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


Props vs. No Props

I take a minimalist approach because I want the focus to be on the nails. Having one well-placed prop is enough. I use simple, generic poses and props for the pictures I put in my photo gallery. I use these to show clients the options they have for their nails. It’s easier for clients to choose art if the models have consistent poses. I typically pose models with overlapped hands, which I feel looks most elegant and is flattering to the nails. The walls of my salon have posed pictures of models and more dominant props, like you would see in a magazine. In the posters, the complete picture is seen as art. — Hoel

I love taking pictures on white backgrounds because it puts the attention on the art. If I do use props, I choose them based on the nail design. For simple and sophisticated designs, I like to use art-deco jewelry, provided it doesn’t distract from the design. If it’s a nail design with lots of bling, I like to raise the photographic bar by adding rings and bracelets that give the shot some extra pizzazz. Imagination is the key to taking shots of nail designs to a new, more creative and professional level. — Cofer


How to Choose a Photographer

Ana Isabel says photographers will charge either by the hour or by the product. If you find one who charges by the product, expect to pay a low “sitting” fee, but a higher price per print. Here the photographer makes her money with the sale of the pictures.

When a photographer charges by the hour, the expense might seem steep ($200 or more per hour), but you’ll own the digital images, which means you can use them anywhere you want, print them, and blow them up to the size you want, as often as you need them. Remember, you’re paying for more than just the time it takes to snap the picture. Your finished product will have gone through an editing phase to produce the eye-catching, professional results you need.

Before you decide which photographer to use, ask to see a portfolio so you’re sure you like the “eye” of the artist you choose. Choose a photographer who has examples of close-up shots, then work with her to discuss the look and feel you want to see in your final product. She will have some good ideas, too, so ask for her opinion. If you find a photographer you absolutely love, but whose prices seem out of your range, consider bartering for an exchange of services. Even if she doesn’t want nail services, she may be interested in working in exchange for gift certificates, which she could hand out to her customers as a “free gift” for contracting with her.



Louise Callaway:

  • Make sure hands are relaxed and don’t look rigid. Rigidity makes the knuckles look wrinkled.
  • The hands and nail area need to be clean and tidy. There’s nothing worse than great nails with bad cuticles.
  • Don’t place the hands on top of each other. It makes the image look like a bunch of bananas.
  • Know when to stop. Nails can be ruined when you throw your whole nail kit at them.

Olga Palylyk:

  • Purchase a tripod, even a small one, so you can take pictures without your hands shaking. Shaky hands take blurry pictures.
  • Another way to avoid shaky hands is to use the self-timer feature.
  • Diffuse glare by placing a white piece of paper in front of the light.
  • Don’t rush. Study your camera’s features. Take the time to prepare the right lighting and correct background. Keep the background subdued so you don’t overpower the art.
  • Have fun!

Ana Isabel:

  • Don’t use a flash, if at all possible. It pales everything, adds shadows, and causes a glare.
  • If you need extra light, take a lamp and point it up so it will bounce off the ceiling area, not the nails.

Jessica Hoel:

  • I prefer to shoot with natural light, even outside if possible. Natural light eliminates glare, shadows, and bad lighting, which alters the look of the nails.
  • Take pictures of your model from different angles. Tweak fingers so they are evenly spaced and nails face the same direction. Use an orangewood stick to tap fingers slightly to help move them. (This works better than having the model move her fingers; models almost always move fingers too far!)
  • Just as the camera can add pounds to the body, so a nail can look thicker in a photo. For pictures submitted for competition, design the nail thinner than you would on a client.
  • Use post-production software. Picasa has a free application you can download that lets you control basic functions, such as contrast, brightness, and cropping.


Thank You to the Techs Who Helped Us With This Article

Jessica Hoel, educator for Akzentz Professional Nail Products and owner/nail tech at LuvNailz, Bellevue, Wash.

Ana Isabel, Ana Isabel Photography, Gloucester, Va.

Olga Palylyk, nail technician at Ornate Nailz by Olga, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

Louise Callaway, nail tech and educator for Hand & Nail Harmony, Guyhirn, Cambridgeshire, U.K.

Sarah Payne, nail tech, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Tiffany Cofer, owner Tiffany’s Touch, East Stroudsburg, Pa.

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