How I take my photos part 2: The photos

Alright, so let’s move on to taking the photos!

Firstly, I just want to make it clear that I am in no way a professional, just an enthusiastic amateur, and this is mainly a description of what I keep in mind when I take my swatch photos. Feel free to try my way out, and see what you come up with. I’ll do my best to describe this in a way that people will understand, but if you have any questions, hit me in the comments!

There are a few things you will need in order to take swatch photos:

  • A light source – natural sunlight, direct or indirect, or a light box (you can see mine here)
  • A camera
  • A background
  • A hand
  • Nail polish

A few weeks ago the lights in my light box died and I had no idea why. I haven’t been able to fix them, so I got some new clip-on lights from IKEA that I’ve added to the light box (I need some serious cable management, I know…). If you are using a light box, I recommend a black infinity curve background, because it just made such a difference for me. The color payoff was insane and it just looked so much neater. I just taped a piece of black fabric at the back of the box and let it fall down and forward.


I know I need more lights than the three black ones, but I simply can’t fit more lights in here! If only the old lights would work…

See, the reason why you need so much light is determined by how much your light your lens allows into the camera, and simply put it works like this:

The lower the number on your aperture means the larger the opening and thus lets in more light, but it also makes the camera work a little slower. If the camera gets enough light, however, the image will be clearer. The more you zoom in with your lens the lowest number on your aperture will rise. Therefore, as I take extreme close-ups, I zoom in all the way, lower the aperture as much as it can go (55m zoom and F5.6 on aperture). I lower the aperture to allow as much light in as I possibly can since I only have this little light box. Everyone with me so far?

Now, there’s a thing called shutter speed, and it’s the amount of time it takes for the camera to capture what you see in the lens. The higher the number, the faster the capture. But, the higher the shutter speed, the more light you need. The lowest number I can handle without a tripod is 60, sometimes 50 if I can lean towards something. With these lights, I can usually use a shutter speed of about 80, which is still REALLY low. More than half of my photos turn out blurry because the shutter speed is so low and I move a little every time I take a photo.

Photo credit:

Above is an image of the viewfinder of a Nikon D50. The viewfinder is what you can see if you look through the camera. Most viewfinders will look something like this regardless of the brand. There are symbols in the viewfinder and they all tell you something by being turned on or off, and they’re quite self-explanatory. For me, the most important is the Exposure Readout bar. If the bars are too far on the right hand side of the 0, the image will be too dark. Too far to the left hand side, and it’ll be too bright. For my swatch photos, I aim to have about two-three little dots to the left (and I still have to brighten the image slightly afterwards!)

Okay, so fast forward past application of nail polish and all that, and lets talk about image composure. Since I have a standard lens it doesn’t really allow me to go as close as I would like for some polishes. You have to try it out a little, see how close you can go and still use the auto focus. I can go about 15cm from the camera with my hand and it still finds the focus, which is okay (but I’d love to be able to go closer!).

China Glaze - Budding Romance curve

I hold my polish bottles rather loosely, and I try and create a curve with my nails to frame the bottle nicely (see the not so hard-to-see red line). As you can see, the photo is pretty good as it is before any changes are made, but it’s still a little dark, and I have the remnants of a cut on my index finder I’d love to remove (and probably tons of little fibers and other fluff I couldn’t see before taking the photos…)

I use a MacBook Pro, but it was given to me by my husband when he got a new one for work, and you don’t need to use a Mac to edit photos. It’s just a whole lot easier. When I’ve finished taken all my photos, I just plug the memory card into my laptop and it launches iPhoto.

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 8.17.38 PM

This is where I crop and rotate my photos. I look through all of them carefully, I zoom in to see which ones are sharp (or the least blurry…), flag them to find them easier afterwards and then export them into my photo folder. So easy. A friend of mine, Anna Vesa/FruVesa, asked me a while ago why the bottles are upside down in all my photos, and truth is, it just kind of happened that way. I liked the way my hand looked turned that way, and it just kind of stuck. It became the way I take my photos. A signature if you’d like.

Now, you can change light levels, temperatures and even retouching in iPhoto, so it is a very useful program if you can’t afford PhotoShop (who would after buying a MacBook?) or don’t know how to use GIMP (or similar). But, as I have the privilege to be married to a designer, I have not only a MacBook but also PhotoShop, and I prefer editing my photos in PS because it’s a lot more accurate than iPhoto. I know that I don’t really need this hard ware and soft ware for the type of photos I take, but I am so lucky that I do have them. (Thank you, Royden!)

China Glaze - Budding Romance pre edit

Starting to recognize this yet? This is usually what my photos look like, but they are usually in better quality. This photo is a bit too dark, but that’s easily changed using Levels in PhotoShop.

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 8.08.48 PM

This is what the levels look like in PhotoShop for the image above. (Yes, this is in Swedish, but I’m sure the buttons are all in the same place regardless your language.) You can see that there is some black “missing” on far right hand side of the graph, and a lot of white missing (see, told you it was dark…), and to change that you just pull the black arrow slightly toward the center, and the white arrow a little further than slightly towards the center, as such:

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 8.11.42 PM

There we go, that should do the trick!

China Glaze - Budding Romance before after

As you can see, that made a huge difference. The skin tone isn’t as grey, and the polish got a little flush of color as well.

China Glaze - Budding Romance before after done

Then I touch up some rouge fibers, minor cuts in my cuticles, etc and add a Smart Sharpness filter to make up for my camera’s tendencies to blur everything. Sometimes I have to go in and adjust the color of the polish because there are some colors my camera just doesn’t work with. I always add a water mark (you should too!), and then I’m done! I save all my photos For Web and Devices, because it gives me the best color accuracy, the files are smaller (not necessarily the image!) and they take up less space on my website.

WOW! You read all the way to here! Good job! Hope I didn’t bore you all to death, but that’s it for me on this subject. Like I said, if you have any questions, let me know in the comments, and if you use any of my advice, please let me see your photos! Put a link to your blog or something, I’d love to see your photos!

Take care everyone and happy blogging!


  1. Thanks so much on this post! You managed to explain these thing so that even I understood them! For years I’ve been dreaming on going for a course but just haven’t managed to do so… Both in photographing and image editing :) your post helped me a lot, and being quite new in nail art (and taking pics for it), this has just made me even more passionate about capturing my “art work”

    Kiitos! Tack! :)

    • You are most welcome! I’m so glad I could help you even the slightest, and I know all these things and terms can be very confusing (I had to drill them in school to pass the test) but once you get them, they all make sense. I’d love to see your photos, so I’ll be dropping by your blog, be sure of it! :)

  2. Jösses vad du lägger ner mycket tid på det här! Själv kör jag med halvauto alltså alltid med bländare 22 och sen automatisk slutartid. I min ljusbox blir färgerna mest färgtrogna så. Bra inlägg. Är du sugen på att fortsätta med Nikon skulle jag förresten titta på D3100 (den har jag!) eller D3200. Något mindre och smidigare än den du har.

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