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Photographing Nail Art

With the explosion of nail art, nail artists are expanding their creativity into the field of photography. Here are tips on how to capture the best shot.


DSLR: Literally “digital single lens reflex,” DSLR means the digital camera has a lens that uses a mirror and prism system. Typically, the DSLR is also an interchangeable lens camera, which allows you to connect a variety of lenses to your camera base.

1. Bokeh: Often thought of as the beautifully blurred points of light in the background of photos, bokeh is actually the aesthetically pleasing quality of the blur, not the blur itself. Good bokeh can be found in soft-edged circles of light. Crisp edges, even in a blur, can steer the eye away from your art.

2. Macro: It’s a mystery why someone chose the word “macro” (meaning “large-scale”) as the name of the lens you need for up-close pictures. Possibly because when you use this setting and focus up-close, the shot appears large? Whatever the reason, the “macro” setting is often the best choice for up-close nail art images. 

3. DPI: “Dots per inch.” DPI tells you how many pixels are in a square inch. If you want to print a photo, it needs to be 250-300 dpi. Be sure the settings in your camera are set to take pictures large enough to print photos at this resolution. If you use photos online, the size can be smaller, since online images look clear at 72 DPI.


1. F-stop or f-number: The “f” stands for focal length. The “f” is always followed by a number; the smaller the number, the wider the opening (aperture). The wider the aperture, the more focused the lens becomes on a particular spot. So, to take a crisp, clear picture of nail art with that beautiful bokeh in the background, choose a low f-stop. (See photo below)

2. Aperture: The lens opening that allows light into the camera. The size of this adjustable opening is measured in f-stops.

3. ISO: Remember the days of film, where you chose between 100/200/400, etc., speed film? Now you can choose the speed through the ISO setting. Traditionally, ISO speed is increased to accommodate moving objects, so a low ISO speed (100/200) should work well for nail art.

Megapixel: Literally “one million pixels.” A pixel is a little dot. Pictures are made up of millions of these little dots, 4M, 5M, 12M, for example. When a camera has a low number of megapixels, the picture it produces begins to look grainy as it increases in size, a situation described as “pixelated.” (See photo above right)

Which Setting Is Best for Taking Pictures to Get That Crisp, Zoomed-In Shot?

  • Start with the macro setting — the little icon of the flower. This setting works best for up-close photography, and the camera will automatically blur the background. Also, try increasing the exposure (the +/- button) to 1/3 and see if you like the result. By default, it’s at 0. If you turn it up to 1/3+, it makes a huge difference in brightness. Try setting the white balance at “tungsten.” — Payne
  • Use the “auto” setting and allow the camera to focus on a nail before you shoot. Typically this happens by holding the shutter button down halfway to focus, then pressing all the way to shoot. — Hoel
  • With a DSLR, play with the aperture to see which f-stop gives you the desired result.


Point-and-Shoot vs. DSLRs

With a DSLR, you have the choice of multiple lenses to give you different looks. If I’m shooting a set of nails and want the background blurred out nicely, having a lens with the ability to properly control the depth of field is very helpful and is what gives a picture a more professional look. Different lenses also gather different light. I may find that shooting a picture with one lens will turn out nicer than the same frame of picture using a different lens.

Point and shoots are great for pictures that are simply straight on without any background, like staggered hands or gripping a jar. — Hoel

Most Common Mistake: Blurry Pictures

Number-One Fix: Use the Macro Function.
First, try using the macro setting. In this setting, you’ll need to get very close to the nail for the camera to focus. If your camera doesn’t have a good macro lens and the picture is blurry, then stand farther away and use a normal setting. With today’s cameras, you have VERY large pictures to work with. So stand back two to three feet from the nails and get a good, focused picture. On your computer you can crop in closer to the nails. — Hoel


Next page: Props vs. No Props

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