Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nail Photography Basics (Part I)

Fun Sarah fact: did you know I got my degree in photography? I've had a few people ask me how I take my mani photos, so I thought I'd do a lil' breakdown for you guys. That lil' breakdown turned into a big breakdown, so now this how-to has to come to you in parts (and they're still pretty wordy!). Here's the first, for those of you that want a beginner's peek into my process.

Obviously there are a number of ways to take photos of your nails; these are just some of the ways to achieve the basic concepts that I like to see in others' photos:
  1. even lighting
  2. a simple, non-distracting background
  3. and in-focus nails.

Lighting

I use indirect window lighting. That means that I use daylight for my photos, and do not use any sort of camera flash.

On most days, I have to get up and take my photos before work, so that means that they are taken around 7am. I open the west-facing set of shutters in my room; the sun is not rising on that side so it is not beaming in directly. If the sun IS beaming in directly when you want to take your photos, angle the blinds upward so the sun is hitting the ceiling.

Angle your nails towards the window to get the most even lighting coverage. Depending on how you position your hand, you can end up with different shadowing conditions. Those conditions can effect the drama of the image. I guess this part is about personal preference, but I usually prefer evenly lit images to shadowy, dramatic ones.

Here are some different lighting conditions. All of these photos were taken at the same time of day, in the same location. All that is changing in the photos are the light sources or the position of my hand/the camera. The conditions on the largest photo are the ones that I use to take most of my photos.

Click to enlarge!
(photos show OPI Who the Shrek Are You? with Lynnderella Connect the Dots)

As you can see, changing something as simple as the lighting and its position can really change the look of a photo. Give some thought to what you want your photos to look like and then spend some time trying to achieve that!

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, you will need direct sunlight or a bright indoor light if you want to show holo polish. You will also want different conditions if you want to show glitter, or how a jelly looks with the sun shining into it. Just be smart and always spend some time making sure your lighting looks good, whatever it is.

Background

I don't think there's anything as bothersome to me as when the background of someone's mani photos distracts from the polish. The main reason it irritates me so much is because it's the easiest thing in the world to fix!

If you are obtaining correct focus on the nails, the background will most likely be blurred out of focus; really, you could use anything solid!

The majority of my photos are taken using my black bedsheets as a background. For my delicate print mani, the background is a grey shirt I snagged out of my closet. I have also used my wooden dining room table as a background (see gradient). You could use posterboard too, if you'd like. As long as the background is vague and non-distracting, you should be good to go.

Here's my setup.


Yeah. It's an old, pilled up bedsheet. Pretty sexy, right? It looks light in this photo, but when the camera is providing an exposure based on my hand and not the background, it looks pure black.

Camera and Beginner Settings

If it is avoidable in any way, don't use a cell phone camera to take the nail pics for your blog.

There are a lot of great cameras out there that aren't too expensive and will get the job done for you. My preferred brand is Canon. The camera that I use is the Canon S90, it's a good pocket camera but has a lot of extra features that the casual user just wouldn't need. For most people, the less expensive lines like the PowerShot will suffice. Of course, other brands are great too! I'm just most familiar with Canon, so I can't speak much on others.

When taking photos of things from up close, you will want to use your camera's "macro" setting. I'm sure many of you already know about and use this mode; I'm going to talk about it briefly for those of you that may not be aware of it.

The macro setting will help the camera to focus better on things that are close to the lens, and will keep your nails from looking out of focus. It is usually indicated by an icon of a flower. Here are macro buttons on a few different camera models.

(all images from Google Image Search)

Turn on the macro mode, then position your hand so that it fills most of the photo frame. If you'd like, you can leave some room for cropping later on. Push the button halfway to give your camera a chance to focus on your nails, and then finish pushing it all the way down to take the picture. Here's an article to read if you are having trouble using your camera's macro mode.

If you need to, you can steady either of your hands by placing them or your elbow on a flat, sturdy surface.

If your photos look like they have some motion blur, try to increase the lighting in the room by opening the blinds more or turning on a light to use in conjunction with the natural lighting. More advanced users can try to go into their camera's settings and set their camera to photograph at a higher ISO, however, bear in mind that the higher you go in ISO, the more grainy your photos will turn out.

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53 comments

  1. You are wonderful for posting this! I definitely knew these basics (didn't major in photography but took a few photography classes in college), but I am so excited to read the rest!

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  2. great post. I'll use your tips :)

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  3. Awesome post! I'm still perfecting my method of photographing nails! I actually find it's hard work. I don't have a good natural light source in my house, that doesn't help!

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  4. Thank you so much for the information. Pictures really do matter in our blogs so having the best attainable ones really makes the blog! :)

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  5. I put my hand against my bathroom wall-its white and non distracting and holds my hand steady! Love this post-I really need a new camera!

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  6. Great post! I love reading posts on how people take pictures of their nails :)

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! This is a very helpful post. =)

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  8. This was really helpful, thanks so much Sarah!

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  9. Thanks for the tip! I have to admit, I'm guilty of distracting backgrounds! Something I plan to remedy from now on x

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  10. great post! my husband is into photography and does it on the side. he's been teaching me about cameras and how to use them better. can't wait for the next post.

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  11. Awesome tips - thanks so much. Look forward to part 2!

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  12. This is awesome! Thanks so much for sharing! Can't wait for part 2! ...Maybe next you could do a "posing/positioning" tutorial? I hate the way my hands look in my pics! ♥

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  13. Bless you for this post! If you ever want to come to Orlando/Disney World, you can stay with me and I'll even let you borrow my car, if you can train me to use my camera better. :)

    (one year of photography at Jr College didn't cut it....waaaaay before digital!!)

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  14. Great post, lots of very good info. I usually hold my breath when I press the shutter to take my pictures, which helps make them really clear. Do you ever use a tripod for your nail pics? Love your shots, btw.

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  15. @Sonoma Bento - good tip on the breath holding, I do that too but didnt think to put it into words! And nope, I don't use tripods.

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  16. Awesome! Can't wait to hear more! I honestly have no idea how to use 90% of my camera's functions =(

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  17. Great post I learned so much, thank you!

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  18. I love this! thanks SO much for posting.

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  19. what an awesome post... I can't wait for the second part!!! I absolutely love your pics!!! PS.. I tagged you on my blog for the As time passes by.. its FUN!

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  20. Thanks so much for the photographing tips :)

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  21. Thank your for this nail photography post!! Today I started using a black background and good sunlight, and now my pictures look a lot like yours! Thank you soooooo very much! :)

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  22. I always love reading tips and how other people have their set ups arranged! Your photos are great!

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  23. Thank you so much for this! Wish I found this sooner!!

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  24. Thanks for posting this!!! When I get all my stuff together to start my blog I will definitely use this as a guideline to take my pictures.

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  25. What's your solution to avoiding the blur caused by not using flash with sunlight pics? (I have a point and shoot and it always blurs when I don't use flash...suggestions have been to use a tripod, but that's so cumbersome)

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    1. Your photos should not be blurring if you are taking your pics in direct sunlight, so try changing your camera settings around and see if you can make it work. If you can control the shutter speed on your camera, try making it faster. If not, most cameras will let you choose the ISO. You can try selecting a higher ISO number, but your photos will get grainy if you go too high. You could also look for an "action" mode, which is usually used for sports photography, as that should have settings optimized to minimize blur.

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  26. Thank you so much for posting this. I have been having issues with my pictures. Very helpful!

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  27. I feel so smart because I figured all this out through trial and error! So glad I've been doing it right, thanks for this tutorial!

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  28. This has been very helpful. Thank you for this.

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  29. The way I avoid the blur is to use the timer function. Then you don't have the motion from pressing the button to take the picture.

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  30. Sarah I think I love you! I'm actually doing most of what you said and ANYTHING that will keep me out of the ISO settings is a good thing. Great post! ♥

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  31. Does the Canon S90 allow you to zoom in macro mode? I recently purchased an olympus and I can't zoom in macro mode which sucks compared to my old canon.

    Also, what ISO do you usually stay on and what lighting mode do you used on your canon s90? I'm thinking of buying the exact one!

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    1. Instead of zooming in macro mode, try moving the camera closer or shooting from further away and cropping in later. I don't think the s90 allows you to zoom while in macro but I have never tried. I think I leave my ISO on auto and lighting on auto, too, since I shoot in RAW and fiddle with the other settings on my computer later.

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  32. These are awesome, basic tips! Anytime I try to read a photo tut I end up not being able to absorb the info because it's overwhelming, this was very well done!

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  33. Thanks so much for the comprehensive tutorial! I'm just reading this for the first time, and looking at your most recent photos, and I'm wondering if anything has changed in the way you do things over the last year? Are you still using natural light and the black bedsheets as a backdrop, or have you switched to artificial light? My problem is that even with the macro setting on my camera and natural light facing the nails, I still have issues with blurring. My camera will only focus on one or two nails. So I'm thinking I might start to use a tripod and see if that helps.

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    1. Hello! You're right, I do not take my photos like this anymore. Instead, I use a homemade lightbox and artificial light. The drawback to this method is that I have to do a lot of post processing. http://www.chalkboardnails.com/2012/03/intermediate-nail-photography-lightbox.html A tripod will likely help your situation, but it's hard to say without knowing what kind of blurring you mean. There is blurring where the camera won't focus properly, and blurring where the shutter is taking too long so it shows small movements from your hand. If it won't focus, try using macro mode but moving the camera back an inch or so. If it's a motion blur, you will need more light or a faster shutter.

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    2. Thanks for the tips and advice, I'll try both to see what the problem might be. Eventually I'd like to get a better camera (using a Canon Powershot SD1000), but not for awhile. I will make sure to check out your updated tutorial. Thanks again!!

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  34. Stephanie CortezJuly 1, 2013 at 10:55 PM

    Thank you so much! I will definitely be using these tips! :)

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  35. On Wednesdays, We Wear PolishJuly 2, 2013 at 4:51 AM

    This was super helpful! I just started a blog and always have difficulties taking photos even though I have a pretty good camera. I am definitely going to use your lighting tips. BTW I am absolutely in LOVE with all of your work. Thanks for the tips!

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  36. Livebreathe NailArtAugust 18, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    This was very helpful! Thank you for posting this

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  37. This was extremely helpful! Thank you for the tutorial! :D Now I can give all this a try!

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  38. thanks for sharing your tips! very helpful :)

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  39. Thank you so much! I think my photos are looking much better and I appreciate your help & tips!!!
    http://progressthroughpolish.blogspot.com/

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  40. My nail pics are looking more professional now because of you photography tips and DIY light box!! Thank you!!!

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  41. Amazing tips! I'm a graphic designer new to blogging and I've been struggling to find the right way to take pictures of my nails this post was super helpful!!!
    Thaaaank you,
    Jessi :)
    http://jessiibrownie.wordpress.com

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  42. If you're having trouble with shutter speed, I would pick up a few tabletop lamps and outfit them with natural daylight bulbs. More light should solve your problem! :)

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  43. Thank you so much for taking the time to help me out. You are very sweet! I built my lightbox yesterday and I'm so proud of it. I'll definitely look for daylight bulbs. Thanks a lot!
    Have a great day dear! :)

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