Arizona Surgical Photography

In Marketing Photography by Allen Butler

Arizona surgical photography is a rather specialized niche market, and one which Schnebly Hill fell into quite accidentally. As you may have noticed, Schnebly Hill has many medical and health care related clients, for which we provide video production services, photography services, and audio production services. Serving in the health care industry, there are many opportunities for media production, if you can form trusted relationships with good clients. One such client of Schnebly Hill is Sun Health Corporation. Sun Health is one of the largest health care service providers in Arizona, with many campi and service branches. Banner Health is closely related to Sun Health (in some unfathomable, tangential way), so when Banner Health requires the services that Schnebly Hill provides, we get the call.

Schnebly Hill was recently tapped to provide surgical photography for two Banner Medical centers, one at Banner Del E Webb and the other at Banner Boswell. These are both cutting edge, industry standard-setting medical centers, serving one of the largest demographics of retired persons in the world. In order to highlight the advancements in technology, and let their “clients” know about it, they wanted to highlight some of their latest innovations offered: a MAKO Rio arthroplasty robot, and a hybrid operating theater.

The first job we tackled was the MAKOplasty surgical photography at Banner Del E Webb. Dr. Benoit and his gracious staff (as well as the patient) were willing to allow us access to the surgery, so that the Sun Health Foundation could highlight the good work they’re performing in the area of medical technology advancement.

The surgical photography session began bright and early, and we were given protective clothing and gear for the surgical photography. In order to prepare of this session, we stripped down our gear to make as small of a footprint as possible, as being in a surgical theater as an observer requires that we be as unobtrusive as possible. We want to be particularly invisible to the staff and surgeon, as these are life-preserving procedures going on. No messing around!

So after getting on our protective gear, we wiped every nook and cranny of each piece of equipment that we brought into the surgical theater, including camera bodies, lenses, straps, tripods, flashes, and flash modifiers. Everything needs to be sterile. The nursing staff is meticulous and professional at making sure that the health of the patient is at the top of the priority list.

As the anesthesiologist is prepping the patient, and the OR nurses are covering everything in sight with protective gear, we get to start testing the light. Now, one might think that a surgical theater is well lit. And it most certainly is! However, the amount of light needed for proper exposure of video and photography is even greater. A delicate balancing act is called for with surgical photography however, as the treatment area of the patient will be very strongly lit indeed! But the remainder of the surgical theater is only lit by ceiling florescent fixtures, and while they provide plenty of light to work by for doctors and nursing staff, they simply aren’t enough for proper exposure.

This MAKOplasty procedure was done in an OR that was not terribly large. The theater was probably about 18 x 16 feet. There are also many machines and people in the OR, so space is at a premium.  Before the patient arrives, and during patient prep, many of the machines and accessories are pushed to the outsides of the surgical theater. Just before the surgeon arrives on scene, most of the equipment tables and machines are moved inward, to make them more readily accessible. This allowed us to begin moving around the periphery of the operating table, and gave us many excellent opportunities to capture great photos and film footage.

As I mentioned, this OR was not terribly large, so I found that one hi-powered speed light was adequate to flood the scene with good lighting for the photographs (always ask the surgeon or surgical staff about using flash before proceeding!). In regards to filming, we used the Sony AX100 4k camera, which operates very well in low light situations. The 4k footage of the surgery looks very good indeed!

Our second excursion into Arizona surgical photography took place only two days later at Banner Boswell Medical Center, and this time, we were photographing and filming a heart procedure in the hybrid operating room, with surgery being masterfully handled by Dr. Rajeev S. Kathuria. This hybrid OR was very large (probably 35 x 20 ft?). In this situation, one speed light was NOT going to produce enough light. One speed light simply lit about half the room, and cast hard shadows on the other half. Not good!

The solution was to bounce two speed lights (via wireless trigger) off the walls or ceiling. This worked very well, and provided more than ample light for some gorgeous photos. Again, the Sony 4k camera had no problem with the lighting in the room.

Arizona Surgical Photography is certainly an exciting prospect, and if you get the opportunity to try it as a photographer, I highly recommend it. If you’re afraid of blood & gore, don’t be! Modern surgical procedures are VERY clean, neat, tidy, and sterile. I must admit that I was a little concerned myself, that I might have some issue with passing out, or feeling squeamish, but not at all.  It was very interesting, informative, and challenging.

Now, as an observer in a critical care setting, there are no opportunities to “stage” photographs, and it would be the mightiest of presumptions to even speak to the staff or surgeon without being spoken to first.  We did however, find that, once the procedure was under way, and the staff and surgeon had “settled in,” they were very friendly and helpful. They are doing their jobs, and they are consummate professionals. Just respect that, and things will go well!