Katie Barnes
Katie Barnes

Here’s the reason why glossy nails are so hard to photograph

By Katie Barnes | 19 October 2021 | Expert Advice, Feature

glossy nails

In our previous blog for Scratch, I shared 5 top tips for improving your nail photos and explored what light to look for. When we complete a set of nails, we have two different finishes: matte or glossy. You may have noticed that  glossy is far more difficult to photograph.

When light from an object is reflected by a surface, it changes direction. It bounces off the surface at the same angle as it hits it. Smooth, shiny surfaces such nails reflect light well. The curves of the nail surface itself will also affect this and the highest part of the nail will reflect more light.

There are two types of light to consider when photographing your nails: incident light and reflected light.

In photography terms, reflected light is light that reflects off the subject. This can be seen as light glare or lines of light on your nails. This can be advantageous when showing the perfection of a competition nail. However, it can also ruin a photo as the light reflection is too much for the desired shot. Reflected light is most often what the camera records to take a photograph. Regardless of the light source, light is altered by whatever it reflects off.

light reflection nails

Incident light is the light that falls on a subject. This could be natural light from outdoors or an artificial source such as an overhead light, lightbox or ring light.

To capture well-exposed photos our cameras must be set correctly. When your camera is set to any of the auto or semi-auto modes, it does the work for you. When you are using a manual mode, you must read the exposure metre and adjust the settings yourself. In some instances, the camera, when set on auto, will not make a good exposure. This is often because incident lighting is entering the lens.

When light hits an object, it is reflected and transformed in different ways. Tone and colour can affect the way we see reflected light and the way our cameras read it, especially for nail designs such as glitters where there are more reflective surfaces that a flat colour.

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A black object and a white object illuminated the same way will reflect different amounts of light. The black object absorbs far more light than the white object. Shiny surfaces also reflect far more light than dull surfaces. A high gloss black surface will reflect more light than one with a matt finish. When creating photographic competition nails, when working with black nails, I have often created a matte finish as it can look better in the camera.

If you are creating nails for something like this, it is necessary to take some photos and experiment with different settings prior to finishing your set. When taking images of customer nails, you can experiment with these settings afterwards. You can use the highlight and exposure indicators on your camera phone to help you set your exposure well at times like this.

Trying out different camera settings and positions will help you capture some interesting effects.

Angle the nails away from the light source and you will not get as much reflection of the main surface because you have changed the highest point the camera. Changing your camera position in relation to the light source will also help. To remove some of the reflection light, you can diffuse the light. If you want to diffuse the light, you can do this with tracing paper or thin sheet of paper, held over your light source.

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Arienne Jonas, award winning photographer shares her top 5 tips for photographing nails:

  • Use a broad light source. The broader the light source, the softer the light coming out of it.
  • Place your lighting source close to your subject. Slightly above and to the side.
  • Include shadows for a 3D look.
  • Make sure your nails are thin and flawless. Any little detail will show up.
  • Angle your nails towards the light to get that sweet spot.

Love Katie B x