Sunday, 9 November 2008

Don't be Camera Shy part 1

Flicking through Scratch magazine my eyes feast on the assorted images plastered over the pages, delicate digits tipped with glittery gems, fruity colours shown off in glorious Technicolor all designed to inspire me.
Out of everything I do, from creating nails on my clients, demonstrating at shows, holding seminars and workshops worldwide the most satisfying is capturing my work on film, immortalizing my creations for thousands to view. But I am no photographer and like most I certainly didn’t know the difference between pixels and Dpi’s. But with a few basic rules and some easy steps to follow, compact in hand you too can take pictures to be proud of.
This two part tutorial will give you a glimpse of what you can achieve with your compact camera and some desk lamps. Covering styling and using props, getting the best from your camera with some lighting tricks and macro functions, using colour to create emotions and tension, plus the power of reflecting and diffusing light.

Styling your photos is a valuable tool which helps sell it to the viewers, makes them want more of what you’re offering. This will determine if your photo will be accepted by editors, to illustrate articles, newsletters and blogs, your images can become attention grabbing promotional shots, or win competitions, and become front covers.
Your image has to present a unique and cohesive presence to attract the interest of the viewer. In professional circles the stylist is the person who works closely with the photographer and art director helping to create an enhanced and thoughtful photo. But at the moment with compact in hand you are all of the above, and it makes styling your shot one of the most important roles. If you employ a photographer he or she will still require you as the client to style the photo shoot.

Step 1 - What does your image tell you?
Consider the subject and the story behind the image, what is the message you’re trying to convey? Why are you taking the shot? Is it to sell services to your clients, photograph competition material, following the criteria laid out in the rules, are you hoping it will be a consideration in the magazines? It is important to know what the reasons for taking the photo so here is a check list of things to remember;
What are you trying to say?
What are you selling?
What are the obvious qualities – colour, texture, shape, design, functions?
What are the hidden attributes – uses, interesting alternatives?
What is the social setting where these nails will be worn?
Were they created using a special process
Is it a natural process?

What inspired you to create the nails?
What is interesting about the subject?

Using this list will help you come up with a clear and concise idea of the message you’re trying to get across. Keeping an open mind while working through your list and consider some of the points to style your photo. Remember at all times your job is to open the viewers mind to the possibilities.
Step 2 - Setting up the shot
Gather props which enhance the subject, use your list to decide the story your trying to tell and gather ‘stuff’ to help you. I have a box full of bits and bobs collected over the years which I can dip in to. Start your treasure chest now, and fill it with leather bound books from second hand shops, multi colored ribbons and cloth no longer needed, interesting stones, shells and pieces of wood collected on walks. One of the best places to find unusual shaped vases and trinket boxes are the pound shops. There is a wealth of discarded tat which can become your savior in charity and jumble sales every where. Keep your eyes open and collect, because they become ideas and inspiration for your next photo.
Examples of props to convey a message;
Natural – muted colours, pine cones, soil, water, leaves, wood
Tools of the trade – powders, glitters, cuticle pushers, nail files, creams
Needle and threads, buttons and cloth
Paints and sketches, pencils and paper, ink and quills and books.
Food like sweets, fruit and chocolate
Step 3 - Taking the pictures
Set up your shot using only one or two props, position the hands on a plain background to show them off at their best; don’t clutter the image with unnecessary additional colours. When taking your photo’s force yourself to study the area around the hands and nails checking for shadows, make sure the position of the hands are flattering and not ridged, and more importantly nothing is obscuring or distracting your eye away from the nails. Your looking to see if the props and back drop bring out the best so be self critical and direct yourself looking at different angles and positions. Move the props around, take some away or add some more. You can change the focus of the image by moving the angle of the camera and lighting. This process may take some time, and a lot of clicks of the camera, but be patience you will know when you have that perfect shot. sometimes I come away with an image that took only 10 minutes, but then there are others that have taken 2 or 3 hours before I am happy with the final shot. The most important thing to remember when styling your own shot is to be free, don’t fixate on one idea, playing is the key to learning and developing.

Points to remember

1 After making the decision to create an image you need to decide what you’re going to photograph, develop your idea and create a story for your image; it will make it easier when you’re styling the shot.
2 Manipulate lighting, add texture and vary location or completely new looks to your imagery.
3 The simplest styling can really give flair and drama to your shot, even humor can go a long way to expressing the image.
4 If you’re using the photos to advertise your salon it is import to create a consistent and inviting look, keep the styling similar and use it to express your passion for your craft.
5 Finding the model and time, this is not a quick process and can be demanding on the model. I normally set aside one day to take two shots. Spend time in the morning to apply the nails the afternoon is free to take the photos and style the shot.
6 Touch ups, unfortunately this is also important and can make or break an image. There are many programs available alternatively there are photographers and graphic designers who will do this for you, touching out the back ground, air brushing the blemishes and making the image saleable.

Show off your passion, share with others your skills and develop your portfolio through photo’s. Next month we will be looking at your camera and how you can get the best from it and why colour is so important.
Follow this simple exercise and send your images to for feedback.
Using the following three items as props, style a photo of nails, remember your going to tell a story with your image, do not detract from the nails and sell your designs…..without words.
Props to use –
1. Book or books,
2. Candle or candles,
3. Reading glasses.
You don’t need to use all the props in your photo.

Based on Sam Biddle’s photographic workshop this tutorial will help technicians who want to illustrate their designs and share them with others. The workshop offers an in-depth and practical solution to learning some simple techniques and skills, utilizing the expertise of Stuart Dibben from SJD Photography, List of workshops are available on or contact Sam on