The Beginner’s Guide to Dental Photography
Updated: Aug 10
When you picture how your work is presented to the world, I’m pretty sure that you want it to be like those pristine, ultra-clear and vivid pictures that you come across so often on social media. While most of you might think that photos of such quality require expert level skills and expensive equipment, let me tell you, it is easier than it looks. You can, with a few hours of practice and some reasonably priced equipment, take pictures of your work that can make those social media dazzlers look like public ID photographs. (Seriously, the government needs to get better cameras ASAP!)
In this article I’ll tell you the importance of properly documenting your cases, what the essential equipment that you need are and the basic technical know-how to take some amazing dental photographs.
Why you need to photograph your work
Photographs are extremely useful during diagnosis and treatment planning. They provide an in-depth review of the patient’s condition which can then be compared with their history to formulate an optimal treatment plan.
Pictures do speak a thousand words, studies have proven that our visual memory is far superior to our auditory memory. A visual representation can help a patient understand his condition better than any verbal explanation you give, thereby making them more willing to accept the treatment plan.
Perhaps the most important reason to document your work is for medico-legal reasons. Proper photo documentation can be a valuable asset to defend yourself against potential lawsuits.
Photographs enhance the quality of communication between you and the laboratory. Colour corrected photographs are more accurate than shade guides. This will help the lab create a final restoration with more accurate hue, value and chroma. It also helps during specialist referrals and consultations.
Another obvious reason is Advertising. Photographs of smiling patients can definitely boost your reputation. If your practice has a social media profile, then showcasing your skills is a sure-shot way to bring new patients to your practice. *Always make sure you obtain proper consent before publishing patient photographs on public profiles*
Last but not the least, they help you in self-assessing your work, this is the most important reason in my opinion because nothing can teach you better than your own mistakes. Careful retrospection of your work can give you valuable insights on how to improve your skills and provide better treatment outcomes for your future patients.
What you need to take spectacular dental photographs:
1. DSLR Camera
No smartphones or point & shoot cameras please (unless specifically set up for dentistry), they might get us through college but those distorted, grainy and oversaturated images have no place in our clinics. The quality we aspire for needs a good DSLR camera. Canon and Nikon DSLRs are recommended because of the easy availability of their accessories, but you can pick up any DSLR body depending on your budget and photography experience.
I insist that you try out the DSLR before buying to assess; how it feels in your hand, the weight, position of buttons and overall ergonomics. This is going to be your new best friend so get to know each other well before committing to a specific model.
Note: You must make sure that any and all camera accessories you purchase are made for or compatible with your DSLR camera body.
Tip: If new equipment seems too expensive you can always find used equipment that are just as good.
2. Macro lens
A macro lens is the next essential item on the list. If your DSLR is the brain then the macro lens are the eyes. They range in focal length from 50mm- 105mm, the difference being that a 100mm lens allows you to stand further away from the patient than a 50mm lens for close up photography.
For most clinical scenarios the 100mm lens can be used, 70mm lens are mostly used to take extra-oral photographs for orthodontic purposes. I do not recommend 50mm lens as they would require you to get very close to the oral cavity which is uncomfortable for you and your patients. Make sure your lens are compatible with your DSLR camera. Some lens might also require an adapter, so get that too.
Note: DSLRs usually come with lens having focal length between 18-55mm, DO NOT use these for dental purposes as they cause distortion in facial and intra-oral views, instead they can be used to click pictures of your food or significant other. ;)
3. Ring Flash
The 3rd and final accessory for your camera setup is a flash or to be more specific a Ring Flash, it is a must to obtain sharper images with a better depth of field and to also reduce shadows and reflections. Do NOT buy LED ring flashes as your pictures will turn out too dark, instead go for Through-The-Lens(TTL) ring flashes. If you are buying 3rd party accessories make sure they are made for or compatible with your DSLR camera model.
Dual Flash vs RIng Flash
The latest flash system available is the Dual Flash, you might have seen it displayed in dental trade fairs. While offering better performance, it is also quite bulky and difficult to store. So the advantage of a dual flash is not worth the extra money you have to shell out. If you really want the cutting edge you can always upgrade to the dual flash later.
Your camera setup is now complete and ready to use!
4. Dental Photography Mirrors
They are of two types: Polished stainless steel and Chromium plated glass. They are used to take the buccal and occlusal images. Any of the two can get the job done remarkably well.
I would highly recommend buying mirrors with handles as they will make your work much more efficient and will prevent finger photobombs.
Tip: Warming the mirror and/or asking your assistant to blow air constantly on the mirror can prevent condensation and fogging.
5. Cheek and Lip Retractors
C-shaped cheek retractors or double headed cheek retractors are available. Double headed retractors are more versatile, offer better control and more comfortable for your patients, hence they are suitable for taking dental photographs.
Tip: Applying vaseline on the lips reduces friction and makes the whole process a lot more easier.
Lip Retractors are extremely useful while taking occlusal photographs. They are transparent and prevent the lips from covering the occlusal surfaces, a task usually done by your assistant’s fingers.
No more cropping out fingers from photographs!
6. Contrasters (optional)
A contraster is a black piece of metal or plastic used to darken out bits of unneeded anatomy from the photo. They are not essential for regular use but if you are looking to take your dental photography to the next level then these bad boys are a must have.
7. SD Card (>32GB)
I cannot stress enough how important a good quality SD card is. There is nothing worse than a corrupted SD card throwing all your hard work down the drain. So make sure you buy a brand new, best-in-class, Sharma-ji ka beta type SD Card!
If you wanna go the extra mile, then there is WiFi enabled SD cards which can transfer photos to your computer even if your camera doesn’t have WiFi capabilities.
There you go, that’s the basic equipment required for quality dental photography. You can keep upgrading your setup as your skills improve and your pockets deepen, just make sure that all the accessories are compatible with each other.
Note: If you still have some money left in your budget, enrol in a dental photography course or buy a book on dental photography essentials. Think of this as a crash course for dental photography, you can do just as well without these but it’ll take longer to be able to take professional photographs. Personally, I prefer taking the scenic route, playing around with the settings and learning by myself (The Internet is free after all).
For comparison between different cameras and accessories, click here.
How to take stunning Dental Photographs
The Basic Settings
I recommend setting the camera and lens in manual mode as it gives you control over the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. For those of you who aren’t well versed with the photography jargon here is a brief description about these parameters.
Shutter speed: As the name suggests, shutter speed refers to how long light is permitted to enter the camera. That means faster the shutter speed, shorter the exposure time.
Aperture: Aperture setting controls the area over which light can enter your camera lens. This parameter determines the depth of field of a photograph. Lower values corresponds to a shallower depth of field.
ISO Speed: This determines how sensitive the camera is to incoming light, a lower setting is almost always desirable as higher the ISO speed higher the image noise(grainy image).
For a more thorough understanding of how these parameters work check out this video...
Images to be recorded during initial visit:
Images to be recorded during treatment:
Pre-treatment (specific region)
Note: Patient must be comfortably seated on the dental chair for intra-oral pictures, for extra-oral pictures patient can be seated on an operator chair or kept standing at the same height as that of the photographer.
You can also take glamour shots for advertising on social media!
Bonus tips to become a pro dental photographer
Use good quality equipment.
Train your staff well so that the entire process is completed in the shortest time and with maximum efficiency.
Take as many pictures as you want, it is easier to delete pictures than to recreate clinical scenarios.
Save edited(JPEG) and unedited(RAW) pictures in separate folders with patient details. (for medico-legal purposes unedited images are required)
Use clean and dry gloves while handling your camera equipment as they are extremely hydrophobic.
Rome was not built in a day and neither can your photography skills, keep practising and trying out various settings till you reach a sweet spot where you can take good quality images consistently.
There you have it folks! That's about all you need to know to start with dental photography. I hope this article has given you the inspiration and information to start taking pristine ultra-clear and vivid pictures of your work. Yes, the initial setup can be expensive but fret not, a good quality setup can easily last over 5 years with minimal maintenance. It is well worth the premium that you have to spend and believe me once you start taking photographs you won’t be able to stop!