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  • Writer's pictureAngelo Boutsalis

Helping to address the importance of dental photography.

Whether for documenting clinical circumstances, celebrating the end of treatment, or promoting your skills to potential future clients, improving your ability to take portraits is of great value. Single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras are becoming commonplace in dental offices for intraoral use. The same reflex camera you use intraorally is also great for exhibiting beautiful portraits. With these cameras, you can create interesting and exciting portraits 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.

Most patients seeking your services understand that quality cosmetic dentistry requires artistic talent. A good portrait shows off your artistic talents.


Flash Systems

Typical intraoral camera setups have a two-point or ring flash system mounted on the lens. The ring flash (seen above) positions the light very close to the lens, allowing it to illuminate everything visible in the viewfinder. A dual-point flash has two separate light sources, making it a little more difficult for light to enter the back of the mouth with retracted shots, but the indirect lighting effect makes your porcelain restorations more beautiful and less dull. Both flash systems produce detailed, high-contrast images, useful for documentation purposes; but they also typically produce a very flat, rough and less attractive quality when shooting portraits.

They leave a single specular reflection in the centre of the pupils, giving them a “luminous eye” appearance.

​Since these camera systems typically have a 100mm macro lens, the patient must stand at least 1.5m away from the camera so that the entire head can be filmed. The actual distance required depends on the size of the camera chip. The 1.5m distance challenges the built-in flash system to project enough light onto the subject. Dental photo service providers recommend setting flash compensation between +1 and +1 2/3 to overcome this shortage of exposure, but this flash compensation can create a tendency to overexpose intraoral images. Better lighting for portraits can be achieved by removing the built-in macro flash. Flashes and macro lenses are specifically designed for taking close-up photos of small objects.

Studio lighting can offer a less harsh and more contrasty result and the light can be directed from many different angles. With a wider lens, the photographer can get closer to the subject, making it easier to display images at different angles.

The best artistic images elicit an emotional and intellectual response from the viewer.

Natural lighting offers the most artistic opportunities in portraiture, but logistical and time constraints make artificial lighting the most affordable for dentists. Studio lighting offers unlimited artistic expression when photographing patients.

Continuous Lighting

Studio lights can be divided into two categories: continuous lights and intermittent flashlights. 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 (for example, how bright or dark the image is) before taking the image. This type of lighting creates the reliability 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 normally not powerful enough to completely overpower lighting from windows or even overhead lighting so consistency can be an issue.

Strobe/Flash Lighting

Strobe lighting is the most common studio lighting selection. Basically, a strobe is a lighting system that synchronizes your flash with your camera's shutter release or other flashes. Just like your camera's flash, flashes ignite a charge and release a flash of light when the camera prompts it. Stroboscopes have rheostats or digital exposure settings that allow you to adjust the amount of light emitted. You can manually set the ideal settings on the camera and then adjust the strobe output to create an ideal exposure. Your subject stays fresh longer because it won't get tired from the light always being on in their eyes. Plus, because you can keep the lighting low between shots, your pupils remain dilated, which many in the professional portrait industry believe produces a younger, healthier look. The strobes can be activated from the camera via a cable, a radio transmitter or by activating other strobes (eg "slave trigger"). The strobe lights are generally mounted on stands for supports; or, in the small space of a dental office, sometimes on walls and ceilings. When mounted on the wall, the ability to experiment with lighting is limited. A ceiling-mounted light on a track gives more flexibility and keeps them out of the way.

Many different diffusion devices that yield different light qualities can be attached to strobes. Umbrellas (e.g., reflective and trans-illumination variations) are inexpensive and easy to use, and they soften the harsh light of the strobe. Softboxes are used more often in studios, require less room, and offer the greatest softening effect. Softer light shows fewer visible wrinkles or skin imperfections and yields very nice reflections off porcelain restorations. The closer the strobe with an attached softbox can be placed to your subject, the softer the light will be. The larger the softbox, the softer the light is.

Creating a quality portraiture area in your office is well worth the investment.


I prefer non-patterned and non-distracting backgrounds and suggest black, grey, or white. These can be freestanding but ideally should be ceiling or wall mounted. There are many options for this both motorised and manually controlled systems. if space is an issue and you are planning on always using the same colour you can also consider wallpaper and painting a wall the desired colour.

Set-up Variation

It is important to illuminate the buccal corridors evenly to avoid a distorted or even an asymmetric appearance of the teeth. When you are capturing facial images, you may want to experiment with

uneven lighting. Professional portrait photographers prefer the more sophisticated, artistic effect they achieve by placing the two softboxes at different angles and setting the strobes with different F-stop exposure settings.1 By adjusting the tripod placement to different angles and distances, one strobe becomes the “main” or “key” light and the other becomes the “fill” light, creating interesting effects.


Although there are no "rules" for settings in portraiture, the lens aperture setting for shooting a person is generally wide open (2.8 to 8). This produces a shallow depth of field that softens the silhouette of the hair and makes the background less defined. The lens is set to centre-weighted autofocus; always centre the lens on the teeth. The camera is set to manual mode (eg ISO 100, [Adobe Systems] RGB color space), RAW + JPEG Large image quality, with a shutter speed between 1/125 and 1/200 of a second. Make sure your radio transceiver is synchronized with the selected shutter speed. By setting the shutter speed to more than 1/160 second, the influence of ambient light in your studio becomes negligible.3 Keep in mind, however, that even when I work with a shutter speed of 1/200 second, I keep the lighting in the room dim to dilate my subject's pupils.

Image files

Newer cameras capture two types of image files: RAW and JPEG. RAW files offer the best and most complete digital reproduction of the captured image and are preferable to JPEG files, which are already processed and compressed and most of the data is deleted. RAW files are actually considered digital "negatives," but they are not in a usable format; and will need to be converted to a file format such as JPEG, TIFF, PSD or PNG for use in visual presentations or print.


With minimal investment in equipment and office space, you can make significant improvements in your ability to communicate clinical circumstances to your patients and the people you work with. You will find that creating a quality portrait area in your office is worth the investment and will allow you to better share the beautiful dentistry you create with others.

Past Build

iSmile Dentistry

iSmile studio is designed as a small turnkey studio. the studio is used for photography and is designed in a way that the images that are captured in the studio are consistent no matter what you shoot on.


Dr. Alex Phoon

Taking photos for your social media and clients should not be difficult if you have the right equipment and the proper knowledge to use them in order to obtain high-quality pictures that you can use to correctly represent your work. It has never been easier!


Simply Beautiful Smiles

Simply Beautiful Smiles use aesthetic dentistry that blends the best of science and artistry to improve both the health and appearance of your teeth and they wanted professional lighting to capture it. We provided a lighting solution.

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