Do's and Don'ts for Instagram Aesthetics

Courtesy of Julie Kandalec
Courtesy of Julie Kandalec

As nail professionals, we use Instagram not only as a place to showcase our work, but also as a place for creativity to live. Likewise, potential clients use it to find art inspiration, nail salons, even specific nail artists to bring their tip ideas to life. But with so many talented techs using the platform, it can be difficult to stand out. Not to mention, these days, the average attention span lasts around 7 seconds (if that!)—which means if your page isn’t compelling or well organized, visitors can become overwhelmed and move on to another profile before you have a chance to hook them. Therefore, it’s essential when creating an Instagram page that you maintain a cohesive look—from color palette to lighting to the way the nails are photographed—as a way to describe what you and your brand are about. If it’s not consistent, it creates confusion about what it is that you do. Remember, clarity is key.

Discover Your Style

While it seems simple enough to load pictures to your profile, there’s more to a successful Instagram page than that. In order to create your own personal aesthetic, you need to put some thought into it. Start by defining who you are and what type of work you do. Then, focus your posts around that. Don’t base it on what you think your clients want; rather, emphasize what you do best. Your clients will find their way to you.

Next, go through Pinterest to make a mood board of background colors, lighting and hand poses that speak to you—ones that make you happy when you look at them. Once you have determined your look, make sure that all of the photos you post feature those elements so they look cohesive.

It’s also a good idea to think about how you want to photograph your nails. Do you want to shoot down on them on a table with a bright backdrop? Or maybe you prefer fingers floating gently in the air with a clean white wall? If you haven’t realized it already, you quickly will: Not everyone has beautiful hands/fingers, and shooting them can be tricky. Choose three or four poses/different ways to shoot your clients’ hands. This will keep all of your nail photos consistent.

Props & Lighting

Whether you realize it or not, when you’re drawn to an image or an Instagram page it usually isn’t just because of the nail art; often it’s because the images are well thought out and the lighting is spot on. Start getting your photos in tip-top shape by thinking about props, like colored paper and textured surfaces, flowers or even create themed vignettes with props that match (think a palm frond, pineapple and sunglasses for a summery and tropical vibe). Stop giving your clients the big diamond to hold! Try something that makes you more memorable and your work more unique. It’s also a good idea to look for inspiration around you. For instance, use your client’s designer purse as the backdrop, or if your client is wearing a beautiful blouse, shoot one of her hands on the arm of her shirt. And while I know that many techs like to feature something on-brand in the client’s hand, I recommend highlighting it in the background of the photo or as a watermark instead. Why? Unless your client is a hand model with ultra-long, slender fingers, holding things just doesn’t show off your work as well as it could.

Now that you have your hand position and props in order, you need to think about lighting—it’s the key component to creating an eye-catching photo. If your nails aren’t lit properly, they won’t perform well on Instagram and, as a result, people won’t see them. The easiest way to get good lighting without investing in equipment is to shoot in the midday sun (just make sure the sun is behind you!). What happens if you love shooting in daylight but your client’s appointment is at 8 p.m.? Just ask her to shoot her nails for you the following day and send the picture to you. If you want to maintain better control over your nail photos, then it might be a good idea to purchase a ring light, as this tool creates pretty, soft lighting without any harsh shadows. Set the ring light directly over the hand so that all angles of the nail are equally lit.

To Filter or Not to Filter

For most of us, we’re nail artists, not photographers. It takes practice to get photos “Instagram-approved,” so don’t get discouraged. I encourage you to keep taking photos and trying different lighting techniques and props until you get it right. And while it might seem like an easy fix to use preset filters, I really don’t recommend it. Presets (like the ones on your phone) change the color of the nails, and can make it difficult for clients to really see your work. If your photo is a bit dark or shadowy, you can bump up the brilliance and turn down the shadows manually, based on each individual photo’s needs. Sometimes I increase the saturation a touch (5 percent or so) to make it match the actual colors I used (if they become washed out in the lighting), or I’ll turn down the warmth if the client has red hands. If you want to lightly smooth the fingers, you can use a smoothing tool like Facetune on a very subtle setting, around 5-10 percent, max. As any professional photographer will tell you, the closer you can stay to the original photo, the better the end result will be.

Do’s & Don’ts

  • Do include a photo of yourself! People love seeing the face behind the brand. People are automatically drawn to others, so let them see you!
  • Don’t post photos that are totally off brand, like a photo of your lunch or from your son’s football game. People need to know that you do nails, and if they have to search for photos of your work, they’ll give up.
  • Do post photos of other things that inspire you. For example, if you’re out shopping and see a gorgeous scarf that would make beautiful nail art, post a pic with the caption: “Nail inspo—who wants me to design some nail art based on this scarf?” This technique not only creates diversity in your photos, but it also encourages engagement in the post as clients comment. Plus, it keeps them included in the process.

For all the dos and don'ts, check out Nailpro's March/April digital magazine

Author bio:

Julie Kandalec is a NYC-based celebrity manicurist, salon owner, educator, author and a NAILPRO advisory board member.

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