Tag: pictures

Models Vs Mannequins, the great debate rages on

Guest Blog Post: Thomas Kragelund is the CEO and founder of Pixelz, a leading product image solutions partner for internet retailers, bloggers, designers, photographers and webmasters worldwide. He has been working in ecommerce for the last 15 years While using professional models is a great way to showcase your products, it isn’t always cost-effective. The best … read more

Guest Blog Post:
Thomas Kragelund is the CEO and founder of Pixelz, a leading product image solutions partner for internet retailers, bloggers, designers, photographers and webmasters worldwide. He has been working in ecommerce for the last 15 years

While using professional models is a great way to showcase your products, it isn’t always cost-effective. The best alternative options are amateur models and mannequins.

When deciding between amateur models and mannequins, you’re largely factoring a risk/reward scenario, ongoing costs, and how much you’re willing to manage people.

Models, even amateurs, are more desirable because a live body helps a customer relate to your product and adds a higher degree of professionalism, but it can also make for an unpredictable process. Mannequins are great because they’re affordable, consistent, and easy to work with.

Let’s take a step-by-step look at how you can create quality DIY product photography with amateur models and then we’ll go over the advantages provided by mannequins.

DIY Product Photography with Amateur Models

If you want to take a professional-looking product photos with amateur models, follow these seven steps:

1. Cast a Model

If you’re going to use an amateur, there are three primary factors to consider: Your comfort level with the model, their long-term availability, and your apparel’s fit. It doesn’t matter how attractive your model is if your dress is dragging on the floor because the model is six inches too short to properly fit it.

models vs mannequins

Image credit: Pixelz

Comfort level: Communication is important and the easier time you have communicating your vision, the more efficient you will be when shooting. Also, the mood in the studio comes through in images: If you and the model are frustrated and unhappy, you’re not going to get good photographs.

Availability: Plan long-term. If you want a consistent look, especially since amateurs introduce more body type variation than professional models, it’s beneficial to use just one or two models throughout your photography. You will also find that later shoots become more efficient as you and the model increase your comfort level and understanding of each other.

Fit: How does your product look when worn by your model? Focus on the product’s appearance and make sure it’s flattering and requires as little adjustment as possible—you don’t want to create wrinkles because you’re pinning excessively to compensate for a poor fit. Sizing is key. Pick one size and use that same size throughout your photography for a consistent appearance and a more intuitive understanding of sizing by customers shopping your site later.

2. Setup Your Studio Space

Select a space that allows your model to move freely when following your instructions, but don’t choose an area so large that your model might wander out of frame. Designate specific backdrop boundaries to help herd the model and aim your camera.

Your exact equipment will vary depending on your needs and budget, but as a starting point a white backdrop like a roll of seamless white paper or a sheet is always a good idea. White backdrops are required by many ecommerce marketplaces, simplify post-production, and are easy to light in session. If you’ve never set up a studio before, here’s a guide to how to build your own photo studio on a bootstrapped budget.

Be sure to use a tripod. Camera stabilization allows for longer exposure times, improves consistency, and saves you time between shots because you don’t have to readjust your camera’s aim. The result is usually a sharper image and more of them.

3. Shape Your Light

Renting or buying lighting equipment is a big decision and a critical step when capturing product images. Lighting equipment is expensive, so take your time and invest wisely. It may not be necessary to buy equipment: If you’re not going to use a piece regularly, consider renting.

The most common product photography setups use 1-3 continuous softbox lights or 1-3 external speedlights and umbrellas. If you’re in the market, here’s a shopping guide for product photography lighting equipment.

When positioning your lights, try to mimic the softness of natural window light. Continuous softboxes do so automatically, but speedlights may be too harsh and direct even with umbrellas. If that’s a problem, angle your speedlights to either side of the model and bounce the light off nearby walls, like in the image above.

Test out your lighting setup and experiment with different options—but do it before the model arrives so you don’t waste valuable photoshoot time.

4. Position Your Model

When your model arrives on set, it’s time to communicate your vision and position them in frame. The simplest way to position them is with a classic “X marks the spot” approach. Tape an X on the floor either directly beneath their feet, or closer to the camera but in line with where they should stand (so they’re not constantly looking down). The X creates a target for the model so you don’t have to constantly ask them to move.

5. Shoot with Wide Framing

Leave space on all sides of your model when capturing the image. If you’re going to be selling your product in multiple marketplaces and channels, they may have different requirements for cropping and sizing. It’s much easier to crop down to someone’s standards than it is to try and scale up.

Even if you intend to crop out faces, arms, and legs, always keep them in frame. Again, it’s much easier to edit something out then to add it back in—if that’s even possible. You don’t want to have to reshoot.

6. Give Direction

Stay positive and build up your model’s confidence. Remember that they’re an amateur and that you want to shoot with them long-term, so help them realize their potential.

Give the model the instruction they need to help you fulfill your vision. Be clear and precise: For example, if you want the model to look in a particular direction, tell them to look at a specific object instead of pointing. Keep poses simple, so that you don’t distract from the product or lead your amateur out of their comfort zone.

7. Post-Production

After you’ve captured your images, it’s time to optimize them for the web. You can edit the images yourself with this post-production guide, or you can outsource the labor to free yourself to focus on the creative aspects of your business. At Pixelz, for example, we offer a feature-rich and easy to use interface for creating specifications, uploading images, comparing before-and-after images, and rejecting images that don’t meet your standards.

The goal of image editing is to help you create high quality and consistent imagery. Steps like removing the background will create a professional impression by cutting away your DIY studio and also minimizing file size, speeding up your page loading time. Consider using post-production to make lighting adjustments, touch up skin, remove wrinkles, straighten your product, and perform cropping and resizing.

So that’s how to stage a photoshoot with an amateur model. Now, let’s take a look at mannequins.

The Case for Mannequins

stylecampaign burberry mannequins

Image credit: StyleCampaign

Even for high end fashion brands, mannequins are a budget conscious product photographer’s best friend. You can buy them for anywhere from $60-$600, depending on your needs, and that’s it. There’s no overtime, no rate hikes, and they’re always available for reshoots.

Those are the most obvious differences, but there’s more.

Mannequins Make Product Fit Easy

Whether you’re dealing with a professional or an amateur, you need to spend time when casting a model, have them try on your clothes and see if you like the way it looks. You can improve fit with styling, using pins and clips and other techniques, but you need a good foundation to build on.

Alternatively, with a mannequin, you may only need a few moments of browsing online to find the perfect one. Finding the right fit is simplified when you can click around and see exact measurements. This is especially true if all your samples are the same size and you only need one mannequin.

You’ll have less flexibility with posing, but your mannequin won’t complain about being poked or prodded while you’re styling it.

There are many types of materials mannequins are made from, but none is necessarily superior to another. It’s about a different kind of “fit” here; make sure your mannequin style matches your brand.

Branding Possibilities

Mannequins don’t communicate branding as completely as a fully styled model, but they’re not a blank slate either. We can use Anthropologie as an example; until about two years ago, they used mannequins for most of their ecommerce images. Here’s how they used to look:

anthropologie mannequin

Image credit: Anthropologie

It’s clean, vintage, and subtly decorated by a knob at the top. You don’t want your mannequin to be distracting, but anything that’s being seen by a customer should reinforce your brand positioning. If you’re bohemian, use vintage mannequins. If you’re modern, get something more sleek.

There’s also a 3D technique that’s growing in popularity: the invisible mannequin.

If you want to remove all distractions while still demonstrating fit, you can use the invisible mannequin effect. With a little planning and Photoshop know-how, you can create the effect in post-production yourself. If you don’t have the time or the desire to do it yourself, you can offload post-production to a company like Pixelz.

invisible ghost mannequin

Image credit: Pixelz

An “invisible” or “ghost” mannequin image is basically a combination of two or more images. Your product should be photographed as normal, and then repositioned in such a way that any portion that was originally covered by the mannequin can be photographed. Later, the photos are combined into a single image. For more detail, read this invisible mannequin guide that will walk you from basic principles all the way through post-production.

Which Should You Choose?

Models are essential for projecting a professional standard, while mannequins are cost-effective and consistent.

Many boutiques and brands with limited budgets combine the two with great success. You may want to consider shooting a lookbook with professional models, and using those images throughout your store for branding. You can then use amateur models or mannequins for product images.

A mixed approach will give you the best of both worlds without forcing you to choose between branding and your budget.

What have your experiences been like with models and mannequins? Do you have any tips or questions? Let us know in the comments below!

shopify-author Thomas Kragelund

About The Author

Thomas Kragelund is the CEO and founder of Pixelz, a leading product image solutions partner for internet retailers, bloggers, designers, photographers and webmasters worldwide. He has been working in ecommerce for the last 15 years.

Taking Better Product Photos : Guest Blogger Heidi from Stuff N’ Junk By Heidi

Taking Better Product Photos</font color> Hey there! Heidi here from Stuff N Junk by Heidi! I am a long time seamstress, a handmade business Gypsy Spoonful shop owner, a homeschooling mom. What I am not is a photographer. When I was younger I would love taking photos with my 35 mm camera and then collage-ing … read more

Taking Better Product Photos</font color>

Hey there! Heidi here from Stuff N Junk by Heidi!
I am a long time seamstress, a handmade business Gypsy Spoonful shop owner, a homeschooling mom. What I am not is a photographer. When I was younger I would love taking photos with my 35 mm camera and then collage-ing the photos into memory albums, but with the invention of digital cameras (and camera phones) and thanks to a busy life in general, I stopped taking as many photos. I never really learned all of the ins and outs when it came to lighting and camera functions, so when it came time to open my first online shop, my photos were dark, fuzzy and down right horrible! Over the years I have picked up some tips and tricks when it comes to product photos, so today I wanted to share some of the tools and tricks I use and how my photos have “developed” over the years.
Taking Better Product Photos

one of my first “product photos”

Before I had an online shop, I made diaper bags and baby blankets for family and friends. After many years of encouragement, I opened my first shop and my photos were far from appealing. I knew that I needed them to be “light and bright” but I wasn’t really sure where to begin. I didn’t have the extra funds to purchase high-end photography gear and I didn’t know enough about photography to know what a good value would be. My photos were dark, rough and many times blurry.
After very little research, I began mimicking what I thought looked good in other online shops. I started seeing this trend of photos on wood backgrounds. With no understanding of how it all worked, I purchased some scrapbook paper and started taking product photos. Still dark, still out of focus, I was getting frustrated.
Taking Better Product Photos

A first attempt at indirect light. The background is white cotton fabric.

Taking better product photos

Another “early days” photo, background is scrapbook paper.
There are lots of classes and free videos to coach you through photography and editing, but I got lucky and had a little one-on-one help from someone I met on Facebook. With her help, I ordered some vinyl backdrops and got a light kit, I upgraded my cell phone and my photos started getting better.
Taking Better Product Photos

Lights, Camera, Backdrops!

Taking Better Product Photos

Getting ready to take photos with my phone (Galaxy 8 plus)

When it comes to the actual photos, I found that you don’t need an expensive, high-end camera! Most new cell phones today have cameras that are more than capable of getting a good product photo. A few tips I learned along the way:
  1. Take the case off of your phone when taking photos. Many times the case will cause a shadow around your camera lens, causing the photos to be darker than they should
  2.  Clean the lens before and during your photo shoot. The smallest smudge may not be visible when looking at the phone display, but when you go to edit your photos, they will be blurry.
  3. Take lots of photos! The great thing about digital photos is that you can take a lot of photos of the same thing and simply delete the ones that don’t cut it!
Taking Better Product Photos

Photo taken with my camera (Canon, Rebel T6)

Taking Better Product Photos

Photo taken with my phone

Let’s talk photo backgrounds…

There are a lot of opinions about photo backgrounds. Some people will always recommend a solid white background. Some will tell you to use mockups. Lifestyle photos versus flatlays are also something to think about.
So here’s my two cents:
  1. Your photo background should compliment your business aesthetic. Is your logo blue and green? Don’t use a black backdrop… Do you sell wall/home decor? Photographing your products outside on the grass is probably not going to help your customer imagine that piece in their home. No matter how much you sew, a cutting board is not a good backdrop. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on photo backdrops! Vinyl backdrops are a number one choice as they are specifically designed for taking photos. There are many shops now that offer a variety of sizes and styles to give you plenty of options. I have also used contact paper (dollar tree) and scrapbook paper. The downside to the contact paper is that some are glossy and will give a lot of shine behind your product, with scrapbook paper you are a bit limited with regards to size. If you are looking to use a plain white background, poster board can be a great budget-friendly option!
Taking Better Product Photos

My chevron background is 2’x2′ and matches my branding. Vinyl backdrops can come in so many patterns and sizes! The roll is contact paper I picked up from the dollar store.

2) Mock-ups and props. You always want your product to be the main focus of the photo. If you are using props, be sure they complement your product but they really should be a back seat item, never the focus. If you do mockups, be sure that you are clear in your description of what is included with purchase. If I go to a shop filled with digital mockups and no finished products, I generally don’t make the purchase.
3) Lifestyle photos. These can be great to help sell your online items. Since your customer can’t touch or try on your product while shopping, seeing your product in use helps customers imagine that item in their home. I myself and still working on getting lifestyle photos, so be sure to check back for more on this topic!

Lighting, Lighting, Lighting…

I struggle with lighting. I have always struggled with lighting. I feel like no matter what I do, my lighting is just never “right”. How in the world do we get “indirect light”? Although I am still working on getting that perfect lighting down, I do have tools that help!
1) Lightbox! These can be purchased or you can make one yourself. We’ll be doing a lightbox tutorial soon, so be sure to subscribe to the email list! Although I own a lightbox, I don’t use mine much as my backgrounds and products tend to be too large. Whether you are using indirect light or electric lighting, a lightbox helps filter and soften the lighting when taking your photos.
2) Stand lights. I have the light set listed below and I just can’t live without them! My lights have covers, as shown, which helps filter the light coming through so I’m not getting a bright glare on my product and background.
3) Sunlight. I struggled with good old Mother Nature for quite some time. I tried early morning, different afternoon hours, in the shade, outside, inside, nothing seemed to be working! After doing a little research I finally figured out that I needed to be at my living room window between 10 am and noon (your time and place will vary) to get the best indirect lighting for my photos. Even with that, I still use my stand lights to help with angled lighting.
Taking better product photos

I use a combination of indirect sunlight and two light stands.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to product photography is that you want it to represent your business and give your customer the impression they would get if they were standing in your brick and mortar shop.
Thanks so much for visiting the Gypsy Spoonful Blog : “Gypsy Blogful: A Journey In American Handmade”  and feel free to drop a comment or question!