We need surgery photos – real surgery vs. staged

Photographing a surgical team in the operating room  is a great way to showcase specialized medical teams and technology. But should you shoot a real surgery or stage it? Is it necessary to have a real patient and show a real procedure to communicate your message or will a fake patient do just as well? Finding a fake patient is pretty easy. There's always a photo assistant, a staff member or even a pillow. Working with a real patient in a real surgery is much more difficult.

Real surgery photography is all about showing respect to someone who is at their most vulnerable. There are a lot of things to consider. If you're planning to ask a photographer to shoot a real surgery, obviously the doctor will need to get consent of the patient. There is a real medical procedure taking place, so patient safety is the number one concern. That means the photo team will need to be wearing appropriate coverings including coveralls, caps and booties. The surgeon will need to talk pre-shoot to the photo team and tell them what is and isn't acceptable including where they can be and what they can do. The surgeon is the boss. 

It's important that the photographer is careful with their shots and that they minimize the number of photos and flashes as much as possible and respect the dignity of the patient at all times. Whenever using strobes it's a good rule to ask the surgeon if it's okay to shoot, so as not to create a distraction, especially with delicate procedures like robotic surgery.

Photographing a real surgery is more documentary in nature than commercial. It's not appropriate to ask the surgery team to pose or move in a certain way. The photographer should capture what they can without disturbing the procedure.

Staged surgery scenarios, on the other hand, are a lot more relaxed and even fun. The photo team can interact with the medical team without the stress of a real procedure. Unless it's necessary to show an actual patient, staging allows for the most freedom in shaping the photos.