The Nikon D3100 digital SLR camera

Are you happy with your photographic records? Do you feel like you are getting the most out of your current camera system?

Far too often, the concept of taking pictures is far more appealing to a busy plastic surgeon than the process of finding the right camera and implementing that system in the practice’s office.

However, today’s digital cameras are increasingly sophisticated and easy to use, and are able to make case presentations so visual. Not to mention the vital role photography plays in maintaining thorough records, communicating with insurance companies, and potentially fighting malpractice suits. Does it make sense not to have a high-functioning photographic system in your office?


Three factors come into play when selecting a camera. The camera has to take great pictures, it has to take standardized photos, and it has to be easy to use. Meeting this criteria isn’t always easy. You generally can’t just go into a store and buy a camera that is effective for the wide range of photography required in a plastic surgery practice.

Still, quality cameras are available for plastic surgeons. In fact, there are two different categories of cameras: small and simple handheld cameras, and the highest level of picture-taking—the digital SLR (single lens reflex). Both styles have their place in the plastic surgeon’s office.


The popularity of the simple handheld camera has grown greatly over the last few years. The smaller cameras are advantageous because they are less intimidating for staff members to use, they are lightweight and compact, and they are very portable.

The small and simple camera is a highly attractive option for offices that have never done photography before. Staff members tend to gravitate toward this style of camera as it looks and feels very much like cameras they might use at home.

Many handheld cameras, though, come with limitations, specifically in the camera’s flash. Providing consistent and uniform flash output is essential for any medical camera. Unfortunately, most of these cameras are not designed to meter light output on a close-up subject, so for any surgical photography, intraoral work, or extreme close-up picture-taking, handheld cameras have a very narrow margin of error to function properly.

Other potential hurdles for the simpler cameras include use of autofocus. By allowing the camera to focus itself, you lose the ability to absolutely standardize on all practice-related photography. Without the ability to let you manage the focus, the simpler cameras can in some cases compromise side-by-side comparison of before-and-after photography.

Nonetheless, a small and simple handheld camera can serve as a fantastic resource in a busy plastic surgery practice. When choosing a camera, simplicity is the key. The fewer settings changes needed to go from facial and body photography to close-up, the better. Keep it simple.


The Luminature LED Lighting Panel

Digital SLR cameras represent the highest level of clinical picture-taking. They are ideal for lecturers or photographers hoping to take the absolute best photographic records.

SLRs provide a more structured means of picture-taking with three standardized components that make up a quality digital SLR system: camera body, lens, and flash.

1) Camera body. Choosing a digital SLR camera body isn’t as daunting as it once was, when image resolution was an issue. Today’s cameras provide more than enough resolution for use on printers, computer monitors, and even the highest-level digital projectors. As a result, camera bodies are chosen today for their size and usability over anything else.

There are several lightweight, inexpensive digital SLR bodies, such as the Canon Rebel T3 and T2i, or the Nikon D3100 and D90. These cameras offer high resolution still and video photography coupled with a body sized to be used with one hand.

2) Lens. Your lens will vary somewhat depending upon your needs. Lens options range from the basic 18-mm to 55-mm lenses for portrait, body, and torso photography to unique macro lenses for close-up picture-taking.

A 60-mm macro lens is an excellent choice if you hope to accomplish facial, body, and torso photography while also attempting to photograph subjects as close as 4 to 6 inches away. This affordable lens, made by Nikon and Canon, is small and lightweight.

If you’re hoping to accomplish portraits to extreme close-ups of 1 to 2 inches, an 85-mm or 100-mm macro lens could be ideal. Macro lenses provide depth of field on extreme close-ups not seen in lenses designed for distance photography, and they are far more appropriate for clinical use.

Most lenses will offer you the option of auto focus or manual focus. Very often, people choose auto focus because in theory it makes the picture-taking faster and simpler. However, when you allow the camera to determine focus, you lose the ability to absolutely standardize on picture-taking. If taking side-by-side, repeatable before-and-afters is important, manual focus is much more ideal.

Macro lenses offer guides showing the magnification of the subject, so you can take the same subject area on the same spot on the lens and produce extremely accurate before-and-after photos.

3) Flash. Perhaps the most important component of any medical camera is the flash. If the subject area is overexposed, underexposed, or partially lit, then the photos will not be adequate medical records. As a result, the pop-up flash often found on digital SLR cameras is to be avoided. They are designed to bathe a distant subject area with light, and, as a result, they are not ideal for medical records.

Flashes that are designed for medical picture-taking include the Ring Flash, the dual-point flash, and the Ring and Point combination flash.

The Ring Flash is an all-encompassing light designed for intraoral photography as well as surgical picture-taking. Basically, any dark and hidden subject area benefits from the shadowless illumination of the Ring Flash.

Point flashes, which are angled lights, are also excellent choices for medical picture-taking. The angled light of the point is designed to enhance shape and contour of the subject and, thus, produce a more detailed and visually interesting close-up and portrait photo. The angled light of the point flash is especially crucial for detailing of the face and is ideal for preop and postop photography of rhinoplasty and blepharoplasty surgeries. The flash is also highly functional for breast augmentation and liposuction picture-taking.

When choosing a flash, you should keep in mind that there are a variety of different close-up flashes on the market. One essential feature to look for in a flash is the through-the-lens meter (TTL) feature. Flashes with TTL ability will read the light around the subject through the lens and output the correct amount of flash based on the lighting around the subject.

With consistency and repeatability being essential, having a quality flash that functions properly on your camera body is a priority.


With the right photographic equipment in hand, the final area to consider is where your picture is being taken or essentially what type of background you will use—especially on portrait, torso, and body photos.

Some photographers prefer a solid-colored background, such as a blue or white. For the most pristine portrait and body photos, illumination behind the patient to eliminate shadow is essential. To accomplish this, LED Light Panels can be used. These panels provide a constant light behind the patient and thus eliminate shadowing, creating the most esthetically pleasing photos possible.

Putting together the right photographic scenario and implementing it in your practice doesn’t have to be a daunting task.

When it comes to a small and simple camera, that means finding a camera that can properly illuminate your subject and one that doesn’t require attachments you constantly have to add and remove. With SLRs, it is essential to have the right lens and flash for the range of subjects you wish to photograph.

By creating that base of a functional camera that takes great pictures, putting the camera to work for you in the office will be easy.

Matt Glassgold is president of Lester A. Dine Inc, a Palm Beach Gardens, Fla-based firm that has served the clinical photography market since 1952. He can be reached at (800) 624-9103 or .