“Are You in a Photography Rut with Your Clinical Photos?”

If you feel stuck with the mediocre results you’re getting every time you have to take photos in the operatory, I’d like to help you get back on the road and begin capturing images that are useful to you, your practice, and your lab.

I’ve been working with cameras for a number of years, and while I certainly don’t consider myself an expert in the field of photography, I do have a certain proficiency with the medium and understand the fundamentals that go into making great images. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to study and learn from many professional photographers in various areas of photography. I’ve even managed to land a few paying jobs along the way, and with each of them I’ve grown and improved.

I recently visited a doctor’s office to help them with their clinical photography, as it had quickly become apparent that they needed help in this area. The majority of the photos we received from them were out of focus, had inconsistent color representation, or were shot from odd angles. In some cases it was a combination of all three.

Generally, with a hands-on training session, I’m able to have the doctor and staff up and running in about an hour or so, ready to shoot clinical photos with much improved results. Their understanding of photography is still pretty limited at this point, but they have the necessary knowledge to get the job done. But this situation was a little different than most – they were taking their photos with a camera phone. Although I’ve always said that the best camera to use is the one you have with you, camera phones are not the ideal “camera” to use for clinical photography. Having said that, there are some camera phones that far exceed the ranks of their peers, like the Nokia PureView 808 which has a 41 megapixel camera built in. That’s right – 41 megapixels! Don’t get your wallet ready just yet, chances are it won’t make it to retail stores in the U.S. This is just one more indication of how rapidly technology is advancing, but even this camera phone is not my recommendation for your clinical shots.

Most offices I visit have one of two different types of camera systems – either a DSLR or a point-and-shoot camera. Point-and-shoot cameras are small, relatively inexpensive ($100-$300) and are great for casual photography. Some of the limitations inherent to these types of cameras are the lack of full manual control, small imaging sensors which aren’t capable of producing highly detailed images, and a limited aperture range. Having a broader aperture range allows for greater depth of field (getting all the teeth in focus when shooting at small apertures like f25 or f29). DSLRs, while a bit more expensive, allow the photographer to change out lenses and use a dedicated macro lens for their up-close clinical photography. They have image sensors roughly 10 times larger than point-and-shoots and produce incredibly detailed images. They give the photographer the option of full manual control for creative freedom, the ability to manually focus on a subject, and are much better at balancing color within the camera.

To demonstrate the differences between the two cameras, I took a photo of a patient with each and placed the images side by side for comparison. There are a number of visible differences in the two images. Both cameras were set to Auto White Balance (AWB) and the DSLR did a really nice job of balancing the colors. The point-and shoot, on the other hand, didn’t do so well – the colors are too warm and the image has a slight yellow color cast to it. There’s quite a contrast in the amount of detail in the two images as well.

Click on image to enlarge.

At 100% magnification you can see the difference between the two cameras and the subtleties of tooth #9 are apparent in the image produced by the DSLR. This patient has fairly monochromatic teeth – imagine if you had a patient with a lot of characterization in their teeth and you were trying to communicate this to the lab – how do you think a point-and-shoot camera would fare? Another difference that jumps out is the distortion apparent in the image from the point-and-shoot. The patient’s mouth appears more convex than it actually is. This is called barrel distortion and is attributed to the cameras lens.

So now that you’ve seen a few of the differences between the two systems, I’m sure you’ll agree that DSLRs provide a much more robust system and superior image quality. They’re my recommendation for all your clinical photography needs and are excellent for your “glamour” shots as well. Look for future photography related articles and feel free to post a comment or make a suggestion if you have a specific topic you would like me to cover.



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