Clothing Photography: Tops, Pants, and the Like A crash course in clothing staging and selling

You’ve gathered an inventory to start selling clothing online. This article will help you stage your apparel and accessories in their very best light. Here’s how to take product photos of tops, pants, and the like.

Presentation Methods

There are many different avenues one might take to display clothing for selling online. We’ve laid out the most popular options and what they’re most applicable for:

Flat-laid

Example of a clothing flatlay

Clothing laying flat is becoming more and more common across all selling platforms, from Poshmark to Amazon. It's great for smaller shops since it's one of the simplest presentation methods to set up. We'll dive deeper into dos and don'ts for this method later on.

Model

Example of a clothing model

This method remains one of the most popular styles of garment photography, capturing the most realistic look of your pieces. It is best used when presenting the items as an entire outfit.

If you're selling your own clothes, you are already the perfect subject. Posing is endless, plus you are already an expert in how to make the garment look its best. How do you pull this off? If you have someone on hand to stand in as a coachable clothing photographer, that is the ideal solution. Otherwise, a remote shutter can be found inexpensively online and is easily hideable.

Mannequins

Example of a clothing mannequin

These tools have been falling out of style in recent years, and seem to be most prevalent in the wholesaler space. It is best for a mass amount of the same style of clothing, or unique sizing that is not well-captured in a flat lay and a model is not available.

Ghost mannequins

Example of a ghost mannequin

A ghost mannequin in action — courtesy of MannequinMadness.com

These are a newer alternative which can counteract the artificial nature of a traditional mannequin. Pieces can be removed to leave only a structure that is completely hidden underneath the clothing. This is a great way to easily showcase both the outside and inside of your garment. A range of the ghost mannequins options available for purchase, as well as guides on how to stage and light them, can be seen at MannequinMadness.com.

Dress forms

Example of a clothing dress forms on Etsy

From the CharmAngell Etsy shop

A dress form evokes a couture appeal to your clothing. As their name suggests, these are forms that dresses and other clothing can be constructed on. A selection of dress forms can also be seen at MannequinMadness.com. Normally found on platforms which cater to such work like Etsy, it is clearly a great option if the piece was made on the form itself. A dress form generally works great for modeling bespoke or handmade apparel.

Hangers

Example of a clothing photo on a hanger

Hangers are also a popular way to display clothes on clothes reseller sites like Poshmark and for smaller scale sellers on Etsy. It's a very simple way stage and photograph clothes.

Preparation

Similar to step 0 in our Jewelry Photography piece, preparation and care is essential for effective apparel photography. A little bit of ironing goes a long way. If you have garments that can't be ironed, a steamer may be a good investment as it can essentially replace the iron for all your pieces. We don't have a recommendation for a specific one, but here is a highly rated Amazon pick.

Example of shirt before and after has been ironed, it's a huge difference

A little steaming or ironing goes a long way.

All about flat lays

Equipment

It's pretty difficult to capture clothing laying flat without an overhead tripod, you either have to hold your camera by hand or place your regular tripod over the item and point it down. We found that the cost of an overhead tripod adapter was absolutely worth it for its ease of use.

Overhead tripod adaptor

We specifically bought an adapter that screwed onto our regular tripod. Here's the one we used available on Amazon, and we have had good luck with it. We haven't had to use a counter weight, but if your camera is heavier or your tripod is wobbly, we would recommend weighting the tripod or adding a counterbalance to the adapter. If you're crafty, here's a way to construct your own from common hardware store supplies; we haven't tried it ourselves, but seems to work decently well in the video demonstration.

You can also purchase an overhead tripod, that is built to tilt for overhead photos. Given our luck with the adaptor, we haven't tested this option either.

Staging

After either steaming or ironing your piece of clothing, lay it down on a white background. A common technique to give a shirt a better look is to stuff it with paper. You can use gift-bag tissue paper or newspaper (we used a combination of both), then play with the shape of the garment until you get a layout that looks good to you. Oftentimes, the top part of the sleeve where it meets the body of the shirt will be tucked in a bit to give the sleeve position a more natural look.

Example of shirt before and after has been stuffed with some paper, it's a huge difference

A little paper stuffing creates a more appealing effect.

Lighting setup

We had great luck flanking each side with softboxes. Play around with either placing them 90° from the ground or slightly overhead. You can also use a single softbox and flank the other side with a reflector.

Our lighting setup for a flat lay shirt

Below is an example of the difference between the two. The softboxes were placed flanking the pants slightly overhead. As you can see, the biggest difference is how the light brings out the wrinkles of the fabric. Your lighting setup should depend on how much you want to showcase the natural texture of your apparel.

Our lighting setup for a flat lay shirt

Modeling yourself

What's really helpful to have when modeling your own clothing is a remote shutter. You can get one on Amazon for around $60 that will work on any DSLR and a cheaper one that’s camera specific.This can really speed up the process of apparel photography; just make sure the shutter is obscured by your body or positioned away from the clothing to be clipped out. Alternatively, you can also use your camera's timer function. This will also work just fine, it's just more inconvenient and stressful to make sure you're posed correctly in the shot in just a few seconds.

Our lighting setup for a flat lay shirt
Clip Tip:

This might be one of the few times where it’s better to leave your camera on auto mode. It’s hard to shoot on manual when you’re the subject, and there’s no easy way to play around with the settings.

Lighting for clothes modeling

For this shot, we set staggered two softboxes on top of each other. One is more to the side and one is more to the front of the model. You can also flank each side with a softbox to soften out the shadows from the wrinkles. Play around with the positioning to see what gives you the best result for your garment photography.

Our lighting setup for a modelled shot

How to use a hanger for clothes photography

Staging a hanger is incredibly easy. All you need is a hook or nail on the wall, then simply hang the hanger from it. We also tried hanging the hanger from fishing line attached to the ceiling, away from the wall; this turned out to be less than fruitful as the apparel became limp without the back of the wall to prop it up.

Lighting

Our lighting setup for a dress on a hanger

We angled 2 soft boxes 33°-45° degrees and 2-3 feet away from the article of clothing hanging from the wall on a hanger.

If you don't have softboxes or good natural lighting, and you've resorted to your camera's flash, we would recommend softening the light with a diffuser. You can either use a white plastic bag and cover the flash, otherwise here's a way to make one out of printer paper for your DSLR pop up flash.

The differences between using a diffused and non-diffused flash on a dress

A diffused flash produces softer shadows.

Adding a bespoke quality to your clips

If you're not selling on a platform that requires a white background (i.e. Amazon) and you're selling handmade or vintage clothing you might consider using a colored background. This will give you a professional look that doesn't look manufactured.

We love the way pastels look as a background for clothing products. Here’s a pastel palette you can give a try with your more colorful apparel.

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#C5D6DB

#F3E0E4

#FE3F0E5

example of a dress product photo with different pastel backgrounds

Here’s a dark neutral palette you can give a try with your more neutral colored apparel.

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#4D3B37

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example of a shirt product photo with different dark colored backgrounds

And here’s the settings we used to create this look of the floating hanger.

Final Clothing Photography Tips

Platforms like Instagram and Poshmark have instilled some bad habits for properly showing clothes for sale. At the end of the day, a buyer needs to be informed, so make sure your clothing photography captures the entirety of the garments, not just stylistic pieces.

Apparel of all kinds must be shot from multiple angles to get the full picture. Pay particular attention to side profiles and fabric details as they are easily missed. It's also a good idea to take a picture of the brand tag and fabric label so the customer is fully informed of what they're buying.

tl;dr

If you're on a budget, put your clothes on a hanger and photograph it on the wall with either natural light or a diffused flash. If you have can afford it, get a ghost mannequin and light it with some LED-bulb softbox lights.

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