A lot goes into a NAILS cover shoot. It starts with a brainstorming session, usually months in advance, to come up with creative concepts. The editors are all there, and so is the graphics team. Everyone comes prepared with ideas and we spread out on a big table with pages torn from magazines, art books, photos — we draw our inspiration from anything and everything. We ask ourselves: What is our goal? What do we want to showcase? Obviously, the nails are always the spotlight, but what are we trying to achieve? The pre-planning is one of the most important parts of the shoot.

Similarly, when you decide you want to do a photo shoot — whether you want to take some nail style shots, service shots, or salon interior photos — the pre-planning stage is an integral part of the process. There is so much you need to decide, from what photographer to go with to what your goals of the shoot are. With preparation, you will be able to create a beautiful and impressive portfolio.

You’re Hired

OK, so you have decided you are going to do a photo shoot and you know what your expectations are. Now it’s time to put together your team. The first step is finding a photographer. So where do you look? “

A great place to start is in industry publications,” says Randy Currie, owner of Currie Hair, Skin, Nails in Glen Mills, Pa. “Look at who is taking the pictures in the nail and salon magazines. That can give you an idea on who’s working in the industry.”

Charlotte, N.C.-based photographer Tom Carson adds, “I recommend calling any of the hairstyling or nail magazines on the market and ask the editors for any recommendations. Usually they will pass contact information along to you.”

Finding someone through word of mouth is probably the best way to calm your fears of who to hire. “Ask the editors of magazines, nail care manufacturers, beauty distributors, marketing and PR agencies for recommendations,” says Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions in Fairfax, Va. “Ask other salon owners.” But what if you don’t live in the city where these photographers are and can’t afford to fly them to your salon?

Currie, who has been planning photo shoots in his salons for two decades, says, “Network and find out who is doing good photo work in your area.”

Once you find a photographer (or better yet, several photographers), how do you determine who is right for you? “Look for someone you feel has the photographic style that you are trying to achieve and best matches the style of the salon,” says La Jolla, Calif.-based photographer Don Diaz. “If your salon is clean and simple, you want someone who can portray that in their pictures. If your salon is hip and edgy, you want someone who will shoot it that way.

“If you are doing nail shots, it helps to see that the photographer has experience shooting nails and knows how to make the hands and nails look attractive,” adds Diaz, who has shot for NAILS. “Or if you are shooting salon photos, you want to see that the photographer can light and shoot the interiors so the salon looks attractive and best represents what it feels like to be inside your salon.”

Your Nails in the Spotlight

Shooting nails (and hair and makeup) takes a particular kind of skill. Most photographers are not used to focusing on something as exact as the fingernails. They might not understand the nuances of angle (at different angles a great nail can look short and fat or long and lean), highlights (which are bright spots that can change the look of the color), and specific focus on nails (most have been trained to focus on other aspects).

You, as the nail professional, are going to need to help the photographer with all things nails-related. You know best what hands and nails are ideal, so you should definitely be involved in selecting a model. Depending on where you are located and what your budget is, you can start by contacting local modeling agencies. Ask them if they have any hand and foot models. If you are going to include the face in the shot as well, you should be able to tell them what you are looking for. Have model cards (which are like mini-porfolios for each model) sent to you so you can see what their hands and feet look like on film.

If you don’t have the budget for a professional model or there aren’t any agencies in your area, be on the lookout for potential models. Maybe you have a client who has amazing nails. Maybe someone who works with you has great feet. The most important thing to remember is that you want someone with perfect nails, so don’t just pick someone because she’s your friend. Oskin notes, “Do not select a model just because she is your daughter or mother.”

Look for models with great hands or feet. Their fingers should be long and slim and their nail beds should also be long. And as for the toenails, a small foot usually looks better on film. Watch out for the second-toe-larger-than-the-big-toe syndrome. You can set up a model call or “go-see” where you interview and look at all prospective models. You might want to take photos of their hands or feet so you can remember later what they looked like.

“Take preliminary photos of their hands and toes,” urges Oskin. “Inspect all potential models and only select the best ones. Examine them closely for tattoos, bunions, warts, scars, and tan lines.”

Once you have selected a model (or models), your next step is coming up with a concept and preparing the shot list. You need to predetermine what your nail styles will be. You might only choose to do one nail style and shoot it in a variety of ways, or you might want to do several different nail styles. Think about your shots — if you are only going to show one hand in the photo, you can do each hand with a different set of nails.

“Look in magazines like NAILS for potential nail poses,” says Oskin. “Create a detailed list of potential shots, including the props you will be using.” Basically, you need to have everything ready to go before the photographer shows up. Have a list of what you want to get done and give this to the photographer in advance so he knows what type of lighting and equipment to bring. Talk to the photographer about backgrounds. You each might be able to provide some.

When it’s time for the shoot, it’s a good idea if you have already practiced the nails — and even the poses — so you can make sure you like the way they look. Take your time on the nails. Remember, this is to be your very best work. Keep your enhancements extra thin, as the camera adds bulk.

Work with the photographer to make sure you are getting what you want. Tell him your goal for the shot. Is it for a contest (like the NAILS Cover Tech Contest)? Or is it for your marketing materials? Let the photographer do his job, but also know that it is OK to speak up if you aren’t getting what you want.

Welcome to Our World

When shooting salon interiors, you might want to close the salon for a whole day. The photographer will need to set up his lighting for each individual shot, so it will most likely take a full day. Currie, who has plenty of experience with photo shoots, says, “Lighting is the thing when shooting interiors. You may have fluorescent lights or soft lighting in areas. All lighting gives off a different hue in a photo. If you want all the photos to have the same mood and the same lighting you should plan on at least two hours per shot. And that’s mostly spent on getting the right lighting.”

Come into the shoot knowing what areas of the salon you want to show. A good starting list would be the building facade, the reception/retail area, the nail area, the pedicure room, treatment rooms (if you have them), and the hair area (if you have one).

For the most part, you should take photos of the salon without people in them. (If you want to take service photos, have a technician and “client” available on the day of the shoot.) “I recommend taking down any extra signage, especially if it is seasonal,” says Oskin. “And don’t include people in these shots. You can always do a separate set of action shots with staff and clients posing on a different day.”

Currie adds, “Obviously, you want the salon to be spotless. Get any and all clutter out — front desk papers and pens, personal trinkets and photos, anything you do not want to show up in the photo. I wouldn’t go overboard with props either. Keep it simple.”

Expectations and No Surprises

Come to an agreement on pricing and who owns the photography before you begin. “Prices will vary depending upon the talent of the photographer and the city. Remember, you get what you pay for,” says Oskin. “I would book a full day shoot and negotiate with the photographer for a little overtime without fees in case you run long. Expect to pay $1,500 to $2,500 for the photographer, including film and equipment.”

“Along with price, the main thing you need to negotiate is who is going to own the rights to the film. You could hire someone and only pay around $700-$1,000, but you might not own the film,” warns Currie. “You have to be careful. It is really best to have a contract with the photographer, model releases, and talent releases so you know exactly what you are getting. It’s best if you can get them to sign over the rights. Most photographers will negotiate for the rights and I recommend buying them outright. You don’t want to have to pay every time you use an image.”

“I want to know if the images are going to be used for ads, or just posters in the salon,” says Diaz. “Will the client want to keep the film — known as a buy out [usually costs more] — or lease the film [use it for a limited time, but the photographer keeps the film]? Rates can vary depending on these factors, as well as the experience the photographer has.

“I would say you can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $5,000. And remember the photographer needs to be paid for his talent, but also other expenses such as film and processing, equipment rentals, etc.,” says Diaz.

“All photographers are different. I would say stay away from any photographer — or model for that fact — who has all kinds of limits and ownership issues with the material,” says Carson. “I give the salon the rights to use the images for all salon advertising, press releases, posters, billboards, web design, contest entry, and TV usage. All that I ask is that they do not resell the photos to a third party — for example a manufacturer or stock agency — without additional compensation to me.”

As you can see, photographers have different ways of pricing and selling the images they produce. So we stress the importance of getting all of the negotiations done up front. If you want to own all rights, be prepared to pay a little more. And don’t forget the importance of having everyone sign agreements — the photographer, the model, and talent (makeup artist, hairstylist, nail technician, stylist) — saying you, the salon owner or the nail technician, own all rights.

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