How to photograph a fitted dress on a ghost mannequin

Tight-fitting sleeved dresses are designed to neatly curve around a figure, so photographing one in a way that accentuates those contours is crucial in presenting them online. In this fashion product photography tutorial, we will teach you to style a fitted dress on an invisible/ghost mannequin and get the right look. 

Whilst it’s possible to shoot a dress flat lay, on a hangar or even on a live model, using a special ghost mannequin allows it to appear as if an invisible model were wearing the dress. This gives the dress a full ‘body’ and allows the customer to more effectively visualize it when worn. 

With the goal to create a dynamic, consistent appeal across all of your product imagery, these steps should be followed for all dresses you photograph and upload to your web store. Doing so allows the potential customer to compare styles and colors significantly easier, as the dresses will be presented in the same manner - but of course, giving them a great style is the first priority. 

To learn how to photograph and style fitted dresses for your online fashion store, read on. But first, let’s run through the essential tools you’ll need to get prepared:

The equipment you need to style and shoot a fitted dress

  • Ghost mannequin - Any modular mannequin (with removable v-chest and arms) can be used for getting invisible product shots by removing pieces individually
  • Camera - Any camera will suffice but a Canon EOS 5D Mk III is recommended as the industry-standard for professional product photography
  • Studio lighting - A source of continuous cool LED lamps are recommended for lighting to ensure exposure, shadows and contrast are kept consistent
  • Your garments - Whatever kind of dresses you wish to shoot and get uploaded to your web store quickly and effectively
  • A reflector - A sturdy bright and reflective surface, such as a whiteboard, helps cast light back into areas of the dress 
  • Styling tools - Check here to see the list of styling tools no stylist should be without

1. Choose a ghost mannequin that fits the size of the dress

Due to the need to present the inner label area of the dress, there will still be some post-production work required. However a ghost mannequin can hugely reduce the time spent as you can remove pieces of it individually such as the arms and neck. Choosing one that fits closest to the size and shape of the dress will make it naturally easier to taper and contour around the body. 

If you don’t have a special mannequin like this, you can still follow this tutorial to learn how to achieve a great style when shooting your dresses. If you want to learn more about them, you can check out the range of mannequins for invisible product photography here.


2. Fitting your dress on the mannequin

First, remove the arms of the mannequin and gently dress it. Make sure to feed the fabric gently, ensuring that it doesn't stretch or get caught. Straighten out the shoulders, pull the fabric taut over the mannequin and re-attach the arms. 

Don't forget! When re-attaching the arms look closely for any fabric being trapped in between. This can cause creasing, and with a slim-fitting dress like this, imperfections can be easily spotted by the discerning viewer. 

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3. Styling your fitted dress on the ghost mannequin

You're not quite ready to shoot yet! Once you have dressed the mannequin, there's a few handy things you can do to ensure it looks perfect before publishing online. 

Firstly, as a fitted dress will tend to extend downward over the thighs, its possible that the mid-section your ghost mannequin won't quite extend far enough and the dress will roll off the end. A neat little hack to rectify this is wrapping some tape around the navel area of the mannequin to extend the surface. Pull the dress up, apply the tape, and pull it neatly back down over it.

Next, the sleeves of the dress can look a little flat when coming over the wrists. Simply stuff the sleeve cuffs with some tissue or crepe paper to give a nice rounded edge. 

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4. Highlighting details with lighting

A fitted dress curves around the contours of the body, meaning lighting and shadows have a big part to play in its aesthetic appeal. 

Ensure your studio has enough lighting directed at the dress and adjust your exposure settings accordingly (check out this tutorial on adjusting your exposure settings for light and dark apparel). Next, experiment with how the angles of light hit, good areas to emphasise shadows are underneath the shoulders and around the waist area. 

Experiment with lighting, using a reflector to cast light back into the underside of the dress, and take a variety of shots until you're happy with how the fabric and features are emphasised accurately. 

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5. Shooting and compositing the final image

To get a true 'invisible man' effect, you need to be able to present the inner label of the dress in the shot. To do this is simple, all you need to do is undress the mannequin and re-dress it inside out - don't worry about styling it, all you are attempting to shoot is the inner neck area. 

Take a shot with the dress inside out - using the same lighting and exposure settings for consistency. Use the two shots, one inside out and one styled for impact, for compositing in a photo-editing program - and hopefully your final image will turn out just like the one below

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Tips and tricks

  • Use styling pins behind on the back and below the armpit area if your clothes are too big for your selected mannequin to achieve a more sleek, fitted look
  • Ensure the shoulders are symetrically aligned
  • Sort your clothes into 'loads' based on how they fit each mannequin to save time swapping and changing pieces
  • Make sure no fabric is caught in between pieces of the mannequin when re-attaching modules
  • Use tissue paper on the cuff to give a rounded, more appealing look
  • Ensure the dress tapers around the hips, down to the thighs

What we'd really appreciate is...

Thanks for reading our tutorial on styling a dress using an invisible mannequin for fashion ecommerce — part of our ongoing series of tutorials on product photography, styling and lighting. If you found it useful, why don’t you head on over to our Youtube channel and subscribe?

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Stephen Warr