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Convenient Photograph

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What can he see?

Something happened or someone did something they don't want a detective (or pseudo-detective) to know about. They may be Beneath Suspicion. Well, too bad for them, because it just happened to get caught in a photograph that reveals their guilt or implicates them in whatever happened. This can be a common reason for having a Camera Fiend among the cast.

A photographic counterpart to Caught on Tape, although frequently less damning due to the still nature of photographs. It may also be a literal Meaningful Background Event and can demand extensive use of the Enhance Button.

This may be the opposite of Photos Lie, but not always, as it may be a Red Herring. Or it may be that the photograph implausibly tells the truth, just revealing the information the protagonist needs, or the photograph gives the protagonist a piece of very specific information that actually misleads them or leads them to suspect the wrong person.


Compare Surveillance as the Plot Demands, which is also about characters improbably having cameras everywhere, but the effect is usually very different. In supernatural works, expect a lot of overlap with Spooky Photographs. Family Portrait of Characterization is one very specific subtrope. Compare with Removed from the Picture, with which it is technically an inverse (because it's specifically about what's not in the photograph), but often exploits the same principle (that there's a very clear, important piece of information in the photograph).



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    Anime and Manga 

  • In Asteroid in Love, Mai's case of Grew a Spine comes from the background of a photograph she took three months before, during Earth Sciences Club's summer camp. The picture is of Mikage (which Mai has a bit of crush on and unknowingly been Mai's Living Emotional Crutch at school) standing in front of a showcase in the Geological Museum, but when she reviewed it while she's been freaking out about having the club presidency passed to her half a year early, what she noticed is, instead, the content of the showcase—mineral samples used in past Japanese qualifiers of the International Earth Science Olympiad. This inspires her to take steps to become a more independent leader—by participating in this year's qualifiers.
  • In the A Certain Scientific Railgun short novel "Code Game", while on a school field trip at Anti-Skill, Saten Ruiko takes a picture of some wanted posters of suspects that Anti-Skill was tracking down. This triggers her smartphone's photo facial-recognition auto-categorization feature, which reveals that one of the suspects was in the background of one of her selfies, fleeing on a bike. The photo conveniently had the license number of the bike, allowing Anti-Skill to track down the suspect.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: Colonel Mustang's mother Madame Christmas manages dig up a picture of 8 year old Selim Bradley attending a rather important government event... that took place some hundred years previous. This serves as proof that the Fuhrer's beloved son is in fact a homunculus, specifically the evil Pride.
  • Odd Taxi: One of the plotlines gets kickstarted when Kabasawa, who wants to go viral online, decides to take a selfie with Odokawa while riding his taxi and accidentally catches Dob, the prime suspect in a missing teenager case, in the background.
  • Zombie Land Saga: Downplayed Trope. Okoba finds photos of all of Franchouhcou's members when they were alive, piecing together that they must have all been revived somehow. It's not until he catches video of Tae's head coming off that he suspects they're zombies.


  • A New Hope (Danganronpa): Mahiru, who was merely wandering around the school taking pictures, accidently takes several depicting the location of a later story and Killing Game. Namely, House of Horrors. In a rare use of this trope, not only is this quickly found out by the villains, the photos are also destroyed by Mahiru's killer.

    Film - Animated 

  • In Coco, the ofrenda photo of Mama Imelda also has her husband, minus a head. Miguel discovers a hidden portion of the photo that shows the man holding the Signature Instrument of Ernesto de la Cruz, which kicks off the main plot.
  • In The Iron Giant, Hogarth tries to get a photograph of the Giant, but the only photo he takes is of himself by accident. Later, Kent Mansley is developing the roll of film on Hogarth's camera looking for evidence and finds the photo of Hogarth... with the Giant visible in the background.
  • In Monsters, Inc., when Randall asks Mike about the human, Boo, that was spotted in the sushi restaurant, Mike lies that he was nowhere near the restaurant and throws suspicion at a coworker, so that he and Sully can get Boo back home before the authorities bust them for illegally harboring a human. As they walk towards the scare floor to get Boo's door, Celia, Mike's girlfriend angrily berates him for running away and leaving her to get processed when the authorities burst into the restaurant. Hearing the scolding, Randall then notices that the newspaper has picture taken inside the restaurant that shows Mike making a break for it.
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, King Candy convinces Ralph to stop Vanellope from entering the race in Sugar Rush by pointing out she's a glitch that could get the game shut down. Afterwards, Ralph goes back to his game to sulk and looks out at the arcade. He sees the cabinet for Sugar Rush with Vanellope's picture in the artwork, and realizes she was always meant to be a part of the game.

    Film - Live-Action 

  • Near the beginning of 12 Monkeys, Dr. Kathryn Railly is giving a lecture on the psychology of doomsday predictions, and pulls up a photograph of a delirious man in a World War One field hospital who claimed to be a time traveler from the future, trying to prevent an apocalypse. Then Dr. Railly meets James Cole, who similarly claims to be from the future, on a mission to prevent The End of the World as We Know It. She initially dismisses this as a delusion, but the consistent details of Cole's story make her start to think he might be right. Eventually she reexamines the materials from her lecture—and recognizes Cole as a background figure in photograph of the World War One patient, convincing her that he really is a time traveller.
  • Back to the Future Part II: A random picture in the newspaper archives of the Bad Present 1985 shows Biff with Gray's Sports Almanac from 2015 visible in his pocket, which clues Doc and Marty in on how and when the timeline went wrong and how they can fix it.
  • In Blow Up, a trendy London photographer in the Swinging Sixties is taking pictures of a model in a park. Developing them, he becomes obsessed with what might be a crime, un-noticed at the time, taking place in the background.
  • Final Destination 3: The photographs that Wendy took of the survivors before getting on (and off) the rollercoaster have eerie blocks on them to give clues to how they're going to die. She uses them as her main ammunition to figure out how to try and save them again.
  • Get Out!: An entire box of them, no less. Rose keeps photographs of all her victims, which also reveals that she dated and seduced all of them. Although Chris finds this out too late for it to be much use to him.
  • The Grudge: Played with. Kayako has a picture of Peter Kirk and his girlfriend in her belongings but the important part is torn away and not revealed until later: that she's in the background (because she was stalking him).
  • High Anxiety: Dr. Thorndyke is framed for murder by an assassin disguised as him. Thorndyke insists he was in the elevator when the murder occurred, and his assistant Brophy, who took a photo of the event, examines it for proof. In a parody of Blow Up, Brophy keeps enlarging the photograph until it's as big as the wall in his studio.
  • It Follows: Hugh aka Jeff just happens to leave a photograph in a porn magazine that shows him with Annie (who the audience may recognize as the opening victim). The part important to Jay and her friends is that Jeff happens to be wearing a letterman jacket in the photograph, allowing them to track him down from the school's information.
  • Lake Mungo: Downplayed, subverted, and played straight multiple times. First the family thinks they can see Alice's ghost in Matthew's photography, so they set up a camera to go off on timer. Then subverted when it turns out that Matthew planted Alice there. Then played straight when June realizes the photographs actually capture someone breaking into Alice's room. Then played straight a final time over the credits, where photographs are shown that reveal Alice's ghost is still there all along and never left.
  • The Last of Sheila: Invoked in the photograph of the murder victim and all the suspects. Which is set up by the victim to clue them in on the identity of the murderer.
  • The Night House: If Owen hadn't photographed all the women he was stalking, Beth may never have gone looking for his secrets and found the other house.
  • The Old Guard try their best to avoid this, since the proliferation of cameras makes it harder for them to remain undetected.
  • The Omen: Played for Horror in Keith's photographs of Father Brennan, where he notices the spike going through his body and inspires him to figure out the photograph clue. The more obvious "convenient" example occurs when Keith happens to catch himself in the mirror of one of his photographs, which shows him with his head severed.
  • The Pink Panther (2006): Near the end, Clouseau reveals that he uncovered whereabouts of the Pink Panther diamond after looking at a newspaper photo of himself getting arrested at the airport. He noticed, in the background, the diamond visible on an x-ray monitor as Xania's purse was being screened.
  • In Ready Player One, the heroes are caught in the The Shining when one spots a large framed photograph of a group of people in the Ballroom. This comes in handy later when they examine the photo after putting it back together and recognizing a woman who is a clue to their treasure hunt.
  • Rear Window: L.B. Jeffries just happens to have a photograph taken across the apartment courtyard, revealing that the shrubs in Thorwald's garden have been disturbed, another indication Thorwald may have murdered his wife.
  • Rachel knows something happened at the cabin when she finds the photographs of Katie and her friends with their faces suddenly messed up in The Ring. She later invokes it when trying to get Noah to believe her, by making him take a picture that shows her messed-up face in order to get him on board.
  • Searching:
    • David just happens to see a photograph that captures Margot in the background Eating Lunch Alone.
    • Less so the photograph, more the placement. David sees the same stock photograph as the one used by fishnchips in MemorialOne, which causes him to realize it's a catfish.
    • The newspaper photograph that David finds of Vick also has her beside the guy she frames, which is how he figures out her involvement.
  • In Se7en, a crime scene photo of a painting in the "Greed" victim's office becomes a major clue, since the victim's wife recognizes that the painting had been turned upside down. This discovery provides more evidence that leads to the next victim. However, there's no clear reason why the painting would have been photographed in the first place, since none of the police or forensics team would have known about the repositioning.
  • Summer of '84: Played with in the pictures on Mackey's wall. Davey figures out that it's not important what's on them, but that they are there at all.
  • Invoked in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. After identifying the real child murderer, the vengeance murderers take a photograph of all of them together and bury it as a backup to ensure that nobody can backstab each other.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Eddie Valiant is hired to take candid photos of Roger Rabbit's wife, Jessica, to prove that she's cheating on him with gag mogul Marvin Acme. When Acme is found murdered the next morning and it's believed that Roger did it out of jealousy, Roger's friend Baby Herman insists that he's innocent and that Acme got killed for his last will and testament, which granted ownership of Toontown to its Toon populace. Eddie doesn't believe it at first, but he then takes a closer look at one of his incriminating photos and notices the will in Acme's coat pocket.
  • Witness: Samuel would have had no clue who Mc Fee was, how to identify him, and nobody else would have ever known that the police are involved if there wasn't a photograph of him on the noticeboard of the police station in his plain view.


  • Daniel Hawthorne Novels: Apparently subverted before being played straight in The Word Is Murder. Horowitz is suspicious of Amanda Leigh from RADA and Grace Lovell's father and goes there to track down the photographs of the final performance of Hamlet (where both were in attendance). He's surprised to identify the funeral director as Dan, one of the other students, which is how he figures out the murderer.

  • The Darkest Corners: Callie tries to avert this and fails. She disguises herself in the picture she takes to attempt to snare the Ohio River Monster, but she forgets about her phone case, which allows him to recognize and kidnap her.

  • The Millennium Trilogy: In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and the adaptations, Mikael manages to find a photograph of Harriet taken at the Children's Day parade. He then just so happens to find someone with a camera on the other side of the street who just so happened to keep the photograph that showed who she saw.

  • The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires: The Alzheimer's-ridden Mary tells Patricia that there was a man in a white suit in Charlestown in the 1920s who convinced the townspeople to lynch a black man for killing a host of kids. Patricia manages to find a photograph of him in Mary's belongings that confirms this is James.

  • In the Nero Wolfe novel Where There's A Will, Wolfe notices a detail in a photo taken by Sara that leads him to the identity of the murderer.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Baptiste: When Zsofia was talking to the Gomorrah recruit (expecting him to identify Kamilla as Gomorrah), she's lucky that she happens to show him a picture with her husband Michael in the background, who he identifies as the real Gomorrah.
  • There's a The Brady Bunch episode with two cases. Greg gets a disputed football play on camera while taking pictures of the cheerleaders, and Bobby, who's trying to be like his big brother, has been taking surprise photos of others in the family. He happens to get the chalkboard with Alice's accidentally erased recipe in the background of the one he took of her, and she's thrilled.
  • Criminal (2019): Sandeep gets caught for not one, but two, murders because he'd had his photograph taken with a missing woman.
  • Damages: Ellen makes the connection between Tessa, Louis's illegitimate daughter — or, as the end of the season reveals, Joe's — and the Tobins as the person money laundering for them when Tessa is caught in the background of a photograph taken at their house on Thanksgiving.
  • Series 2 of Innocent UK:
    • Literally kicks off the plot when somebody happens to find a picture that shows Sally in the background walking through a park at the same time she was supposed to be murdering Matty. Downplayed, though, in that it took a couple of years for it to be found, resulting in her being jailed for murder before being retried.
    • Sally realizes that her husband's new fiancé Karen is more like a Stalker with a Crush when she looks through old photographs of them on their first date in Blackpool and realizes that Karen is in the background of one.
    • Played with by Matty's photograph in the school memorial. It doesn't show anybody else in the photograph itself, but in a Contrived Coincidence, Sam happened to be leaning on it while he wrote a message to Matty about their sexual relationship.
  • Inside No. 9:
    • In "The Riddle of the Sphinx", Squires has a blurry picture of himself and his wife at the crossword competition with a partially cut off figure of a young man. That is Nina's, aka Charlotte's, brother Simon, and it was taken at the crossword competition where Squires pushed Simon to commit suicide and set off the events of the plot.
    • In "Hurry Up and Wait", Oona and Stan just happen to have a photograph of Stan wearing a red tracksuit after Adam reads in his script that baby Ryan was kidnapped by a man wearing a red tracksuit.
    • Feigned in "How Do You Plead?". Webster managed to find a photograph of one of his clients at a party at the same time he was supposed to be murdering his wife. It turned out that he murdered his wife, and that photograph came from The Devil.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: In "Tangled", the detectives only figure out that Vincent is important because he was caught lurking in the background of a picture of Lara and Max.
  • The Mentalist: In the pilot, Jane is looking at a photograph of a guy whose teenage daughter is sitting on his lap in a pretty clear sign of Incest Subtext, and as Jane suspected, her father killed his daughter to stop her from telling anybody about the abuse.
  • An episode of Monk has a guy murder his wife and a thief he hired so that the scene could be framed that the thief killed his wife while he killed him in "self-defense". Later on, he sees that Julie Teegar owns a picture shirt with her boyfriend and noticed in the background it captured him and the thief meeting one another before the murder took place.
  • New Tricks: In "The Wolf of Wallbrook", UCOS reopen the case of 32-year old Charlie Hayes, a stock market trader, who fell to his death, a presumed suicide, from his office building near Tower Bridge in 1989 when a blow up photograph in a retrospective art exhibition reveals a background figure who pushed him.
  • The Killing:
    • Subverted by the picture of Rosie and Richmond. It's discussed a lot and thrusts Richmond into most people's suspicions, but it really is completely innocent.
    • Played straight by a picture that Linden finds in a victim's house in Season 4. It shows her in a picture with the Pied Piper - aka Linden's ex and now-superior Skinner.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • A related phenomenon occurs in the episode "Identity Crisis". For some reason, the only mission we've ever seen with an on-site cameraman recording it is the one time the recording proves essential. And it's not like the mission was anticipated to have historical significance or anything, they were looking for missing colonists.
    • In "The Vengeance Factor", Riker and the crew use this trope and Enhance Button on a decades old photo of a Gatherer's trial. They discover that the Girl of the Week was there because she's Older Than They Look.
  • Reconstructed in Unforgotten. All of the suspects in the murders in Series 2 manage to find photographs that prove they were elsewhere during the murders of their abusers. Cassie finds it suspicious that they were all able to find such conclusive proof they didn't do it, which is how she figures out that they were all in it together and killed each other's victims.
  • The Wild Wild West: Forms the resolution of "The Night of The Hangman", during a celebration held by Amos Rawlins, local farmer Lucius Brand seeming attempts to snipe Roger Creed, who foreclosed his farm, from a ledge only to accidentally hit Rawlins. Artie manages to find the evidence that conclusively exonerates Brand, proves that Rawlins was the real target and that both were the victim of a conspiracy, by carefully examining two photos taken minutes apart during the festival. As he presents to the court at the end, whilst on the surface neither photo seems to show anything out of the ordinary after Artie blows them up, then subdivides the images using a chessboard and marks out the key figures, the first photo shows the real assassin moving towards the ledge and second shows Creed looking straight at him before the shot is fired.
  • In one episode of Joan of Arcadia, God tasks Joan with helping a nerd with his campaign for school president. When another candidate, a Big Man on Campus and Jerk Jock, reveals that the nerd's father is currently in prison, Joan decides to dig up some dirt on him in retaliation. She and her friend Judith grab a camera and tail the athlete to the football field, where he heads for another guy who's a notorious drug dealer. They're ready to catch him on film—but things take a turn when the two boys start kissing instead, and Judith takes a picture in shock. Joan is then faced with the moral dilemma of exposing the jock's secret and destroying his reputation or not using the photo, which would make the nerd lose.
  • The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window:
    • Anna figures out where Meredith's sister lives because she Instagrammed a picture of People magazine, with her address in plain view.
    • Anna finds out that Neil was chaperoning the field trip because she finds a picture of him and Emma at the lighthouse. Although this turns out to be a Red Herring; Emma killed her teacher, not Neil.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney: It is taken to an art form to hide clues in photos. This tends to lead to clues being Hidden in Plain Sight.
  • Back to the Future: The Game: In Episode Three, Marty has to convince Doc's Alternate Self, Citizen Brown, that he's telling the truth about their time travel adventures. When Citizen Brown brings out a photograph of the night they captured Kid Tannen, Marty is able to spot something in the background: Doc and Marty themselves, which shocks Citizen Brown into starting to take him seriously.
  • In Scratches, the Blackwoods' maid, Eva Mariani caught James Blackwood burying the body of his dead wife Catherine, and gave a photo of it to the police who arrested James for murder. Late in the game, the player can also find this photo to locate Catherine Blackwood's grave.
  • Persona 5: The way that Akechi discovered who the Phantom Thieves were was by taking pictures of them in the middle of escaping Okumura's Palace. He later used this evidence to force them into helping him change Sae Niijima's heart, threatening to hand the pictures over to the police.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Tom and Jerry short "Tom's Photo Finish", Tom is almost caught raiding the fridge, but quickly incriminates Spike and gets the dog kicked out. Jerry, however, has taken a photo of Tom caught in the act, and has distributed copies all over the house. Hilarity Ensues as Tom races to destroy all the incriminating photographs before his owners find out.
  • This happened in a few instances on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!:
    • In the episode "Never Ape an Ape Man", Shaggy is playing with a camera when he sees the ape man unmasked. Shaggy photographs the ape man, revealing his true identity.
    • In "Jeepers, It's the Creeper," the gang is driving when they discovered an injured bank guard lying near his truck, which was attacked by the titular villain, a green ghoul. He hands the kids a blank sheet of paper and mutters, "The flame will tell..." before passing out. At the episode's end, it's revealed that the guard caught the bank's president on camera robbing his own cash supply; the supposedly blank paper is the photographic proof, and needs to be exposed to an open fire to be developed.
  • In The Little Rascals second-season short "Horse Sense", Alfalfa uses a photograph that Buckwheat had taken of the racehorse's owner to make the horse go faster in a race against Waldo's horse.