Photographing clothing can be fiddly, but it’s not a dark art only practiced by high-end fashion photographers, you can do it too! Here are a few pointers to help you take pictures that show off your clothing to best advantage.
So let’s take it as read that you now have the skills for lighting, depth of field and composition, that you need, but if you need a refresher, here are the links to previous posts.
As for kit, apart from the usual suspects extra things you may need include a steam iron, pins, a backboard or background, and a mannequin or a model.
Pick up any fashion magazine or catalogue to see many great examples of clothing photography to inspire you. These photos are usually shot with a stylist on hand to make sure that the product looks great, so you will need to take on this role.
Take a look at how clothes are styled in magazines and you will notice that there are 4 main methods used. The first, most basic option is to lay the item on a flat surface, the second is to hang it up, the third is to put it on a mannequin and the fourth option is to put it on a live model.
As buyers we want to see clothes in a variety of ways; show them in full, with nothing cut off (I find it very annoying when people cut the hems or cuffs out of their photos.) We also want close ups of the details, if it has a design printed on it, we want to be able to see it properly. So too the neckline, hem and cuffs. Shoot lots of photos and make good use of all those extra images you can add to your listings.
And don’t forget to iron things first – creased clothes hang badly and the light falls in shadowy clothes on creases so it won’t do your clothes any favours.
Start with laying it out flat, you can lay the whole item out or fold it neatly. This is by far the easiest way to work, and you will get pleasing shots if you bear in mind a few important things. It is always easier to work facing the subject rather than hanging over it. When you lay something out flat on the floor, it may be hard to shoot it without getting distortion. The distortion happens when you lean over the subject, it can lead to it looking out of proportion, making the top look bigger than the bottom, or giving the dizzying effect of it sliding out of the picture. An easy way to stop this happening is to pin the item in place on a backboard and prop the board upright so that you can shoot it straight on.
I recommend making a backboard that is a plain neutral colour, is clean and free from dirty marks and distracting details, and large enough that its edges aren’t visible in the photo. If you want to pin items to it, make sure you make it out of something that you can get pins into.
Don’t forget, that if you are going to shoot folded items you will need to show the full item as well so that buyers can see the whole thing. It is ok to have some of the pictures cropped as long as there is an overall view somewhere in your supporting listing images.
Returning to the all important styling, Put pins in crucial places to make sure the garment lies perfectly. Think about using filling to stuff items so that they fill their shape, this will give your items some shape and life.
If you opt for the hanging method, then it is very important that the clothes are crease free and hang well on whatever you choose to use. Take your time to select attractive and suitable pegs or hangers, and keep an eye on the angles in your composition, try to avoid looking up at the underside of the object, it will cause strange distortions that are not pleasant to look at.
Onto mannequins, generally I prefer to see clothes on people rather than mannequins, and research suggests that clothes sell better on people too. I don’t mind understated mannequins, and actually quite like those headless, white fabric with wood detail mannequins, but I find those old skool mannequins with weird expressions and bad wigs just plain creepy.
Do think about how fresh and contemporary your mannequin is, and what it says about your clothing range. On the plus side, your mannequin will be better behaved than the average model, it will hold still for hours, be available to work anytime that you are, and best of all you can pin clothes to it without getting blood on your wondrous creations! Working with a 3D object means you will need to put into play all that you have already learned about using lights and reflectors to eliminate those pesky shadows cast by lights on your mannequin. Style the clothes to the mannequin using plenty of hidden pins and clips to make sure the clothes fit right, especially at the waist and shoulders.
And so saving the best for last, the live model. Models can really get the most out of your product, their movement can make your clothes flow beautifully. If you have some good looking and shapely friends that you can drag in, then do so. You don’t need to include models faces if you don’t want to, just crop at the neck or chin if you want to keep the focus on the clothes. Cropping is very important to get right, try to avoid accidentally cutting off toes, hands etc. Also fit everything in the frame in a balanced way; make sure that the photos are not cropped so that you can’t see the hem, but there is an inch of empty space above the models head. Get your magazines and catalogues out again and look at the angles and body lines used by the pros, it will give you a crash course in posing models. Play with movement, walking can give skirts shape and help convey a sense of freedom and happiness that static poses cannot.
Speaking of walking around, this may be easier to do outside where you have more space to work. Shoot your models in the studio for clean unfussy images, but don’t be afraid of heading out into the great outdoors either. Be creative with your backdrops, if your clothes suit a certain type of location, why not shoot them there?
Think about creating a ‘house style’ for your photos, for example, shooting them all in front of a brick wall can help people instantly identify items from your range, even from the tiny thumbnails. Try whitewashed wooden fences, box hedges, white plastered walls, corrugated iron etc. for other options. Natural wood is great for a slightly textured backdrop and will suit every skin tone.
A final note on shooting outside, pay special attention to what’s happening in your pictures besides the clothes. Are your horizons straight, if there are vertical lines such as lamp-posts, fence panels, and brickwork, is it all straight? These are the little finishing touches that will really make your photos perfect.
So I hope that you will take a look at your own listings and see if you can apply anything you have read here to improve your pictures, and remember that making changes to your shop keeps it fresh, so do it often!
Until next time,
Jo Bradford is a professionally photographer whose work has been featured all over the world, she has also just had a piece of work launched into space! – Find out more at www.jobradford.com or visit her Folksy shop at Green Island Art Studios