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The struggle

It's tough not knowing where to start but the key with dental photography is to just get started.


This guide is a great starting point that you can navigate based on your practice.


I'm so happy that you are prioritizing dental photography. There are so many benefits to this!


I always recommend dentists to start documenting their cases, yes even brand new dental students, especially after reading the inspirational book 'Show Your Work'. 

learning for dental students

The book encourages you to document your work as a student to maintain creativity and to feel accomplished by reviewing how your clinical skills improve over time. 

It not only benefits you but dental photography is a great educational tool for patients and can be instrumental in case acceptance. 

This communication can be improved with both patients and the lab to communicate features such as shape, color, or texture. The more information we can provide the lab, the better the final outcome of the final product. 

This documentation may also serve to be valuable to a jury, if litigation may arise. Pictures are a great way to show pre and post-treatment conditions. 

There are three major components regarding the final look of an image. Aperture, ISO, and shutter speed and they all affect each other.

Dental Camera Setting components

The meaning

ISO: This is the camera's sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO, the darker the image, and the higher the ISO, the brighter the image.


If the ISO is cranked up due to low light, the image can lose quality and appear grainy (not clear).


It is ideal to leave ISO set at its lowest setting which is usually 100 and compensate with the flash for needed light.

Dental Camera Setting guide

Aperture: refers to the lens' opening to allow light in. A high aperture (low f-stop number) actually lets in the most light and a lower aperture (high f-stop) results in the least amount of light.


Should you just have your aperture to the lowest setting like ISO?


For intraoral photos that can be a bad idea. Aperture also affects focus. While having a low aperture can result in a nice bokeh (blurry background) effect for portraits, it is not helpful with intraoral photos where the whole arch needs to be in focus with macro-photography.


An f-stop of 18 is usually recommended for extraoral photos and 22 for intraoral photos.

Shutter speed: This is how quickly the shutter closes. If what you are trying to capture moves very quickly, then you will need a faster speed. If you're shooting an image that isn't moving then you can use a slower shutter speed. The larger the denominator, the faster the speed.


Have you ever taken an intraoral photo and it looked warped mimicking moving through space? You were probably frustrated because your patient did not move. Well, the movement probably came from you! These cameras are heavy and if the shutter speed is too low, any movement from the patient or the clinician can negatively affect the photo quality. That means more stability is needed or the shutter speed should be increased.


Why not just crank it up?

Well, the faster the shutter speed, the less light is allowed in and you guessed it; the image will be darker.

dental school resources for photography

Start with these...

ISO: Leave at 100!

Aperture: f-18 (extraoral) or f-22 (intraoral)

Shutter speed: 1/125 to 1/160 is safe


Set your flash for ideal exposure

Despite having the same settings on the camera, external lighting conditions such as a sunny vs overcast day can alter the overall exposure. If you choose not to adjust your flash, the following camera settings can be adjusted with caution:

If the image is too dark, the exposure can be EASILY increased by:

  • Increasing ISO to 200

  • Decreasing a shutter speed of 1/160 to 1/125 (letting more light in)​​

                   Review the image for loss of clarity (grain) or blur


If the image is too bright, the exposure can be decreased by:

  • Increasing the shutter speed from 1/125 to 1/160 (letting less light in)

  • Decrease the aperture (increase f-stop) (letting less light in)


What Equipment to Get for Dental Photography?

If you would like to find out more about what equipment you really need to start or how to level up your photography game, check out this post. I try to make the information as accessible as possible at no cost because I understand the struggle!

dental students guide
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