All great photography, whether for the dental office, for nature walks or for weddings, starts with the right hardware. If you don’t have the proper camera, lenses, and flash, you won’t get the desired picture you want, no matter how hard you try. But, don’t worry. When it comes to shade photography, the choices are rather simple.

In this article, Mitch Bourgeois, CDT, explains what camera, lens, and flash you should be using to get incredible results from your shade photography.

Watch the Video


Digital Camera for a Digital World

While 35mm film is still alive and kicking, for our purposes, going digital is a necessity for shade photography. Not only is it much easier to pick up and start taking great pictures upon first use, but today’s memory cards can hold thousands upon thousands of pictures – with the ability to delete or re-take as many shots as you like. Plus, it’ll save you a whole lot of headache when you need to print out or show the pictures on a computer or tablet screen.

The specific camera we recommend is the Digital Single Lens Reflex, or DSLR.


Why? After all, aren’t smartphones and other “point-and-shoot” cameras capable of taking great photos too?

Sure, but for the sharpest image and the greatest color accuracy (two essentials when showing patients a before-and-after case study), the DSLR remains the industry standard. Best of all, those consumer-grade competitors out there have made DSLRs cheaper than ever before.

The DSLR also has a large image sensor size. The larger the image size, the smaller you can zoom in on a tooth without losing clarity and detail. When it comes to dental shade photography, the ability to zoom in on a particular tooth or set of teeth is everything.

image sensor comparison

Here’s the Setup You Want
Nikon DSLR

With the following checklist in hand, we believe that you have everything you need to get started taking incredible shade photography:

  • DSLR Camera (Nikon, Canon, etc.)
  • Ability to Manually Override Exposure
  • Micro/Macro Lens
  • Dual Light Source Flash Kit (NO Ring Flash)

DSLR mode dial on manual

Let’s break this down. The DSLR, or Digital SLR, camera, no matter the brand you choose, needs to be able to manually control the exposure settings. While most pictures, especially for amateurs and casual users, just require an automatic exposure, dental shade photographers need a manual override to avoid certain corrections your DSLR may try to make. For example, automatic cameras will try to adjust lighting for the darkest objects in the frame, such as gloves, beards and skin tones. As a result, the teeth and shade tabs will end up overexposed and washed out.

overexposed shade photo

Using auto exposure for shade photos can lead to overexposure or other color inaccuracies.

Any attempt to adjust the exposure outside-of-camera (such as with editing software), will cost you clarity and detail. So, it is recommended to always try and get the best picture you can in-camera. It will save you time and heartache down the road.

Next is the Micro/Macro lens. Which one it is called will depend on the brand of camera you choose (Nikon uses the term Micro, Canon: Macro), but their function is the same. With this lens, you can zoom in and fill an entire frame with just a single tooth, or set of teeth, without any grain, distortion, or blurriness in the final product. As most treatment education often comes down to recognizing minute visual details, this lens is essential.

Nikon Micro lens

AF MIicro Nikkor 105mm

Finally, there’s the dual light source flash pack. With this set of flashes, you will avoid harsh glares off the teeth or shade tabs. The same cannot be said for a ring flash kit.

Nikon dual flash kit

Nikon Speedlight dual flash kit. Wireless SB-R200 (Two units that mount on the lens). Nikon Wireless Commander SU-800

Can I Buy Used?

One of the most frequently asked questions from dentists are whether they can save a few hundred (or thousand) dollars with a used camera, set of lenses or flash packs. The answer will obviously vary by the condition, brand and asking price, so as a general rule, we suggest doing as much research as possible. Not all used cameras are created equal. Something that you do not want to sacrifice, however, is your camera’s storage capacity. The DSLR in our video comes with the ability to hold two SD memory cards. While it is not necessary for shade photography, the more storage a camera can hold at once, the less switching out and/or deleting of images you have to do later on.

Ultimately, what products you buy are up to you and your equipment budget. However, so as to provide you with an example of a good starter kit, here’s the camera system we use for shade photography:

  • Nikon D7000 SLR body
  • Nikon 105mm micro zoom lens
  • Nikon speedlight flash kit
  • Nikon Wireless Remote Speedlight SB-R200 (Two units that mount on the lens)
  • Nikon Wireless Speedlight Commander SU-800 (A unit that mounts on the top of the camera)
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