Science + Tech

Steps to success in clinical dental photography

LauraTsuPacific17_Clinical Photography

Note: this is part II in a two-part series. Check out this post from earlier this month for more dental photography tips!

With technology’s growing presence within dentistry, having photographs of our dental work has become increasingly crucial. Clinical photographs can provide documentation, help patients visualize their intraoral conditions, and most importantly, showcase all your hard work. When searching for employment opportunities, photographs of your dental work can flaunt your abilities as a clinician.

Taking clinical photographs, however, is tricky. Most dental students aren’t trained photographers and understanding how to use the camera while directing the patient at the same time is a challenging feat. Here are some helpful tips that you can use to enhance your photography. 

  1. Do NOT use automatic settings: Many of the photos will be taken intraorally and automatic settings do not work well with these kinds of shots. Oftentimes, the camera becomes confused and can produce an image that is too dark. Furthermore, because we want intraoral photographs to be very detailed, I recommend customizing the shutter and aperture settings rather than allowing the camera to automatically determine them. Good settings include ISO 100, shutter 1/200, aperture f/10 for extraoral images and f/32 for intraoral images. You can find information on how to change these settings in the camera manual or through instructions provided by your school. Please be aware that some schools may not want you to change any camera settings. (For more on settings, see this post.)
  2. Make the patient comfortable: Coating their lips with vaseline and moistening the retractors makes the experience much easier for the patient. 
  3. Look for a plain background: Get your patients out of the dental chair! When taking patient headshots, it’s better to have a clean, professional background. Look for white walls without any posters or decorations around the clinic.
  4. Have all objects properly positioned: As you decide how to frame your image and position your patient, consider centering and aligning the patient’s face or oral cavity. Confirm that the patient’s head is straight, the face’s midline is in the middle of the shot, and the eyes are parallel to base of the image. It is also more visually appealing to capture the top part of the patient’s hair as well as the bottom of the chin, along with a little bit of negative space. For intraoral photos, try to position the camera so the arch is vertically symmetrical. Make sure the tongue does not obscure your view of any teeth.
  5. Stop intraoral mirrors from fogging up: Have a mixing bowl of warm water ready and place the mirrors in them for a few seconds to prevent them from fogging up intraorally. 
  6. Make sure your images are focused: Cameras should be set on manual focus so you can choose exactly where the focal plane will be in the image. Once everything has been properly framed in your shot, you should turn the focus ring on the lens (the part of the lens that can move circumferentially) until the image becomes less fuzzy and increasingly clear. Focusing on the bicuspids often produces a clearer image. Make sure to check the image after it’s taken and zoom in to view details. The picture should display distinct borders of teeth, and possibly even gingival stippling.
  7. Practice: As with most skills, more practice will help you increase speed and improve quality. Practice on classmates when there is free time, and find every opportunity to take photos of patients.

~ Laura Tsu, Pacific ’17

Laura Tsu

Laura Tsu is a second year student at University of the Pacific School of Dentistry. Her hobbies include photography and graphic design.

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  1. Please tell me which dental camera is best to invest in.

  2. Thanks for all the great tips Laura. I’m an absolute beginner in photography and have luckily come across your article. Let’s see how I will do lol. If I managed to get some good photos, I’ll be posting them on our Instagram account.

  3. Yasmine Zazi says:

    Thank you!

  4. Yasmine ZaziJ says:


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