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Online fashion merchandising is where art meets analytics. And, when fashion and business intersect, it’s important to remember they are complementary forces. You don’t have to sacrifice style to spreadsheets, nor must you ignore data during a photo shoot.
Online fashion merchandising boils down to two main components: styling and product photography. The result? Beautiful product images that will showcase your product and increase sales.
To ensure you have the best possible ecommerce images, you must start with a plan. Apparel photography is a lot more than just point and click. Professionals spend hours on an ecommerce photography studio setup alone and follow a process all the way through post-production image editing to publishing online. If you want apparel images that are both beautiful and effective at generating sales, you should follow these seven best practices.
1. Prepare the Garment
You want your products to look their best so you can showcase them to customers. Unfortunately, clothing can become wrinkled, creased and even begin to look worn from storage and transport. Sometimes, clothing samples are received in old, tattered or even unfinished conditions.
Preparing garments to be photographed is a crucial starting point for photographing apparel, and yet many apparel photographers skip this step and prefer to rely on Photoshop to fix wrinkles, stains and other mistakes accrued while storing or transporting the product. However, Photoshop isn’t magic — it takes time and expertise to master advanced editing techniques, and all edits that you make are “destructive” to the image, compromising image quality. Photoshop is a great tool to add final touches and color correction to your images, but don’t let it become a crutch.
It’s important to thoroughly examine your product from top to bottom, inside and out. Are there any tags or stickers that need to be removed? Has the product become wrinkled or creased during storage? Use the resources that are available to you to fix other damages and distractions that you might come across. In particular, lint rollers and tape are great for removing dust and strings from fabrics.
In some cases, samples are wrong upon arrival due to last-minute design changes (e.g. fit, colors, patterns, etc.). Make sure that you understand design changes for each garment so that you can edit the sample accordingly in Photoshop or make the decision to wait to photograph the actual sample that will be sold.
2. Use a Mannequin or Live Model
Many apparel photographers overlook the importance of communicating shape and fit to customers by photographing garments being worn by mannequins or live models. Instead, they simply lay clothing flat or photograph it on hangers. This is a huge fashion merchandising mistake.
Photographing a garment on a mannequin or a live model is perhaps the best way to showcase that garment’s shape and encourage customers to visualize themselves wearing it.
While models make clothing come to life, a mannequin is the next best thing for a photo shoot on budget or strict time restraints. Allowing the customer to see the shape and natural draping of each product will give them a realistic idea of how the garment will fit on them — not to mention a higher-quality shopping experience. A little styling can go a long way toward effectively merchandising images, too. If your garment seems to be too big for your mannequin, try fitting it closer to your mannequin by pinning it and tucking your garment so that it is styled to fit properly.
Photographing your products on mannequins also allows you the opportunity to create a professional post-production technique called the ghost mannequin effect. With Photoshop and a little bit of planning, this effect allows you to take multiple photographs of a product on a model or mannequin and then combine the photos to remove the model or mannequin in post-production processing. The result is a lifelike image that keeps the focus firmly on your product.
3. Provide Enough Imagery
A low image count is one of the worst fashion merchandising mistakes you can make. Contrary to popular belief, one or two images of each product is simply not enough to give customers an accurate feel for the quality of your inventory. Therefore, it’s important to give customers as much information as possible about each product by uploading at least three images per product — and preferably five to 10. At the very least, show a front, side and back view of the product, along with a detail shot.
Photograph as many angles of your products as possible. Consider supplementing with close-ups of important product embellishments, such as buttons, zippers or embroidery.
The more images of your product that you provide, the more the customer will come to understand about the product. This will provide them with a better shopping experience and demonstrate the quality of your products, as well as ensure that the customer is satisfied when the product arrives, reducing returns and saving you money.
4. Use Enough Light
Don’t be that ecommerce retailer whose product images look dingy and underexposed. Bright lighting should be one of your biggest priorities when you start testing photos. Ensuring that you expose images correctly will showcase products’ colors and other details accurately, as well as make your inventory appear clean and professional.
Not very good lighting. Light from a lit room. High Quality Lighting. Lighting Kit Lit.
All clothing is different and having the right lighting will allow customers to appreciate the unique facets of your garments. Ample lighting also allows your camera to produce higher-quality images with less “noise” or “grain” and more sharpness.
The best way to ensure that you have sufficient lighting is to rent artificial lighting equipment. But, in the event that renting equipment is not in your budget, try using natural light from a large window and a reflector panel made from foam board or test out one of our sample setups.
5. Use the Correct Camera Settings
If your camera settings are wrong, then no amount of Photoshopping expertise will be able to make your images look professional. DSLR cameras can produce photographs of extremely high quality, but incorrect settings can be detrimental. Make sure that you understand ISO, aperture and white balance before you photograph your products. Plan on using your smartphone instead of a DSLR? We’ve got you covered too.
In short, ISO measures how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. Make sure that your ISO is no greater than 600-640. Higher ISOs produce distracting “noise” or “grain,” which are grayish or colored speckles that make photographs look more filmic. The higher you go, the worse the noise will be. More than that, at higher ISOs, images begin to look soft. Using a tripod will allow you to keep your ISO at 100 or 200 for optimal clarity and sharpness.
ISO 640 ISO 6400
Aperture, which is represented by the F number on your camera settings (e.g. f/16, f/2.8), controls how much of your subject is in focus. Generally, the larger the aperture number, the more aspects of the image will be in full focus. In our above example, more of the garment is sharper at f/22 than it is at f/3.5. In general, especially if you are using a tripod (recommended) make sure to set your aperture higher than f/11; this will allow for all aspects of your products to be in complete focus. Your ideal aperture depends on distance from the object, however. So, if you aren’t using a tripod and are changing distance from the product often, this may need to be readjusted.
Aperture f/3.5 Aperture f/22
White Balance Definition
White balance refers to the color cast of the image. The color cast of an image is typically a thin layer of unwanted color, affecting the whole of the image.
Orange and red hues are generally referred to as being warmer, with purple and blue hues as cooler. The color cast of an image depends on the light source being used and the camera’s white balance setting, which controls how the camera interprets the colors that it records. There are many different types of light sources, but the most common are tungsten, fluorescent, LED and natural sunlight.
Tungsten Fluorescent Flash Auto
You can set your white balance according to the type of light source that you are using or set your white balance to AUTO and let the camera decide. Whatever you choose, don’t forget about white balance or you may find yourself hard-pressed to try to recreate accurate colors in Photoshop.
6. Set the Correct Color Space Profile
Many apparel photographers forget or don’t know about the very crucial step of converting edited product images into a web-ready color space profile. Color space is a specific range of colors that can be presented in a given image. Some options for color spaces are Adobe RGB, CMYK and SRGB. Without the correct color space, colors of products will look totally different when viewed on different computer screens, web browsers and even websites.
SRGB is the best color space profile to keep your images consistent and vibrant between the various screens, browsers and sites. You can choose to set your camera to SRGB, thus eliminating the extra step of converting the file to SRGB after you edit it. However, SRGB captures a narrower range of colors than your camera’s RGB default, so many professionals choose to make the conversion only after they have perfected their images to avoid limiting their editing capacity.
7. Edit Properly
Consistency is key to merchandising apparel product images, especially with regards to cropping, alignment, color and backgrounds. To keep all images consistent in relation to one another and cut back your post-processing time, as well as save on your merchandising budget, make sure to develop a standard set of specifications for both shooting and editing.
Make sure that your products are all the same size and are centered within your image so that all of the angles, corners and edges of your products line up in relation to one another. Having a consistently-aligned inventory will absolutely boost the appeal of your website and products.
The easiest way to ensure that your alignment is spot on is to create guidelines in a Photoshop template.
Similarly to alignment, it is imperative that you crop product images identically so as to provide the customer with a seamless online shopping experience.
If you use guidelines for alignment, then cropping consistently and sizing images according to your website’s image specifications should be no problem.
Some ecommerce companies choose different backgrounds to display different products. Although this may seem unimportant, keeping all of your product images consistent in relation to one another can drastically improve the professionalism and appeal of your website, not to mention, shave off post-production time. It is generally agreed upon that white or light grey backgrounds are the most appealing.
Another common mistake in apparel photography is inaccurately representing garments’ colors. Although the camera does a great job creating fairly-accurate coloring if you allow it to decide white balance for itself with AUTO mode, some colors — such as neons, reds and pinks — are difficult to photograph correctly in camera and often need to be tweaked in Photoshop.
Here are three variations of red.
Inaccurate representations of colors can leave customers frustrated and dissatisfied, so taking a few extra minutes to ensure the colors of your garments are accurate before you upload them to your website is a good idea. The bottom line is that you want the customer to see exactly what they will receive in the mail should they order your product.
There are a number of ways to tweak colors, so get to know Photoshop’s offerings and choose your favorite tool. Remember, after you have fixed the colors, convert your images into SRGB format to make sure that different browsers, computer screens and websites won’t change the accurate colors that you worked so hard to create for your customers.
Optimize Your Workflow
With these, these seven best practices for online fashion merchandising, you have the opportunity to optimize your workflow and create beautiful product images for your customers.
There’s always more to learn, from mastering depth of field to low budget smartphone photography, but everything builds on this common foundation. With these best practices and careful planning, you now can begin optimizing your product photography and reaping higher ROI from your merchandising spend.
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