Photographs as Evidence: How to Work with Print and Digital Images

A re-post of my article at the ABA’s Law Practice Today

http://www.lawpracticetoday.org/article/photographs-as-evidence-how-to-work-with-print-and-digital-images/

It seems like photographs are everywhere, doesn’t it? The advent of digital photography, mobile phones, and social media sites means people are taking exponentially more photographs. Experts predict that within this year, more than 1 trillion photos will be taken.

We are living in a technological time when capturing and sharing images is easy and ubiquitous. People take pictures with digital cameras, smart phones, and tablets. Copiers often double as scanners that allow the rapid duplication of printouts, with an additional conversion of a page of text into an image format.

Not only has the number of photographs increased, so, too has the use of them in litigation for both digital and physical evidence. One reason may be because jurors, being drawn from the general public, are visual learners, so they mainly want to see evidence rather than hear it. People also more easily forget what they hear. With the amount of information that jurors must process, using photographs can help strengthen an argument or issue presented.

Litigators may choose to digitally project photographs depending upon whether the courtroom is capable of displaying the images. Or, as in the case of a federal suit, lawyers may be forced to use digital files. However, when the jurors deliberate, lawyers must consider what happens when they try to print a digital photograph.

What are Photographs, Really?

When a photograph is captured by a digital camera, it becomes a digital file called a “raster file.”  Raster images are resolution-dependent. Basically, resolution is the amount of dots per inch (dpi) when a raster image is printed, or pixels per inch (ppi) when a raster image is displayed on a screen.

Resolution dependency means that the resolution varies depending upon where that raster image ends up. Terms like “lo res” refer to digital images with a resolution of 72 ppi – suitable for website usage. “Hi res” images have a resolution setting ranging from 300-600 dpi or higher – suitable for print use.

Because of these resolution differences, lawyers often experience photos that are in-focus when viewed on a screen, but blurry/out-of-focus when printed out.

The Blurry Printed Photographs Problem

There are two main reasons why an in-focus digital photo becomes blurry when printed:

1. Web images have lo res settings while printed images need hi res settings.

When you print a lo res image that has 72 ppi, there’s not enough data to print a clear and crisp image. Although software, like Adobe Photoshop, allows you to upsample (and simply increase the resolution), do not do it. The resulting image will now be blurry in both digital and printed applications.

2. Web images that are stretched or scaled to fit a page will also result in blurry printouts.

Facebook and Twitter photos are not only lo res, they are also small in physical size, like postal-stamp sizes when printed out. This is not an effective way to present them as evidence.

Many a savvy lawyer will take a downloaded Facebook photo and stretch it to fit a printout size. Or, they will look in the print dialog box and click “Scale to Fit Page”. Both are also problematic because the result is a blurry printout.

So what can you do?

Solutions

Here are two possible solutions to achieving an in-focus printout from a digital photograph.

1. If possible, you may be able to resize an image.

Resizing an image is different than resampling it. Resampling changes the resolution. Resizing allows for a swapping of size and resolution settings.

If you have a large photograph in terms of width and height, but it is lo res (72 ppi), you can resize it to be smaller in width and height, while increasing its resolution.

Where do you get digital photographs that can be resized?

They are photographs taken with a camera or smart phone and sent directly to an attorney – not  photos that are right-clicked and saved off of someone’s social media profile and then sent to an attorney.

After you have the resizeable digital photo, you will need software to resize it. Two good options are GIMP and Adobe Photoshop. GIMP is free and offers many of the capabilities of Adobe Photoshop.

Here is a step-by-step tutorial to resize an image using GIMP

  1. Open GIMP
  2. <File <Open and find your digital image
  3. <Image <Scale Image
  4. Increase both your X and Y resolution (and they are probably linked by default) and GIMP will automatically decrease your width and height. You may want to change the dropdown button next to the width and height values to inches so you see the size of the image when it is printed out.*
  5. Hit “Scale
  6. <File <Print to print your file
  7. Now be sure to Re-save your new, resized image as a JPG by
  8. <File <Export As
  9. In the Name box at the top, rename your file something like “hi_res.jpg”. Unless you make other changes, be sure to add/keep the .jpg or else your file won’t save as a JPG. Also, pay attention to where you are saving your file!
  10. Hit the “Export” button
  11. You can now close out of GIMP because you have already saved your new file.

*When you are changing the resolution in step 4, you may wonder what number to change the setting too. Remember, printed images normally need a resolution between 300-600 dpi. So try 300, then 600. Whatever prints out in focus and is the width and height you want is the winner.

Resizing is a powerful solution for most, but not all, digital photographs. Some digital photographs are too small in resolution and size to be resized. These are the digital files that mainly appear in a person’s Facebook or Twitter profile.

Social media sites optimize photos to be displayed digitally and to fit on Facebook’s or Twitter’s servers. The photos are not intended to be printed out. So these companies automatically downsample all photographs that are uploaded to their sites.

What can you do if a client sends you an image they downloaded off of a social media site? If you want to print it out, not much. However, you may be able to get a better digital image if you get a screen capture of it.

2. Take a screen capture of a digital photograph.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter display user-generated photographs in many ways. Sometimes images are embedded into a tweet; sometimes you can click and see the image by itself. Try to find a way to view the photo as large as possible on your computer screen. Get it as large as you can on the screen, and then take a screen capture of it by doing the following…

Taking a screen capture with a Mac:

  1. Press Command and Shift and 4 together
  2. Move the crosshair pointer to where you want to start the screenshot
  3. Drag to select an area
  4. When you’ve selected the area you want, release your mouse or trackpad button
  5. Find the screenshot as a .png file on your desktop
  6. Open the file in GIMP
  7. <Image <Scale Image
  8. Try to see if you can resize this lo-res image into a hi res one. If your image is larger in width and height than what you need, increase the x and y resolution (see step 4 from the above section about resizing).

Taking a screen capture with a PC:

  1. Press the Print Scrn button
  2. Open Gimp
  3. <File <Create from Clipboard
  4. Crop down the image to the photograph you want by going to <Tools <Transform Tools and selecting theCrop tool
  5. Drag to select the photograph only
  6. Hit the Enter button on your keyboard
  7. <Image <Scale Image
  8. Try to see if you can resize this lo-res image into a hi res one. If your image is larger in width and height than what you need, increase the x and y resolution (see step 4 from the above section about resizing).

Conclusion

Whether printed or projected, lawyers will probably use photographs in litigation. It’s crucial for lawyers to understand how to use them correctly and effectively.

Understand that resolution varies depending upon where these photographs will be used. Print photographs require a higher resolution setting than digitally displayed photos. But sometimes, if a lo res digital image is large in width and height, it can be resized to be a hi res image.

Resizing a photo allows for an increase in the resolution while decreasing the overall width and height of the photo. So litigators can have both an in-focus digital image and an in-focus (albeit smaller in width and height) printed image.

But if you can’t resize a digital image, try to view it as large as possible on your screen and take a screen capture of it.

These are some solutions to address working with lo res digital images. Sometimes, though, no workaround helps. In that case, hope for a courtroom that is wired so you can present the digital images to the jurors or judge on a screen.

What do the best lawyers and professors have in common?

What do the best lawyers and professors have in common? They’re expert communicators.

My education and degrees include a Doctorate of Philosophy in Technology (a PhD in Technology) and an expected Doctor of Jurisprudence in the law (a JD) next year.

The profession that has recently shown me the most enthusiasm regarding this combination is the legal profession.

But I am drawing upon my experiences as a professor when I have written for legal outlets about spotting manipulation of digital photographs, audio recording by patients of their medical visits, and the overall need for workshops aimed at advancing lawyers’ software skills.

What I have also realized is that the common thread between what the best litigators do and what the best teachers do is efficiently and effectively communicate to their audience. The lawyers communicate to the jury (or judge, in the case of a bench trial). Professors communicate/teach to their students.

And I teach my students about visual communication. I communicate about communication! My students learn how to make logos, manipulate images, create newsletters.. basic graphic design. I have even begun to teach about 3d printing! Simply put, I teach how to create visual things because we communicate with visual symbols.

Now lawyers are undoubtedly trained in the art of written communication. But they need to be able to communicate to a jury, which is comprised of the general public. And, unlike lawyers, the general public prefers to learn visually, so they mainly want to see evidence rather than hear it.

This has led to the surge in the use of trial evidence of photographs, videos, audio recordings, etc. Given the abundance of visual images posted online, or captured by smart phones, lawyers need to become tech-savvy if they are not using communication technologies already. But I am not throwing shade or pointing fingers at anyone… heck, two years ago, it was revealed that the SCOTUS judges are not that technologically sophisticated. But technological competence is really a skill set that needs to be developed and can be through simple use of the devices and websites. (And if you don’t know how to work a device, give it to a toddler. Seriously, my 2-year old daughter can work my iPhone. And that kind-of terrifies me.)

Lawyers also need to learn how to capture digital evidence, optimize it for presentation in either a printout or a digital projection in front of jurors, or they need to hire people that have these skills (Lawyers, I’d like you to meet graphic designers. Graphic designers, I’d like you to meet lawyers).

Other than the fact that jurors are visual learners, why is using a photograph, or audio recording, or video, so powerful? Because it is hard evidence. It is not someone telling you something; the lawyer is not just telling the jurors, “This is how I think you should rule,” and arguing their side. The lawyer is presenting an audio recording on top of this “I-think-you-should-rule-this-way” method, which allows the jurors to better make up their own minds.

For example, audio recordings have not only the spoken words, but the speed at which the words are said, the tone/volume/pitch, etc. that are communication signals to better convey the true intention of the speaker.

Photos and videos are so powerful at present… Just look at the reactions that happen when they are posted online. The numerous postings of police/public confrontations, like posting a video online, has led to serious offline actions.

So back to the juror, a member of the general public…they will be empowered to draw their own conclusions at trial based on what they see or hear when they see a photograph, when they hear a recording, or when they see and hear content presented in a video. Wouldn’t that make their decision much stronger?

That’s the intersection of law and technology that excites me. Because it is about communication. And I teach about one very powerful type of communication.

Lawyers, put DOWN the PowerPoint!

I have taught undergraduates design for about 15 years, and one of my tools is creating and using PowerPoint slides. I am not alone in doing this, of course. Most professors create and use PowerPoint in their classes. It is old news- something students expect and if you do not provide them with your PowerPoint slides, they will ask you for them.

So when I attended last month’s ABA TECHSHOW, my jaw dropped when I heard lawyer presenters gush about how great it is to use PowerPoint in the courtroom setting. The general takeaway was that jurors were really impressed and moved after seeing PowerPoint slides.

I thought, “Stop. Just stop,” although I did not say a thing about this to anyone at the show because, well, I am not a lawyer.

But I did tell my students about it. And they just laughed. Hard.

As an academic, I overuse PowerPoint. I admit it. But it seems like so does the rest of those who teach.

(Lawyers, please listen to this next part.)

anti-powerpoint

Many jurors will not like seeing that the trial lawyers are using PowerPoint.

What happens when I turb on my computer at the front of the class and connect my PowerPoint slides to the projector is… the students’ eyes glaze over. And that is with the students who have their heads up! Others simply put their heads down and start tapping away on their phones.

Now I do believe being a juror is a different experience than being a student, but my point is this…

… If you have a juror who is in college, or went to college within the last 15 years, they have been forced to overdose on viewing PowerPoint.

I believe that one surefire way to disgust a juror who has a college education is to power up your PowerPoint.