Medical Photography 101: Using Art To Capture Science

Medical Photography 101: Using Art To Capture Science

The photography profession encompasses a number of specialties. While many photographers do studio portraits or work for news agencies, there are a growing number opting for less visible careers such as medical photography.

What Are Medical Photography Subjects?

Medical photographers specialize in documenting biological or health-related subjects. Their subjects may be laboratory specimens, medical tools or human beings. They work on scales ranging from a whole body image of a patient, to photomicroscopy of damaged cells or unhealthy tissues.

Medical photography uses still photos, but also uses video. A photographer might video an endoscopic procedure or a demonstration of a bone saw in action – on a real bone. Not all of the pictures are of living, breathing human subjects. A picture might be of cells growing in a Petri dish or a new tool from a medical supply company. Photography is frequently used in autopsies as well. Photographers use software to enhance or otherwise manipulate their photos.

How Are Medical Photographs Used?

Medical photography is typically used for education, documentation and investigation. The photographs may end up in a medical textbook, public health pamphlet or instructional film. Doctors use photography to measure a patient’s progress over time, examining how they respond to medication or other treatment. Images can be shared by doctors, allowing a physician in another part of the world to examine a patient remotely. Subjects involved in medical research are often extensively photographed so the scientists can measure the progress of a disease or the efficacy of a treatment.

Medical photography is often used in criminal and civil investigations. Autopsy photographs may indicate time or manner of death. Photographs of an injury could support either side of a liability case, either proving or disproving fault.

Who Makes A Good Medical Photographer?

Like any kind of scientific photography, medical photography requires a blend of the artist’s eye and the scientist’s brain. The blend of art and information is what makes scientific photography uniquely challenging since the needs of one may conflict with the needs of the other.

Medical photographers must be empathetic to their subjects, having the bedside manner of the most compassionate doctors. Often they are documenting a patient with a serious medical condition, and the photographer must be sensitive to the difficulty of being on display. Photographers must be discreet and not discuss what they have seen with other parties. Doing so is not only unprofessional, but also illegal under HIPAA laws.

Those in this profession must also be prepared to document disturbing images. They may be taking pictures that are not only unpleasant, but may also be tragic.

When looking for a medical photographer, it’s best to choose one who already has extensive experience in the field.

Author is a freelance copywriter. For more information about medical photography, please visit

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