Digital dental photography. Part 6: camera settings

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  • Digital dental photography. Part 6: camera settingsI. Ahmad1


    of and behind the plane of critical focus. The plane of critical focus is the point to which the lens is focused. For portraiture, the depth of fi eld is usually divided into one-third in front and two-thirds behind the point of focus, but for close-up pho-tography the division is equal, ie one-half in front and one-half behind. Furthermore, the depth of fi eld for close-up photogra-phy is usually small (a few millimetres) and hence the point of focus is crucial for obtaining sharp images.

    Most digital SLRs (DSLRs) have the capability to set auto or manual focusing. For the majority of situations auto-focus works well, but the dental environment of bright teeth surrounded by pink gingivae with a dark oral cavity sometimes causes malfunction of the focusing mechanism. If pictures are constantly out of focus, switching to manual focusing is a solution. Some high-end digital cameras can display a live video image of the subject being photographed, either via a monitor on the back of the camera or on a computer lap-top screen via a USB or Firewire cable. The advantage is that focusing, framing, composition and exposure can be checked with a preview shot before the fi nal picture is taken. Furthermore, with magnifi cation, focusing is possible by viewing individual pixels. This facility is ideal for still life photography but of limited use in dental photography. The live image is constantly refreshed to compensate for camera and subject movement and is not a true repre-sentation in time of what is being viewed. For example, teeth may appear sharp on the screen, but when the picture is taken

    Having chosen a camera, lens, lighting and accessories, the next step in preparation for taking a photograph is setting up and calibrating the equipment. Since most of dental photography uses similar set-ups, the settings and calibrations need only to be performed once. The main items to con-sider are depth of fi eld, exposure, colour spaces and white balance calibration.

    DEPTH OF FIELDDepth of fi eld determines which parts of an image are in sharp focus. Unlike the human eye where everything is in focus, cameras do not share this luxury. Depth of fi eld determines the extent of focus in front

    Once the appropriate camera and equipment have been purchased, the next considerations involve setting up and calibrat-ing the equipment. This article provides details regarding depth of fi eld, exposure, colour spaces and white balance calibra-tion, concluding with a synopsis of camera settings for a standard dental set-up.

    the patient may have moved before the camera has updated the live image.

    Depth of fi eld varies inversely with the aperture opening. A wide-open lens with an aperture of f4 has little depth of fi eld whereas if stopped down to f22, almost everything from front to back will be sharply focused (Figs 1-2). As close-up dental photography has a small depth of fi eld, it becomes essential to have a small aperture opening, say f22, so that as many teeth as possible or a large area of soft tissue is in focus. In theory, to obtain a

    Since most camera and equipment set-ups for dental photography are identical, the steps outlined in this article need only be performed once.

    The main camera settings relate to depth of fi eld, exposure and white balance calibration.

    Spending a little time at the beginning making the necessary setting will avoid frustration, and pay dividends in the long-term.

    I N B R I E F



    1General Dental Practitioner, The Ridgeway Dental Surgery, 173 The Ridgeway, North Harrow, Middlesex, HA2 7DF Correspondence to: Irfan Ahmad Email:

    Refereed Paper Accepted 15 November 2008DOI: 10.1038/sj.bdj.2009.607British Dental Journal 2009; 207: 63-69

    1. Digital dental photography: an overview

    2. Purposes and uses

    3. Principles of digital photography

    4. Choosing a camera and accessories

    5. Lighting

    6. Camera settings

    7. Extra-oral set-ups

    8. Intra-oral set-ups

    9. Post-image capture processing

    10. Printing, publishing and presentations


    Fig. 1 Small depth of fi eld: a wide aperture opening will result in only a few items being sharply focused, for example the red bead in the centre

    Fig. 2 Large depth of fi eld: a small aperture opening will result in many items being sharply focused (compare with Fig. 1)


    2009 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.


    greater depth of fi eld one could consider using even smaller apertures, say f32 or f64, but this practice deteriorates the image quality due to diffraction. When light rays are bent around edges of objects they pro-duce an iridescent or rainbow-like effect termed diffraction. This is more evident the smaller the aperture diaphragm, resulting in decreased resolution. Therefore, set-ting the aperture to smaller than f22 will seriously diminish image clarity without a substantial gain in depth of fi eld. This is the reason why most macro lenses are designed with diaphragms that do not close smaller than f22 (Fig. 3).

    EXPOSUREAchieving correct exposure is a quin-tessential requirement of photography, the consequences of which are blatantly obvious. Exposure is a combination of two camera settings, the lens aperture and the shutter speed. Exposure explains how light acts on a photosensitive material, for example a digital sensor. The lens aper-ture, or opening, controls light intensity, while the duration of light is controlled by the shutter speed. The aperture size is calibrated in f-stop numbers; the larger the number, the smaller the lens opening. The shutter speed is the length of time the shut-ter remains open when the shutter release is activated, expressed in fractions of sec-onds, for example, 1/125 s is faster than 1/60 s. Most contemporary cameras have automatic exposure, which calculates the shutter speed once the aperture is set (in aperture priority mode metering).

    However, with dental photography two aspects require attention. The fi rst is ensuring an adequate depth of fi eld, which leaves little latitude but to select a small aperture opening, usually f22. The second

    factor is ensuring that the shutter speed is fast enough to prevent image blurring due to patient movements or camera shake (if not tripod mounted) see Figure 4. A fast shutter speed (minimum 1/125 s) is necessary to prevent camera shake and freeze patient movements, even if a tripod is used. Blurring is especially a problem with a continuous light output such as LED illumination, halogen or tungsten lamps. In these circumstances, it is vital to use fast shutter speeds to freeze the subject. On the other hand, when electronic fl ashes are used, blurring is less of a concern. This is because the duration of the fl ash light out-put is shorter (usually 1/2,000 s) than the camera shutter speeds, and the subject is frozen by the sudden burst of light rather than the opening of the camera shutter. Most electronic fl ashes require that the shutter speed be set to synchronise with the fl ash output and depending on the camera manufacturer and type of lens, this varies from 1/60 s to 1/250 s and is represented

    by a lightning symbol (Fig. 5).With analogue photography, automatic

    exposure with electronic fl ashes was rela-tively simple. The TTL (through the lens) metering and OTF (off the fi lm) plane meas-urement of light striking the fi lm emulsion allowed the camera to control the dura-tion of the fl ash output, which was cut-off once suffi cient light had reached the fi lm for a correct exposure. However, with dig-ital sensors there is no fi lm emulsion for light measurements. The sensors are cov-ered with a protective glass that is highly reflective, making light measurement impossible. Some DSLRs have overcome this problem with sophisticated electron-ics, but others have yet to reach a practical solution. If this is the case, two options are available to ensure correct exposure. The fi rst is to set the fl ashes to automatic mode, which calculates the exposure by emitting an infrared beam directed to the subject to gauge lighting conditions. This is satisfactory for photographing distant

    Fig. 3 The aperture on a macro lens should not be set smaller than f22 to prevent diffraction

    Fig. 4 The shutter speed should be fast enough to prevent blurring

    Fig. 5 When using electronic fl ash, the shutter speed must be set to synchronise with the fl ash output, represented by a lightning symbol

    The scale for the brightest exposure (plus) is further apart

    The scale for the darkestexposure (minus) is closer together

    Fig. 6 A histogram with a logarithmic scale from the darkest (minus) to the brightest (plus) exposure


    2009 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.


    subjects, but due to the proximity of the lens to the subject in macrophotography, the infrared beam misses the intended sub-ject and the image is often under-exposed. The other option to consider is increasing the exposure factor.

    As a lens moves closer to the object, as in close-up photography, the exposure increases exponentially. For example, for a 1:1 magnifi cation, the exposure increase factor is four. Consequently, in order to obtain a correctly exposed image, one or more of the following need adjusting:

    Increase aperture (wider f-stop)1. Increase time (longer shutter speed)2. Increase sensor sensitively (higher 3. ISO number)

    Increase illumination (brighter 4. lightin