The ultimate guide to fashion photography for ecommerce: Essential techniques and insights
Ecommerce fashion photography is not just a necessity – it's the pivot point that can turn browsers into buyers and boost your brand like never before. Stunning, professional photos allow your brand to compete with brick-and-mortar stores.
Consumers almost feel the texture of fashion items on their mobile or laptop screens or experience a live fashion show right on your website.
No wonder fashion and lifestyle brands looking to boost sales and stand out on the market invest time and effort in product photography. It doesn’t require tons of equipment. And thanks to digital technology and a deep understanding of customers’ needs, it helps direct-to-consumer brands improve conversion and engagement while making your brand recognizable.
In this article, you’ll get practical tips on how to successfully carry out a photo shoot for your brand.
1. The importance of ecommerce fashion photography
Good photography enhances the look of your products. Add to that a well-executed layout and you’ll get a brand identity that people recognize instantly. That’s why excellent images of your fashion collection are crucial for your business.
The photos on your site reflect your product and support you in gaining buyers’ trust. And the closer the pictures are to reality, the better. This principle will help you meet your customers’ expectations and avoid extra costs – products not matching the photo or description are cited among the most common reasons for returns. A study by Intent Lab shows that over 85% of respondents buying clothes or furniture online attach more weight to visuals than text.
What your products look like in pictures is a major factor in the decision-making process throughout the entire customer journey – not just in the initial purchase. Existing customers are 50% more likely to try new products and spend 31% more than new customers. You need excellent pictures across different channels to keep customers happy along the way.
2. Ecommerce fashion photo shoot step-by-step
Here, we’ll walk you through the photo shoot process, from building a mood board, through getting your tools ready, to polishing your images.
Start with a mood board
Whether working with a professional photographer or doing the photo shoot on your own, you’ll need to create a mood board — a collage of photos defining the visual language and identity you want to follow.
The mood board plays a significant role in your your marketing strategy because the photographs on your ecommerce store should align with your brand’s identity.
If you want to create a good mood board, combine inspirational elements, such as the images of similar brands, color palettes, fabric samples, and other visual cues of shades, tones, lights, and patterns — all qualities of the desired aesthetic. These elements will let you define the visual identity that suits your brand.
A professional photographer will come up with two or three paths for your visual identity. This way, they are able to try different ideas and choose the one that works best for your brand. Once you pick one, make sure you follow it across all your communication channels to ensure consistency.
Get the equipment ready and set the stage
Technology offers valuable tools to make your shots look excellent and professional without breaking your budget.
You can choose between digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, mirrorless or even smartphones. Preferably, it should have a macro lens or feature that you’ll need for close-ups highlighting the finer details of your products.
Next, get a solid-base tripod — this will save you some time keeping the camera in place while you adjust the lighting, product, or props. With a tripod, you get a clearer and sharper photo.
You also need some poster board, large sheets of paper, or paper rolls as a backdrop. It should be white or light gray so you capture the colors perfectly. That’s the easiest way to get a clean look, without any distraction. Also, if you go for paper rolls, secure the backdrop so it doesn’t move.
Proper lighting is a prerequisite to exceptional fashion photography. You can choose between natural and artificial lighting. If you’re using natural light, pick a time of the day when it’s the brightest. Arrange the products to bring out the best of them. We’ll cover more details later in the article.
If you’re working with a model or a mannequin, check if the fashion piece fits nicely. Use tape or pins if any adjustments are necessary.
Before the shoot, try various arrangements and styling of your set. Test your ideas and take a few reference pictures to see what would work for you.
Photo by Marta Schuster
Ensure good lighting
If you are doing a photo shoot in-house without a professional photographer, it’s good to rely on natural light — it looks great in pictures and is free. Ideally, put your product next to a big window, and let the sunlight illuminate it from the side.
Shooting in natural light may be challenging as it depends on factors such as time of the day, weather, and season. Using professional artificial lighting and shooting in a studio gives you more control over lighting.
Alternatively, depending on the budget, you can buy or rent a professional lighting kit. If possible, use a three-point kit with the light sources placed independently in different positions.
Let’s have a look at a possible setup:
The key light next to the camera and point it at the product.
The second light works as a fill light. It should be less bright and further away from the subject, and on the opposite side from the key light.
Backlight illuminates the product from behind, creating its outline and complementing the entire lighting setup.
Retouch and edit
In an ideal world, you should get everything right on camera. In reality, however, every photo needs some editing. Cropping, cleaning the background, and correcting colors are necessary to make plain product photography pop. This process is critical in photographing fashion and accessories for ecommerce websites. Here, time plays a big role in terms of costs, so it’s easy to overlook some shortcomings in the heat of your daily routine.
In the editing phase, you also take care of things like incorrect exposure and positioning.
Above all, when you retouch and edit your images, be consistent. If you have a series of images, retouch them similarly in terms of the lighting, cropping, leveling, exposure, etc. Also, ensure that the outcome is in line with your branding and visual language.
3. Ghost mannequins, flat lays, or models?
For your fashion photo shoot, you can choose from three photography styles: flat lays, ghost mannequins, or models.
In this simple but effective technique for shooting products arranged on a flat surface, directly from above. You can photograph one product or create a composition, which is pleasing to the eye, often symmetrical.
Example of a flat lay by EYTYS
This method lets you tell a story, by choosing a theme, then selecting and setting up additional props and decorative elements. If you take a p a piece of clothing, you can complete the composition with some accessories and some decorative elements.
Flat lays are also excellent for showcasing different product styles or variations.
An invisible mannequin, so-called ghost mannequin, technique involves photographing a piece of clothing from all angles, then editing out the mannequin in post-production. While visually impressive, modern photographers consider this effect a relic. The effect is a 3-D image, but the problem is it flies in a blank space.
Example of using a ghost mannequin by Holzweiler
The same goes for cut-out products on a white background. But even a slight natural shadow, as in flat lay photography, gives the customer an impression of looking at a real object. This effect is crucial in ecommerce so the brands can offer customers an experience close to the one in brick-and-mortar stores — the feel, 3-D look, weight, and thickness of the material.
That’s why it’s better to photograph products with a shadow. Or, ideally, also on models.
Hiring a professional model allows you to show how a blouse or dress drapes over the body, and how the fabric material behaves in motion. A live model grants more creativity for styling and exhibiting your fashion collection. Additionally, casting the right model will help your clients identify with your brand.
A model wearing a summer dress by HUNKYDORY
However, having a model for this task is the most complex, time-consuming, and expensive solution. Just imagine the amount of labor connected with taking tons of shots for every product variation, then retouching and editing your images. You’d also need a stylist and a well-organized team to manage the workflow.
Which approach is most cost-effective?
In terms of money and convenience, flat lays are the go-to option. They are faster, easier to set up, more flexible to arrange, require less space, and are useful for many types of fashion and lifestyle items.
4. Different types of shots in ecommerce fashion photography for varied purposes
Fashion photography is versatile, offering you numerous options to showcase your product. But different shots might play a different role. Read on to find which one does the trick for you.
The so-called hero image has only one item in the frame. It’s the most common and simple way to exhibit your fashion items and accessories for ecommerce websites, stores, and catalogs.
Example of an individual shot by DAGMAR
Individual shots grant you a clear look, enabling you to show every angle, color, and variation of the product. They’re suitable for promoting an individual product.
Group shots display several items which belong to one line-up or collection of products. If you want to showcase in one frame all product variations, be it size, color, fabric, etc., choose this type of shot.
Example of a group shot by Eton
But it’s also handy for displaying a variety of your offerings, allowing potential buyers to get familiar with your brand’s style and image.
Things like jewelry, sunglasses, belts, and other lifestyle products with complex details you want to highlight, need close-ups. They offer precision and accuracy in presenting specific features or intricate patterns of your products. Detailed shots work on their own or as a part of photos collection in catalogs and online stores.
Example of a detailed shot by Eton
Lifestyle shots add context and build a story around your products. They show how to wear your fashion items and accessories. If you focus on fashion products, it’s best to have a model for the shoot, arrange some props and prepare the location to set the scene.
Example of a lifestyle shot by Nudie Jeans
With lifestyle shots, you can add a personal touch to your campaign. You can apply them for ads, social media, or platforms such as Pinterest to boost awareness, engagement, and promote your brand.
5. What are the differences between photographing accessories and clothes?
The setup for a shoe photo shoot will be different than for a t-shirt, and will depend on whether you use a model or flat lay, what fabric the products are made of, and so on.
First, since shoes are intrinsically three-dimensional objects, they can be shot as if they were sculptures. To get an excellent photo, capture a sneaker or stiletto from all sides, and from the top. Consider adding a 360 view to exhibit your footwear from different angles.
When you photograph a t-shirt, using a model would be best, but it’s ok to use a flat lay — simply unfold the shirt neatly on a surface, and take a photo from the top. You could also pin it to a backdrop and photograph it like a painting.
As always, set proper lighting and present your accessories or fashion apparel in the most truthful way — so your consumers can get a view of the product that’s as realistic as possible.
When you’ve decided on the optimal setup for photographing your shoes and fashion products, it’s best to group products of a similar kind that require a similar setup, and photograph them accordingly.
This approach makes your work easier and more efficient because it allows you to repeat the same process without worrying about adjusting your lighting and setup for every shot. Conducting a full-scale photo shoot for your ecommerce store typically involves taking a lot of photographs, so developing a process will save you time and effort.
Ecommerce fashion photography good practices
With the photo shoot, it’s time to get some advice on how to make your efforts more successful.
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes
It can’t be stressed enough: always put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Help them better understand the product — get the idea of what the fabric feels like, and what its features are. Then, figure out how to put it into fewer than seven images, which is usually the maximum number of images that customers are willing to scroll through.
The visual language and consistency are fundamental
If you’re a new business, find your niche and a visual language that will make your brand recognizable. This requires following a certain aesthetic that your company defines with your creative director, graphic designer, or photographer. Then, stick to it across the board: in product photography, ad images, team member portraits, and social media content.
Consistency is imperative. This includes using the same background, lighting, styling, and editing techniques for all visuals. Because photography is integral to your brand’s identity. That consistency helps customers recognize you and impacts how they perceive you.
Bring the best out of your fashion product
How to make the product look amazing in pictures? First, check it for possible flaws, be it stains, creases, holes, or missing buttons. If you photograph clothes, iron or steam them to make the fabric look spotless. Such preparation will save a lot of time during post-production.
To highlight notable elements, such as logo, buttons, seams, and imprints, take a separate shot with a close-up.
Example of a close-up shot to emphasize product details, by Nudie Jeans
“Use a light that shows the texture well and get good light from top to bottom. Make sure the perspective or shooting angle doesn’t distort the product in the final image too much, especially in the total view. Also, get the colors right in post-production but avoid oversaturation.“ Marta Schuster Photographer and Content Manager
Put the fashion on display
Unlike portraits, you put fashion in the spotlight. Use lighting, angles, and composition to make fashion items stand out. Frame the outfit so that the details, patterns, and texture show up well, and ensure that elements like the background, lighting, and props don’t draw attention away from the clothing.
To put it simply, choosing a minimalist, non-distracting backdrop is what makes a colorful outfit pop. You can also play with bokeh, or position a model to highlight a particular detail of a garment, such as an intricate back design or the drape of a gown.
Take different angles of your fashion items
Your clothing images should tell more about them than a product description. That’s why capturing different angles of your product plays a big role in your online store’s photos. It’s best to offer your customer a comprehensive view of your product by displaying several images shot from different perspectives. This can also highlight some product features that aren’t visible in the hero image.
Make props count
Props can add flavor and depth to your images. They let you create a mood or a narrative, and help to convey your brand's message and aesthetic. For example, by using natural settings or reclaimed items as props you can subtly communicate your brand’s eco-consciousness.
However, too many props, or overly bright or complex ones can overshadow the clothing and accessories you're displaying. That’s why you need to pick props that complement the fashion items and blend seamlessly into the scene, reinforcing rather than competing with the style and theme of the shoot.
Choose the right photo shoot location
For plain product shoots, get a setup with consistent lighting. A photo studio with a flashlight is the first choice even if you want a look that imitates natural daylight.
Example of a photo shoot location by DAGMAR
“If you also want emotional photographs that suit the product and present it in use, find a second location. Sometimes it’s enough to do this for a part of the collection — for example just the highlight pieces. It freshens up the whole customer experience scrolling through the product range.” Marta Schuster, Photographer and Content Manager
6. Optimize your ecommerce fashion photos for the web and user experience
Getting perfect fashion photo shoots is just a part of the success. Your next task is to do everything in your power to help your customers find your brand’s photos and enjoy browsing through them.
If you want to improve your brand’s online presence, check our tips on how to optimize your fashion photos for the web.
Improve your SEO results
SEO keeps your ecommerce ball rolling. Remember to name your images properly — explain briefly what the photo is about. Add specific product descriptions and alt tags. Finally, include meta descriptions with your keywords. In this way, you will make it easier for search engines to find your site. And when the search query matches the image, your photo will more likely display in search results and bring the customer to your online store.
Make your pictures customer-friendly
Choose large and high-resolution photos. We’ve already mentioned the value of quality photos, but this aspect impacts more than branding. It also influences the customer experience. Shoppers prefer bigger pictures as they give them more details about products and increase the likelihood of a purchase, as revealed by the eBay Research Labs’ study.
Moreover, post only top-quality photos on your website, and preferably upload them in JPG format. This lets you keep the quality high but won’t overload your website with heavy images. It means your site will load faster, which will improve the customer experience.
In the end, think about making the images shareable. Because shoppers have multiple devices and social media platforms, optimizing photographs for sharing them with everyone is an important step.
Give detailed information
Photographs on your website go beyond aesthetics, they give customers information. For a single product, you’d need around six to seven photos that present it from all possible angles. Publishing fewer images won’t give consumers enough information. Scientists from the eBay Research Lab noticed that “by giving buyers more complete information from different views of objects, the probability of success is increased.”
However, you need to strike the right balance. After all, you don’t want to overwhelm consumers, and your website, with too many of them.
Display all possible color variations
It’s not enough to include detailed descriptions and information about available product options. When it comes to fashion and lifestyle products, pictures tell more than any copy.
Show your customers every color option of a given fashion item. Colors and tones might be difficult to describe and not everyone knows what fuchsia or anthracite look like.
What's hot in ecommerce fashion photography
Fashion brands in ecommerce can't afford to fall behind when it comes to trends in photography. You're in a visual industry and your images will influence customers' purchasing decisions. Here are some top trends worth following:
With the expansion of social media, which allows users to share their real experiences, customers want unfiltered, real content. The shift towards candid, natural shots that capture genuine emotion and embrace body positivity is influencing ecommerce fashion photography. This is reflected in the industry's focus on working with models that have unique, characterful features that traditional standards might deem imperfect.
Authenticity calls for ditching overly Photoshopped or manipulated images in favor of realistic and untouched photos that truthfully represent both the product and the model. However, it doesn’t mean that photographers have stopped editing their photos; it’s about limiting the amount of retouching to make styling consistent, correcting light and color errors, cropping, etc.
Diversity and inclusivity
We’re seeing more and more conscious efforts to portray a variety of individuals across different races, ethnicities, body types, ages, and abilities. To cater to their global customer base, many fashion brands want their product photography to feature models of various skin tones wearing the same outfits to show how they might look in different complexions. The trend also fits in with the desire for authenticity mentioned earlier.
Diversity goes along with inclusion and involves showcasing models of different body sizes and types, instead of just the thin models that are usually seen in fashion. Some brands also work with models with visible disabilities or from different age groups. It's all about leveling up the fashion game and connecting with customers on a real, human level.
Examples of promoting diversity and authenticity in fashion photography by Djerf Avenue
360-degree product photography
In 360-degree product photos, you take pictures from different angles and allow for more dynamic shots to produce a more immersive and engaging experience. This allows fashion brands to replicate the in-store experience online for their customers so they can make informed decisions.
But most importantly, these shots offer your customers a better view of your product. 360-degree shots instill confidence in customers because they know what exactly they’re buying.
With more brands embracing the technology, it's a trend that looks to stick around.
Here is an example of Craft Sportswear's online store with excellent product images, including 360-view photos.
A minimalist approach
A minimalist style uses the fewest and simplest elements to create maximum impact. In the right hands, this approach can be incredibly effective – it appeals to a wide range of viewers and can have a powerful effect on the audience.
In practice, minimalism means less “noise” – zooming in on the product rather than the surroundings and props, and creating a clean, sophisticated, and modern aesthetic. That involves employing a simple, solid-colored background, using lights to highlight the product's details without creating harsh shadows, and maximizing space to give your products room to breathe. Brands often embrace minimalist photography for showcasing accessories and jewelry, letting viewers perceive the fine details of the products.
Example of minimalistic photography by CHIMI
AI-powered cameras and editing
Artificial intelligence is taking the world by storm. It's no surprise it has found its application in photography. Some popular tools, like Adobe Photoshop and Skylum's Luminar, are already AI-powered, which simplifies the editing process.
Modern cameras also employ AI technology, for example for advanced autofocusing. It’s no longer just face and eye detection. Some cameras use AI subject recognition, which means that the camera can tell if a human, animal, vehicle, or insect is being captured and adjust the settings accordingly.
Blurred motion photography
Blurred motion photography, often called motion blur, refers to photography in which the movement within a scene is intentionally blurred. You would normally set a fast shutter speed to capture sharp details in most photography. But here, a slow shutter speed is used to create the blur. This way the photograph conveys motion and action, bringing clothes to life.
This technique is a great tool for fashion brands because the fashion world isn’t entirely static. Just think of a model wearing a dress – it can flow, flutter, and swing. And the motion blur captures that, making images more exciting and dynamic. Brands can creatively experiment with this method and create stunning photos.
Example of blurred motion photography by Holzweiler
How fashion photography shapes ecommerce success
In the lifestyle and fashion industry, where products’ visual side matters a great deal, great photos play a big part in customers’ decision to purchase. Since online consumers miss the look and feel of fashion items, photographs have to do the job. That is, they must help consumers imagine how soft or delicate the fabric is, or whether a leather bag is shiny or matte.
Consequently, brands that aspire to succeed in the ecommerce game need to invest in excellent photography. Original, large images contribute to improved conversion and increase the chance of staying at the top of consumers’ minds, encouraging them to return to your store. When done well, a photo gallery on your site communicates your unique selling points and lets you earn the trust of customers.