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What does a Medical Photographer do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A medical photographer takes images which pertain to the medical field. He or she can work for a hospital, research facility, emergency response organization, medical publishing company, or clinic, taking photographs in a wide variety of settings from the field to the microscope stage. Medical photographers usually have college training in photography, which can include a photojournalism or arts degree, along with some experience in the sciences which allows them to understand the subjects they photograph.

In a hospital, a medical photographer may take photographs of patients which are used to track progress, document subjects in a study, or kept on file in the event of legal issues. These images can include photographs of original wounds, progressing conditions like rashes, and surgical procedures. Medical photographers can also work in the pathology lab, photographing autopsies, specimen samples from patients, and specimens on the microscope.

Medical labs use medical photographers to document their procedures, and to create records of various procedures, such as photographs of electrophoresis gels or images of bacteria which have been successfully cultured from a patient. These images can become part of a permanent record on a patient or study, and they can also be disseminated in trade journals and publications which are designed to allow medical professionals to share information.

Medical photographers can also take pictures which are used in promotional brochures, patient education materials, and textbooks which are used by medical and veterinary schools. These images can range from generic pictures of patients receiving treatment to specific pictures of particular issues, such as documentation of the appearance of different kinds of fungal infections so that practitioners have a visual reference they can use when treating patients.

Also known as biomedical photographers, some medical photographers specialize in taking photographs to create records which are kept for legal purposes. These photographs can be used to document the course of treatment and the conditions under which treatment took place, in case there is a dispute, and patients can also retain photographers to document their conditions so that they can use the images in a legal case. For example, a patient who plans to sue a surgeon for placing a bone pin in the wrong place might hire a medical photographer to document the damage caused by the improper placement, and the surgery required to correct it.

The pay available to a medical photographer varies, depending on where he or she works, and any specialties the photographer may have. A medical photographer can obtain better pay by keeping up with advances in photography and in the sciences.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By hidingplace — On May 29, 2011

@Engelbert - Medical photography encompasses a lot of different specialist photo imaging techniques including macro photography but also thermal imaging, time-lapse photography, endoscopy and much more. There are a lot of specific skills you’ll have to learn if you want to work as a medical photographer besides just being able to take a photograph. Of course you might also be required to take commercial style photographs of the facilities of a hospital for promotional material, so versatility is probably the most important thing.

It’s an incredibly varied field but the biggest upside to it is that you’re actually an employee as opposed to having to work freelance. The pay might not be great, but I think it’d be fascinating to work in a hospital and you still get to practice photography without being forced to live paycheck to paycheck.

I’m hoping to go into medical photography once I graduate; unfortunately I don’t think I can rely on taking photographs for artistic reasons to pay the bills.

By Engelbert — On May 26, 2011

@roser - I’m not a medical photographer, but from my own brief research into the field I know that medical photography is also used in third world countries by doctors who then e-mail photographs to more experienced doctors in other countries for further in-depth analysis. So travel might be an option as well if you’re interested in that. I'm not sure how you'd go about getting a job like this though.

It’s not an especially popular field as far as I can tell since medical illustration departments in hospitals or medical schools are usually quite small.

Just as a photographer myself though, I wonder what skill sets are required for this kind of work? I’m guessing I'd need experience shooting with a macro lens but I can’t think of what else. I’m interested to know in case I see an opportunity to work in this field; it’s tough finding work as a photographer.

By roser — On May 24, 2011

I’m currently researching the different job opportunities available for photographers and I didn’t realize this was an actual profession although it makes sense now. Is it a popular field? It seems like there’s a lot of different areas in which it can be useful but I’ve never heard of someone actually being employed as a medical photographer, although it does sound interesting.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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