Adam Cooper captures the healing arts in a busy hospital.
What do medial photographers actually do?
It varies. Some work with microscopes doing photomicrography, and others with patients in a studio, photographing lesions and visible symptoms. Some specialize in dermatological issues, such as screening for skin cancer. Then others, like me, work for the healthcare institutions doing pre-op patient photos and environmental portraits of doctors taking care of patients, for PR, advertisements and newsletters. For the North Shore-Long Island jewish health system, I'm photographing all 800 doctors for its website—20 to 30 portraits a week.
How are surgical photos used?
Primarily for education. Doctors want series, both video and stills, for seminars. For plastic surgery patients, I take pre-op photos and create illustrations in Adobe Photoshop to show them what their nose could look like.
How did you get into this?
I've been taking pictures since I was 12, and I've always been fascinated by biology. I studied medical photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). The program is comprehensive, covering specialized areas like photomicrography and photographing specimens. I've been a medical photographer since 1986.
What's the hardest part?
I worked on the palliliative care floor, where people go to be comfortable before they die. Once a man asked to have his photo with his dying father, and I photographed them in natural light. Later I took some of the color out to illustrate the fading moments. This was a difficult floor to work on.
What gear do you use?
I carry a Nikon D300 and D2X backup, and 17-55mm f/2.8, 14-24mm f/2.8 and 10.5mm f/2.8 Nikkor lenses. I use a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod—its center column swings out horizontally for tabletop work. In the studio I use Elinchrom strobes; on location, three Nikon Speedlight SB-800s and a translucent umbrella. In microphotography, there are specialized cameras built into the microscopes—doctors can take photos using a keyboard after we teach them how to set these up for best lighting and sharpness.
How has medical photography changed over the years?
When I first started, we would shoot hundreds of copy slides as week for lectures—no, because of PowerPoint, that's not needed. We also scanned X-ray film and made prints, which isn't necessary anymore, due to digital radiology. There's little full-time staff work, though in opthalmology we're still very needed.