SICK - Medical Photos

Posted Wednesday, 26 January 2011 by Ellen Boughn in Ellen Boughn, Photography
Health care is a hot political topic as well as a serious part of life all over the world. From vaccination of children to elder care, a huge percentage of revenue is spent annually in every country. Photos and illustrations that depict health care in all its variations are used both in informational and promotional materials.
Doctor with hands in pockets Doctor Sitting On A Hospital Bed

© PBLScooter/Crestock

© MonkeyBusinessPhotos/Crestock

The most popular of all medical images is that of a smiling physician in a white coat with a stethoscope around the neck. There are dozens of variations of that image. How can you make certain that your photos of this iconic image are among the most downloaded?

  • Add authenticity by mocking up or adding a name badge to the model's coat. Blur the actual name.
  • Add blurred blue type or a symbol that appears to identify the hospital over the left side of the model's white coat.
  • Ensure that the 'doctor' appears old enough to have completed medical school!
  • The most popular models posing as physicians are older Caucasian men who appear to have lots of experience in taking out hearts or other equally challenging medical tasks! (Notwithstanding the fact that they no longer dominate in many fields of medicine).

Turn the cliché upside down and create images outside the subject of the most downloaded images. In this way you will have less competition for your medical images and satisfy more specific needs.

EMTs in an Ambulance

© CraigStock/Crestock

There are now nearly as many women doctors as men, yet many still cast women as nurses and male models as doctors. The ethnic mix in the medical professions is varied and needs to be illustrated as well.

Photos and illustrations of doctors are not the only medical professionals that are in demand. Sometimes you can identify the profession by the use of a few props. In other cases, you may have to place the model in what appears to be an authentic location such as a lab or a physical therapy clinic.

Patient in ophthalmology lab

© ambrits/Crestock

  • Medical Tech
  • Home health care worker
  • Salesperson speaking to a doctor in the office
  • Acupuncturist
  • Pharmacist
  • Phlebotomist
  • Surgeon in surgery
  • Dietitian
  • Pediatrician
  • Ambulance and ambulance driver
  • EMT (Emergency medical technican)
  • Don't forget the patients - including the elderly in a rehab center
Senior patient receiving oxygen mask Two doctors at the operating room

© 4774344sean/Crestock

© Erdosain/Crestock

More ideas? Go to hospital websites. A prominent photo on the website of my local clinic shows a close-up of a person's arm with a blood pressure cuff and the arms of a professional holding the end of the stethoscope to listen for the thump of the heart to measure blood pressure.

Checking blood pressure of female patient Doctor checking baby with stethoscope

© otnaydur/Crestock

© deanm1974/Crestock

Locations: Access to medical facilities is difficult and may take more legwork than usual. I've had photographers be successful in approaching their private physicians for permission to use exam rooms.

Another photographer that I've worked with made a deal with a teaching hospital to photograph their facilities for their brochures and marketing materials in exchange for a fee and the rights to use the location for stock photo shoots. This is ideal as hospitals have so many of the required spaces all in one institution from physical therapy to hospital beds and medical laboratories.

Embryologist putting sample into centrifuge

© MonkeyBusinessImages/Crestock

Tips: Surgeons and nurses, in particular, wear different kinds of smocks, caps and masks in different countries. Try to be as international as possible by minimizing identifying attire or take wardrobe changes with you to the shoot. North American hospital workers tend to wear solid brightly colored uniforms. European workers tend to wear all white uniforms.

Making a composite of many different medical professionals photographed individually against white will produce a valuable image of team medicine.

And don't forget these key images:

  • Child receiving a vaccination.
  • Cosmetic surgery—lines on the face where the surgery will take place.
  • What looks to be Botox shots.
  • Medical personnel with computers.
  • Doctor in office with a drug salesperson - always needed but the only way I've thought to create this one is to have a person in a suit sitting across the desk from a doctor or a person in business attire with a large rolling sample case in conversation with a doctor.
  • Still life of medical items like stethoscope and pills with a prescription pad etc. (Some medication is identifiable by the color of the capsules. Use bland and unrecognizable pills and packaging or buy over the counter two part capsules and mix the two half with others to create a new "medicine").
Caucasian woman receiving an injection of botox from a doctor

© ambro/Crestock

Confirm that the medical procedures you are simulating are accurately represented.

Avoid faking medical situations that might not be accurate, for example:

  • The material in medical lab test tubes is easily identified as not authentic if it is water plus food coloring.
  • Doctors don't review X-rays by looking down at them. They must be between the doctor and a source of light.
  • Don't fake a shot by pushing a syringe lacking a needle up against the procedure calls for a needle to be completely inserted into the skin. Position the needle and the model so that it appears that the needle is delivering the goods without puncturing your model!

© Kamaga/Crestock

Using illustration that combines several medical symbols adds impact to a single subject image.

More tips:
  • Avoid showing a red cross to indicate medical services as Red Cross International trademarks it. These images are only permitted when an article is speaking about the actual organization.
  • Tone down makeup. Female medical personnel are often asked to go very light on make-up.
  • Avoid gory images of surgery, injuries or afflictions when shooting for general stock. They are rarely used in mainstream media except in a journalistic, tabloid or a specialist context (e.g. medical publications).
Young female having a cold

© dpix/Crestock

Use blush makeup around a model's eyes and nose to add a "I have a bad cold" look.

Illness is a serious business; all the more reason that the images that are most popular are positive (except for those showing people with the flu or a cold). Patients in a hospital don't need to look like they are on their last legs but should at least look less than delighted to be there!

Ellen Boughn

Ellen has over thirty years of experience in the stock business gained at such organizations as Dreamstime, UpperCut Images, Workbookstock, Corbis, Getty (Stone), The Image Bank (Artville) and the creative agency, After-Image, she started in Los Angeles at the beginning of her career. Having been directly involved in the creation of four major stock photography collections, Ellen offers her decades of experience to assist photographers seeking success in stock photography.

Twitter @ellenboughn Facebook ellenboughn

Ellen Boughn's best-selling book, Microstock Money Shots, is filled with insights, tips and advice on how to create commercial images and improve your work flow to profit from photography whether you're a hobbyist or a professional photographer.
Order now on

Daily Free Stock Photo The Weekly Free Stock Image
We are giving away a free, high quality photo every week! Get Your Image


No comments yet.

Add your comment:

Further comments have been disabled on this post.