Improving Photographic Strategies in Shade Communication

James Fondriest, DDS


The ability to communicate the appearance of a tooth to the laboratory can be significantly improved with the use of photography. A picture supposedly is “worth a thousand words” and, indeed, richly characterized teeth would never be able to be well-matched without some sort of visual communication process. Strategically composing a set series of shots can magnify the value of digital or 35-mm slides. This article offers an introduction to this series of shots and a brief description of the science behind these photographic strategies.


Well-exposed clinical photographs can document numerous details that normally might not be noticed when looking at the patient. The effective use of photography can significantly improve the accurate communication of the optical characteristics of teeth. There are three types of photographs that can effectively communicate the major parameters of a good match, which are, in order of importance: shape, surface morphology, value, translucency, chroma, and hue. Photographic documentation of these parameters can be enhanced by manipulating the background, the exposure angle of camera to the teeth, and the camera F-stop.

The best photographic route is with color-accurate 35-mm slides or digital images, both taken with a single-lens reflex-type camera with a 90-115 mm macro lens. Arguments can be made for using either a dual-point flash or a ring flash (the author prefers a dual-point flash). The flash should be color-neutral with a color temperature of 5500 K and a color-rendering index of greater than 92.1-4 If you are using slides, use a color-corrected professional quality film (e.g., KodakTM E100-S, EPN-100, or EPP [Kodak; Rochester, NY) and have them developed by a good photo lab. Other required items are cheek retractors, black backgrounds, gray backgrounds5 (preferably 18% reflective gray cards), and shade tabs. Shade tabs from any vendor are helpful if

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