We love learning about our users. We are always interested to hear your views about the world of image and video forensics, what your challenges are, and especially finding out about your interest in books, gardening and maybe even dancing! If you are interested in sharing your story, contact us for a chat!
George Reis, an expert photographer turned forensic image and video expert, and now the owner of Imaging Forensics, tells us how many fruit trees and vegetables he has in his garden and his love for reading and dancing! But he also shares his thoughts about the challenges of DVR systems and what he thinks the future of image and video forensics will look like.
I have known George for many years. He helped us a lot during the development and testing of our tools. Not only did he request a lot of useful features that have been added to Amped FIVE and Amped Authenticate, but he also tested the software thoroughly, reporting bugs and various little details that we had missed during development. To tell you the truth, to implement all the features he asked for means we would need to double or triple our team… but it’s good to be pushed to the limit. Thanks to George and people like him, we have a very rich roadmap for the next few years.
George, tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background and can you tell us about your company?
I am the owner of Imaging Forensics, a company that provides forensic video analysis, photography analysis, and photography. Imaging Forensics also provides training in these disciplines.
Prior to entering forensics, my background was in photography, primarily in the field of photojournalism. I was then hired by the Newport Beach (CA) Police Department as a forensic photographer. My duties expanded into the areas of photographic enhancement and video analysis in the early to mid-1990s, when all security video was analog on VHS tape.
I retired from the police department in 2004 to make Imaging Forensics a full-time venture.
What made you decide to enter the field of multimedia forensics?
I got into forensics in general, and forensic video analysis specifically, by accident. In the late 1980s, I was a freelance photographer and business was slow. I answered a newspaper classified ad for a “police photographer” with the intention of using it to stabilize my income, then returning to the freelance field. But, I found forensics much more interesting and rewarding than I expected.
In 1992 I began experimenting with digital photography and enhancement of fingerprints. And, around 1995, our video producer asked me if I’d like to work on some security camera video and I then took over those duties.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges with digital multimedia evidence and investigating crimes?
A key challenge with DME is that each DVR system is different and the documentation can be non-existent. As such, it often is difficult to know if you have the best evidence and whether the video is accurate in frame rate, aspect ratio, etc. Add to this bad camera placement, low resolution, time lapse, lack of equipment maintenance, low bandwidth systems, mismatched cameras and DVRs, and the challenges pile on. Then, there is a separate issue regarding the amount of video evidence that exists and the amount collected. I see cases where key video evidence isn’t even collected, and other cases where there is so much video collected that it takes hours upon hours to sort through it to determine what has value.
In a perfect world, cameras and DVRs would all be compatible with each other, and there would be excellent documentation about each system. In our current world, there are hundreds of camera configurations and hundreds of DVRs, and there are a myriad number of ways that systems can be configured. One helpful solution would be if DVRs would export a file that provided all of the specs of the system when exporting the video. This file could contain camera specs, DVR make and model, software version, and system configuration overall and for each camera. Or, perhaps this can be in the metadata of the proprietary files. But, I don’t anticipate this happening, so the next best thing is for training of personnel responsible for collecting DME.
Why do you think it is important that forensic image and video analysts be properly trained?
When I started in this field, the discipline was new, the community was small, and training in FVA, and image analysis was non-existent. Fortunately, there were standards in the analog world that we could follow – once we learned of their existence. Fortunately, most of us in that small community shared what we learned with each other. With digital technology, things became more complex and standards went out the window. The world of video analysis became much more complex, and with that complexity, training becomes more and more important.
One thing that is always key in this field, that I always keep in mind, is that in each case someone’s liberty is at stake. Misunderstanding the evidence can lead to a criminal going free to commit additional crimes, or an innocent person losing their liberty and going to jail. Both of these are travesties. With those stakes, how can anyone not seek to be well-trained?
What do you think the future looks like for image and video forensics?
Tools will continue to be developed to help us do our work.
Amped FIVE was the first forensic software that caused me to get excited about the future of our tools. After seeing it and trying it out, I made several suggestions for new features. Not only were many of them implemented, but I got feedback on each suggestion that I have made, and still get updates when something I’ve suggested gets implemented. As software developers learn to meet the needs of their customers, our tools improve and we can do a better job.
On the other side of the coin – I don’t see manufacturers of DVR systems providing better products at lower prices. Instead, I see lower prices caused by poorer quality products. I think we will continue to see poor quality video from poorly placed cameras for a very long time.
How did you learn about Amped Software?
I was offered a demonstration of the software, which I actually resisted for several months. I finally relented and was surprised to find that I found it useful and it has become a part of my workflow. I also found, surprisingly, that I appreciate that Amped Software products use dongles. This allows me to use the software on my laptop when I travel and on my desktop at the lab, without having to have two licenses!
Do you have any interesting story or success case related to Amped Software products?
I think of every case in which I am able to offer assistance to be a success. When I think of Amped Software specifically, I use both Amped FIVE and Amped Authenticate.
With FIVE, my successes come most often when I use the deconvolution (deblur) features and the tonal adjustments – including CLAHE and Histogram Equalization. Very recently I had an image that was blurred in multiple directions. The driver of a moving vehicle photographed a moving truck. It looked rather hopeless. I used the Nonlinear Deblurring filter and recovered the license plate as well as other identifying marks on the truck.
I am still experimenting with the measurement tools, and hope that they will become a regular part of my workflow when appropriate.
With Authenticate there is an easy-to-use interface to help determine if a photograph is what it purports to be. I use Authenticate on every authentication case that I have. One of the many great things about Authenticate is that even when you find that the image is a camera original, and has not been altered, it provides me with the justification for that finding so that I can write a thorough report showing what I have analyzed and what the results of that analysis are.
When you are not busy looking at digital evidence, what do you like doing in your spare time?
I love to read, garden, and dance!
I especially love 19th and early 20th century classics. Charles Dickens is my favorite author, although all the classics from Dostoyevsky to Hesse are great, and more modern authors from Michael Connelly to Caleb Carr are also favorites.
In the garden, I grow a ton of organic fruit and vegetables. I have 21 varieties of fruit trees that include two varieties of bananas, three varieties of avocados, two varieties of mango, plus peaches, apples, cherimoya, apple, loquat, etc. In the vegetable garden, I currently have two varieties of potatoes, two varieties of asparagus, onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, celery, cucumber, parsnips, swiss chard, several types of lettuce, etc.
And dancing! I love to Foxtrot, Waltz, Swing, Rumba and Tango. My wife and I have been in a few dance shows and even some local competitions.