DEFINITIVE GUIDE tO PHOTOGRAPHY FOR FASHION WEBSITES

Harper Scout model shoot

A Guide to Displaying Clothing for E-commerce

This article will help you understand the different types of photography used on websites that sell clothing. Use this as a guide to help you plan a beautiful looking website, that delivers. 

This article shows you side by side comparisons. You can decide which style suits your brand. Do some research, look at the websites of brands that inspire you, and also your competitors’ websites, pinpoint what you like and don’t like about them. Use this knowledge to guide your photography decisions.

Types of Photography

I break down the the types of images used into three main categories. This makes planning and organising easier, setting the expectation at the beginning as to where the images are going to be used and what the purpose is. These sets of images are usually taken at different times as they technically involve different set ups.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

These are your headline images which communicate the brand values with complete styled looks. These are most similar to editorial shoots and advertisements images used in print. The emotional response to the images is the most important message.

CHAPTER II

Product Shots with a Model

In this section I look at the different options for the product shots taken with a model and consider the following:

    • Cropping & Framing
    • Pose – ‘solider’ / static / dynamic
    • Mood – happy, serious, relaxed
    • Views – different angles and crops for showing the garment

CHAPTER III

Product Shots without a Model

Often referred to as pack-shots or cut-outs, product images are visually the simplest, their purpose being to show the garment without embellishment. There are a number of ways to shoot and display these images:

    • Invisible mannequin
    • On a hanger
    • Lay flat

CHAPTER IV

Conclusion

Additional uses for images and key points to take away.

CHAPTER I

CAMPAIGN OR LIFESTYLE

For the lifestyle or campaign images the whole collection is not photographed, but a few selected pieces to represent the season or collection.

Often shot on location, but they can be shoot in a studio using a designed set or styling, lighting and props to create the look and feel. End uses include:

A lifestyle shoot is ideal for a brochure website (a website without online sales) as it is all about the story that surrounds the images, can the visitor imagine themselves being part of the story.

 Planning starts with a story and a mood board for reference, the practical details are planned from this point of reference.

CHAPTER II

PRODUCT SHOTS WITH A MODEL

When shooting product images using a model the brand aesthetic should be taken into account. The type of pose and expression contribute to the mood of the images and therefore the message it conveys. This can be clarified in a mood board for the photographer, model and other members of the team to reference on the day of the shoot.

CROPPING & FRAMING

A combination of these crops can be used on one single product page. These example below are of a static pose, these crops and frames can also be used with dynamic poses (see below for more about poses). 

Net-a-Porter uses full length headless crops for their model view, with a subtle, dynamic pose on the collection page, on the single product page crops are also used.

Full Length - Headless
Headless Cropped
Full Length
Cropped with head

POSE & MOOD

The pose and mood work together to show the products and convey a feeling. A combination of static and dynamic poses can be used on one single product page – try to keep the styles consistent across the website. 

'Soldier' Pose

A straight on, symmetrical  pose, as above can be used in place of the invisible mannequin image as it shows clearly how it fits. This style can suit brands with a minimalist aesthetic. 

I’ve named this pose a ‘solider’ pose, together with a neutral facial expression, or headless crop, it shows the garment. The mood is not expressive and neutral, it does not convey emotion.

Unless the look is part of the brand aesthetic, I would recommend using the poses more creatively to reinforce the brand image.

Pros

  • Looks consistent  – easy for viewers to compare styles.
  • Easily replicated at for photographs taken at another time.
  • Faster, therefore cheaper to produce.

Cons

  • Does not convey mood or feel of brand, unless minimalist.
  • Less visually interesting therefore less likely to be shared.
  • Drape or detail of sleeves may not be easily shown.

Static Pose

Static poses are reminiscent of classic photography, when the model kept still whilst the picture was taken. In days before powerful flash strobes, movement would likely result in a blurred image as continuous light levels are lower.

The image above shows a classic static pose, modern poses as often more relaxed and nonchalant. 

As with dynamic poses, the model’s expression can convey a mood, attitude or emotion. This is a reason for selecting the model carefully, if she or he can project the image you want to convey easily or naturally, you’ll be pleased with the results.

Pros

  • Poses and expression can be used to reinforce brand aesthetic.

Cons

  • More time consuming shoot as more images of each look are taken.
  • Not so easily replicated.

Dynamic Pose

The ‘movement’ in a dynamic pose may be minor or quite dramatic. As with static poses, the shift in position, even if very small, changes the feel of the image as it can covey a mood or feeling of energy and life – this, in turn, reflects on the brand aesthetic. 

The weight and drape of the fabric can be communicated more effectively.

The model should be selected on their ability to project the image you want to convey. 

Pros

  • Poses and expression can be used to reinforce brand aesthetic.
  • Shows fabric and cut of flowing fabrics effectively.

Cons

  • More time consuming shoot as more images of each look are taken.
  • Not so easily replicated.
  • Flash or bright light needed to avoid motion blur. Compromise is increasing sensitivity on camera which results in more ‘grain’ on images.

I have noticed more clothing websites move from using ‘soldier’ poses to looks that convey more character (these include Victoria Beckham and All Saints) probably because it is a powerful tool in reinforcing brand identity. I expect the thinking behind using static images was to show the clothing as simply as possible to allow the viewer to choose without distraction, however most single product pages include an invisible mannequin image which serves this function therefore the model can add brand aesthetic, even if subtle.

VIEWS

In order to see the garment from different angles, front, back and 3/4 view and or detail, give the visitor to the website an all around view of the garment. This might not always be necessary, but if there is a detail in the cut or design this is best included. Sometimes all the views may be used simply for consistency across the website.

Front
Back
Three Quarters
Detail

OTHER TYPES IMAGES USING MODELS

LOOKBOOKS

The still images taken at catwalk shows are good examples of how ‘looks’ are styled. Some designers forgo an actual ‘show’ and simply publish images instead, especially with the inter-season collections such as the ‘Resort’ or ‘Pre-season’ collection.

The ‘Lookbook’ was originally a term used for the printed book that garment designers and manufacturers used for showing their collections to buyers.

In terms of styling, the images fit between the lifestyle and products shots. They show the product more clearly than the lifestyle images and are more styled and brand focused than the products shots.

Nowadays the term is often used to describe a photographed collection styled to promote the brand aesthetic.

When used on a website these images often appear as additional content. These images are a good way of giving visitors ideas about how to style and match items, and can be used to illustrate ‘stories’ and can be a great way of creating content visitors can browse through, magazine style.

If accessories are also sold on the website it can be a way or up-selling items such as the shoes that compliment the ‘look’.

ADDITIONAL CONTENT

Both lifestyle and lookbook photoshoots can be used to create additional content by talking about the shoot location with behind the scenes footage. Video clips can be used – even if they are not high quality, they are great for using on an Instagram story, which expire after 24 hours. Website visitors can meet the team and get to know the brand.

The online world is more than just a shop front, it can be a whole experience of interactions with customers and brand followers. Encouraging customers to engage be part of the brand. Stories that tell customs who made their clothing, how and where the campaign was shot. Who are the models and why were they selected to represent the brand.

Email subscribers or members can gain priority access to limited editions or offers (add value, rather than discount).

CHAPTER III

PRODUCT SHOTS WITHOUT A MODEL

There are three main ways clothing is photographed without a model. Invisible or ghost mannequin, lay-flat and on a hanger. 

These are often cut out in post production (also known as clipping) and can be combined with a pure white background or a coloured background. These can be applied digitally or can be a part of the picture when taken. This article about The Power of Colour goes into more depth about this subject, and there are more examples detailed below.

INVISIBLE MANNEQUIN

Invisible or ghost mannequin images are the most popular way of showing clothing without a model online. Garments can be easily compared without the visual influence of a human model. The cut and shape of the clothing is show much more accurately than flat lay or hanger images.

Pure White
With Shadow
Off White - Warm
Off White - Cool

Invisible Mannequin - Backgrounds Options

Many e-commerce website use pure white as a background for the invisible mannequin and product images, however some use off white colours as a background as shown in the examples. This ‘coloured’ backgrounds also acts as a container or frame for the item. The Dolce & Gabbana online shop display their items this using a warm off-white background with their cut-out images.

Sometimes drop shadows are added to invisible mannequin images in post production, with light coloured clothing this effect helps to define the edge and provides depth.

Net-a-Porter has changed there website to display the product images with a ‘background’ colour and shadow. Reiss also uses coloured backgrounds for their invisible mannequin images on their beautifully designed website. Take a look here Reiss.com

There is more detailed information in this article about Invisible Mannequin Photography.

Pure White
With Shadow
Off White - Warm
Burgundy dress
Off White - Cool

DISPLAYING CLOTHING ON HANGERS

The fabrics and styles of garments should be considered when selecting whether or not to use hanger images as your main e-commerce method of display. With hanger photography, stiffer fabrics and clothing designs that hold their shape will look better than more fluid fabric, even with full length garments. 

Separate tops and bottoms will hold shape better than longer items where the weight of the fabric will tend to pull them down. Long items such as jumpsuits may need some hidden support to spread the garment out at the hips, using a photography on a slant board may produce better results, but keep in mind, in order to photograph full length with an accurate perspective (wide angle will distort the view) a high rig would need to be set up.

To see a beautiful example of an e-commerce shop that displays clothing on hangers as the main images visit Olive Clothing – a British brand that features lots of cotton and linen fabrics which look great when photographed this way.

Images displayed in this way can easily be taken in house, with some effort made to set up a the photographing area.

Hanger - Background Options

When clothing is displayed on a hanger against a vertical surface it looks better if the background is included in the final image otherwise the hanger looks like it is floating in space and is somewhat distracting. Take a look at the example below to compare and decide for yourself.

Keep in mind also that keeping the ‘natural’ background reduces the work in Photoshop to cut out the image and therefore this will be a cheaper and faster option.

'Natural' White Background
Cut Out

 Including the background with the natural shadows provides a natural pleasing arrangement. The style of hangers can be chosen to reflect the brand style as can the colour of the background. A white background will result in a soft, neutral grey in the final image. If the background is included in the final images, the results will be less consistent than if the background was removed in Photoshop and then dropped in afterward. The size of the item The decision as to how to do present the items depends on the brand aesthetic, the natural inconsistency may suit, even enhance, a casual brand with clothing made from natural fibres with a hand-crafted feel.

FLAT LAY

Photographing items completely horizontal with the camera back parallel to the surface is know as ‘lay flat’ or ‘flat lay’. Individual items photographed this way can be cut-out in post production. 

This type of photography suites items such as t-shirts, sportswear, loungewear and cotton pyjamas are shot this way as the designs are simple and the fabric sits well when flat. Children’s clothing is often photographed flat rather than on a mannequin. Knitwear often looks good as a lay flat also. Garments with more complex cuts and silky fabrics don’t look as good when laid flat as they tend to collapse and gravity doesn’t do them justice – an invisible mannequin will look best.

Hat

Flat lay images really shine when clothing items are used as part of a collection of clothing, accessories and lifestyle items, together in one image. These layouts are very much about the combination of the items with the lighting and background setting the mood. There are instagram feeds dedicated to this type of photography and styling. Take a look at the hashtag #flatlays to see some examples. Background are chosen to compliment the items and colour palette.

Slant Boards

This method uses a board propped at an angle as the name suggests. In the final image slant board photography looks very much like wall hanging or flat lay photography but laying the clothing at an angle means that gravity isn’t pulling the fabric down as much as hanging it vertically does which means it can be styled into shape easier. Some images that look as if they have been taken on a hanger are probably taken this way as it is easier to make different type of fabric look good.

Key Points - Flat Lay Photography

  • Lay flats are great for knitwear, simple garments and t-shirts especially when the print design is the key feature. Complex garments don’t look good as lay-flat alone images, but can be used as part of collection.

  • Folded items can look good this way. These images are not for e-commerce pages rather as lifestyle / brand images perfect for sharing on Instagram and Pinterest.

  • The lay flat can tell a story, for example of where the traveller is going and what they are doing, give ideas for what to take.

CHAPTER IV

CONCLUSION

Plan what images you need and would like for the website as far in advance as possible. Product shots without a model will have a fast turnaround. Lifestyle / campaign images shot on location will take a few weeks of planning, finding models and locations and dates that work for everyone.

Key Points

    • Lifestyle images have the strongest brand aesthetic and product shotes without a model, the least.
    • Use the images in as may ways as possible to get the best return on investment – invisible mannequin pictures can be used by magazines and bloggers to create their own curated ‘looks’ for example, and include pictures in email promotions.
    • For an e-commerce website if you have to choose one type of professional image, invisible mannequin product shots would be the most beneficial.
    • Product images are not necessary for brochure websites.
    • Many e-commerce clothing websites show a minimum of 5 images on the single product page:
      1. Front Product shot – invisible mannequin or lay-flat
      2. Front view worn by model
      3. Back view worn by model
      4. 3/4 view worn by model
      5. Detail of fabric / construction

Use the images on social media, include styling tips and guides for dressing for certain occasions. Enhance your website by making it a destination for ideas and inspiration. Of course creating all this content takes time, effort and a certain amount of skill. This work can be handed over to a business that specialises in this, which would be the perfect solution for those who want to concentrate on other areas of running the business.

Put ‘looks’ together as ideas of how to wear one item. One item with three looks for example. Encourage visitors to share their own images of how they have worn items they have purchased via Instagram. The next step is increasing the number of visitors to the website – make connections and work on building a community around you brand.

Designs and clothing featured in this article by:
Belles of London
Belinda Leong
Harper Scout Beach
Popski
Tates Cashmere
The Couture Gallery
Wendy Benstead Costume and Clothing

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