Beneath cover-up tattoos: possibilities and limitations of various photographic techniques

  • F. HolzEmail author
  • C. G. Birngruber
  • F. Ramsthaler
  • M. A. Verhoff
Short Communication



The goal of this study was to investigate the usefulness of various photographic techniques in visualizing previous tattoos under cover-up tattoos.

Material and methods

Ten volunteers with 11 known cover-up tattoos were examined using different photographic techniques: A Canon EOS 6D full-frame digital single-lens reflex camera used in conjunction with a SB600 off-camera flash system and an extension cord; and a Leica M8 digital imaging system camera in conjunction with two different infrared filters (715 nm and 850 nm) and a Metz CL-45 handle-mount flash. A Lumatec Superlite 400 forensic light source was used along with the Canon EOS 6D as a third system.


The best results for black cover-up tattoos were achieved with the full-frame digital single-lens reflex camera in conjunction with the off-camera flash system and, for colored cover-up tattoos, with IR-photography at a wavelength of 850 nm. The Lumatec Superlite 400 light source did not provide better results for conventional photography than those obtained with flash lighting.


In nine out of eleven cover-up tattoos, the previous tattoos could, at least, be partially visualized. The quality of the visualization depended on the color, pattern, density, and quality of the cover-up tattoo as well as on the photographic technique. None of the examined photographic techniques could satisfactorily image the previous tattoo if the cover-up tattoo was large and black, especially not if it was densely inked.


Depending on the color of the cover-up tattoo, a full-frame digital single-lens reflex camera in conjunction with a SB600 off-camera flash system (for black cover-ups) or infrared photography with flash lighting and an 850 nm filter (for colored cover-ups) proved to be the best of the investigated techniques to visualize a previous tattoo under a cover-up tattoo.


Cover-up tattoo Forensic photography IR photography Forensic light source Lumatec Superlite 400 Identification 


Compliance with ethical standards

Informed consent and permission for publication of photos were given by the volunteers.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Holz
    • 1
    Email author
  • C. G. Birngruber
    • 2
  • F. Ramsthaler
    • 3
  • M. A. Verhoff
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Legal MedicineUniversity Hospital of Frankfurt, Goethe UniversityFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Legal MedicineUniversity Hospital, Justus-Liebig-UniversityGiessenGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Legal MedicineSaarland UniversityHomburgGermany

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