Photo tips for clinical images?
October 25, 2004 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find some easily understandable tips on taking good clinical images with a digital camera?

One aspect of my job is working with the production and print end of medical illustrations, and I need a way to explain to a largely inexperienced group how to produce digitial images that are usable in a medical journal. Basically, how to take good clinical photos: what settings, lighting, and framing techniques work best to achieve clear images at high-enough resolutions. But I Am Not a Photographer (and yes, I told them so, but they still want my help, so I'd like to be able to provide some guidance). I can tell you all about the minimal resolution and file formats we need, but nothing about actually taking a picture. Are there simple guides, preferably online, that can elucidate the basic principles of good digital photography -- and better yet, how they apply good clinical photography?
posted by melissa may to Technology (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ring lights are good for even lighting with minimal shadows. They're frequently used in macro photography (and to some extent fashion, but those are big, expensive rings). If you're taking clinical images, you might need to focus at short distances, so a macro lens might be useful.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:09 PM on October 25, 2004

Best answer: How good do the images have to be? Is this something we're talking about taking w/ a point and shoot camera in the middle of a (time constrained) procedure, or is this something they can/need to spend time setting up?

C_D's suggestion on lighting is good if they can spend money on equipment. Lighting and color balance are both going to be issues, and ring-lighting helps with both.

* Bring your own lighting, unless you're confident shooting w/ the ambient light will give you a good enough exposure and color (aka -- spend some time shooting in the ambient light beforehand)

* Macro lenses help you shoot close-ups of something small, so this is probably what you want. But, short macro lenses require you to get REALLY CLOSE, which may not be what you want. 100mm macro lens should let you sit back a ways and still get a good shot.

* Get your color balance/white balance right. Color will probably count in these photos, so at the very least ensure your camera is setup for the right white balance. If you're super serious, get a grey card and set your white balance based on that.

* Probably the bigger challenge will be loosing detail in the shadows or in the light. You'll want to spot-meter (usually w/ the on camera 'spot meter') the areas you really want to see in the final image. This will probably result in some areas being too dark or too light, but I'm assuming there's one focal point you're most interested in, rather than trying to balance the picture as a whole.

* Bring something to steady your camera - tripod, monopod, whatever. The need for this decreases as your lighting situation improves, but it's better to have it and not need it...

* As for framing, I'd concentrate folks on making the image understandable. No need for Hitchcockian perspective, orient the camera so that the 'up' side of the picture is the 'up' side of the patient. Try to include enough of the surrounding anatomy that a viewer can easily orient themselves to what's going on (in at least 1 picture, probably near the beginning).

Sorry, I don't know any sites that concentrate on clinical shooting. In fact, I've never done anything like that myself, and I'm by no means an expert.
posted by daver at 9:32 PM on October 25, 2004

Response by poster: Is this something we're talking about taking w/ a point and shoot camera in the middle of a (time constrained) procedure...

Bingo. Thanks for asking for the clarification. These are oral surgeons taking shots of bloody gums and teeth during long and complex surgeries, so yes, they're very much in a point and shoot situation.

The most common problems I see from the production end: images that are low-res (at 72 or 96 dpi, generally); too small; irregularly sized so that we can't mount a nice consistent series; or that are badly lit and washed out. All of your answers so far have been extremely helpful at addressing these points and I appreciate it more than I can say. This is a last-minute request and I am feeling very much out of my depth.

Just a point of clarification if you have the time: we accept jpegs, but prefer tiff or eps if possible because they are higher-compression formats. Why are they more complicated to take than jpegs? If this requires a major tutorial, please don't worry about it.

(FYI, we also print histology, but I'm not going to even get into that with them -- I almost never see really good, clear tissue shots, with the occasional exception that's so shockingly crystalline that I figure that the authors who provide them must have really very well-funded labs.)
posted by melissa may at 10:07 PM on October 25, 2004

Best answer: You can convert from JPG to TIFF with just about any image program or viewer known to man.

Don't worry too much about color balance if you're shooting with a flash or if you're shooting RAW files. Under no circumstance should you ever use the camera's built-in flash for close shots. The light will be off-center, and your image will be underexposed.

Also, don't bother with a tripod if you're trying to shoot around surgeons watching the clock. You just won't have the time to set up. If you have a decent flash or good enough light, you should be able to shoot fast enough that it won't matter.

If you chimp your shots (look at the LCD after you shoot) you'll get a good idea whether you're getting the shot or not.

Keep an eye out for things that will "fool" the meter. Extreme dark or light will make the shot overly bright or dark (respectively). Shooting a teeth close-up, for example, will require you to compensate for the brightness of the teeth. The camera will assume everything is neutral grey, so your shot will come out underexposed. This is the same reason why out-of-camera shots of snow scenes look grey instead of white. Most modern digicams have what's called Exposure Compensation to, well, compensate.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:24 PM on October 25, 2004

Photography guide for plastic surgeons [courtesy of the Wayback Machine, since the source site has fubared their link]
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:43 PM on October 25, 2004

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