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models vs mannequins: when to use each

by | May 21, 2021

have your ecommerce sales been sluggishly chugging along? it might be time to reevaluate those product photos – and how you’re showcasing your products today’s online customers need a gentle nudge to commit to a purchase. high-quality product photography can be that helpful little push. but relying solely on flat lays isn’t going to cut it. you need to take advantage of mannequins and models to display your products and tell your brand story. wondering when should you use mannequins and when should you use models? today we’re talking about all things models & mannequins so that you can feel confident choosing between the two options.

when should you use a model?

knowing when you should use a model to display your products comes down to understanding the pros of adding in that personal touch. there are a handful of advantages of using a human to model your ecommerce products.  

here are a few of the main benefits of hiring models for your ecommerce photography.


human element

models add that kind of sparkly ecommerce magic that mannequins lack: the human element. flat lays and mannequin photos risk looking lifeless and bland. talented models can take that lifeless product and portray it in a way that gives it personality.

your audience wants to get to know your brand and its story. letting your brand personality shine bright gives them an opportunity to emotionally connect with you and your products. 

seeing a handbag or pair of shoes in action can help your potential customers imagine what their lives would be like with your products. using models to demonstrate everyday use or create lifestyle images will give your pictures that human element that mannequins often lack. it helps tell your story and portray your brand personality through compelling product images.

💡 the secret to super high-converting content is humans. learn more about why we ❤️ models.


using models can help promote diversity and inclusion in your brand story. there’s been a revolution in the marketing world when it comes to diversity. today’s consumer demographic is more diverse than ever.

audiences demand to see far more range in the models that showcase your products. ethnicity. gender. body size. sexual orientation. a brand can strategically hire inclusive models that help better reflect the ever-diversifying audience.

highlight functionality

does your product have cool features? your genius product design is what sets you apart from your competitors. flat lays and mannequin shots can’t always capture those small (often overlooked) details. highlight those hidden pockets and snazzy details! you’ve only got a few seconds to dazzle your customers. high-quality model images can capture your customers’ attention in lickety-split and ensure that all those beautiful deets don’t go unnoticed.

tell a story

using models in your ecommerce product photography enhances the audience’s sense of your brand identity. they can help you tell a story or establish a cohesive story campaign for your omnichannel strategy. a model can give a sense of history behind the product. a model can paint a (figurative) picture for your customers and take them along on the product journey. models help to create an image of what your customers’ lives would look like after they purchase your product. models can be aspirational by creating a look or lifestyle for your customers to aim for.

for a roomy budget

it isn’t always budget-friendly to hire experienced models for your product photoshoot. but the investment can be well worth it when you nail the perfect images. 

good models are well worth the price because they can provide a range of poses and images that can be used across all channels – not just in your online store. think bigger. like social media. and advertising. and web content. the possibilities are endless!

or you can mix it up. not every product shot needs to be a shot on a model. take advantage of that budgetary wiggle room and create a few modeled product images in addition to your flat lays. the variety can help offer more clarity and intrigue to your customers.

feeling extra adventurous? grab some video of your models wearing the products for your product pages.

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when to use a ghost mannequin

many online stores use mannequin product photography regularly to create stunning product images that require little to no image editing. here are a few reasons you might opt for a mannequin over a model for your product photography.

product fit

sometimes a product just fits a mannequin better. this is especially true if you aren’t located in an area with professional models.

mannequins can also be a viable option for startup retailers that don’t have access to large photoshoot setups. you can easily store a few mannequins in your home office or warehouse location when you need product photos of your new merch.

it can be tedious to tailor each and every garment to fit a model perfectly. mannequins streamline the photoshoot process by providing a standard shape and size for you to hang your product on.



some online retailers will use mannequins to shoot their product images because it keeps the branding cohesive. mannequins can deliver a minimal feel that is tough to reproduce with human models.  mannequins are sleek. simple. and clean. they’re blemish-free and you don’t need to focus on making sure their body posture and facial expressions match your overall brand identity – no offense to human models! but don’t confuse simple for boring. zhush up your mannequin shots with props or spicy backdrops. keep it visually interesting – but simple and classy for an overall cohesive brand identity.

minimize distractions

sometimes the product just needs to speak for itself. mannequin shots let the goods shine bright and steal the show – in the best way 🌟 using a mannequin can help minimize visual clutter and center your product as the focal point without any other distractions in the frame. keep things crisp and unobstructed with the ghost mannequin effect (aka the invisible mannequin effect). you can make your product the only focal point with a little post-production image editing in Photoshop to create the invisible mannequin effect. looking to get the full rundown on how to make that Photoshop magic happen? check out our step-by-step guide to master ghost mannequin photography here.

when the budget is tight

mannequins are like models – but on a TJ Maxx budget 💰 the price of mannequins starts around $90 and goes up. the price for models? a bit more. mannequins are the budget-friendly choice for shooting your product photos. let’s be realistic – the budget won’t always have room to hire models. that’s normal. and that’s precisely what mannequins are for. you will also save money on post-production editing because mannequin shots typically don’t need as much image editing in Photoshop. sure. it can be hard to get a mannequin shot that delivers on that lifestyle vibe like a model would. but they can be just as compelling when done right. don’t underestimate the value of staying on budget with mannequin product photography.

which one produces more sales?

here’s the answer you’ve been waiting for: it depends. there’s no tried and true way to know whether a model or a mannequin will help drive sales in your online store. every retailer is different because no audience and no brand identity are 100% alike. there are far too many factors when it comes to motivating purchases in online sales. one piece of advice: test. test. and test some more. run A/B versions of your images to see what performs best. your audience is unique to your site. find what combo has the highest sales conversions and run with it. set up your test for success by considering these three factors.

your target market

defining your target demographic is essential for your ecommerce business. it can also give you insight into which product image style might perform better: model or mannequin. there are different aspects to your target demographic. gender. ethnicity. shopping preferences. but the most influential demographic factor that determines how your product images are perceived is age. here’s what you need to know about these generational differences:

gen X & older

most customers that fall within the 40 to 60-year-old range aren’t as particular when it comes to product photography. lifestyle images are always nice to have. but they’re not necessary. go ahead and whip out those reliable ol’ mannequins to get the job done. keep in mind your product images still need to be shot well – you just don’t need to worry about introducing models into your photoshoots

gen z & millennials

the younger crowd are no strangers to the world of online shopping. they grew up  with digital technology. they brought about the age of influencers and lifestyle shopping and their (high) expectations reflect that.  the 20 to 35-year-old demographic is motivated by compelling images – featuring models. they expect most brands to use models in their ecommerce photography. adding in that human touch. it makes the shopping experience feel simultaneously more personal and exclusive. that’s not to say that they aren’t motivated by mannequin photography. try combining variations of mannequin and model product images to stay on budget but also catch the attention of this particular crowd. want to take your product images up another notch? this age demographic can also be motivated by 360° images so they can get a full view of the product before they commit to the purchase.

your product

not all products need to be modeled. flat lays and mannequin shots can often get the job done. but there’s also some products need more than that. you should consider which side your product falls into before settling the debate of model vs. mannequin. use models to display ready-to-wear products so that your audience can picture themselves in the garment. models help show movement and overall shape. remember that not everyone is built like a model. hire models that fit your overall brand identity. they should be able to help you tell your story authentically. mannequins can help hold the shape of your product and display it in all its glory. they are great for detailed and up-close shots. you can also use ghost mannequin photos to create clear-cut images that communicate value instantly.

your brand identity

what is your brand known for? what sets it apart from the sea of competitors? whatever it is – pick a product photo format that fits the bill! maybe your audience craves that beautifully diverse range of inclusive models that you’re known for hiring. or maybe you’re known for creating stunning 360° ghost mannequin images that allow customers to really picture themselves in your products. make sure that your final choice reflects and is consistent with your overall brand identity.

get started with product photography services

deciding between models and mannequins comes down to three simple things: your audience. your product. and your brand identity. get inside the minds of your target audience and think about how your products will be perceived depending on which image style you choose. and don’t forget to run those A/B tests to understand what helps drive sales conversions for your unique audience. but creating compelling product images takes time – regardless of whether you hire a model or stick with mannequins.
if you’re looking to ramp up your content game but still feel unsure where to start – check out these resources:

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