Tech Smart: New views

June 6, 2012
Noah Levine
Issue 6

Clichés often come from a kernel of truth, so while there might be some room to argue over how many words it actually takes to equal a picture, there’s no doubt that images are valuable communication aids.

Clichés often come from a kernel of truth, so while there might be some room to argue over how many words it actually takes to equal a picture, there’s no doubt that images are valuable communication aids.

The importance of photography to the work of a dental lab is certainly no secret. Whether the pictures originate chairside to assist in shade and value matching or at the bench as a way to send a query back to the doctor, they can help transmit vital case information.

Snapping pictures of your work as you go along is a great way to document your progress as a technician and can be a good resource for figuring out how to proceed if a tricky situation reappears in the lab. Well shot images of your cases also can become the centerpiece of marketing efforts for your lab.

Digital photography has made it easier than ever before to capture, share and capitalize on these images, and a range of new online tools, mobile apps and photo editing technologies are now making these digital pictures even more valuable, vibrant and ready to help your lab and your work show off in the best possible light.

Accessible archives

Online photo archives are nothing new, but if you’re not already using a site such as Flickr, Picasa or even Facebook to create albums of your best work, you’re missing out on one of the easiest ways to get what you do seen by both current and prospective clients.

All of those sites provide free or low cost online storage and organization of images. This allows images from a specific case to be uploaded into an album and with Flickr or Picasa kept private or shared with just the doctor who submitted the case. That can be a powerful communication tool and cloud storage sites such as Dropbox can be used in the same manner.

But the real power comes from the social nature of those sites (and that’s where Facebook comes back into the arrangement). Every one of those sites allow other users such as your clients, their friends and even your lab colleagues to link to your account and thus follow the images you post publicly. By regularly posting promotional images showcasing your best work you can market what you are doing with almost no effort.

The new images show up when anyone linked to your account logs into their account, and even better, they can share those images with other people they think might like them, making the growth of the people able to see pictures of what you can do completely organic. If you take a few moments to tag your uploaded images with keywords describing the picture and always including your lab and basics such as “dental crown”, “implant bridge” or “complete dentures” as the case may be, the images will be even easier for people to find via search engines.

This type of social marketing is an amazingly easy way to increase your visibility, and it’s just the basics. The latest in image technologies offer some real fun ways to take picture that set things apart from anything else online.

Changing distances

While the digital camera was certainly a huge innovation, it was mostly a change in the processing and storing of images. But a new imaging technology developed by Lytro Inc. called a “light field” camera is something truly new. This tiny digital camera was launched late last year under the slogan “shoot now, focus later” because the digital images it captures can be refocused by anyone viewing them online.

The camera’s special sensor captures all the light available and the imbedded software processes this into an image that is truly interactive. Simply clicking on any area in the image can endlessly refocus the special Lytro image files. The focus shifts to that area and the rest of the image goes out of focus. Then another click and the focus is placed on a new spot or returned to the original focus.

Try it for yourself here:

There are many more Lytro images to view and play with at the company's website here.

These images can be easily linked and shared online, and while the camera technology is still new, it is already capable of impressive macro photography capable of capturing close up shots to the show the type of detail key to displaying the work of a dental lab. These pictures could be used to provide a dynamic tour of your lab, or a detail view of a complex case allowing the viewer to focus on just one area at a time.

Turning around

As great as photography can be in showing off what a dental lab does, a picture is still a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object. While 3D scanning is nothing new for labs, it’s not exactly suited for promotional photography, but there are now some interesting ways to show all sides of your work with one image.

Among the best and easiest to use is Arqball Spin. This recently launched company created a simple app for capturing 3D panorama images that allow the viewer to rotate an object 360º. The capture can be done via a free iPhone or iPad app and the results are amazing. For the best captures, Arqball sells a specially designed turntable for $60, which rotates the object at the precise speed for its software. But even without the turntable, it’s not hard to get great results. This “spin” of a classic “drinking bird” toy is something I created by manually rotating it on a cake plate on my kitchen table.

Numerous examples of smoother "Spins" captured on Arqball's rotating stage can be found on the company's website here.

This could be a great way to show off a set of dentures, an implant bridge or even a crown, provided it’s not being shot against a white background. Arqball allows users to host 25 spin images on their site for free, with low cost accounts set up for people who want to have more. Showing off your work on your website’s homepage with an interactive image such as this could be a great way to introduce your skills to visitors.

Interactive future

Digital imaging should certainly be a part of what any lab does to promote its work and all of these tools provide a way for new and prospective clients to see, interact with and become fans of the work you do. Plenty of other novel imaging systems are certainly on the way.

Autodesk, the makers of the original AutoCAD software, have launched an online and app-based 3D modeling software suite called 123D which is basically a camera-based 3D scanning system. The concept is based on their software stitching together user submitted photos to create a 3D model.

This would take something like a Spin to a new level of complete rotation to show off the top, bottom and every possible angle. However in practice the system has mostly generated 3D mapped-mush for many users. But while it might not be ready and simple to use just yet the idea is sound. 3D photos could be the next powerful imaging technology that can help in marketing your lab.

All of these things might be a tiny bit gimmicky, but sometimes it’s a gimmick that gets noticed. Photos can really help a lab stand out, and putting the cutting edge of photo technology to work for you is a great way to broadcast the quality and detail of the amazing work you do.