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Ghost Mannequin vs Flat Lay Photography: Vital Choice of Ecommerce & Insider tips

Ghost Mannequin vs Flat Lay Photography: Vital Choice of Ecommerce & Insider tips

Pylyp Sukhenko

Apr 28, 2021

The big battle of the Ghost mannequin product photography vs Flat Lay Images all boils down to your budget, product, and market segment. 

Say, if you are in the premium custom-made suites segment, there is no way you can get away without professionally executed ghost mannequin imagery in your online store. If you sell scarves or 10 dollar T-shirts, flat lay may just as well do the trick.

Online shop owners of scale will have enough data to know which type of commercial images sell better for each clothing piece: dresses, sweaters, tops, bottoms, suites, etc. Many seasoned ecommerce entrepreneurs will mix and match all types of images to have enough content for different distribution channels: brand website, marketplaces, social media, ads.

In this all-out piece, we took on a mission to vivisect the use, tricks, and best practices of using Ghost Mannequin vs Flatlay in ecommerce. We love them both and hereby we explain why we may recommend using one over the other to our clients.

What is Ghost Mannequin Photography?

Ghost mannequin [AKA invisible man effect] is a commercial photography technique mostly used to produce clothing images, that involves putting a garment on a mannequin for a lifelike effect on the resulting image.


Reasons for being such a popular type of product photography:

  • Bridge the gap between the online and offline by allowing the user to see a piece of clothing as it would look on a human.
  • Minimize the hesitations of the potential buyer regarding the fit and the cut of the item – as after seeing the Ghost Mannequin photos a user can picture himself/herself more vividly in such a garment.

Pros

  • It's easy to set up with minimal cheap props like clips, pins, and double-sided tape.
  • These shoots result in live images that are dynamic and full of action, as opposed to somewhat lifeless flat lay.
  • Can be used with props, accessories, matching items to create a full look.

Cons:

  • Post-production is usually quite cost- and labor-intensive.
  • These pieces of photography equipment do cost quite a bit, specifically the next-gen photo mannequins with magnetic removable parts.
  • Not a beginner-friendly technique in terms of lighting setup. So online store owners are advised to hire professionals who offer ghost mannequin services for the highest ROI.


What is the Ghost Mannequin photography layout used for most?

This technique is commonly used to produce commercial images of:

Tops:

  • T-shirts
  • Shirts
  • Cardigans
  • Jackets
  • Coats

Bottoms:

  • Jeans
  • Trousers
  • Shorts
  • Underwear
  • Socks

Other clothing:

  • Dresses
  • Caps

As the rule of thumb, a ghost mannequin is highly likely to be used for premium clothing ecommerce stores whereby products are abundant with fine details. Coats, jackets, and outer garments also call for the use of the ghost mannequin – as bigger pieces don’t look comfy in the flat lay format.

In the absence of the top-shelf equipment with removable magnet pieces, photographers usually make 2 shots of the tops: the front and the inner side of the back – to photoshop the back part later into the front shot, once the mannequin part is out of the picture. 

Confused? 

See below what we mean:


Now let's have a quick look at what tabletop photos are about before we vivisect how Flat Lay images differ from those taken with the help of the ghost mannequin.

What is flat lay photography?

Flat lay product photography [or tabletop photography] is the technique that involves shooting objects laid on a horizontal or near-horizontal surface from above. It is widely used for jewelry photos, fashion shots, accessory images, cosmetics, etc. But for the sake of this article we will focus on its use for shooting clothing and fashion pieces.


Reasons for its popularity with amateurs and pros alike:

  • Simplest ways to produce true-to-life ecommerce images requiring limited equipment and basic skills.
  • The flat lay images method allows for great consistency in a series of shots of items with a minimum of post-processing manipulations.

Pros

  • Comparatively easy to set up in terms of item positioning and lighting, so it’s beginner-friendly.
  • Versatile and universal in terms of many aspects: you can shoot pretty much any item in flat lay mode, use it alone or in a group shot, on a white or colored background, for ecommerce purposes or social media distribution [for flat lay collages in Instagram for example].
  • It's possible to shoot flat lay with natural light and inexpensive reflector boards from the arts & crafts store. Professional-grade images are best commissioned to studios offering product photography services.

Cons

  • Extra care has to be taken to produce consistent images – like the use of markings on the surface for symmetrical positioning, fixation of the camera above, etc.
  • If shot with natural light, shooting time is limited due to the shifting of the light as the Earth rotates around its oxis.
  • Bigger items are not ideal for this type of shooting [like coats and long dresses may look elongated, lifeless, and generally weird].

What is Flat Lay photo layout used for most?

  • Clothing commercial & social photos:

Tops [t-shirts, shirts, sweaters, cardigans, bras, jackets, dresses]

Bottoms [jeans, skirts, trousers, shorts, socks, underwear]

  • Jewelry product photography
  • Accessories & bags
  • Beauty and cosmetic product images

Flat lay photos may be as formal or as casual as you need them to be. Colored or textured backgrounds, irregular shadows, eyebrow-raising props, a human hand in the shot can all bring the social media-like dynamics and catchiness to these otherwise banal visuals.

For the ease of perception, see this helicopter-view comparison table of the 2 popular types of product photography:

Comparison table: Flat Lay technique Vs Ghost Mannequin

Insider tips for impeccable results in Ghost Mannequin product photography and flat lay product photography

          1. Go professional as soon as you can afford it. 

We are biased indeed, as we are a professional photo studio in New York and we would love to prove to you just how right we are in putting this tip first. 

Long story short: good images convert, bad images deter. 

Unless your images are amazing, the rest of the marketing expenditure is a waste of your budgets. No online store can afford poorly-done images but only a few live long enough to find out.

          2. Tissue is your best friend to give volume and dynamics to products.

Tissue is used a lot in commercial photography, most of the time unbeknown to the onlooker. Even in flat lay images of T-shirts, items will often be stuffed with a few layers of tissue, that give it some dynamics, body, and real-life-like look. 

If you need to make a commercial image of jeans in a flat lay mode, opt for some rougher material than tissue with carton-like properties. Such rigid stuffing is easy to manipulate into the shape that reminds human legs – with a specially formed crease at the knees and the like.

Making a hoodie image for an online store on a mannequin? You will surely need some tissue in the hood when doing the back shot.

          3. Stock on clippings, double-sided tape, and pins to fix things

Irrespective of what technique you choose: invisible man or tabletop, make sure you have plenty of clippings, pins, double-sided scotch at hand.

You might need to use clippings to give that dress a nice waistline or make it a better fit for a small mannequin. 

It is not uncommon to use clippings at the back of the jeans just below the buttock when shooting the front and to use one of those at the crotch area when making a shot of the back. 

Doing a product image for an online shop of a handmade jacket for men and need to showcase the silk lining? Use double-side tape to fix the bottom of the jacket as if blown up by the wind.

There are a gazillion of cases when you will need something to pin, fix or hold in place during a product shoot, just make sure you have your assortment of tools ready for any occasion.

         4. Tuck in sides when shooting tops in a flat lay mode

Flat lay photos of the T-shirts, jumpers, and sweaters may need some tucking in on the sides. This is to give them a more realistic look – as they seem bigger than they are otherwise. 

This tiny trick also breezes motion and action in such clothing, helping bridge the gap between the online and offline shopping.

          5. Do symmetry or asymmetry. Harmony vs Rebel spirit

If you have a hoodie with strings, you might want to consider making sure you pull them symmetrically for the shot. Similarly, double-check that the sleeves are on the same level and look neat.

If you have some kind of a creative shot, you can do asymmetry, as in tying a casual knot with the 2 strings of a hoodie, where one end is longer than the other. It needs to read some rebel spirit and be obviously asymmetrical.

Say, if you are doing images for online store product pages, users flip through them quite quickly and inherently they want to see only what matters in an orderly manner. A disproportionate representation with creases and poorly centered details will feel off. It feels messy. And people don’t buy messy.

The takeaway: make sure you keep paired details symmetrical for product pages and marketplaces and only use asymmetry for social media or creative advertising shots.

           6. Keep consistency in a series of shots

Use markings to place the items at the same distance from the camera, use a tripod or C-stand to affix the camera, use artificial lighting that's steady irrespective of the weather.

All of the above will ensure you produce a series of images that feel consistent, professional, and orderly to an onlooker. This is what people trust and may consider buying. If lighting, shadows, background, item placement jumps from shot to shot – the user may feel uncomfortable going through such pictures and bounce.

           7. Use both methods: flat-lay and ghost mannequin when appropriate

If marketing budgets are ample, ordering both types of product photography for the same piece of clothing is perfectly fine.

Say, you sell custom-made tweed jackets with leather lining. You may do a series of ghost mannequin shots featuring it with a shirt and tie or a scarf. 

The flat lay technique may be handy to zoom in on details, like a label or leather pocket. You may also do a flat lay collage with props like a Peaky-Blinders-style cap and vintage leather satchel.

The afterthoughts

Budget, user persona & product define the choice of product photography technique. The quality of your product image then defines your sales.

Now that you know what to look out for when considering using different types of commercial images, may we suggest you check out how Squareshot manages to produce top-quality visuals for ecommerce businesses worldwide. 

Check out our extensive portfolio or chat with our sales team to have your first batch of highly converting images made to perfection.


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