[tips & tricks for mani photography]

As a photographer, there are certain “rules” that I like follow when I take pictures of nail polish and my manicures. And as I am sitting here typing this out, I am realizing how much actually goes into taking a picture. I mean, as a photographer, I know how much goes into it, but at the same time it has become second nature to me, so writing it all out makes it seem like this big huge process. I assure you, it really isn’t that difficult! That being said, I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have; just send your question via email to polishedbybeckie [at] gmail [dot] com.

The first and most important thing to remember is that the best camera is the one that you have with you! Photography isn’t necessarily about what camera you have. It is important to learn how to properly use your gear so you can use it to its potential. For my mani pictures (and most of my other pictures on my account), I use my iPhone 5s. For my bottle shots and group bottle shots, I use my Nikon D700 with my Nikon 60mm macro lens).

The second most important thing in photography is light! If you don’t have enough light (or the right kind of light), it could cause a lot of problems in your images. The most obvious is that your images will be dark, and hard to see. The next problem that will arise is that your white balance will be off (white balance is the temperature of the light). When your white balance is off, your skin tone, and/or the objects in your images will appear to be a different color than they actually are. For example, when your white balance is too warm, your skin tone will appear more orange/red, and when your white balance is too cool, your skin tone will appear more blue/purple.

These 2 images were taken one right after the other. The only thing I did was turn off my direct light source, and the darker image was only lit by a lamp in the corner. Can you see how light is important? My skin tone is different, the image is too dark, and it is not as crisp as the properly lit image. Both of these were taken with my iPhone.



There are a few different ways to light an image. Next I am going to talk about a few different lighting options that I have used. Light box, direct light from a lamp of some kind, window light, and outdoor lighting (in open shade, or indirect light).

The most obvious might be to use a light box. A light box setup can be kind of cumbersome, but is pretty effective in properly lighting an image. One thing that a light box has is a built-in light diffuser. You get almost the same effects as if you were using a direct light source, but without the glare. The top and sides of a light box (usually made of a very thin white material) act as a diffuser, and its main purpose is to reduce the strength of the light. What this does (besides reducing glare) is soften your light, so it’s not as harsh. Your images will appear somewhat softer in appearance, but have a nice even lighting. They will typically have two light sources; one at camera left and one at camera right. Sometimes you will see a setup with only one light. In that case, it would work well in two different ways. Light from above, or from one side or the other. My suggestion; if you’re right-handed, your light source should come from the left side so that your camera-holding hand is not blocking the light. And likewise, if you’re left-handed, your light source should come from the right. (Click on the light box image below to read a blog post about product photography over on my photography blog; a lot of the same tips apply to taking mani pictures.)


lightbox setup

***Edited to add this image of the new light box that I have been using. This new light box is so much easier to use and is way less cumbersome. It’s called a Foldio, and it is $49 over at phoptojojo.com. Seriously, it is worth every penny!! It has an LED light bar built in, and folds up nice and compact (opened up it is 10″x10″x10″). Take a look… (there was no editing done to this picture, that is the true color, and it captured those neon polishes so beautifully!)


The next lighting option I want to talk about is direct light. There really isn’t a whole lot to say about direct lighting. It’s fairly straightforward. This is the lighting option that I am currently using when I take my mani pictures. From what I have experienced using direct light for photographing smaller subjects (ie: my hands), it is best to position your light between 6-12 inches from your subject. The closer the light is to your subject, the harsher your light will be (and the opposite is true, that the further away your light source is, the softer your lighting will be). A harsh light can create hot spots on your image/subject (where the light is reflecting so brightly that there are literally white hot spots). I use an OttLite as my direct-light source (click HERE to see the model that I have). It uses a “true-color” bulb, and gives off a nice even light. I position the light so that it points out away from me, towards my black plastic backdrop. (side note: it is best to use either a white or black backdrop for your images; using a colored backdrop can throw the entire color/tone of your image off balance. Plus black and white are less distracting and can help in editing to correct any white balance issues.) I position my hand approximately 1-3 inches out from my backdrop, and the light is about 5-6 inches from my hand. I then steady my camera hand against the light and snap my pictures. I often will take as many as 10 pictures to get it right. I try not to take much more than that because the more you take, the harder it is to choose one to post! =P (these next few images were taken with my Nikon)




This is the same image as above, but squared to post on Instagram.


Now moving on to natural lighting.  Using natural lighting can be tricky. If you do not have enough available light, your images won’t be bright enough. So trying to take a picture using natural lighting on a stormy day may prove difficult.

Window light is the first type of natural light I want to discuss. Depending on the time of day, window location is very important!  If you are photographing in the morning, you’ll want to find a north or east-facing window in order to get the most available light. If photographing in the afternoon, you’ll want a south or west-facing window. Just like with direct-lighting, the closer you are to the window the harsher the light will be on your nails. The further away from the window, the softer the light will be. You will want to position your nails or polish bottles so that the light is shining onto your subject mostly from the side  (When the light comes from the side, it creates dimension. When the light comes from straight on, your subject can appear flat and dimensionless.). Play around with the angles of your subject to the light and try to find what looks best to you. In these pictures you can see my window is to the left of me. (these were also taken with my Nikon)



This is the same image as above but squared to post on Instagram.


The next form of natural light is outside in open shade. Open shade is outside but under a tree or an awning where you have outdoor light but it is not direct sunlight. (I do not recommend taking pictures out in the direct sunlight as the light is very harsh, and unless you’re using a DSLR with the option for manual settings, you will have a hard time getting an accurate skin tone in direct sunlight.). When taking pictures in open shade, you’ll want to make sure that your light source is still to one side or the other. Shooting into the light will cause your subject to be too dark, and having your back to the light can sometimes block the light. So, in natural light situations, side light is always best! 😉

This first one was taken in my car. No direct light shining through the window, but a slight reflection from the window.

Photo May 15, 7 36 47 AM

This next one was taken in my garage with the big door open and light coming in from camera left.

Photo Jul 29, 7 11 49 AM

And here is one taken in open shade under a tree.

Photo May 24, 5 55 35 PM

Now, I will show you a few different hand pose options. There really is no right or wrong hand pose. However, you do want to be comfortable. If you’re not, it will show in your images.

hand poses

Once you’ve taken and selected your picture, the next step is editing and watermarking. Depending on where you prefer to edit (ie: computer, phone or tablet), there are different programs or apps you can use (because I am an Apple user, I won’t be listing any Android apps since I don’t know of any).

When I am editing my bottle macros or group bottles shots, and because I take those pictures with my Nikon, I use my Macbook and edit with Adobe Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS6. I use Lightroom for minor adjustments like white balance and exposure. Once I am done with those minor changes in Lightroom, I export my images and then take them over to Photoshop. Photoshop is where I get creative. For my bottle macros I keep it very simple because I want the image to be true to color so it’s most accurate. But when I am editing my group bottle images, I use various actions to give my images a different feel to them. I then add my watermark to my images and save them.

Pro tip: when editing mani pictures (whether on your phone or tablet or on your computer) DO NOT over-soften your skin! It will make your skin look very unnatural and plastic-y, and is not flattering! When I edit my mani pictures, I don’t touchup my skin at all unless I am removing a blemish (aka hangnail, cut, etc). Look closely and you’ll even see the hairs on my fingers and grooves in my skin. This is normal, and is 100% natural and okay. =P

Just say “no” to airbrushing! =D

(Here is an image showing natural skin vs softened skin. Again, I do not soften my skin in my mani pictures, as I prefer a natural look.)


This first screenshot is from Lightroom. Those first 3 sliders on the right (temp, tint, and exposure) are typically the only changes I will make in Lightroom.

lightroom screenshot

And here is a screenshot of Photoshop CS6




When I am taking my mani pictures with my phone, I edit using an app called “VSCO Cam”. It has various options to edit in regards to brightness, contrast, skin tone, temperature and sharpness. Once I dial those adjustments in, then I play around with some of their filters. After I get my image how I want it to look, I save it, then open my watermarking app called “Rhonna Designs”. I make my watermark, save my image, and voila I am done!

Here is a screenshot of VSCO Cam

using VSCO cam


And this is Rhonna Designs where I make my watermark

**updated to add that I now use my on watermark that I’ve  created and I apply it to images on my phone using the OVER app.

using Rhonna Designs


And the finished product


Photo Dec 02, 8 12 04 PM

I hope I have covered all that you might want to know, but if not, please feel free to email me at polishedbybeckie [at] gmail [dot] com, and I will be glad to help in any way that I can. I hope you enjoyed this post!


All images owned and copyrighted by Beckie G Kengle.
Please DO NOT copy, save or print any images from this blog/site.