Medical photography and escaping the confines of standardisation

The main role of a medical photographer is to record and document injuries, disease and medical procedures in clinics, on wards, in theatres and in the photographic studio. Adhering to the Institute of Medical Illustrator’s national guidelines enables the photographer to produce views that are standardised and consistent in hospitals up and down the country.

For example, a wound can be photographed on several occasions over a period of time by different medical photographers and each will take the same views at the same magnification. This ensures that an accurate record of the wound’s healing can be documented. Standardisation leaves the clinical images devoid of any artistic input thus guaranteeing a true and accurate representation which can be replicated and repeated. This is why I jump at the opportunity to be a little creative with my photography in other areas of my work.

Clinical photography makes up about 90% of my overall workload but I do have the opportunity to whet my artistic appetite occasionally, memento photography of babies is one example. The death of an infant is devastating and photographs are a tangible and lasting memento that parents can cherish. Each memento session is unique and tailored to the wishes of the family, for example the choice of clothes, blankets and toys photographed with the child. It is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding parts of my job but I get great satisfaction knowing the photographs help bereaved families come to terms with their loss and help in the healing process.

Hospital PR photography gives me another opportunity to be free from the confines of standardisation. Documenting the wards and departments, as well as special events taking place within the hospital can be a pleasant change from the clinical workload. It is also a good source of revenue for medical illustration departments and the proceeds can be used to buy new photographic and lighting equipment.

I recently had the opportunity to take a series of informal staff portraits for a ward and out-patient department. The brief was to capture the doctors, nurses and medical personnel in their working environment. The portraits were designed to present the staff in a friendly, familiar and approachable manner, thereby putting the patients at ease. I really enjoyed this project as I got to be creative with the lighting and composition and I was really happy with the end results.