As a session manicurist, I’m often asked by other nail technicians how to begin working on set. Working behind the scenes can be an exciting way to share your creativity with the world, so I’m sharing some tips and tricks to get you photo-shoot ready. Every project can be different, so specific situations may vary, but the following are the basics I’ve learned over the past five years of working on print, TV, and film sets in Chicago.
HOW TO PREPARE
You’ll need to pack strategically as the traditional “two chairs and a table” station isn’t always available on set. You may be working on your model while other services are being performed, like hair and makeup, so plan accordingly. Pack everything you’ll need to perform a basic dry manicure and pedicure, along with polish choices in every color. This includes implements, treatments, brushes, and a way to hold them all. I usually come to set with a roller bag full of polishes in zipped organizer bags, and my tools and treatments in a plastic container that allows for easy access. Complete your kit with a couple of clean microfiber towels that can cover your workspace or the model’s lap to prevent filings and other debris from damaging the wardrobe.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The biggest difference between working in a salon and on set is the amount of time you have to complete a nail look. If it is a nail-centric photo shoot, you’ll likely have more time between looks to change the nails, but standard salon service times are much too long. There are shortcuts you can take to help with these time constraints. Since a photo shoot is more about how the nails look and not how long they’ll last, you can use tools like full cover tips, temporary adhesives, and base coat films to help speed up transitions. Have a few ideas in your head or sketched out ahead of time to ensure that you’re not spending precious minutes thinking about what you want to do. Expect to work with the other members of the team to determine the final look and how hair, makeup, wardrobe, and even props will all fit together to make the images the best they can be.
THE CREW: WHO'S WHO
Every project is a bit different, but depending on the shoot, one of three people is in charge: the photographer, the client, or the art director. The person in charge will likely present themselves when introduced, but if you’re not sure, ask who will be giving nail direction. Introduce yourself to everyone, and try your best to remember names.
Photographer: This is pretty self-explanatory, but the photographer is the one in charge of executing the images. The photographer handles the lighting, posing, and directs the model. The photographer is also the person who retouches or outsources the retouching of the images, and owns the copyright to the final images.
Producer: If there is a producer, they are in charge of the operation of the shoot. From assembling and hiring the entire crew to making sure there is food and a place for the model to change, the producer is the person who makes sure the shoot actually happens and runs smoothly.
Art director: The vision of the shoot is the responsibility of the art director. This is the creative professional who imagines the mood, story, and inspiration that guides the rest of the creative team.
Wardrobe stylist: The wardrobe stylist or “stylist” is responsible for the clothing, shoes, accessories, and jewelry on the shoot. They assemble looks that help guide the beauty team to create their work on the model.
Makeup artist/hairstylist: Sometimes this is the same person, sometimes it’s two artists. These creatives translate the inspiration into makeup and hair artistry on set. You’ll work closely with these team members to ensure the nails complement and complete the image, but don’t distract.
Model: The person who translates the vision of everyone on set into physical action. It is important to be kind to the model since she is the one making your work look amazing!
SHED SOME LIGHT
The equipment on set can be a little intimidating, since there is usually so much of it! Be prepared for lots of lights, flashes, and temperature fluctuations. There may be monitors where you can see the images as they are being produced. The photographer will likely be using a very expensive camera and different lenses to achieve the images. I wasn’t ready for all of the terminology when I first began working on set, so I’m going to share some basics here.
Beauty: Imagery of the model’s face and hands, generally framed from the shoulders up.
Macro: Extreme close up shots of a part of the model’s face, for example, one eye with two nails, or her lips to show detail.
Three-quarter: When the image is framed to show three-quarters of the model’s body.
Cheat: A direction for the model to show something specific to the camera. Example, “cheat your hand to camera” which asks the model to turn her hand to the camera in her current pose.
Beauty dish: A type of light used for beauty imagery that wraps the model with light.
Post: After the shoot, where retouching happens. It’s short for post-production.
In camera: Refers to how the image looks before any manipulation or editing. As nail artists on set, we should always be working for perfection “in camera.”
Read: How something looks on camera versus how it appears to the eye. Some colors and finishes will read or look totally different on camera, like chameleon and shimmer finishes, neons, and dark colors.
Working with models on set can be a varied experience. It is best to work with experienced models who know how to move and work their hands; however, that isn’t always possible. Ensure when you are creating your nail look that you take all angles into account (yes, even the underside!) as the camera will catch everything. Parts modelling agencies are the best source of hand models, along with social media. You can even source models from within your clientele, but they must be good at creating lovely shapes with their hands and fingers. You can search beauty imagery inspiration online to assist with pose ideas that will complement your nails.
THE NEXT STEP
If you’re serious about a career behind the scenes, you should begin by building a portfolio of professional images. Complex nail art is always tempting, but make sure your imagery also shows how well you can pull off a clean look. Look for beauty/portrait photographers in your area that test, meaning they regularly put together unpaid shoots where the crew can receive images for their books — it’s how everyone gets their start.
Nail tech Ashley Gregory is a session manicurist based in Chicago and the creator of The Nailscape blog.