6 steps to create amazing clothing photography

by | Feb 2, 2021

if you’re new to the clothing photography world: buckle up! there’s a lot to learn but also a lot of great resources at your fingertips. we’ll go over everything from why high quality images are important to how to set up a photoshoot to getting perfect lighting to editing software to try out.

history of clothing photography

how clothing photography started

in a broad sense: clothing and fashion photography has been around since the mid-1800s. the first on-record publishing of fashion photography was photographed by French photographer Pierre-Louise Pierson in 1856. the 288-page book featured portraits of Tuscan noblewoman Virginia Oldoini in her court attire. and so the Countess di Castiglione became the first fashion model.

by the early 1900s: technology advancements in printing allowed for photographs to be printed in magazines. notable magazines in the United States – like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue – began to incorporate fashion photography into their issues. meanwhile in France: Lucien Vogel – the publisher of Jardin des Modes and La Gazette du Bon Ton – dared photographer Edward Steichen to take photos that would promote fashion as fine art. Steichen took photos of women in gowns designed by Paul Poiret. this was the start of clothing being photographed in detail to highlight their quality and appearance as opposed to garments being advertised through illustrations. 

in 1905: Conde Nast bought Vogue and Vanity Fair. it was after this purchase the magazines’ directions were shifted to have a greater emphasis on women’s clothing.

Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue continued to be leaders in fashion photography which developed into a fierce rivalry. Conde Nast scored big when they signed Steichen as an in-house photographer. over the next 15 years: he gave both Vogue and Vanity Fair their artistic direction and defined what it meant to be a chic woman. 

importance of good clothing product photography

product images have a lot of heavy lifting to do in an ecomm environment: they have to compete with the real-life shopping experience of being able to feel. try on. and test apparel products. because any tangible testing is eliminated in the online shopping experience: it is vital to have high quality and demonstrative apparel photography to sell your goods. amazing product photos will give a better user experience. increase conversions. & build trust with your customers.

user experience

according to Google: 1 in 2 U.S. consumers are now buying a majority of their items online. of course: this is largely due to having to close brick and mortar shops for extended periods of time during COVID-19. as our world moves forward from COVID it’s reasonable to assume the online shopping behaviors developed in the last several months will continue.

online shoppers have developed certain expectations from this new forced shopping behavior. Google’s brand marketing manager Bruno Delfino says: “as users get more used to digital tools and products due to the pandemic they will get better at interacting with ads and demand a better user experience. That means no broken links. confusing CTAs. slow pages. or desktop-only websites.”

the way we think of user experience can easily be pigeon-holed to technical issues (like the ones Delfinno mentioned). but user experience expands beyond that for shops selling apparel products. 

apparel photography comes down to this: people like to look at pretty things. if you’re relying on dark. boring. blurry. and uninformative images to make a sale then you’ll probably be waiting a long time. Potential customers will become frustrated and uninterested in learning more about the product or your company and will bounce. even with the best marketing strategy it’ll be difficult to win that customer back.

the CEO of Soona: Liz Giorgi puts it perfectly: customers should be experiencing. not just transacting.

increase conversions

it’s a no-brainer: beautiful images of your products will lead to more conversions. investing in high-quality photos and videos is an investment into your product. your brand. and your customer. online shopping inherently comes with the risk that whatever is being ordered may not meet the shopper’s expectations. having professional photos and videos that highlight features and show the product in action can significantly increase the confidence a customer has in what they are ordering. which means more conversions and less abandoned carts. and that’s money. in. your. pocket

build trust

think about this: you see a shirt you really love in an ad. you go to the brand’s website to buy this shirt but the product images are low quality and dark. you can’t really see details of the shirt or get a sense of what it actually looks like. now you’re not even sure you could get your money back if you didn’t like the product or the product itself ended up being poor quality. so you abandon your cart and never return.

on the other hand: what if the same scenario played out but instead of poor product photos you had clean. bright. interesting. colorful. and detailed shots of your shirt. suddenly your customer is so excited to purchase this shirt they decide to check out other products you have. they checkout not just with this shirt in their cart but another shirt and a pair of pants! 

building trust and confidence with your customers is the key to not just acquiring new customers but having those customers return again and again and again. but it starts with professional and polished images to make that first impression.

examples of clothing product photography

now that we’ve covered why good clothing images are important to your business you might be asking yourself: what does that even mean? how do I know if I have good or bad content? it’s pretty easy to spot the difference. poor quality images will be blurry. dark. lacking style. and unpolished. here are a few examples of ideal clothing photography.

high quality examples

best practices for photographing clothing products

there are several common (and not so obvious) best practices that should be considered whether you are wanting to shoot clothing as a flat lay. on a mannequin. or on a model: lighting. backdrop selection. styling. garment prep. product tracking.

lighting

when you think of a photoshoot one of the first images that pops into your mind might be a white backdrop behind a model swaying back and forth surrounded by large umbrella-looking contraptions. that imagery looks and feels expensive and unattainable. lighting is the most important element of your shoot – no question – but it doesn’t have to break your budget.

here’s the biggest not-so-secret lighting secret: natural light is great light. set up your shoot next to a large window with natural lighting streaming through. you’ll want to place your product directly in front of the window but with the light hitting your product from the side. this setup will help you avoid the lighting being too harsh as well as any unwanted shadows from you standing between the window and your product. 

if you have a little more freedom with your budget: consider renting a lighting kit. you can find mono and strobe light kits for rent online. These kits can cost anywhere from $70 to over $200. Borrowlenses.com has kits for rent on the more affordable side and allow you to keep the kits for 7 days.

backdrop

having the right backdrop for your photoshoot is another vital part of a successful shoot. the best and easiest backdrop is a simple white background. it’s a clean look that eliminates distractions and reflects light back onto your product. the white backdrop is also easy and budget-friendly: you can simply use a hanging wrinkle-free white sheet or a clean white wall. seamless paper rolls are another great option if you want something more professional. these rolls can cost anywhere from $20 to $50 or more depending on the size you are buying. if you decide to use a sheet or a paper roll: make sure you have a sturdy way to secure your backdrop. you can rent a backdrop frame for as low as $20.

styling

the fun and creative part of the photoshoot – like styling – comes once you’ve squared away the technical setup. styling is your creative setup. styling is an element of a photoshoot that can often be overlooked by those who are new to apparel photography. styling is how you position your product (and any props) in your frame. it sounds simple but creating the best positioning of your product can vary based on the type of clothing you’re shooting and the purpose of the photos. one of soona’s resident photographers recommends using a size small when shooting your product (or sending your product in to be shot).

“It’s important to shoot a size small.” Leigh Germy said. “Anything bigger than that can end up losing its shape or be hard to style within the frame.”

garment prep

before you style your shoot you need to make sure your garment or products are picture-ready. that means taking the time to steam your clothing to get rid of any wrinkles. cleaning shoes. polishing jewelry. the camera will capture exactly how your product looks so it needs to look perfect.  this helps show your product in its best shape and reduce post-production efforts to clean up your images (if flaws can even be fixed in photoshop).

product tracking

product tracking is an important step whether you are photographing your own products or sending your products off to a photographer. this can help you and the photographer understand what they are looking at while the photoshoot is happening. labeling each product with specific names gives your team a common language . the subtle differences in your products may be obvious to you but not so obvious to someone who isn’t familiar with your brand or clothing. this is also helpful in case you want to work with a specific filing structure.

ideas for clothing products

there are 7 common ways to show off your apparel in photos: flat lay. lifestyle. on a model. on a mannequin. ghost mannequins. pin board. and hanging.

flat lay

flat lay photography is exactly what it sounds like: your clothing is laying flat on a surface. the garments are styled and sometimes accompanied by props to give it an extra pop.

lifestyle

lifestyle images show your product within the elements of life you would expect to see them. for example: a great lifestyle shot of a hat used specifically for gardening would be showing that hat outside next to a beautiful and lush garden alongside gardening tools. lifestyle photos helps give customers an image in their minds of what life would be like using that product.

on model

paint a picture for customers of what they would look like with your product. you can show off your best features by using a model: how it fits. how it moves. how it stretches. how it can be styled. shoppers want to know what an item might look like on them and showing that item on a model similar to them where they can visualize it on themselves is the key to that customer converting.

on mannequin

using a mannequin is a great option if a model isn’t within the budget or you want a simpler image. mannequins allow you to show off your product details – like fit and shape – that flat lay images don’t. it’s a great way to bring your product to life.

ghost mannequins

the look ghost mannequins provide can be accomplished in two ways: one is by purchasing a ghost mannequin; the other is by creating the look through the magic of editing. buying a ghost mannequins (also known as invisible mannequins or 3D mannequins) can cost between $200 – $600 which may not be financially feasible for your budget. more advanced editing skills are required to achieve the ghost mannequin look in post-production. this look is actually a composition of two types of images: one is an image taken on a regular mannequin to capture the shape of the garment on a body; the second is an image taken of the garment as a flat lay to capture any inside parts of the garment that were covered by the mannequin in the first shot. the end result will give you a fully shaped stand-alone garment.

essential equipment for clothing product photoshoots

photoshoots require more than just a camera and a subject. we’ve already talked about lighting and a backdrop but what else do you need? any successful shoot will have a camera. the right lense. a tripod. lighting. 

camera

any DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera with manual exposure and aperture settings will work – even a smartphone with a nice camera could work in a pinch. soona photographers use Canon Mark IV.

lens

there’s a range of lenses that can be used for clothing photography: from 80mm – 200mm. soona photographers use 24mm. 35mm. 50mm. 80mm. and 100mm lenses. 

tripod

a tripod is not required but highly recommended. tripods help you avoid blurry images (a mistake you can’t edit!) and helps keep that perfect framing when you want to switch out products. 

lighting

we’ve already covered the importance of lighting and how you can affordably attain a lighting kit. but which kit do you need? a dual mono light kit will work perfectly and you cant rent one for $110.

6 steps for creating amazing clothing photography

1. PLAN your shoot

Before you even begin collecting equipment you need to figure out what the purpose and style of your shoot is: do you need images for social media or for your ecomm store? is there a certain look you are going for or a certain feeling you’re trying to portray?  if you have help: what is your assistant(s) doing? what’s your editing plan? what about your timeline to launch your new images? these are the kinds of questions you need to answer first. then you can begin to make lists of the equipment. products. and props you’ll need to create your vision.

2. collect your equipment

you need to make sure you have all the proper equipment you need before shoot day to ensure a smooth and efficient process. Check your equipment list and then check it again.

3. set up your studio

before shoot day: figure out where you will have your photoshoot. are you renting a space or doing it at home? what room will you do it in? where’s the best window for lighting? after figuring out your shoot location you can then set up your equipment. preferably you set up everything before shoot day to give yourself time to make location or equipment adjustments if necessary.

4. prep your products

before shoot day: prep your products. this means making sure you have flawless items to shoot. steaming any clothing items. polishing any jewelry. buying any props needed. create a list of what you’re shooting in-order so you don’t miss any shots the day of your shoot.

5. style your set

you have your props. you have your products. and you have your plan. now it’s time to put it all together and bring your vision to life! before shoot day: try testing out different ways of styling your set. these can be low-key brainstorms on your kitchen table. test out different ideas and take a quick reference picture with your smartphone of scenes you like. that way you know almost exactly what you want to do the day of the shoot.

6. shoot 

that’s it! the day has come and you are prepped and ready for your photoshoot. this is the fun part – so get creative and ENJOY it! make sure you get different angles and groupings of your product: front. back. sides. top. bottom. close ups. product families. etc. get creative and shoot anything you think you might want. it’s always better to have a lot of variety than not enough. 

editing clothing photography

editing photography can feel like a mountain that’s impossible to climb without fancy tools or extensive training. but that’s a misconception! basic editing is possible with amazing technology we have right at our fingertips. you should have little editing to do if you took the proper steps to ensure good lighting. camera settings and prepped your products. here are a few free tools that make editing your images a breeze. your goal is to create a consistent set of images your customers will fall in love with.

Pixlr

this editing software is free and easy to use for all skill levels. Pixlr E is intuitive and provides all the tools you need to clean up your images. it has the ability to adjust sharpness. color-correction. spot healing. brightness. and shadows. it also has a background removal tool. the best part is there is no downloading. the tool is all used online.

your computer’s standard photo editor

whether you use a MAC or Windows: your computer comes with its own editing software that are great tools to get the job done. 

Mac users should check out the Photo app on iOS. according to Hunter Neiblum – soona’s post-production coordinator (and editing wizard) : this tool is great for any standard photo editing.

“the Photo app on iOS offers a very good editing tool with all of your standard adjustments in addition to having curves, color profiles, noise reduction and even a selective color mixer.” he said.

Windows users have a similar option with Microsoft Photos. within this built-in software you can edit contrast. clarity. Saturation. and white balance for overly warm indoor shots.

Adobe Lightroom

for a more professional editing software that won’t break the bank: Hunter suggests Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom is a cloud-based app you can download to either your Mac or PC. a subscription to this tool costs $20 a month but you also get access to Photoshop. there are $10 per month plans that include Lightroom but have some limited features. according to Hunter: Lightroom is great to jump in and start exploring but Photoshop requires a little more editing experience.

“Photoshop is a magic editing tool but takes a lot of learning and getting used to. I would save that for more advanced editing although it is good to get the basics down to master your photos.” he said. “For clothing photography: knowing how to make layered masks and clippings in Photoshop is a must for a truly professional product.”

clothing photography options & pricing

the cost of getting apparel product images will depend on how you decide to approach your clothing photoshoot. will you DIY? hire a local photographer? or use a service?

DIY photoshoots

conducting your own photoshoot is one of the surface-level cheaper options. you can execute a photoshoot from $200-$500. this is taking in the need to rent camera and lighting equipment and editing software if you find you need more than what the free options have to offer. the pro of doing your own photoshoot is you can take your time getting the shots you need – you could take 3 days if you wanted! the con here is if you don’t like anything you create – or you have difficulty editing them to perfection in post-production – you’ll have to re-rent the equipment to try again. so this may not be as cost-effective as you think.

local photographer or studio

hiring a local photographer or studio is probably the most expensive route. a lot of bigger businesses choose to find a local photographer they can call on to shoot their products. they like having the security of knowing someone who is familiar with their product and they can count on what they are paying for. local photographers typically charge by whether the shoot is a half-day or a full-day shoot which can run between $1,000 – $3,000. this fee usually includes the shoot itself and basic editing. for any special editing requests or re-edits there may be an additional fee. the downside of going this route is having to wait a week or two to get your images back. and if you don’t like them: odds are you will not be able to make adjustments.

soona

if you are in need of high-quality product images and videos but don’t want to break the bank. or deal with setting up an at-home studio. or feel intimidated by the creative process of creating content – soona is a great place to go. get high-quality content for $39 per photo and $93 per video clip. not near a soona studio? not a problem. all you have to do is create your booking. ship your product to a soona location (free shipping on your first label). join your shoot and collaborate with the soona team as you watch your photos appear on your soona dashboard in real time. then you only buy the assets you love. edited content is delivered to you within 24 hours of checkout. easy peasy.

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