By Ron Azzarello
Part of the PI's tradecraft is recording information that can be used. Photography is an indispensable tool of the licensed private investigator. Learn how cameras work before you consider shooting video. If you do not have your own outfit and know how to use it, you have little value to an agency owner. What good is it for an agency to give you basic platforms, if you cannot control them in the dark? Fots confirm what you observed and what the video recorded. You do not get a second chance. For example:

1. Permanent, accurate, unbiased record of something specifically
observed; or
2. Capture a detailed appearance of something that may later reveal
details that were not observed at the time the fot was

Learning how to shoot professional quality fots will allow you to record professional quality video. As a record of observations, fots serve:

1. To recall to the investigative mind, details of what was seen; and
2. To explain what was seen to someone else, perhaps in court.

Heat causes unpleasant color shifts. Keep your camera shaded while on the job. Refrigerate and face your stock film. Stand your video cassettes on end, not flat on it's side. Beware of AC's affect on lenses, film and video tape heads. Negatives belong to and are copyrighted to the agency, but the photographer is identified and acknowledged in the report with the time, date, direction, camera, lens and film. The agency gets the glory, the photographer gets the blame.
Never throw away spoiled or out-take negatives. Somebody may remember you took four fots at the scene. If you only produce two, you may be accused of suppressing evidence. Editing an original tape without a lawful court order can be much worse. Learn to use one camera and camcorder very well. You will get better fots and have gained valuable experience for recording video and gainful work -- value.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Good fots are obtained by knowing how to use good equipment in a professional manner. Purchase a quality camera/video outfit to gain substantive experience if you want to sustain a PI career.
A camera can be compared to a human eye. Both allow reflected light to enter a dark chamber from the front and pass through a lens. Both have light sensitive areas behind the lens. In the eye, it is called a retina; in a camera, this is called film. A device called a lens controls the amount of light transmitted into the dark chamber. In the eye, it is the iris muscle. In a camera, it is called an aperture diaphragm. Both the camera and an eye must be focused or the image will be blurred. In the eye, the lens is autonomically controlled by your brain. In a camera, the lens focuses the image on the film through the iris diaphragm. You control the output by knowing how to use the camera. You and your camera can function automatically, but the camera should not be relied upon to automatically provide useful results.
You will take sub-rosa fots under less than ideal conditions at long ranges indoors and out. You will take the equivalent of portraits, sport action, and architectural fots in uncontrolled situations. The more camera controls, the more versatility. Economy compact models offer no lens attachments, few settings, and camera controls are fixed for "typical" conditions. PIs rarely encounter anything typical. (Ask gil)
Cameras have a lens to collect and focus light reflecting from the subject, and a light sensitive film surface to record it. If lens-to-film distance is variable, you have a choice of focus settings for close or distant subjects. A viewfinder allows you to aim the camera and shows the limits of your image. The shutter controls the moment you take the fot -- quality cameras give a choice of timed settings to help control exposure. An adjustable lens aperture alters image brightness. It is linked to the shutter to control the exposure.
SLR's have a centrally placed dome that houses a glass pentaprism. This allows you to see the image formed by the lens when you look through the eyepiece at the back of the camera. Seeing the actual image formed by the lens is important for extremely accurate viewfinding and focusing,
allowing you to preview the precise effect of situational conditions to the vast range of available accessories. With video, you need an auxilary nine inch monitor because the viewfinder is too small. Set the camcorder on a fixed mount within your surveillance vehicle and view the
The lens aperture is set between the glass elements of a lens. It can open or close, to brighten or dim the image, by rotating an external ring. Reducing the size of the aperture has a unique optical effect. It increases the range of objects at different distances that can appear sharp at one focus setting. This band of sharpness is called depth of field. The aperture control is scaled in f numbers. Every SLR camera lens has an aperture ring marked in the internationally agreed f number
series: f2, f2.8, f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16 & f22. The widest aperture is the lowest number, but it is the smallest aperture that provides the deepest depth of field. Automatic SLR camera lenses may have an A or green dot that lets the camera chose the f stop.
Aperture affects depth of field, the distance between the nearest and farthest parts of a scene that appear sharp at one focus setting. A lens set at f2.8 focused for a subject ten feet away records sharply from about 9.5' to 12'. But change to f16 and depth of field will extend from 6' to 18'. By choice of aperture and careful focusing, you can localize detail, picking out objects at one distance only, or make everything equally detailed from the near foreground to the far distance. Each time you change aperture you have to compensate for the extra brightness or darkness of the image by setting shorter or longer times on the shutter.
Duel mode AE SLR cameras prioritize either, f-stop or shutter speed, through a focal plane shutter. The shutter controls both the moment of exposure and its duration. The best shutter speed depends on the degree of camera or subject movement -- whether you want a blurred subject or
freeze motion. Shutter settings affect the amount of light reaching the film. Brightness, film sensitivity, and lens aperture choices are important. Shutter speed in a good camera is integrated into an electronic circuit, controlled by the camera's internal exposure meter. See light as the film sees it.
Advanced camera shutter speeds may vary continuously from 1/4000 to several full seconds. When you shoot slower than 1/60 of a second, support the camera firmly to avoid camera shake and stop subject's motion. Purchase stabilized SLR camera lenses and camcorders. Faster moving subjects require faster shutter speeds to freeze action. The angle a subject is moving in relation to the camera affects results. For a fast moving subject moving at right angles to the camera, prioritize a faster shutter speed to stop action, perhaps 1/125, so the depth of field will be greater.
The smaller the aperture, the greater the depth of field. Shoot fast film through a long lens with shutter-priority no lower than 1/60 of a second. Stop down the lens and check actual exposure through the lens before subject arrives.
The purpose of the lens is to gather light and direct it to film. Often, you shoot the subject from far away. A telephoto lens magnifies a subject so they appear closer than they really are. Telephoto lenses are long focal length lenses. The longer the focal length, the larger the image on the film. Telephoto lenses are generally divided into three types -- short (85 to 135 mm), medium (150 to 300 mm) and long (500 mm or more). A 1000 mm lens will magnify a subject by twenty; that is a subject 1000' away would appear to be only twnety feet away in the film image/viewfinder.
Lenses are designated, and priced, according to the maximum f-number to which they open. A lens that opens to f1.4 is called a one-four lens. Lenses that open wider than f2 are called fast lenses. Slow lenses are generally those with a maximum aperture of f4. On some lenses, the designated maximum aperture is a half stop number. For example, f1.8 allows more light to pass through than f2, but not twice as much light, as f1.4 permits. Similarly, f3.5 is a half stop between f2.8 and f4, it allows more light to pass through than f4, but not twice as much. A zoom
lens is a variable focal length lens. By internal shift of their elements, zooms vary their focal length. This variance is called range.
Zooms are popular, cost more, and eat up more light than a fixed lens, but they are versatile. Because of their flexibility and convenience, zoom lenses dominate the market. Many zooms are capable of focusing at very close distances.
A normal 50 mm lens attached to a 2X converter will make it a 100 mm telephoto lens. A 2X converter will require opening the lens two more stops and it will reduce the sharpness of the lens being used with it. The autofocus lens (AF), made for newer SLR cameras, is operated by a small motor, either in the body of the camera or in the lens itself. (USM, ultra-sonic-motor lenses are faster to focus)
Exposure is the product of the intensity of light falling on film, controlled by lens aperture and the length of time this intensity of light is allowed to act, controlled by shutter speed. To determine
correct exposure, meter the brightness of a scene. Relate the information to film sensitivity and set some combination of aperture and shutter speed, so the film receives neigher too little nor
too much light. Modern cameras contain a meter that measures the light reflecting from the subject, and advanced models computerize the meter to aperture and shutter adjustments electronically. Learn to anticipate -- practice prevents critical mistakes.
Given average conditions, exposure reading with a typical center-weighted camera meter gives a high percentage of successful fots. Average conditions means the scene contains roughly equal areas of light and dark detail, lit mainly from behind the camera. Some scenes will fool the meter. The scene may have extreme CONTRAST, very dim light or important areas much brighter or darker than the surroundings. When reading a difficult scene, decide what part you want to record and take advantage of your camera's features. Shooting against bright lights like the sun creates technical problems, be alert to flare, contrast, AND exposure errors. Taking properly focused fots at night is a minor challenge for those that practice their tradecraft.
Labs treat the ASA rating given to film as a standard for recommended processing. Dim available lighting often forces you to use film as if it had a higher rating. You must tell the lab to compensate by special processing. Speed manipulations are useful in difficult lighting, but
they may produce side effects. Uprating film speed and extending development means the film performs faster, but it is more grainy and contrasty. Uprate when faster shutter speeds, smaller apertures in poor light, or extending the effective range of your flash is needed. Treat all fots on a roll of film the same way when you manipulate a film's speed rating.
The amount you can change the ASA setting and still obtain acceptable results depends on the film speed. Great manipulation is possible with B&W film. E-6 processed Ektachrome provides both proofs and slides on the same run and has warmer colors pushed beyond 1.5 stops. When your
light meter fails to respond in dusk or night fots, replace the previously exposed film with a fresh roll of faster film. You may have to set a much higher ASA rating until it reads a workable shutter speed. Uprated films require extra development or pushing. Many processing labs offer this modified service. Avoid confusion by marking the film end with its revised ASA rating using a grease pencil when it is removed from the camera.
To uprate film, turn the ASA setting control to a higher figure. If you double the film's stated ASA you are going to expose the film as if it were one stop faster. Three times normal speed equals a one and a half stop increase. SLR cameras have a special compensation dial for different degrees of uprating. There are limits to push processing film. Go beyond acceptable limits and contrast and color is unacceptable. With B&W film - X4 uprating; for color negatives - X2. Some films are made to be pushed. Practice technique, you must know the fot ramifications before you risk results on a real subject when you receive legal consideration from a client in return for a professional service. Clients do not pay for excuses.
For best results, use your camera's exposure meter to calculate settings. Because it is difficult to measure scenes where the subject matter consists of dim reflections, practice bracketing exposures and push processing your film using the lenses and cameras you own. If you do not own a good camera outfit and you really want to work as a licensed investigator, you should plan to purchase quality, albiet an older professional outfit, and practice. Without camera experience you have little value.
Practice taking fots at home. Interiors at night with below average and bright lighting, close-ups from a distance and indoors during holidays without a flash. Use appropriate film, practice bracketing the exposure settings, set the shutter speed at 1/60th of a second and push the film
speed. Shoot at no less than 1/60th a second or you will not freeze the subject's motion. Longer lenses require a faster shutter speed, so expect to get closer to your subject at night, and use a fast fixed lens.
Practice outdoors at night. Subjects under and near outdoor lights; walking out of shadows into brightly lit street scenes, dimly lit parking lots, and out of a nightclub; beneath entrance signs and
silhouetted in front of a closed shop's window. Subject lit by street lights and their vehicles in moving traffic; subjects lit by campfires or in the stands at football games played at night; tennis matches, race tracks, and inside bars; subjects lighting up a cigarette by a bic or match light, under moonlight selling crack cocaine on the street, getting out of a car lit up by the vehicle's interior courtesy light or under a porch light kissing goodnight. If you know where your subject will be at night, go there the day before. Measure the distance and you will not have any problem setting your focus at night.
Practice indoors in public places, too. Subjects in airports, parking garages, shopping malls, basketball, bowling, wrestling, or ice hockey games, circuses, stage shows, ice shows, swimming pools, restaurants, hospitals, and churches. Practice under fluorescent, mercury-vapor, sodium-vapor, and tungsten light. Artificial light profoundly effects and distorts film color in different ways, you must know what to expect to control your workproduct and lay a proper legal Being able to confirm the truthfulness and veracity of your observations with a fot may be your only affirmative defense in court. Especially when you blow the video.
There are three physiological functions of the eyes that occur when viewing a scene with both eyes in three dimension:
1. Convergence, two eyes converge differently and the focal length of
the eyes change.
2. Accommodation, autofocus of the eyes in the near field of view.
3. Retinal Disparity, one eye sees a slightly different view because of
your eye gap.
Counter productive in perceiving depth in a print or TV monitor, neither convergence nor accommodation of eyes change as they scan near and far objects recorded on a flat image. The retrinal images in both eyes are identical. The scene is flat and the brain accepts this fact. An enhanced sense of depth results from only viewing a point with one eye
(Leonardo da Vinci).
Depth effect is best with the dominant eye. Point at a distant object. Without moving finger or head, close one eye; and then the other, the one with the unchanged focus is your dominate eye. Please practice keeping both eyes open while using your camera.
How much better is the task of establishing a common and accurate understanding of a particular setting or an object when investigative discovery is documented on video accompanied by fots. It is this quality that makes investigative photography valuable, and cameras/camcorders another comprehensive investigative appliance, like a computer. Fots allow clients, courts, and juries to get an accurate and lucid understanding of situations. Fots may be stored indefinitely and be available when needed. They provide a visual record of a crime scene, liability incident, and related objects. You can put fots into your computer and print them with your Formal Report that accompanies the videotape, HI-8mm video tape if you plan to provide quality edits.
Trial courts determine the admissibility of photographic evidence. Judgment is based upon legal precedents that have considered some of the following points of law:
1. The object pictured must be material or relevant to the point at
2. Fots must not appeal to the emotions or tend to prejudice the court
or jury.
3. The scene or object represented must be free from distortion and
CANNOT be misrepresented.
Any enhancement of the original film, as originally processed, without a court order, opens a pandora's box of legal ramifications. It is better to practice, take back-up fots to confirm what the video recorded, take extra fots to get results incase you have an unguarded moment (we all have them), and do not provide client's with excuses why you did not get that million dollar shot that they paid you to get.
Copyrighted by --
Ron Azzarello, licensed investigator C88-640
ALLIANCE Surveillance & Investigation A88-275
PO Drawer 1095, Dunedin, FL 34697-1095 USA
1-813 736-6775