Saturday, 5 October 2013

My Photography set up and tips.

 I recently did a post called "so you get a fancy new DSLR camera, but can you use it?" Well I think I about can now based on my recent photos!  I am loving the crisp, clear, sharp images I get.

I'm hoping this post may be of use to anyone who (like me very recently!) has just got an DSLR and is out there on google trying to fathom out how to use a DSLR for Nail Art photography, or hopefully an interesting "behind the scenes" for my regular readers!!

When I very first started out blogging I took my photos using either my tablet or my phone (OMG!) against the most plain background I could.  To be honest I look back at my early photos and I see where it was taken rather than my nails - but then I recognise carpets in the background, tiles and windowsill familiar to me.  I graduated onto using a homemade lightbox and camera then got a "proper" fold up light box from Amazon.  Back when I bought it it cost me under £28 including postage, however it seems to have gone up a bit over the last seven months!  I picked this one as it came with lights, it folded down and it seemed better than my cardboard box!  I am using the same lights and the bulbs that came in them still.  I tried a different GU10 light bulb, the same type we use in our Kitchen however they were more yellow toned.  I also use a tripod with my camera, it's one which extends up to a height of about 4' tall.  I keep the tripod in it's shortest position.

The lights - I have found - work best for me when I have one to the side and one on top.  As I mainly photograph my right hand I have a light to the left and the other on top.  If I was switching to my left hand I would have the light on the right and on top.  I tend to turn off all other lighting in the room and only use the lamps when taking my photos.

I have started using the grid on screen to help align the pictures on the camera so I have less editing to do afterwards!

This is the picture achieved from the lightbox as shown above (only editing done to add watermark, no cropping.)

When I first moved onto using a DSLR camera my pictures were all either grainy, blurry, dark or the flash had been forced.  I turned to Google for help but found there wasn't really anything out there which helped me or gave a starting point on what I should do for nail art, so "I turned all the dials and pressed the buttons" which is the answer given in most blog posts, I figured out how to take decent pictures of the cat (mentioned in my earlier post!) and then I sat down and scratched my head of the nail photos.  I think I about have it nailed with my current set up.  So now I'm sharing it in case you have stumbled over my post looking for help for a similar reason!

Image taken from this source

The camera I am using is a Nikon D3100, it came with an 18-55mm lens and this is the lens I am using.  It's a great starter set up and whilst hubby is already planning bigger and better camera bodies, I think that this camera body with the addition of more lenses is fine.  I don't need more megapixels or more preset settings: 14mp and the manual set up works well for what I need it to.

I would suggest that anyone taking photos tries taking the camera off automatic and instead tries setting their camera manually.  I wish I had learnt about it a bit sooner.  I felt a lot of my photos taken with my point and shoot cameras were ok, but either lacked definition and clarity or were over exposed.  There are lots of general photography sites out there where you can find advice on the holy trinity of exposure times, apertures and ISOs (those words swim about in front of my eyes when I try reading about them, I learn so much more hands on!)  Sure I may turn the dial back to auto when I am in a "need to take a quick photo" situation, but now anything stationary or where posing and taking time to set up the camera isn't an issue I will try manual.   Even on the compacts.

As mentioned, I use the camera on manual, I have found  the following settings work for me: exposure time is 1/20, aperture F5.3, ISO800  and zoom of about 45mm.  My white balance is set to manual and balanced by taking a photo of white paper.  If I was shooting in normal daylight I would have to tweak the settings a bit, I find that exposure of 1/30 works better.  These numbers suit my very pale skin tone.  I wrote them in here partially to give new users a starting point idea and partially for my reference because when hubby uses the camera it comes back with different numbers!  Obviously if you are shooting in a different environment or don't have my glow in the dark white skin on a black background you may find other settings are more appropriate.

Warning: dry skin on pictures below!  I didn't use oil as I was using Color Club Nomadic in Nude as a base for nail art and didn't want it affecting the next mani!

Taken on tripod with camera on timer.

My hand poses are now so well practised that I more or less get the photos I want in 10 photos, my best tip to anyone starting out with nail photography or wanting to sharpen up is to think outside the box - outside the light box.  I try to have everything set up before sticking my hand in front of the camera, the camera turned on and ready to go, lights on and kitchen lights off.  Then I stop and look at my hand pose, if need be I use my left hand to help position my right hand, push a stray finger into line if need be, then freeze that hand and get it in front of the camera to take the picture.  It sounds time consuming, but photographing my photos is done in a matter of five minutes.  Folding the light box and tripod down takes longer!

For continuity I decided some time ago to try and stick to the same hand poses, these tend to be bottle shot, a photo of all five fingers and a photo of four fingers taken from the side. Sometimes I also throw in a "claw" shot.

Here's my handy top tip: I sometimes use the side of the little finger on my left hand as a straight line to align the fingers on my right hand ready for a photo (see picture below, a picture tells a thousand words!) this works for angles as well as straight on photos.  Also, I find some bottles seem harder to pose with than others so often I will set my fingers up then slip the bottle into my already posed hand to try and make it work!

Top images are a bit blurry, these were taken on a timer.

The photos I actually take look different to the finished blog post as often I have to straighten them and crop them, to get my "signature" look.  If I didn't do this no two blog posts would have the same look!  When I get onto editing, the straightening is now second  nature: usually a grid will pop up over the photo, I use the grid to make sure that the bottom of the bottle is horizontal in my bottle picture; on a five finger pose the lowest point of my thumb and the tip of my little finger are levelled and on my side view picture I try to get my index finger nail almost horizontal.  Like photographing, this has become so second nature now that it's done in a matter of minutes.

Left is as it was taken, right is rotated, straightened and watermarked

My photo editing is usually done either using the Picasa free download if I am on the laptop or if I am editing the pictures on my tablet I use a free app called Aviary (although Aviary does not allow you to straighten, the built in photo editor which was pre loaded on my tablet does allow me to straighten then I just open the picture back up in Aviary.)  This is another thing which has become second nature.  Editing the photos takes about 10 mins.

Lordy, this is a long, wordy post - hope if you read it this far you found either a tip which helps or it to be of general interest!


  1. I've been looking at getting this camera for a while I've got a Nikon Bridge camera at the minute and it is working well or so I think, I love this post it is great and have given me an in-site of the 'fun' I will have when I get the camera and light box when it arrives

    thank hun :)

    1. We had a bridge camera for some time, but I never used it. I think it was because it ate AA batteries, so despite using rechargeables there were never any.charged when I needed them!!

    2. Yeh if I had AA batteries it would probably eat them but I got rechargeable ones and I only have to charge them once or twice a month at most and I use it almost everyday for something either on my nails or my dog lol


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