Tuesday, June 17, 2014

10 ways to make your nail photos look even better!

Hello and welcome! I've been working on this post in my head for a while, and now the day is finally here! I'm gonna show you 10 tricks to make your nail photos look beautiful! Let's jump right in :D

1. Try to find a camera that works for you!

When you're trying to take pictures of your nail polish or nail art, ofcourse you want them to look as good as possible. You want them to be well lit, color accurate and super sharp. A camera plays a big role in achieving this, as well as some other factors. But we'll look at the camera first.

A compact camera is a perfect solution for good photos! I bought this one for nail photography, it's the Canon Powershot A2300 and I chose it because it has a really short focal point, meaning it can get really close to an object and still focus properly (no blurry photos).

What I like about this camera is that it's light, so it's easy to hold. Also, it has a little SD card that slides right into my laptop, so no hassle with getting the pictures onto my computer. The colors are pretty great and the pictures are light and fresh.

What I don't like is the quality, there's not much manipulation possible with these photos, they get grainy and gritty and I don't like it. I set high standards for my photos, so this may not be the same for everyone using this camera. Also, there's not much I can do with the settings. There are compact cameras with more elaborate settings or even a fully manual mode, but I just chose a cheap, simple one. I think I paid about €100 for this baby. And yes, the fact that it's blue definitely played a part in choosing it! Haha!

I myself use a digital camera, a DSLR (of spiegelreflex in het Nederlands), and this is my kind of machine. I have a Canon EOS 400D that I bought back when I was in college, it was a second hand purchase so I'm not sure how old it is, and it has a Sigma DC lens that usually doesn't come with this camera.

What I love about this camera is the high quality of the pictures, the huge range in settings, and the fact that it has a beautiful depth of field that gives my photos that professional look. I can go deep into the technical aspects of the camera, but I'll keep it on the surface. Depth Of Field (DOF) determines what part of the photo is blurry, because it's in the background, and how big of a part of the photo is sharp. You can manipulate this with the settings of the camera. I like my nails to be sharp and in the picture, and then my fingers 'fade away' into the background. Depth of field is also really great when shooting a polish with holo glitter, because you only need one photo to show the glitter sharp in focus, as well out of focus and super sparkly.

What I don't like about this camera is that it's heavy, so I always need a tripod or something to rest the camera on. I've tried it without but you get blurry pictures and a hand that hurts. Badly :-p Something else I don't like about this camera is that the photos are stored on a CF card that doesn't fit in my laptop, so I need a cable to upload the pics to my computer. The camera needs to be on for this to happen, so a depleted battery means no pics. Oh and I can't put it into macro mode without the flash popping up!

Here's a comparison of three pics:

2. Lighting is key!

Decent lighting is extremely important for your photos! It takes the load off of your camera, better lighting means the camera needs less exposure to capture a bright picture of your nails. More exposure means a longer time that the lens is open, so you'll see more blur because you can't keep your hand perfectly still (don't worry, that's human).

I have a light box set up in my closet. I have this weird thing in my room, it's kind of an attic but on the first floor, I have two roofsides and one of them is converted into a closet. So it's not big enough to walk in, but it's perfect to store my light box. As an added bonus, this closet can be sealed off from any light coming from outside, just by closing the sliding doors. This means that I have full control over what light falls onto my nails and how.

My light box is lit by two full spectrum lamps. I got mine from the pet store, any pet store with a terrarrium section will have them, in different wattage. Mine are the 13W kind because they were cheapest, they were about €17 each. I usually only use the one on the side, but I like having the one on the top too so I can combine and change it up a little. I also have a halogen lamp inside the light box, and this is kind of unconventional but it's something that I had to figure out for myself. The full spectrum lamps give off a harsh, blueish light. It made my fingers look dead in the picture and while this can be corrected with photoshop, you want your pictures to be as ready as can be without having to edit too much. Editing them can make them look weird. The full spectrum lamps also made any wrinkles or imperfections stand out like crazy! I saw wrinkles that I couldn't even see in broad daylight! So I added the halogen lamp, it's one of the lamps that came with my light box when I got it. It brings back the orange in my skin tone, so it looks more natural.

I don't think I have to tell you to not EVER use the flash to photograph your nails, unless it's to show off a holo. Not only does it distort colors, but it also looks doesn't do your hand or your polish justice. When the nails are lit up that brightly, the background automatically blackens so you'll lose a big part of your picture to darkness. That's a shame, because showing the whole hand can be so elegant and beautiful!

Setting up a light box to my liking was a HUGE pain, and I've been toying with it for almost a year now. I keep finding out new things and although I've read a large number of tutorials and tips & tricks about how to set up and use a light box, experimenting is what brought me the furthest. You just have to play around with it, find your own way of doing things. It's all about where you set it up, what lighting you use, but also the camera and how it picks up the image. Sorry, I wish I could give you guys a clear-cut solution!

3. Keep the camera steady!

I mentioned this before, but I think it deserves its own chapter. Make sure your camera is very still, put it on a tripod or set it down on a flat, hard surface. You might also want to consider using a shutter release cable. It's basically the shutter button on a wire, you plug it into your DSLR and you can press it to take a photo. They're pretty inexpensive, I got mine when I was in college and it was about €10.

Rest your hand on something as well. Nobody can keep their hand perfectly still, but resting your arm or your hand on something will help, as well as taking a position that feels comfortable for you. Wrenching out your hand into some impossible position won't do anyone any good!

4. Keep the background simple!

You will want to find a background that doesn't distract from your nails. I think this might be one of the easiet tips I can give you today! You can put down a piece of paper or cloth, or even use your uni-colored couch as a backdrop. Setting the frame, whether you do it while taking the photo or cropping it later, can mean SO much for your photo, and will also get rid of the annoying background. Here's some examples:

5. Keep the foreground simple too!

Your nails will do the work. Please don't distract your audience by holding something ridiculous. If it suits the nail art or the theme of the polish, this might be a fun, whimsical idea. Like holding the exact same flower that you painted. But overall, the nails will do the work. You can try holding a bottle without looking cramped, this will take some practice but you'll get there! This brings me nicely to my next point which is...

6. Choose your own hand pose!

This might be one of my biggest problems, haha! I started out with a truly AWFUL hand pose, and I still cringe at the sight of those photos. I can't believe I ever put them on my blog! What you wanna do is choose a hand pose that is easy to recreate, doesn't look cramped and that suits you and the way you want your nails to look. For instance, I LOVE to do nail art that stretches across multiple nails, so it's key for me to have a pose that lines up the nails so that my image lines up too. I'm still trying out new poses, because I'm getting tired of showing only my nails and not the rest of my fingers. I have very nice looking hands, you know!

The most important part, again, is practice, try some things, experiment. Everybody's hands are different and what looks cramped for other people, might be easy for you because not all hands are equally limber. And vice versa, ofcourse. What you do wanna strive for is one general hand pose that you can use for all of your nail pics, this creates unity in your collection of pics and will show off the different nail polishes and nail art even better when you put the photos next to eachother.

7. Clean up!

This is personal for everybody. Some people don't mind to see some nail polish that ended up somewhere that's not the nail itself, while other people might have a fit at the sight of it. I think it's a personal choice to clean up or not, and I won't judge anyone by it. Lord knows I didn't do any cleanup until somewhere last summer! Ha! I really like doing cleanup now, once I found out what works for me.

You'll need a flat brush, that will work best. I got mine from eBay and that's just perfect. It's inexpensive and you don't want to spend to much on cleanup brushes, because acetone can really ruin them. Just dip the brush into your remover (I use the Essence remover without acetone, it smells really yummy and it doesn't ruin my fingers) and swipe the bristles along the line of the cuticle. Use a brush with soft bristles, that will give you the best, smooth line. A brush with hard bristles can be very convenient when cleaning up after a glitter polish!

I don't think I have to tell you guys, but I'll say it anyway.... When you take off one polish, before you start on the next, make sure the first color is completely gone. It will be much harder to remove any leftovers from the first color, when the second polish is already applied. Make it easy on yourself!

8.  Lint wipe!

This might sound trivial, but to me, it's very important. I have this little lint free wipe next to my light box. Before I start taking pictures, I wipe my nails with it. It brings back the shine, and gets rid of any hairs or fluff that might have gotten onto my nails. It's a tiny detail, but it's the little touches that make your photos gorgeous!

9. Focus!

Whatever you do, make sure your picture is in focus. It's so important to take sharp pictures, because this can't be adjusted later in Photoshop or similar software. Nobody expects you to take one photo and have it be perfect, so take lots and lots of pics and shift your hand around, get closer or further away from the camera, adjust some stuff and click that shutter button! Having sharp pictures will make your nails stand out beautifully, and make your nail art look so much better :D

10. Photoshop!

I hate to say it, but if all else fails... there will always be Photoshop. Or if you're broke, the free wannabe version called Gimp. I have my version of Photoshop CS5 from when I was in college (sorry to keep bothering you guys with my super amazing college degree! LOL) and it works wonders for my pictures. I do NOT retouch the polishes, what you see is what you get. I mainly use Photoshop to crop and rotate photos, light them up a bit or turn down the contrast, do some color correcting and paste in my watermark. Sometimes I will retouch my fingers, if I have a nasty cut, but any editing I do will be to show the polish as is, not to make it look better than it will in real life. That would be dishonest and untruthful (don't they mean the same?) and that is not who I want to be as a blogger.

Be careful with the tweaking of your pics, especially if you don't have experience with the software. It can start to look fake, or overly edited, and you don't want that. Try to set up your photography routine in such a way that minimal editing is required, this will save you time in the long run and will be much less stressful!

And that's it!

All I can say is: have fun and plot your own journey. It all depends on the time and effort you are willing to put into your nail pictures, the funds you have available, your living situation (room for a light box, kids running around) and ofcourse your determination. If you want to get there, you'll get there! Just keep changing one thing at a time, and another thing will pop up that will annoy the crap out of you. Just change that and you'll be one step closer. Look at other people's pictures and try to figure out what they're doing, what you like and what you dislike, and try to give it your own spin. And remember, there's nothing like 'the' perfect nail photo. Everybody has their own style, now try to find yours!

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