Improving Your Portrait Photography

James Fondriest, DDS


Whether it is for documentation of clinical circumstances, to celebrate the finish of treatment, or to market your skills to future potential clients, improving your skill at taking portraits has great value. Single lens reflex (SLR) cameras are becoming commonplace in dental offices for intraoral use. The same SLR camera that you use intraorally is excellent for exposing beautiful portraits as well. Interesting and emotion-generating portraits can be created with these cameras by changing the light source, lens, and camera settings from the typical intraoral setup. This article provides details on how to set up professional style lighting in the dental office and how to capture better portraits.




Flash Systems

Typical intraoral camera set-ups have a ring or dual-point flash system mounted to the lens. The ring flash positions the light very close to the lens, allowing illumination of everything visible in the viewfinder. A dual-point flash has two separated light sources, making it slightly more difficult to get light into the back of the mouth with retracted shots, but the indirect lighting effect makes your porcelain restorations look nicer and less opaque. Both flash systems yield a high-

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contrast, detailed image good for documentation purposes; but they typically also produce a very flat, harsh, and less appealing quality when portraits are taken. They leave a single specular reflection in the center of the pupils, which gives a “beady eye” look (Fig 1).

Because these camera systems usually have a 100-mm macro lens, the patient should stand at least seven feet away from the camera so that his or her entire head can be photographed. The actual required distance depends on the camera’s chip size. The seven-foot distance challenges the onboard flash system to throw sufficient light to your subject. Dental photography suppliers recommend setting the flash compensation at +1 to +1 2/3 to overcome this exposure deficiency, but this flash compensation may create a tendency to overexpose the intra-oral images.

Better portraiture lighting can be achieved by removing the onboard macro flash. Macro flashes and lenses are specifically designed for taking close-up pictures of small objects. Studio lighting may offer a less harsh and contrasted result, and the light can be directed from many different angles (Fig 2). With a shorter lens, the photographer can move closer to the subject, making it easier to expose images at different angles.

Be sure that your radio transceiver will synchronize at the shutter speed you select.

Natural lighting always produces the most artistic portrait photography, but time and logistic limitations make artificial lighting the most convenient for dentists. Studio lighting offers unlimited artistic opportunities when photographing your patients.

Continuous Lighting

Studio lights can be divided into two categories: continuous lights (spot lights) and non-continuous flash lights (strobes). It is easier to use continuous lighting (i.e., the studio lights are always on). With continuous lighting, you can move the lights around the patient to see how the face and teeth are directionally illuminated and evaluate the exposure (i.e., level of lightness or darkness of the photograph) before the picture is taken. This kind of lighting creates the dependability of “what you see is what you get.” However, there are drawbacks to using continuous lighting in the small confines of a dental office. These lights are hot and will heat the room. As a result, your subject will tire more quickly and begin to perspire, so you will not capture as many photographs; nor will you have a chance to experiment with as many poses, lighting set-ups, or wardrobe changes.

Strobe Lighting

Strobe lighting is the most common studio lighting selection. Basically, a strobe light is a light system that synchronizes its flash with your camera’s shutter opening or to other strobes. Just like the flash on your camera, strobes power up a charge and release a flash of light when the

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