Plastic surgeons have an intimate relationship with photography. It has always been part of our practices for documenting our work, for educational and legal purposes. The digital revolution has completely changed our offices, our office budgets, our lectures and our profession. The first change came when we introduced computers into our practice.

The use of the new computer programs as a means of filing preoperative and postoperative photographs and postsurgical projection images is now widely used amongst plastic surgeons.

Digital photography was next. Use of celluloid might be ending and soon all image capturing will be digital. The digital storage of images is no longer a problem, the color is constant, the image does not deteriorate as traditional film does, and can be stored, reproduced and accessed easily and quickly. Presentations for congresses and patients have improved. We have witnessed the change from slide carrousels to digital presentations in our congresses.

People are usually resistant to change and many plastic surgeons are still afraid to enter the digital photography era. It takes time to learn and to adapt to a new technology. The same is true with surgical techniques. Surgeons who rarely change surgical techniques will probably be the last ones to buy a digital camera. Maybe they can buy one, but not use it in their practices.

Some questions arise: Should we replace our film cameras completely? Are we going to print out every photograph taken or just store them on the hard disk, printing just a few? Will the photographs be taken in a studio, an examining room, an operating room or by the bedside?

You will have to determine the quality of the camera you actually need, and what price range you can afford. Buy only what you really need! Of course it is good to have the best camera available, but how often will you use all of its features? If your main concern is image quality, your initial investment will be bigger than if you prefer ease of use. If you only need photographs for smaller prints, a lower-resolution camera will do.

You will want to pay only for the features that are most important to you. Some surgeons are more specialized in faces, others perform more body procedures. Will you need the camera for closeups or for body photographs? Probably both. We can photograph for documentation, to monitor a treatment or to alter the image during a patient consultation. Not every surgeon teaches or lectures. Some features might be unnecessary if you do not. Some surgeons photograph several cases per day, others only a couple of cases per week. You will have to think also about the recurring costs, such as the type and quality of prints. You can make your own prints, using self-developing instant film or you can email the digital images to a laboratory and have them delivered to your office. That will depend on the time available, if you have to take the prints to the operating room or only attach them to the patient's chart.

There is a wide variety of printers available:

  • Black and white laser printer: They produce inexpensive grayscale prints suitable for many purposes.
  • Color laser printer: A color laser printer offers a good speed and low per print costs. It is not the best choice for photography, but the results on plain paper can be impressive.
  • Inkjet Printer: These inexpensive printers provide very good color prints. The print speed is very slow, but with special paper they can provide the best results.
  • Photo Printer: Instant color film or photographic paper is used to produce true photographic output from digital files. Expensive.

Digital photography can save you money because you can capture and review images and print only the good ones. And the storage card can be erased and reused as soon as you transfer the images to the computer.

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