Blogger Widgets

Lights, Camera, Swatches: Lighting

A little while back I asked what tutorials you'd like to see me do.  I covered my painting process first, since it seemed like a good place to start.  A couple of you asked how I light my nails for photos and that gave me the idea to do a whole little series on taking photos without a fancy setup.  I feel like a bit of a goober giving advice on this topic, since Nichole's the one taking a photography course.  Still, I've come a long way in the past couple of years so I do have a little advice to impart.

Today's all about lighting.  I hesitate to call this a tutorial, since every home has a different lighting situation and your camera will affect your results too.  Instead it's a look at the different options I've found, the ones I've used in the past, and my reasons for doing what I do now.  It's sorta the lighting equivalent of my ancient cleanup post.

I found many of these options by looking at my camera's screen while moving around the house until the display looked good and that's my biggest piece of advice.  Take a lot of pictures, move around, try different spots and different options.  One should jump out at you as the best...but keep testing, because you might find one even better eventually.  I've moved around to different spots over time and longtime readers might recognize some of my previous lighting choices.

Direct natural light-

I wish I was allowed to paint this ratty thing!

That weird green background you see in some of my photos is my front door.  The best direct natural light in my house comes through the glass storm door from mid/late morning until early/mid afternoon, so to catch it I open the wooden door.  Natural light will minimize any odd tones that artificial lighting can bring out in your skin and it will show the polish more accurately too.  The trouble with standing right near a window or door is sky, window, and outdoors reflections.

NYX Beige Glitter over SinfulShine Rebel, if you're wondering

Occasionally I'll go into my kitchen instead.

 The lighting is a little softer here, to the right of the window over the sink.  The problem is the background.  There's a lot going on there!  The results are decent, but the window glare is still an issue.

My other kitchen option is even less direct.  We have a sliding glass door that leads to the deck and there's a little corner between it and the end of our cabinets.  When I first started using natural light, this was my favorite spot.

It's even softer and flatters my skin, but the glare from the patio door is a little odd and I occasionally get reflections of the siding on the house next door.

That's my biggest issue with light through a window like this.  I feel like there's always something a little off.  Reflections, glare, weird patterns from blinds...they all take a little something away from the benefits of direct natural light in my opinion.

Indirect natural light-

The next logical step is to back away from the window.  It can work, but personally I'm not crazy about the results.  It's tough to find a spot that's bright enough but free of glare.  This is the doorway between the living room and kitchen, facing the downstairs bathroom.  The good thing about a spot like this is there's a blank-ish beige wall, so the background is nice and simple.  There's still a hint of glare though.  I also look really pink.

Turning around and facing the basement stairs doesn't improve things at all..

This wall is completely blank, but it's also not lit as well by the windows.  No glare, but barely any light either.  Not good!


Moving to the obvious artificial lighting option, this is incandescent light from four big vanity-style bulbs in our upstairs bathroom.  I know a lot of people have started switching to CFL bulbs, but plenty of people still use old school incandescent.  I kinda hate this lighting.  I'm yellow to begin with, so I look jaundiced here, even with a generous dose of white balance.  The good thing in this case is minimal glare.

LED desk lamp-

I didn't take a location photo, since the Ikea Jansjo lamp is so intense that it kinda blots out any background stuff.  This was my first really deliberate lighting.  I loved it back then, but it feels harsh, yellow, and washed out to me now.

Daylight CFL desk lamp-

Another case where the background barely matters because the lamp is so bright.  It was this, but without the polish, if you're curious.  I was so excited when I got this lamp, but after using it a few times I decided to set it aside.  It's got a fair amount of glare and I feel like it's too good, if that makes sense.  This isn't what this polish combo looks like anywhere but under this type of bulb.  While the lighting is really good (maybe a touch harsh), it seems like an inaccurate "best case senario" to me.

How does Saya's hair get into a room he's never been in!?

Daylight CFL desk lamp & lightbox-

Amplifying the "too good" issue.  The lightbox cuts the lamp glare to a minimum and diffuses the harshness into an even glow, but feels too perfect.  I also have a hard time posing my hand in the box.  No idea why.

Daylight CFL ceiling lamp-

This is the living room/foyer area at night.  The bulbs in one of the ceiling lamps (not that one, but like it) went out and I got sick of changing them, so I decided to switch to CFL's.  I was standing in Wegmans looking at my options when I had a selfish thought.  The guys would have to adjust to the slightly otherworldly glow of daylight bulbs...I wanted daylight bulbs right behind where I do my nails!  They complained off and on for weeks, but they've either gotten used to it like I have or they've stopped complaining.  Either way's fine, right?  I'm ok with the results of these two bulbs, but I'm not 100% thrilled.  It's still a little too...unrealistic.  I feel like the pink blotchiness of my fingertips is a little too obvious here too.

Moving over into the niche that we should probably decorate, but haven't...

Less glare and more depth, but still...not quite what I want.  I use this lamp in either spot when I photograph my nails at night, but I prefer something else.

Natural light & Daylight CFL combo-

This is the same spot and same ceiling lamp as before, but combined with the natural light that comes through the front door.  At least it isn't that ratty green on the inside!  This is my favorite lighting and the one you see most in my posts now.  The combination of the two sources mixes everything I like about the two light sources, but also cuts a lot of the problems out.  The natural light's warmth and the daylight bulbs' coolness blend for a really ideal neutral.  This is what my skin and this polish combo both really look like.  This feels right to me.

Tilting my hands around and adjusting my posture and the camera angle can move the glares around, but I feel like they're a decent size.  Having two light sources also makes photographing duo or multichromes easier.

I retreat into the niche sometimes with this lighting too.  It's softer there.

Something about both areas just feels so right!  I still wander around and try different spots, different angles, etc at times, but this might just be it for me.

I left one major option out, semi-intentionally.  Direct sunlight.  I did kinda forget, I'll admit it.  I also don't consider it a reliable option for myself.  For starters, as pale as I am, I don't photograph well in direct sunlight.  I sorta glow instead.  The Philadelphia area is also overcast about 60% of the time, our weather is strongly seasonal too.  Today is actually a sunny day that isn't either freezing or unbearably sweaty, but that's a rare thing here.  I go outside for photos only if I really have to.  A solar polish is about the only thing that'll send me outside for photos.

If you're trying to find a lighting option you like, I hope this helped!  If you have any questions about the bulbs or other equipment, please ask.


  1. Very interesting post, thanks!

  2. Thank you for this! :D It's extremely helpful! I also LOVE that mani!! It's simply gorgeous!

  3. My sidekick and I only recently started nail blogging, and this right here is both one of the biggest reasons why we did and why I love your blog: the "too good" lighting. Your swatches always look "real" to me. Plenty of bloggers with very nice lightbox set-ups get amazing photos of their polishes...that look nothing like what they do in the real world, and that drives me crazy!

    I'm still searching for the ideal spot in my house, but the best look usually ends up being my car! The black background of the steering wheel center combined with the bright light from windows all around means that pics happen most often in the driveway before/after work.


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