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Clothing & Fashion Photography
How do you photograph clothing on a model, mannequin or folded flat?

Taking good quality pictures of clothing can be tricky.  The battle to eliminate or control harsh shadows can seem endless, and soft, even lighting can be a real problem. Figuring out how best to display the clothing so it appears appealing to shoppers is also a challenge. Here are a variety of tips to display your clothing for great results ranging from the most basic folded display to the most professional fashion model. There are some simple techniques which even amateur photographers can use to obtain excellent results with minimal effort.  The following examples show several basic setups as well as a more elaborate fashion model set-up that should allow photographers at all levels to achieve results they can be proud of.

The easiest technique to learn and have success with, is shooting clothing flat. Some great examples of flat or folded clothing photography can be seen online at GAP kids and L.L.Bean web stores. This is the last technique we will focus on in this tutorial. Keep in mind that these companies hire experienced photo clothing stylists to spend countless hours fussing over the tiniest layout details. A great deal can be learned from studying their final layout selections. The first technique covers use of a live fashion model.

The folded technique has some basic limitations worth considering. We are shooting from "above", so we have limits as to how high we can raise our camera safely, using a horizontal tripod. If the clothing is large, the edges may inadvertently get cropped from the cameras view if the camera is too low. For a dress you may need to raise the camera to a height of 6' to 8'; although by 6' you may find you need a small step ladder to see through the viewfinder. Large chains ie. L.L.Bean have tall, sturdy scissor lifts, with large format cameras mounted on them specifically made for this purpose. These allow the camera to be raised to almost any height. Now lets look at some specific situations.

Full body shots of live models or mannequins requires large lights. And, although they may seem more difficult to work with live models should really be shot with strobe (flash) lights which will freeze any motion. Our Fashion and Clothing Photography Kits have a choice of large continous lights for shooting folded clothing or strobes for live models.

Photographing clothing on a model or mannequin will create a more striking image and the clothing will lay correctly

For lighting a mannequin or live model we recommend using very large soft boxes or umbrellas. We have found that umbrellas are easier to work with than large soft boxes so we have included a giant 6 ft. umbrella with a strobe light in our Fashion and Clothing Photography Kit. Since one light is the main light and the second light is a fill, the second umbrella can be smaller than the first. The large umbrella with strobe light is positioned at about a 45 degree angle to the model with its center post at about shoulder height. This should evenly distribute lots of soft light on the model’s clothing. The second smaller umbrella and strobe can be positioned a little lower and more to the side of the model. The second light does not need to be as bright as the first. The purpose of the second light is to fill in the dark side of the model, but we don’t want it to be equally bright or it will take some of the dimension out of our image and make it look flat. So the fill light can be a weaker strobe, or a strobe set to a lower setting, or both.


Using really big soft boxes (say 4ft. x 6 ft.) or a really big fashion umbrella will give the clothing nice soft lighting. Even though we normally prefer to work with continuous lights rather than strobe (flash) lights, large soft boxes or large umbrellas are best lit with strobe lights rather than continuous lights, especially when shooting a live model. To get enough light to fill a really big umbrella or soft box requires tons of light, which means using either some very hot (unpleasant to work with ) lights or an unwieldy number of fluorescent bulbs. The other advantage of strobe lights is that it can freeze motion. Even the steadiest model is likely to move a little, and the slightest movement will blur the image. Strobes not only have the advantage of being much brighter than continuous lights but they will eliminate any motion blur. The downside of using strobe lights is that you will need to use a remote to fire the strobes and your camera will need a hotshot to hold the remote.

But when it comes to shooting a live model or a full size mannequin, strobe lights are really the way to go. Huge soft boxes or giant fashion umbrellas work equally well. But huge soft boxes can be a pain to set up and take down. Umbrellas are less expensive, much easier to set up and take down.  

Steam or iron clothing to remove all wrinkles and creases

If you have never used a steamer before, then be sure to view the videos of using a steamer on the Jiffy Steamer web site. They show how to run the steamer along the front and inside of each piece removing wrinkles along the way. I have burned plenty of clothing in the past, by holding a hot iron on one spot for too long. So for me, working with a small steamer was a real treat. Also, there you can't add new creases by mistake, as commonly occurs when ironing.


Let's begin with a packaged, folded product since this is how many of you will begin. After removing the shirt from the package we used a good quality hand-held travel size steamer to remove the wrinkles.

Once the shirt is removed from the package it's covered in wrinkles. The wrinkles, if left un addressed, will really detract from the final image. Taking a few extra minutes in the beginning to get the clothing ready for shooting, will really payoff in the end. Don't skimp on ironing or steaming.

The best thing to do is to iron or steam the wrinkles out. We used a highly rated hand held travel steamer. This little travel size Jiffy Esteam worked like a champ, and the wrinkles were gone in a flash. 

Packaged shirt

Steaming out the wrinkles

Handheld steamer

Use soft boxes for diffused, even lighting & softer shadows

You may have noticed if you are shooting without a diffuser, that your shadows are too strong, and may be overwhelming your product. Professional photographers use soft diffused lighting to get the best results. The new Tabletop Studio Kuhl Lites are unique in design, they hold four 30W bulbs each and include a removable diffusion panel. The choice of using 1-4 bulbs provides a huge amount of flexibility for lighting.

kuhl lite setup

Flat art photography inherently poses certain lighting challenges. The lights used need to provide smooth, even lighting over a very large, broad, flat surface.

To achieve balanced, even lighting we will use two large 20" soft boxes {Kuhl Lite120's}. The set shown here included optional diffusion panels that can be attached to the front to soften the light.

Since our items are flat, it's fine to position two equal light sources on opposite sides of the clothing. Normally this flattens an image. But our items are truly flat; like a poster, so flat lighting is fine.The large size of the soft boxes complements the large size of the clothing to provide very smooth, even coverage.

Reliable softbox brand
kuhl 120
Kuhl120 with four 30W bulbs
kuhl 120 side
Shown with diffusion cover

Use a short focal length lens to maximize the area of view

You may not be shooting the Grand Canyon, but you'll still want a wide angle lens for photographing clothing. I used a 28-100mm lens for most of these examples, but a nice 18-55mm would work great too. Be aware that as you go down closer to 18mm your clothing images may show some signs of warping. Just pay attention to the images as you go, to be sure your not using too wide an angle for the item. Let the results be your guide if your lens is adjustable.

jean photography

Use a camera that has a short focal length {wide angle} lens. This will allow you to see a larger area of your subject; the entire piece of clothing.

A wide angle lens views a larger "wider" area  vs. a zoom or macro lens that narrows the view to a smaller section of space.

In this case, the wide angle lens fits the entire pair of jeans into view. We used a 18-55mm lens for this photo, and it worked well.

Your camera should be positioned directly above the clothing. If the tripod is raised up high, use a small step ladder to safely look through your cameras viewfinder.

camera horizontal
Horizontal tripod
horizontal tripod
Horizontal tripod
Horizontal tripod

Use a tethered camera to computer set-up for a faster workflow

It is convenient to use a tethered setup between camera and computer to control the camera. Many cameras include this software for free. In this case you can instantly view the image on the computer screen, allowing for faster feedback. This is a time saver in most cases. The only real financial investment needed is the cable long cable that runs from the computer to the camera. Most recent camera models include the software for free. It is priceless to see your lighting real-time on a big computer screen.

A tethered setup allows you to operate the camera directly from your computer or laptop system without leaving your seat.

Well that may be a slight exaggeration, but it does save you time by providing a much larger view of your photo immediately.

The software allows you to adjust your camera settings such as exposure, depth of field, and file format etc. right from your laptop desktop.

Although we have not yet discussed shooting using mannequin, If you place your mouse over the left image you can see this dress on a mannequin we will discuss using later on this page. Getting a good photo using a mannequin is much easier than learning to shoot a live model.

tethered setup
Tethered set-up
tethered camera
Two Kuhl lites
camera tether
Flat clothing photography kit

Attractive styling of clothing takes practice & patience

Surf the web a little doing some research on styling you like for items similar to yours. Patagonia & the Gap spend a fortune on clothing stylists, so why not look at their item layouts if they are similar to yours. Knowing what you would like your piece to look like in the final image is a good idea before you begin. If you don't have an idea in mind you could spend hours fussing over the stuffing etc. without getting a good shot. Save yourself some time and frustration by doing your homework first. What do other sellers do with similar products that work? You will soon see a styling pattern emerge for skirts, shirts, pants, dresses.

skirt photography

Place your mouse over the left photo to see where we placed some stuffing. The placement we chose created shadows in that area which gives the image a more life like appearance.

I cannot stress styling enough. Study your favorite clothing web site photos for tips on how to arrange your clothing on the boards.

Tissue paper and cotton batting make nice fillers for clothing to help give the articles a little life and add dimension.If your item has tags be sure your tags are facing front so they can be read.

In some cases it may be helpful to pin the article to the board to hold it's position. This is only necessary if you are struggling with getting it to keep from changing position. The final skirt layout is cute and perky.


packaged skirt
Packaged skirt
fix tag
messy skirt layout
needs styling

Wrinkle free garments look more desirable for purchase

Photoshop tricks can do many wonderful things for tweaking a final image but I have yet to see it remove wrinkles from a shirt! If you plan to shoot lots of clothing then you'll be thrilled with the little Jiffy esteam hand held travel steamer that I used. The travel size is about the size of a coffee thermos and can steam 5 to 10 articles of clothing in between refills, depending on their size. It is not industrial size, but I found it was not as messy to use as the larger commercial size. The commercial size is the size of a vacuum cleaner. If you are shooting larger articles of clothing such as dresses you may benefit from the commercial size.

clothing photography

Place your mouse over the image on the left to see what it looked like before it was steamed and "stuffed" with cotton batting. Examine the image carefully to see how our cotton batting that was stuffed beneath the neckline edge.

I used cotton ball size batting to raise the neckline front edge just enough to create the shadows seen in the photo on the left. This stuffing produced a very nice separation of the neckline front from the neckline back.

The little soft shadow created by simply raising the front neckline edge slightly, helps the shirt pop more.



packaged shirt

creased & wrinkled

steamed & styled

Use a high quality wig on the mannequin for added realism

Most times mannequins will look fake, but you can add realism if you purchase and use a high quality wig and then crop your final photo just above the mannequinn chin. It looks quite lifelike. Nothing beats a high quality fashion model but sometimes it's just not in the budget and you need to be more creative. A good mannequin with wig combo can work in a pinch.

Place your mouse over the image on the left to see the fake mannequin face that was cropped out.

If you decide to use a mannequin select an attractive style that fit's the clothing you plan to photograph. A good quality wig, as shown left.

The face of a mannequin always looks a bit fake. Just crop images above the chin for close-ups, so the face is not part of the image. The head and face look fine in small thumbnail size images.

Dressing the mannequin is tricky, the arms & legs need to be removed and reattached as you struggle to get the clothing on and off for each shot.

* Tip - Change the wig for a new look!

uncropped with head
sweatermannequin backside

new wig = whole new look

How do you strip out the background to get pure white ?

If you decide you want a completely stripped out, page white, background, it is easy. Photoshop elements, the scaled down less expensive version of Photoshop, will do the trick. Select the background using the selection tool set to 25-30. Inverse the selection to highlight the mannequin. Create a new layer of just her. Then fill the layer below with white. Michaelstars website uses this trick for the entire site. It's up to you! It is worth looking at backgrounds on websites you like to see what they used.

how to photograph sweaters

Adobe Photoshop Elements uses the same simple process to remove backgrounds as Photoshop. Don't be afraid to try this yourself if you have not yet done so.

There are countless online video tutorials available now to hold your hand through the steps of removing a photo background.

If you light the background, and use white, it will be very easy to select the background for removal. There is no right or wrong way to portray clothing. Just choose the style you prefer. You'll see different choices for backgrounds at nordstrom, GAP, Michael Stars, Patagonia etc. Look at these online stores to decide what's right for your store.


cashmeres sweather photo
with background
cashmere photographybackground removed
sweater photography
white background

Fashion & Clothing Photography Tools

Clothing photography has many different subgroups that make it difficult to put together the perfect clothing photography kit for all situations. Many sellers specialize in just a a section of the clothing market such as woman's clothing, children's or men's. The equipment recommendations change slightly with the different categories. The setups below cover a broad spectrum of needs from shooting live models, mannequins or flat/folded clothing.

Be sure to choose the right tools for your photo strategy. If you are using a live model strobes are a MUST.


Fashion Photography Kit

  • Two powerful strobes (flash)
  • One giant 6' fashion shooting umbrella
  • One 43" fashion fill umbrella
  • Wireless remote control
  • One 8' light stand w/swivel bracket & sand bag
  • One 6' light stand with sand bag

    Flat clothing photography kit

  • Tripod with horizontal arm
  • 2 Kuhl Lite 120's 20” softbox reflectors
  • 2 removable diffusion panels for the Kuhl Lites
  • Complete light heads with 8 Trumpet Top bulbs
  • Two fully adjustable 6’ light stands

    * Helpful Accessories

  • 30x40 foam board 3/16"
  • Camera tether
  • Tissue paper for stuffing
  • Straight pins for mounting
  • Cotton batting for stuffing
  • Wide angle lens
  • Iron or steamer
  • Photoshop or Elements
  • Mannequin
  • Attractive fashion model
  • * These items are sold separately