dog taking pictures



Photography has been an absolute passion of mine for years. When I started getting into nail art, I realised that I didn’t have to put my photography hobby aside, I could actually integrate it with what I’m doing in nails and beauty.

To all of the non-nail and beauty people out there – the concept of taking pictures of our nails probably sounds absolutely ridiculous (try not to do a photography session with non creative people as they will laugh at you endlessly). However, to those nail and beauty obsessed gurus who spend a lot of time perfecting their nail art and end up taking over 15 pictures (at least) of one manicure to get that perfect shot – nail photography is absolutely essential skill.

For those who missed my first tutorial on How To Build a Lightbox, I would recommend reading that first as lighting is absolutely the first essential ingredient to a gorgeous photograph.

Once you have your lighting situation down pact, then comes the photography skills you need to practice.


1) Macro Shooting:

If you’re using a point and shoot camera, you want to set your camera on a macro mode (macro photography is photography where the image is magnified, like taking pictures of tiny flowers or insects).

macro, macro photography

Macro Photography source

macro, macro photography

Macro Photography source

If you have a DSLR camera, there are MACRO lenses which are magnified and zoom into what you’re taking the picture of. If you are using your phone to take your pictures there are  actually macro lenses available to put on your phone as well (as crazy as it sounds, these exist and some nail artists swear by them). Having a macro lens is helpful for taking pictures of actual polish detail like this:

Macro nail polish, macro shot, macro nail

Macro Shot of a glitter polish

Please note though that you don’t need to invest in a fancy macro lens for taking good nail pictures. If you have a DSLR camera, chances are that the lens you have enables you to zoom in quite closely to the nail. If you are using a point and shoot, the macro function on the camera (you can usually find this function in the menu and it’s often illustrated by a picture of a flower) helps the quality of the magnification of your photography. It’s much better to capture the image of your nails at the right distance, rather than cropping your photo too much to zoom into the nail (as you lose the quality of the photograph when you crop). You can crop a little to get the right position, but the more you can capture in the camera directly, the better.

2) ISO Settings

The ISO setting on your camera controls how sensitive your camera is to light. The lower the ISO setting, the less sensitive the camera is. A lower ISO will require more light to properly expose the picture. Most DSLR cameras have an ISO range somewhere between 100-1800 nowadays. If you bring your ISO too high, you can lose some quality and your picture becomes pixelated. For pictures of nail art, if you can keep your ISO somewhere around 400, the quality of your picture should remain good. If you have a newer camera, you may be able to take the ISO up to 1000 if you’re in a really low light situation.

Have a play around with your camera but you can usually find the ISO settings in your MENU function. Practice with different ISO settings in a darker lighting situation to see what the effects are.

3) Aperture Settings

The aperture (or F-Stop) is the size of the of the hole that the camera’s shutter opens to when it clicks and takes a picture. The larger the hole, the more light that comes into the camera and the more exposed your photo is. Conversely, the smaller the aperature, the smaller the hole and the darker the picture will be. See the diagram below.

aperture settings, aperture

Aperture Settings source

For nail photography, the size of your F-stop completely depends on how much light you have when you  are taking your photos.  For example, if you are taking photos in a dark room, using your lightbox and have direct light from a lamp shining into your lightbox, your F-stop might want to be set at around f/2.8 – f/4, but if you were outside taking pictures of your nails, where you might want to have a much smaller aperture at f/8-f/11 to compensate for the larger amount of light. There is no exact setting, however I find that once I’ve practiced I know roughly what situations call for which F-stop.

4) Shutter Speed Settings

The shutter speed is how quickly the hole (or shutter) opens and closes when you take your picture, again, impacting how much light gets into your camera to expose your picture (are you seeing the theme around light yet?). A fast shutter speed opens and closes quickly, letting a tiny bit of light in, and conversely a slow shutter speed will let a lot of light in and is great for low light conditions.

The image below helps illustrate the relationship between the shutter speed and the aperture. It’s a balancing act. If your shutter speed is too low and your aperture is too large then your picture will be overexposed and/or blurry as well.

shutter speed, aperture settings, aperture, shutter speed, photography tips, photography 101

Aperture and Shutter Speed Relationship source


Figuring out the right combination between shutter speed, aperture and ISO takes some practice and some playing around. If you want to practice, it’s is a good idea to use the automatic mode on your camera and take note of the readings for these three settings and then play around yourself in either the AV (aperture priority – the camera chooses the shutter speed and you choose the aperture), TV (shutter speed priority – the camera chooses the aperture and you choose the shutter speed), or M (manual mode on your camera – you control shutter speed and aperture).

Why can’t I just use the automatic mode of my camera?

You certainly can, and in the right lighting situation, the automatic mode of your camera works great, however, if you want to improve your photography skills because it interests you OR if you are in a low light situation where the automatic mode has a lot of trouble exposing your picture correctly, it’s great to have a basic photography understanding to help improve your pictures.

What about FLASH?

I find that using a direct flash adds too much orange too the photo, or gives an unwanted glare. If you have advanced photography skills, then you can play with an external flash to help improve indirect lighting, but I find the more you can do without flash, the better.

5) Computer Program Adjustments

I feel strongly that nail art pictures should not be adjusted or filtered too much (this is just my opinion). I know all the phone apps have great filters to make things look great, but when it comes to nail art, I want to see the true color of the polish and your skill, so altering too much is kind of like cheating (totally my opinion).

That said, there are some functions on programs like GIMP (a great free photo adjustment software) and paid versions such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop that help improve your photograph. Any tweaks that I use with software are only intended to further correct the photo so that it illustrates as much as possible exactly what we can see with our eyes. To me, that is the ultimate goal here – I want the final picture that I show you to be just as good as seeing my nails with your own eyes.

In this case, photography software is helpful to increase or decrease the saturation. Photographing fluorescent and holographic polishes are a challenge, and often fingers end up too orange, so decreasing the orange saturation is helpful.

Increasing the exposure can also be helpful to brighten up your image.

Sometimes I use the sharpen and contrast functions as well to ensure all the detail can be seen.

6) Hand Position

Finally – what good is having a perfect photograph if your fingers look like they are clutching the nail polish bottle so hard that they are almost purple? Try to practice a few positions and choose what works for you, but I find the more relaxed your hand and fingers, the nicer the picture is (the position you choose to use is a personal preference).


Did you find this post helpful? Is it too advanced, not advanced enough? I would love to have some feedback if you feel you still need more help or more advice. For now, I encourage you to play with your cameras and your phones and see what your pictures look like in different conditions.


Until next time,

nail that accent


  1. Meredith Stewart

    This is some great advice! I do have some photography experience, but this is very simple and easy to follow. I love that you can incorporate your love of photography (and a good, accurate tutorial) into your nail blog 🙂

  2. Ellen Keen

    Hi Lindsay, I finally got around to reading this, lol.
    Thank you again for your advice! Keep up the good work with your site. I’m enjoying all the new posts as they come out. =)

  3. glenda

    You mention using your canon camera or phone. I’ m wondering if you can use a tablet to take my nail pictures. I had a good canon camera but no longer is working. Don’the want to spend that kind of money again.

    1. Lindsay @nailthataccent

      You can definitely use a tablet if you have enough light (that’s the limitation). You also have to make sure it’s completely steady. You can then use a good app to crop and change the exposure if you need to.

  4. Ana Belén

    Hi, my name is Ana, and I would thank you a lot if you could mention some tips for taking photographs to holographs. I´m not being able to show their real sparkle. Thank you

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