago the investigator had no problem finding a processor who was interested in him/her and was enthusiastic about ensuring the quality of their work.  No longer.  They just don’t care.  The investigator now has control over his own processing and image.  With a little bit of work you can learn how to work up your images better than any processor.  This work is accomplished by using photo editing software.  Adobe Photoshop is a software program designed to edit your digital images.  Adobe has come out with a cheaper but still very effective software program called "Photoshop Elements".  It retails for about $90.  This software is used to adjust the image to make it more representative or accurate .  All of the investigative purists reading this (Frank!) will gasp at this thought; but don’t.  It is the same thing that the one-hour processing machines do automatically.  In most negative films (except slide and professional films) there is as much as five f-stops of latitude in the exposure of a film negative.  What this means is that you can make a mistake on the exposure either 2.5 stops over-exposed or 2.5 under-exposed and still have an excellent image.  The computer in the processor compensates for this automatically and makes a good image from even a poor exposure.  Photoshop and other editing software does the same thing.  The latitude in digital is provided by the software.
What about storing or filing the image?  Professional photographers refer to this as "digital asset management", or DAM.  When taking large numbers of digital photographs the investigator must have a system for storing ,retrieving, and  backing up  those images.  Hard drive manufacturers know that their products are going to eventually fail.  They calculate the amount of time this will most likely take.  Without getting into computer systems, let’s just say that the investigator must back up his digital images as he takes them.  I use two systems.  I file the images in a photo data base, "PaperPort 8.0".  PaperPort allows me to store photos under clients' names and retrieve them easily.  It also allows me to print to PaperPort or save documents that I have prepared in MSWord or scanned to a PaperPort document for later use.  In addition I save each job to a CD.  Not a cheapie, but a quality CD.  I make a copy for my file that I label and neatly file in a binder and then one for the client, which I include with the photos or report. 



Let’s look at printing the digital image.  This technology changes quickly.  Remember to be flexible.  The investigator now has the option of using one of the Epson or Hewlett Packard’s 13" x 19" (print size) printers.  They are fast, reliable and produce beautiful color prints on photographic print paper and cost in the neighborhood of $389.  We are now using these printers to produce court exhibits.  There are larger digital printers available.  If your budget can stand it, Epson has a 24- and a 44-inch wide printer that uses roll paper.  The image can be 24 inches wide by as long as you want.  Same with the 44-inch printer.  These are relatively expensive, $3,000 and $5,000 respectively.   What this tells me is that the price of these larger printers is coming down as well.  If you do a lot of court exhibits and pay big prices for making them, one of these machines may be in your future.  Twenty years ago we had to pay a 200% penalty to expedite an 8 x 10 and then they would only promise it within 72 hrs.  The processors just didn’t understand lawyers.  Lawyers change their mind about photos the night before a trial.  There was only one processor that would do this and they would really gouge me when it came to enlargement.  It was not uncommon to pay $20 for an 8 x 10, $50 for an 11 x 14 and much more for a 16 x 20.  It became necessary to build my own color darkroom.  For at least 10 years we made our own enlargements up to 16 x 20.  The advent of digital  eliminated the need for the darkroom and made all of this a cakewalk for the investigator.  No more processing problems, no more pleading with processors, just press a button and the print is there.   
Using digital printing the investigator also has a better product to sell to the attorney or client.  Prior to digital printing, most often investigators were limited to single prints and to mounting them in transparent sleeves.  With digital printing the investigator can print the photos in any way that s/he wants.   Put a package together consisting of a CD of all of the photos, an index or contact sheet of all of the photos, a print of each one of the photographs (9 to an 8 12 x 11 page), enlargements (either 5 x 7 or 8 12 x 11) of the most applicable, interesting or graphic shots.  Any photographs that need explanation use the software and write on the photo a paragraph explaining what the photo depicts.  If measurements are used put them right on the photos using Power Point or the "draw program" in MS Word (See “Using the Draw program for measurements in MSword”, published in the January edition of “Clues on Line” or on my web site, .
In response to the first question, then, the big advantage of digital photography over film is control.  The investigator can control the image as it is being taken, confirm that the image s/he wants is complete, or improve the photo while still looking at the subject.  The investigator has complete control over the processing and production of the image. 
Now let’s talk about disadvantages.  Digital is not cheap.  I guess if you averaged it out it may be even, if you compare the cost of film and processing to that of digital photo paper and ink.  Where the problem comes in is in the equipment.  The investigator has a significant initial investment in the equipment being used.   For good digital processing I recommend the following:


A computer with at least 512 Meg Ram, later modified to hold as much RAM as it is capable of, 1.5 Mhz or faster with Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or one of the camera software programs such as Nikon View 5 or Fugi Finepix. (computer: $1400 to $2200; software: $90 to $700)

A printer with at least 13" x 19" capability for enlargements.  The printer will print 4 x 6, 8 12 x 11, 11 x 14 and 13 x 19.  The HP and Epson are priced about the same, around  $400.

A good quality digital printing paper is $30 for a 75-sheet 8 12 x11 box. This is premium Kodak paper.  I have also bought Office Depot premium glossy for $40 for a hundred sheets.  The large paper (13" x 19") is more expensive, costing as much as $1.50 or $2 a sheet depending on quantity.  Ink for these printers is about $55 for a double-size color cartridge and $30 for the black-and-white.

A good quality digital camera.  This is where it gets difficult.  A lot of manufacturers make excellent digital cameras.  I have used Nikon all of my life so I am familiar with Nikon equipment.  I use a Nikon Coolpix 995 and a Nikon D100 SLR camera.  The Coolpix is out of production now, but they can still be picked up for $400 or so used, with a guarantee from B&H Photo in New York.  (  The D100 costs $2000 and hasn’t really started to come down in price.  As a note: when buying these cameras you can find them cheaper from some dealers. Check to make sure that they come with the software, battery charger andbattery.  The 995 came with a CompactFlash storage card, but the D100 didn’t.  Pick a dealer that you can trust. 

Storage media:  If you get a storage card with the camera it will probably be a small card. The term "small card" is used loosely.   "Small" refers to the capacity.  The Nikon equipment uses CompactFlash.  The cards are also available in different speeds.  The faster and larger the capacity the card,  the more expensive it is.  I have a 512Mb, 24x card from Lexar that I paid $300 for, but a 256 card from Sam's is $65.  I have not had a problem with the slow cards but thought that the D100 should have the fastest card that I could find.  This has to do with processing and storage time.  One of the disadvantages of digital photography is that some times you are in a position in which the image you just took is being stored and you are trying to take another very quickly.  This has a lot to do with the file size and image quality you have set, as well as the card speed. And camera buffer size.

I also find a scanner very important.  I use a HP 3750.  It cost $150 and is worth every cent.  This printer will scan, copy photos, copy directly to Power Point, scan text with its OCR and make very good interpretations of the text.  I have been very pleased with it.  For those investigators who scan a lot of clients' 4 x 6 prints, HP now has a scanner with an automatic feeder (just like a copying machine) that will scan a stack of 4 x 6’s or 3 x 5’s automatically. 

We have discussed cost as a major factor in digital photography.   Do you need it, regardless of the cost?  The answer to this question for me is yes.  Next, for those of you who are not using digital, can it wait?  Yes and no.  You can always use a scanner to scan photos into your computer.  Negative scanners are available as well.  I have always found negative scanners to be time consuming and awkward.  The advantage comes in if you need to digitize images for any reason.  I now scan all of the photographs that I am going to use in a trial.  I use the scanned images to make collages of the deceased and the family using Power Point.  The collages are either used in a Power Point presentation or printed and made into boards for use in trial.  In our last trial I also printed each one of the family photos and we made family photo albums for each one of the deceased children.  These exhibits were entered into evidence for the jury to look at during deliberations. 
If you are using a digital camera now, should you move to a single lens reflex style digital camera?  I have mixed feelings about this.  I am perfectly happy with my Nikon Coolpix 995.  This is not a SLR type of camera, although when you look through the LCD screen you are pretty much getting the same image that will be on the chip.  The term "SLR" means that the mirror in the camera directs the image from the lens up to the viewer so the photographer can see the exact image that he is photographing.  During the actual photo taking process the mirror pops up and out of the way and the image is exposed onto the CCD when the shutter curtain opens.  This is the same as a film SLR with the exception of the capture medium.   What we are discussing is interchangeable-lens digital cameras.  For several years the digital versions have been available but very expensive.  With the advent of the Nikon D100 and the Fuji Fine Pix S2 they have come nearly into our range.  If you need a digital camera that you can change lenses on, you have to pay the price.  I am still happy with my 995 and use it for most digital photography.  I use the D100 for close-up or macro photography, or injury and scar photography when I need my Medical Nikon lens.  The D100 has a built-in flash and that, in conjunction with a 60mm Nikor Micro lens can make a wicked close-up photo without the complicated wires and bulk of the medical lens.  The 995 can make a good close-up photograph as well.  It will focus to within 0.8 inch.  The problem can be the flash aspect of this photography.  I use a bracket with an additional digital flash that I bounce to soften the image and make it less harsh.  This works well.  So, it is up to you.  I wouldn’t have bought the D100 at this point in time if it wasn’t for the specialized need; but now that I have it, let’s take a look at a digital SLR.
Let’s physically compare the Nikon Coolpix 995 with the Nikon D100.  Some of the differences are:

With the Coolpix you can look at the LCD the entire time that you are taking the photograph.  With the D100 you look through the viewfinder, through a mirror and out through the lens itself (Single lens reflex).  You cannot look at the image in the LCD viewer in the SLR because there is a mirror in the way. 

The lenses on the D100 can be changed.   The lens on the Coolpix is not changeable but it is a zoom lens that has macro capability.
Refinement in the settings that you can make.
Ability to shoot bursts of photographs
No lag time while image is processed

The CCD (charge couple device) on the D100 is not the same size or ratio as 35 MM.  It is smaller.  What this does is multiply the focal length of the lens that you are using (35mm-type lens) 1.5 times.  This makes a 50 MM a 75mm, a 28 mm is now a 42 mm, a 28 to 200 zoom will be a 42 to 300 zoom.  This is important because it changes the focal length of the lenses that you will need.  Tamron is now making a 19-35 mm zoom lens that gives the D100 photographer an effective focal length of approximately 29 mm to 52 mm.  You may go from using a 105mm macro to a 60mm macro that equates to 90mm on the D100. 

Image size:  “Smaller (image) sizes produce smaller images, making them suitable for distribution by email and inclusion in web pages.   Conversely, the larger the image size the larger the image can be printed without becoming noticeably grainy.  Choose image size based on the size of the storage card available and the job at hand.”  (Nikon D100 manual). The D100 is capable of a 6 megapixil image, 2000 x 3008, the Cool pix is capable of a 3 megapixil image.  The question is, how big an image do you need?  The real advantage of the larger size CCD’s is that they will take and store much larger images.  This can be handy when fine grain enlargements are necessary.  This is deceiving, however.  I took many photos with the setting on the Coolpix 995 at "fine", and image size at 1200 x 1600.  This setting produced excellent 8 x 12 photos.  In a pinch I was able to enlarge cropped photos to 16 x 20 without losing any resolution.  My point is that you don’t necessarily need all of the capability that the large capability cameras have to offer.  I use a 1500 x 2000 image size with the D100.  I don’t need at this time larger image sizes.  Where Bob Parke CLI, BCEP uses the maximum image size and resolution producing Tiff or Raw files up to 11 megapixils in size.  I don’t see the need now but might in the future.
"Image quality" mainly deals with the compression method used to process and store the photograph.  With the D100 there are two lossless storage methods.  "Lossless" means that you don’t lose any of your quality or resolution through compression of the image.  With NEF, Nikon electronic file system, the raw image is compressed using an “alogrithim” that reduces the image by as much as 60% without affecting image quality at all.  These files are very large.  Another lossless method of capturing and storing images is the Tiff-RGB file.  The images are stored uncompressed in a TIFF-RGB at a color depth of 8 bits per channel (24-bit color) (Nikon D100 operators manual).  The next three methods of filing images are all compressed "JPEG" files.  "JPG" stands for Joint Photographers Graphic and was developed as a universal means of storing photographs digitally.  There are three levels: fine, normal and basic.  "Fine" has a 1:4 compression ratio, "normal" is 1:8 and "basic" is 1:16.  With each step, the image is further compressed and you lose quality.  Most professional photographers store their images in a lossless format, choosing to come back and modify the images, but keeping their unmodified images unchanged. 
I have mixed feelings about file size and quality.  I have had excellent results using the 1200 x 1600 image size and “fine” setting on the 995.  I try to use the same thing on the D100.  Bob Parke CLI, BCEP who shoots routinely in large- fine jpg (produces 2.9 meg files) which can be opened in Tiff at 17 megabites.  On occasion he shoots in TIFF so prints can be made without having to adjust from Jpeg as TIFF is a lossless type file.  Many professionals use the RAW or TIFF format for all of their images, choosing to save them and copy them when it is necessary to reduce their size for any reason.  I don’t necessarily need an image of that quality.  My needs focus more around 8 x 10’s, 16 x 20’s and images for Power Point.  This work does not need a larger image size. 
If you make the decision to go digital, don’t jump into it without proper research.  Take your time and get the feel of it.  Once you understand it and can operate well while using it, you will never want to use film again. 


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