Dental Photography Part 2: Deciding Between Saving Images as JPEG or RAW 

March 20, 2024 Charlie Ward, DDS

Charlie Ward, DDS

In this article, I’ll share how I save my Dental DSLR photos and choose between the file formats of RAW versus JPEG. There are specific reasons why we might need one format or the other, or perhaps both. I’ll also share how I store and protect my ever-growing collection of images. 

The Difference Between RAW and JPEG Format 

We have a choice when we’re shooting with our DSLR about how we want to save our files. On the menu of our camera, we see that we can choose between RAW and JPEG, and the quality of JPEG. When RAW is selected, all data that hits the camera sensor is saved. A JPEG is a processed image resulting in a compressed (smaller) file size.  

The data stored in RAW images can be 3 to 4 times more than in JPEG images, depending on the quality of JPEG you select on the camera menu. The processor in your DSLR camera will remove data from a JPEG image that it perceives to be imperceptible to the human eye. The greatly smaller size of JPEGS makes them universally preferred, not only for storage but for quick upload, download, and opening for viewing online. I routinely shoot high-quality JPEGs for diagnostics and routine lab communication.  

(If you are wondering what JPEG stands for, it’s for Joint Photographic Experts Group. Once JPEG images are in your computer, they can be saved as different file formats ending in different extensions such as .eps, .pdf, .jpg, .jpeg, .bmp, .tif, and .tiff.) 

If I take an image in both RAW and JPEG format, at first glance, the JPEG and RAW images may look the same, but on closer inspection, I may see that the stain on a tooth’s enamel or surrounding skin tones appear lighter in the RAW image. The camera itself has processed the image and determined that some of that data is unnecessary.  

When to Shoot RAW Images 

For most of what dentists do with our DSLR cameras, JPEGS are fine. There are three situations when we should choose to shoot RAW images. 

  1. When we want to edit images like a professional photographer. 
  1. When we shoot images for accreditation for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. The Academy requires images in raw format so they can tell that the images have not been edited.  
  1. When we are using a digital shade matching system like eLab or Matisse that requires RAW input. 

Why Shoot Both Versions When You Want RAW 

If you are storing CBCT and RAW images on your server, a lot of data can accumulate quickly. I shoot JPEG versions of the images I shoot in RAW format so I can delete the RAW files from my server when they are no longer needed and still have a case record with the JPEG files. 

Storage Tip: In my practice, we download the patient’s or the day’s images from the SD card on to our server in a patient folder. We have one main folder and within it a subfolder for each letter of the alphabet. Inside each alphabet letter’s folder is another subfolder labeled with the patient’s name for each patient whose last name begins with that alphabet letter. Inside each patient’s folder are appropriate subfolders, labeled for example, “Name-Prep-Date.” 

 

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Dental Photography Part 1: What Photography Equipment Should I Buy? 

March 15, 2024 Charlie Ward, DDS

Charlie Ward, DDS  

Whether you want to use a digital SLR camera for documentation, patient education, lab communication, making presentations at dental events, dental publications, or accreditation in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, you have choices to consider in multiple price ranges.  

Dentists can spend $1,800 and get a good system for documenting cases, patient education and lab communication. Dentists can easily spend $3,800 or more on a setup to equip themselves to take higher quality images. 

Camera Body: Most dentists shoot with a Nikon or Cannon DSLR camera. These are comparable brands. My experience is with Canon but my lab technician uses Nikon and gets wonderful results. I am shooting with the Canon EOS 90D. The comparable Nikon is the D7500. More entry-level models are the Nikon 3500 and the Canon Rebel T8i. 

Lenses: We can get a third-party Sigma 105mm or a Tokina 105mm lens that gives us decent quality, or we can purchase the Canon 100mm or Nikon 105mm version at twice the price. When I upgraded to the finer Canon lens, I noticed a huge difference in image quality. I recommend an upgraded lens for the highest-quality images you need for accreditation. 

Flashes: The ring flash is a great entry-level option and significantly less expensive but there are limitations to what you can do to control your light. I’ve been using a dual point flash for some time. I can pull a flash off and shoot from a different angle. By changing where the light is coming from, I can accentuate the angle lines for more depth and visual clarity.  

Sometimes, I’ll take one of my flashes off, hold it on the opposite side of what I am shooting, and shoot the flash back into the lens of the camera. When I do this, I get an ethereal-appearing image or an image with a white background. I appreciate the versatility of using the dual point system.  

For my best-looking images and portraits, I’ll use softboxes. This gives smoother, more diffuse light and a beautiful appearance. These are necessary for everyday dentistry but make a huge difference in showcasing aesthetic cases.  

 

Consider the Long Term: When dentists invest in cameras and lenses, they typically use them for a long time. If you are on the fence about how much you want to invest, my own experience might be helpful. I honestly wish that I had upgraded sooner than I did with the Canon EOS 90D and the Canon 100mm lens. After taking photos for 12 years, the upgraded equipment has only increased the joy I have for photography and pushed me to take more pictures! 

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Charlie Ward, DDS

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