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Feature | Nov/Dec 2017

Expert Tips for Flawless Cosmetic Dermatology Photographs with Your Mobile Device

Make the most of your mobile device to take professional-standard photos.

The success of your clinic’s dermatological services rests on professional quality patient photography. Leading dermatological providers use photography to both call their patients’ attention to flaws or issues in their skin, and also to document subtle changes and improvements following treatment. Moreover, using effective photographs holds a range of other benefits which further bolster business and patient satisfaction, such as:

  • Treatment planning
  • Documentation of anatomical features
  • Pre and post-procedural comparisons
  • Teaching and educating staff

Fortunately, contemporary mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPad and Tablet can deliver photographs of quality comparable to that of a professional DSLR camera, but with all the ease and flexibility of a phone or tablet. If you want to find out more about DSLR cameras in comparison to mobile devices in plastic surgery photography, you can consider the benefits and disadvantages here.

Mobile devices hold one major advantage over DSLR cameras. When photos are taken on mobile devices with apps such as RxPhoto, you have complete assurance that you are abiding by privacy and security regulations regarding photo storage (namely, HIPAA compliance). RxPhoto immediately and automatically encrypts and stores any photo on a HIPAA-compliant cloud server, never on the device. You can access more information here about achieving HIPAA compliance in your clinic.

To make the most of your mobile device and take professional-standard photos, we have compiled a list of our top tips.

Effective lighting

The success and professionalism of photographs rests on a foundation of effective lighting. Well-lit, and evenly lit images are an indispensable tool for dermatological providers, in order to facilitate patient education about the intricacies of their skin and potential treatment options.

Furthermore, lighting must be consistent: before and after photographs are most powerful when the lighting is uniform across images. Variations in lighting can obscure the efficacy of treatments and subtle changes.

Some of the key lighting considerations to take into account include:

1. Color temperatures

Color exists on a spectrum that is measured in units known as degrees Kelvin. Warm light that tends towards yellow occupies the lower end of the spectrum. As color temperature increases, yellowness diminishes and photographs take on blue and white tinges.

Temperatures measuring over 6,000K are referred to as cooler tones. Color temperatures of 5000K are ideal for dermatological photography as they are characterized by whiter-toned light, capable of visually communicating facial details with clarity. You can learn more about harnessing color temperatures in photography here.

2. Achieving consistent lighting

The key to excellent lighting is achieving consistency. Well-illuminated images are achieved through the manipulation of light sources. While natural sunlight represents one of the most abundant and plentiful light sources, it is unfortunately inconsistent and difficult to harness in an office environment. Fortunately, other sources of lighting are available and easily accessible to enhance the quality of the photographs you capture:

Overhead lighting

Overhead lighting can be optimized with a light fitting that generously and evenly disseminates light, reducing shadows. Ensure your bulbs have a color temperature of 5000K or more. If you rely on overhead lighting as your primary source of light, be sure to photograph the patient as close as possible to the light source to maximize illumination.

One issue that can arise when overhead lights are the main light source is the appearance of shadows. Overhead light distributes light most brightly on the upper aspects of the head, causing shadows to form under the nose and chin. To correct these shadows another light source is often necessary, such as a speedlight or a ring light.


Speedlights offer a way to flood a photograph with abundant white light which highlights subtle details, perfect for dermatological photography. The quality of light that is emitted with a speed light is comparable to the kind of lighting used in professional studios. Speedlights can be synced to your mobile device for quick and easy use. They are most effective when used in conjunction with diffusers to soften the “burst” of light, rendering the image more natural.

Ring lights

Resembling a ring shape, ring lights are essentially a flash tube wrapped around a camera lens. They emit an even flash of light and eliminate shadows, and are often used in portrait-style photography where the face or skin needs to be accurately captured.

Ring lights are extremely popular because they can be attached to your mobile device without any fuss, dramatically enhancing the quality of lighting in the image. Ring lights that are used in conjunction with diffusers or soft boxes provide optimal results as the effect of the flash from the ring light is softened.

The flash

Relying on the flash on your iPhone as a light source can be problematic. The flash often over exposes images, veiling subtler details on the skin such as emerging wrinkles and blemishes, or inconsistencies in skin tone. If you need to take before and after photographs for dermatological rejuvenation or resurfacing treatments, it is important to avoid using a direct flash in your images. Soft, uniform lighting will facilitate capturing facial redness and pigmentation.

Generally, the flash should be used as a last resort, and only if a photograph is being taken in a dark corner or illumination is needed on a particular area.


A softbox diffuses light into a pleasing, soft and even light. Diffusers convert the sometimes harsh pulse of light that comes from the flash into a more muted light. Both tools are also effective in reducing harsh shadows. However, they are not suitable for use with an overhead light source.

Standardized background

A standardized background radically improves photographs, facilitating greater quality and keeping the focus on the patient. You should use one background for all the photographs that you take to maintain uniformity. The background of the photograph should be:

1. An even surface;
2. Non-reflective material;
3. Monochromatic (one uniform color, preferably white, grey, black or blue);
4. Neutral (to ensure the camera focus is on the patient, not the background).

Options for standardizing your background

Blackout shades: These create conditions similar to that of a photography studio by blocking the natural source of light. They are cost effective and easy to fit in offices, meaning you can have more than one space suitable for photographing clients.

Collapsible chromakey backgrounds: These are specially designed for photography, and offer a backdrop that can be easily hung on the back of a door or a wall when photos are being taken. They can be stowed away when not in use as they are collapsible.

Eliminating Shadows

Shadows obstruct photos by obscuring detail. In cosmetic dermatological photographs, it is critical to ensure that any shadows are eradicated.

1. Check to see if there are any shadows under the nose or neck of your patient, and reposition your light sources to correct any dark areas.
2. Ensure there are no shadows on the backdrop. Shadows can often be eliminated by moving the subject further away (twelve inches between subject and backdrop is usually recommended).
3. A flash used together with a softbox or diffuser can almost completely eliminate shadows or areas of darkness in photographs.

Attention to detail

Details matter. Effective dermatological photography means paying attention to seemingly inconsequential details. When you are photographing patients, check that:

1. Hair is tucked behind the ear or preferably, pulled back off the face. No facial features should be obscured by wayward strands of hair.
2. Make-up should be removed. Foundations, concealers or eyeshadows may veil the improvements from dermatological treatments.
3. Jewelry can represent a distraction in an image, absorbing some of the focus. Ask your patients to remove it.
4. Brightly colored garments or accessories should also be removed. They can affect the uniformity of images in a before/after series.

The above tips are intended to help you set up your practice to achieve the most consistent photographs while tracking a single patient’s treatment as well as across different patients. Ultimately, you need to examine your own office set-up and lighting to determine what tips you need to implement in order to create the ideal environment. Continue to monitor the photographs of patients that you and your staff are taking to ensure that they are consistent. Finally, make sure that any staff members taking photographs understand the importance of lighting, background, shadow-elimination and high attention to detail that is required to produce the high quality and consistent photos your practice needs to satisfy patients and bring in new clients.

Scott Alten

Scott Alten is Managing Partner at RxPhoto. RxPhoto is a clinical photography management and storage app for the dermatology, aesthetics, plastic surgery, vein treatment, medical spa and wound care fields.

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