How to improve your nail photos: a complete guide

How to improve your nail photos: a complete guide

Hi loves! Sometimes I get asked how I take my nail pics and what camera/light setting I use, so I thought that it would be useful to put everything I learned in these years together and to write a post about it. Let me say that I am not a photographer: the way I take and edit my nail pics comes from my personal experience and a from a lot of (often failed) tries. So, in this post I’ll just explain my personal tips and tricks on how to make good nail photos.

The first thing to do is to focus on our goals: what we want is to have color accurate photos with good light and exposure, good-looking skin and cuticles and, the most important thing, nails perfectly on focus!
To pursue our goals we need to know that there are many aspects to consider in order to make good nail photos, and some choices to be made. In this post I’d like to talk about the most important ones, that are:

  • Choosing the device: smartphone or camera?
  • Photo setting: position, background, light
  • Choosing the light setting (is a lightbox necessary?)
  • Hand pose
  • Photo editing: yay or nay?
  • Watermarks
  • Conclusion

Choosing the device: smartphone or camera?

When talking about nail photos, the major question is: better use a smartphone or a camera? In my opinion, both the options are good, as they both have some pros and cons.

I’ve seen tons of great nail pics made with smartphones, also from very famous nail artists! Smartphones indeed are handy, easy to use, user-friendly and most of them are nowadays making high quality photos! The software of a smartphone camera is usually optimized and automatically adapts focus, white balance and exposure according to the situation. Moreover, some of the latest smartphones also have the possibility to set in a sort of “manual” mode. So, taking snapshot with a phone will give you a lot of advantages in terms of easiness of use (as long as the phone camera is good!), even if in most cases switching to a camera may bring you to a upper level.

Talking about cameras, it’s important to make a difference between compact cameras and more professional ones (bridge, reflex, mirrorless). In my opinion, nail pics taken with a compact camera are very similar to the ones made with the phone: so, if you already have a compact camera you can make some experiments to see what it works best to you, but if you are planning to buy one I’d probably prefer investing the money on a phone with a good camera.
On the other hand, using a more professional camera (such as a bridge, a reflex or a mirrorless) will lead you to a whole new world of settings and options that, if used correctly, may make your pics look much better than before. Using a professional camera is not easy at all: you will be required to have a basic knowledge of the main settings (ISO, white balance, manual focus, exposure, diaphragm aperture) and also to experiment with photo editing softwares. Of course we’re not talking about rocket science: everything I mentioned can be easily learned by experimenting with the camera and watching and reading tutorials, but you have to know that it’s not as immediate as using a phone. Moreover, you may need to use a tripod to make your camera stay still while taking your photos. Consider that all these settings vary according to the camera you’re using, to the light, to the result you want, to the hand pose you’re using and much more: that’s why asking to popular bloggers which camera setting they use is pretty useless: everyone has to find its way.
What it’s very important when using these kinds of cameras is to edit the pictures so better take your pics in RAW format and then process the files with a RAW editor (such as Adobe Camera Raw or Adobe Lightroom): this will give you the chance to work on the file in the best way possible. Moreover, you may want to make further editing with a software like Adobe Photoshop.
Personally, I’m taking my photos with a mirrorless camera (which is now a bit old, but still works fine to me) placed on a tripod. I do most of the editing with Adobe Camera Raw and then make some minor editing with Adobe Photoshop.

Whenever you’re taking your pics with a phone or with a camera, there is just a suggestion that I’d like to give you: please don’t edit them with smartphone apps, but always edit them with a computer software. I’m saying this because most of the apps massively reduce the photo quality , so all the efforts made to take a good pic may become useless if the app you’re using to edit it (even just to put a watermark!) reduces the quality so much. Photoshop is the best option for editing your photos with the computer, but if you want an alternative you can try with Gimp, which is a free, open-source software that has most of the features of Photoshop (even if in my opinion it’s not as good as Photoshop).

Photo setting: position, background, light and much more

An important thing to consider is to properly organize your photo setting.
First, you’ll have to decide how close you want to be from your nails: do you want your nails to be very close or do you prefer including them in a composition? All the options are good, you just have to choose: for example, the first case is good if you want to show all the details of a nail polish/nail design, the second if you want to match your nails with something else (like a background, a landscape, flowers, clothing objects, make up and so on). Personally, I’m putting all my interest in showing the nail polishes and nail designs, and that’s why I put my nails very close to the camera.

After deciding how close your nails will be in the photos, you have to decide your background: it can be a plain colour, a pattern, a landscape or anything else. There are so many options that you’ll just have to find your way: what is important is to take care of your background so that it won’t drive the attention away from your nails.

Last but not least, you have to choose which light setting you want. There are two main options, both good: natural or artificial light.
Natural light often gives the best results but it also has some downsides, as it obliges you to take your pics in determined hours, it changes often making your pictures looks different one from each other (colder if it’s cloudy, warmer if it’s sunny) and it can force you not to take pics when the weather is really bad. Basically, with natural light you can’t have the control.
Artificial light is totally under your control: you choose the temperature, the position and the number of the lights and you can make your pics at any time. On the other hand, it is obviously more expensive than natural light and it can be hard to make pics look “natural”. The goal is to make the pictures look like they have been taken in the daylight, and that’s why it’s usually best to choose lights with a daylight temperature. Daylight lamps are usually 5000K or 5500K, but they’re not so easy to find, so you may prefer using lamps of different temperatures and then change the white balance in order to find the proper photo temperature.
Personally, after years of struggling with natural daylight, I decided to invest some money on artificial lights, and now that I found a good setting I’m happy with them.

Choosing the light setting (is a lightbox necessary?)

If you are taking your pics with natural light, all you need to do is to find a well-lit place, possibly not directly hit by the sunlight: usually the best place is next to a window.

If you use artificial light, you’ll basically have to decide how many lights to use and where to place them. In my experience, I’ve seen that two lights can be enough, even if sometimes I think of buying the third one. Anyway, you can start with two and see how it goes. There isn’t a universal solution on how to place them: most of the people put them one in front of the other (this way there won’t be shadows), but it also depends on where you are placing your hand. So, the best thing to do is to experiment!
Many people also use a lightbox with artificial light: is it necessary? I tried both with a lightbox and without, and now that I made several tries I have to admit that a lightbox gives very good results (better than without!). So yes, in my opinion a lightbox is necessary. You can buy it or do it yourself: just consider the size of the lightbox you need (the bigger, the more powerful lights you’ll need) and decide. Most of the lightboxes sold online are much bigger than I need, so that I now prefer building the lightbox myself. It’s very easy and quick: just search a tutorial on YouTube and start creating it!

Hand pose

There are basically endless possibilities when choosing the hand pose for your pictures: you can just photograph your hand, or decide to hold a nail polish bottle or a random object matching to your nail design. The choice is up to you, but there is a universal rule to follow: don’t look unnatural! For example, putting your hand in a “claw” pose will make your fingers stay in a unnatural position. Just relax your hand and your fingers and start photographing!
Also, always take care of your skin and cuticles: they should look well-kept and moisturized. You can apply some cuticle oil just some minutes before taking the pics, but the best way to make your skin look healthy is to constantly take care of it.

Photo editing: yay or nay?

This is a complicated question. Many times I read of people appreciating more “unedited” photos, as they assume they will look more natural and close to reality. Actually, I don’t agree with this “theory”, because a camera objective is far more different from the human eye, and it isn’t able to capture perfectly what we see in real life. Photo editing gives us the possibility to “help” our pictures look closer to the reality: just to make an example, my camera has a lot of trouble when capturing purple nail polishes and when it happens I have to edit the colours to make the picture look color-accurate (if I didn’t, the nail polish would look blue instead of purple!).

Editing is also helpful if you want to correct some small flaws in the picture. What I recommend, after years of tries, is not to try correcting every imperfection: in the past I was obsessed so much by the flaws in the pictures that I ended up editing them too much (so that my fingers didn’t even look like fingers!). Some imperfections are normal, we’re human beings and not plastic dolls: a wrinkle has never killed anyone 😀 If you want to make your skin look more flawless I suggest to try a new light setting, instead of photoshopping too much: I did this recently and it really made a difference!

So, in my opinion photo editing is not bad: it can improve the photos in many ways, but it’s important not to exaggerate with it (I was a victim of over-photoshopping for so long time!).


Is putting a watermark on your photos really necessary? YES IT IS.
I know watermarks make the pic look uglier, that it’s boring putting them on every pics, but believe me, it’s really necessary. In the web many users will take your pics to repost and use them: sometimes you will be credited, but sometimes you won’t (even if it’s unfair!): having a watermark on your pics will at least mantain your credits even if you are not directly tagged and credited in the pic.

Also, try to put your watermark in a place where it’s hard to remove: there are some bad users (I’d call them “thieves”) that may want to steal your photos by deleting the watermark. The harder it is to remove the watermark, the more difficult it will be for those people to steal your photos. You may think I’m a bit paranoid about that, but it happened to me several times and now I try to be as careful as possible.


Well, I think I explained everything I know about nail photographing and how to improve the pictures. As you can see, there are some universal rules that have to be followed, but the big part of the job must come from you. Plan your photos, decide how do you want them to look, find your own style and then start experimenting. It’s hard, sometimes disappointing, but very rewarding ♥

Sorry for the extreme length of this post, but I just wanted to be as clear as possible! For any question, don’t hexitate asking me in comments! And, if you want to read more about nail polish and nail art, feel free to subscribe to the newsletter!

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