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FREEZE! - Forensic Photoshop Is On The Case
February 06, 2008

Jim Hoerricks is the Senior Forensic Video Analyst for the Los Angeles Police Department's Scientific Investigation Division, a Photoshop instructor, an author, and a court qualified expert witness in Forensic Video Analysis. His site, Forensic Photoshop, contains lots of interesting posts and tutorials that deal with using Photoshop for forensic work.

Forensic Photoshop - Jim Hoerricks - LAPDA Photoshop fanatic since version 3 for Mac, Jim established the LAPD's Forensic Video Lab in 2001, has been the lead analyst on many of the LAPD's high-profile cases, and helped set the standard by which video evidence is handled by the department. Jim has worked on loan to many local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and has testified as an expert in Forensic Video Analysis.

Jim has also written a book, Forensic Photoshop, which is set to be released on Presidents' Day (2-18-2008). The book offers a comprehensive workflow – a reliably repeatable pattern of activity enabled by a systematic organization of resources that can be documented and learned. It also offers the reader the logical progression of steps necessary to the accomplishing of the goal – clarified and balanced images; images that remain true to their original content and context.

The Forensic Photoshop Workflow is a must for law enforcement (image/video analysts, crime analysis, latent print specialists, questioned document examiners, and forensic/crime scene photographers) as well as for medical/scientific imaging specialists and photo journalists.

So bookmark his blog and make sure to check out his content. He posts regularly on Photoshop techniques, and we've included a short tutorial at the end of our interview as a sample of his content. (See a series of forensic Photoshop tutorials for CS3.)

Interview With Jim Hoerricks

How did you get into this specialized field and can you tell us about your position with the LAPD and how that came to be?
In my case, these are really the same question. I was already successful as an artist / designer / photographer. I had never really considered a career in law enforcement.

Forensic Photoshop - Jim Hoerricks - LAPDI was offered a chance to come to the LAPD and create the Forensic Video Analysis lab in 2000. I was hired in 2001 and began working on it straight away. It was a unique situation... coming in from the outside to create the lab from scratch. I was given a lot of freedom to choose equipment and to craft procedures.

What is also unique is how the LAPD handles the forensic sciences. Rather than pick an officer and train him/her to become a scientist (only to have that person promote/transfer and take the training with them), the LAPD hires subject matter experts directly into the science positions within the Department. In my case, I was hired as a Surveillance Specialist. My work focuses on images from surveillance systems – and training.

What were some of your most interesting cases, and how was Photoshop involved?
In one case, the defense hired an expert who said that the person in the surveillance evidence was not the defendant. Their expert used flawed techniques to “blow up” a few still frames for court. These frames were heavily pixilated. He didn’t provide his notes, but my guess was that he just made the pixels bigger, without regard to content. I was able to demonstrate that, with an appropriate interpolation method, the frames could be printed clearly – no matter how big (in this case 42”). My exhibits were allowed in trial – clearly showing the defendant. The jury agreed and convicted him on all counts.

Forensic Photoshop - Jim Hoerricks - LAPDIn another case, the suspect wore distinctive clothing whilst committing a series of robberies. I was able to gather the relevant evidence and perform a comparison of the clothing from the different robberies. Photoshop was essential in removing color casts from the majority of the images, removing blur, and the clarifying the details in question.

The case did not go to trial. Faced with the evidence, the defendant plead guilty – saving taxpayers countless thousands of dollars in court costs. These are just some of the more recent cases. My unit processes several dozen cases per week.

What is the story of how the book came about?
The story behind the book is actually included with its chapters. Until just recently, there have been no books written about the forensic uses of Photoshop. Many of the people who take my classes have no experience with Photoshop.

They are sworn officers who just received tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and are now expected to produce top tier results. They are well meaning folks, but have no clue what to do or in which order to do it. Factor in the fact that they may be called into court to testify about their results, facing cross examination, and you begin to see the need for my book.

Forensic Photoshop - Jim Hoerricks - LAPD I chose the name, Forensic Photoshop, for a specific reason. I did not want to focus so much on the science behind the program or a particular version. I have the blog for that. I wanted to give the reader a sense of the story behind each step – the true art of Forensics. My readers will gain an understanding of the tools, to be sure. But they also will be left with the ability to explain their processes in plain language.

Added to this, I wanted to present the book in workflow form – addressing my readers’ need to know what to do when. Each step is presented in my unique style – what do I want to do, how do I best accomplish the task, and why is it important that it’s done this way. The why, the true essence of the craft, is the key to mastery and the key to my book.

Forensic Photoshop - Jim Hoerricks - LAPDIs it for a specialized crowd or can it be used by others?
I would say that my book is for everyone. Everyone who buys Photoshop CS3 does so out of a need to produce high quality images. Everyone can benefit from a workflow, a systematic approach to clarifying their images. Everyone can benefit from knowing what to do when.

Professionals can benefit from getting a sense of the storytelling aspect of their work. Learning to tell your story is often the key to selling yourself and your work. I’ve seen many average photographers get work precisely because they knew how to convey the story of the shot; to listen to their client’s needs and correctly articulate what was to be done, how they were going to go about it, and why they – and not the competition – were the correct choice to accomplish the client’s goals. As hard as it often is to find good clients, an artist who has mastered the why of his/her work will never be unemployed for long.

What are your favorite tricks to use in Photoshop CS3?
On the forensic science side, I love that most everything works in 16bpc now. I know that many were excited when Shadow/Highlights became available through Smart Filters. Importing movies into PS as layers is a great addition as well. My work is so varied that I find myself utilizing so many of the features, I often forget how jazzed I was when the History palette was introduced. One of the nice new things with CS3 is the ability to work with JPEGs and Tiffs in Adobe Camera Raw. I see a lot of JPEG images from CCTV systems. The ability to make simple edits to a large number of similar files in ACR is really a timesaver.

Forensic Photoshop Tutorial - Sharpening in LAB mode
(reprinted with permission from Forensic Photoshop Blog)

I've received a few e-mails from folks asking for a demonstration on sharpening in LAB mode. With this technique, we are going to be targeting just the Lightness Channel - affecting only the lightness values in the image.

In today's image, detail is important. In a structural failure such as this, I want to highlight the sources of that failure. In this case, the bridge's details, the torn and twisted metal, the bent rebar, and the broken concrete all have a part to play in the telling of this story. I also want to make sure that the items in the water receive attention.

Forensic Photoshop Tutorial - Sharpening in LAB mode

To begin, work the image as normal (focus correction, global light/colour, local light/colour) until you come to the Creative Sharpening stage. If you've performed the previous corrections in RGB, save the layered file before moving into LAB mode (Image>Mode>Lab Color). If you moved to LAB mode before making the initial corrections, continue on.

I mentioned earlier that we will be working with the lightness values only. Here's how it works:

  1. Press Ctrll+Alt+1 to select only the lightness values.
  2. Invert the selection - Shift+Ctrl+I.
  3. Click Ctrl+H to hide the selection.
  4. With the Channels Palette open, select the Lightness Chanel.

Forensic Photoshop Tutorial - Sharpening in LAB mode

Selecting the Unsharp Mask filter (Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask) brings up this dialog. For today's image, I've used Amount=150, Radius=3, and Threshold=2. You can toggle the Preview button on/off to preview the results.

Forensic Photoshop Tutorial - Sharpening in LAB mode

When you've finished applying the filter, click Ctrl+D to deselect the lightness values (remember, you hid them earlier). Continue on with the workflow (saving as necessary).

When you are finished, you'll see that the difference can be quite dramatic.

Forensic Photoshop Tutorial - Sharpening in LAB mode

Try this one for yourself. You'll be glad you've added LAB sharpening to your tool box.
(See a series of forensic Photoshop tutorials for CS3.)

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