Getting a clothing photograph is easy however getting a professional looking photograph is difficult especially when you need to take it against white background so it can be used for websites. Professional photography for clothing is usually the requirement of online apparel stores because they have to showcase their products beautifully and realistically so the buyer can take an effective decision about buying it. Clothing is often shot on mannequins against white background. The reason is simply that the cloths pop on white background plus you can clearly see what you are about to buy. As a photographer you must make sure that the pictures you are taking comes out of your camera with a pure white background. You have to set-up your lights in a way that it gives you a white background without tweaking it on Photoshop later. It is essential because usually you take clothing pictures in bulk and if your lighting setup is not right, you end up wasting lots of time cleaning your photos on Photoshop later.
Get a right set of lights before going on a shoot:
On a regular day during 4 hours a professional photograph shot around 50 clothing items on a mannequin. He usually have help where some else put up the dresses on mannequins. 50 clothing items means 100 or more dress pictures if you take 2+ pictures of each dress. Now imagine if you were unable to achieve white background on all pictures and you have to clean the edges of all dresses to make the background looks perfectly white. If you spend 5 minutes on one picture, that too if you are super fast with Adobe Photoshop, to remind you that opening a Raw image and saving it on Photoshop can take up-to 1 minute depending upon your system. 100 pictures can roughly take 1000 minutes means 8 hours of work which is double the amount of time you have consumed for photographing the clothes at the first place. That is the main reason I am emphasizing so much on getting your lights right before you can start to take photographs.
How to set-up your lights:
I am guessing you are here because you don’t have a perfect case scenario where you have a whole photography studio available with white painted walls and loads of lights to flash everywhere to get a perfect white background. To achieve a perfect white background with professional looking pictures you need at-least two lights. I use a 3 lights setup with 2 strobes that comes with soft boxes and one Canon external flash Speedlite 580 EXII. I will give the complete equipment list and camera settings below.
Please find below the typical light setup I use while taking photographs:
Here you can see how I setup, the Canon Speedlite is mounted on its foot that comes with it and will go behind the dress, I set it up on maximum light output, sometimes few stops lesser so it can perfectly illuminating the whole background plus it also reflecting some light on the sides that makes the dress pop from the background. On left is the bigger softbox pointed towards the dress from above, this is used as main light on higher light output. The other light on the right is used as a fill light, on lower light output and almost at the same level as the dress is and further away from the dress.
- Camera: Canon 60D (newer version 70D)
- Lens: Canon EF 24-105mm F4L
- Lights: Elinchrom D-lite 4 kit (2 strobes, 2 softboxes setup)
- Canon Speedlite 580 EXII (Newer Version 600EX)
- Radio Triggers
- Wire to connect the radio trigger and the light
- Backdrop stand kit with White background
- Sekonic L-308s Light Meter
- Rechargeable batteries for Canon Speedlite
Camera + Lens (Canon 60D + Canon EF 24-70mm F4L):
You can use any camera (Canon 70D) or lens however 24-70mm is perfect for me for shooting clothing due to its zoom range and picture quality. The lens also has an image stabilizer which is always on “On” position.
Lights and Wireless Radio Triggers:
The Elinchrome lights comes now a days has a built in wireless trigger however the one I use do sense lights however to trigger one light with camera you either need a sync cable directly attached from camera to one light or a wireless trigger. Both lights can sense flash light so you need to fire one flash and other light will flash simultaneously. You can use 1 wireless trigger to trigger your Canon Speedlite and both Elinchrome lights will trigger without any wireless trigger together however if you are using two lights and no external flash then you need to connect one light to a wireless trigger so both lights can flash.
I am so in love with my Canon Speedlite 580 EXII (Newer verion 600EX) that I don’t go anywhere without it, it’s a fine piece of equipment without which your photography equipment is incomplete.
The radio triggers I use are china made, they have worked great for me for years, I just need to change batteries and they work like new. I thought they will die soon as they are very cheap but they are going on and on for years now.
- I always use tripod because it’s very important for below mentioned reasons
- While shooting clothes angle is very important, you have to shoot the dress from the same level the dress is, your camera should not be tilted upwards or downwards, rather straight; otherwise, the dress will look crooked and corrupt.
- Tripod helps taking a straight shot which makes me spend less time in straightening up the pictures vertically in Photoshop which just take some extra time.
- Your picture will not get blurred easily with the hand shake.
- You will put less stress on your back and knees and will not get tired soon.
- You will not drop your camera as it will be securely fastened on the tripod.
Backdrop Stand Kit with white backdrop:
I use standard backdrop stand kit with cushioned stands because boy you can hurt your fingers very easily if your stands are not cushioned. Your fingers will be snapped easily inside the stand’s layers while opening or closing it. I have learned my lesson the hard way. The air cushion let the stand closes slowly without snapping at once. I use white muslin background which works great for me.
I use Sekonic L-308s Light Meter that is very easy to use and is very reliable.
Canon Speedlite when used on full setting, eat batteries fast so I prefer using rechargeable batteries because they cost lot less and works perfect with the Speedlite. I have used instant batteries for many years because I had bad experience with bad rechargeable batteries but good quality rechargeable batteries are as good as the others. They take almost same time to make the flash ready for the next shot and never let me down. One most important thing you must know is that the more the mAh is, the more the charge will last. The batteries available for best price and value are these AA EBL 8 Pack High Capacity 2800mAh batteries.
Now I will explain why I chose these settings. I set my camera like this
- ISO 100
- F 8
- Shutter speed 1/160
- White balance – Custom, set at 5200k
ISO – ISO should be set to minimum which is 100 on my camera. We all knows that to get best quality pictures we must set it to the minimum specially when we have external lights, there is no point in using a higher ISO. F – I set my aperture to 8 or sometimes higher or lower depending upon environment. Smaller aperture is very important to capture dress details which are mostly the design, threads, buttons etc. Small apertures will help capture more details however it tends to darken the picture so it’s better to use something that will not compromise the picture quality and still add enough light to the dress you are photographing. Shutter Speed – With external lights I always use 1/160 because with 1/160 shutter speed your picture won’t get blurred easily. White balance – It counts A-LOT, because if you have set it to Auto then the camera can take two pictures of the same dress that look completely different in color, one warmer and other cooler. The colour will look totally different in different pictures and you would need to adjust it in every picture in Photoshop later. If you shoot on white balance “Flash” mode, it will give you warmer pictures. I mostly use the custom white balance at 5200k that is safer however it changes as the environment changes so my advice would be to bring your laptop with you, take a couple of shots and check it on big screen on how colors are showing up and chose a white balance based on that.
The dresses shown above were shot with perfect white background and I didn’t have to clean it on Photoshop later. Please find below the final results with this light setup.
Hope this article helped, if you have any questions, shoot a comment, I will get back to you as soon as I can.