Tips for Taking Pictures of Flat Clothing

If you are selling clothing on Poshmark or eBay or need images of it for your own use (say, for wardrobe tracking using Airtable or the Stylebook app), you probably will want clean flatlay photos. If you are not so lucky to find a stock photo of the item (or one that’s close enough, if for your personal use), you’ll have to take them yourself.

This sounds like it should be super easy, but I find that it’s finicky! I’m not a professional photographer or editor, but these are some tips that have worked for me.

You don’t need to do every single thing listed here in order to get a readable depiction of a garment, but I’ve found that I’m happier with the end results when I remember to do these.

These tips are for taking basic photos to show what clothing looks like. It does not include any tips on how to make an artsy flat lay photo with a furry rug / succulents / latte art.

(not all photos included will stellar examples of every point listed, but hopefully it helps illustrate some of the points)

flat photos 1

Lighting

☀️ The ideal is diffuse natural lighting. Diffuse lighting makes it easier to take the photo without casting a shadow with the camera and prevents harsh contrast highlighting wrinkles on the item. The sweet spot will usually be in the morning or evening, though it will depend on the particular room and whether it’s overcast outside.

💡 Artificial lighting is often harsh and can have different tints to it which can make it harder to show the true color of the item. If you must use artificial lighting, at least try and set things up so if there are multiple light sources, they are all the same tone lights (i.e. don’t mix warm tone incandescent lighting with a cool toned LEDs) so the colors don’t come out inconsistently.

↗️ If you’re taking photos to catalogue your wardrobe or are being picky about a uniform-looking Poshmark feed, things will look cleaner if you keep angle of light consistent between items. But it’s not a big deal if you can’t work out a setup that will allow this.

flat photos 8

💫 You may want to use a mirror, white sheet of paper, or white bedsheet to reflect light back from the opposite site of the light source. This can help in getting rid of some harsher shadows. This is mostly helpful for me in cases where I’ve folded some of the garment under itself at the sides, and the thickness difference casts a shadow.

Ever see behind the scenes images from a photoshoot or movie shoot and there’s someone standing in front of the subject holding up a big white disk or shield-looking thing? Same idea. I’ve also seen articles where people make their own by putting foil over a piece of cardboard, but I haven’t tried that so I don’t know how well it works. I suspect it would work better than a mirror which can end up casting a visible highlight.

(image is a product photo from Nordic Digital)

Setting Up a Background

🖼 Laying out a background is not strictly necessary for a personal inventory image, as I have found automatic background removal works well enough against a consistent flooring type, but having a white background also helps for figuring out color balance later, and getting the camera to pick colors and lighting up correctly in the first place.

📝 I put a sheet of white butcher paper down (that thinner, smooth paper that comes in large rolls – you probably saw a lot of it when you were in elementary school as the colorful backgrounds on bulletin boards). If you have a lot of white items, you may want a mid-tone or dark color instead.

🛏 A bedsheet can also work (I think this is what Stylebook recommends), but in my experience, butcher paper is better because it doesn’t wrinkle as easily (you won’t have to smooth it out every time after stepping on it to position a new item).

🔲 Lay out enough paper / sheet so that there’s a border you could crop the image to to have the cleanest background.

Positioning Items

📥 Before you start, lay out a stack of the items that you will be photographing so you don’t waste time digging them out or realizing they are in the laundry while your time window of ideal lighting conditions disappears.

👗 If you are fortunate enough to have a spot where you can hang clothing flat against a wall in good lighting conditions, you can certainly take photos of hung up clothing. This is nice to show the drape of dresses, thick knitwear, etc, but can make it harder to show clothing that is so drapey or stretchy it collapses limply on itself awkwardly on a hanger. If you’re taking photos for making outfit collages, then keeping the hanger in makes it a little more awkward / requires more involved editing if you want to remove it.

🧥 Sleeves: Personally I like to angle the sleeves so that they are close to the garment, as if worn with the arms mostly relaxed. This also makes the image more compact. I usually leave a small amount of negative space before the hem to keep the shape clear. But you can get creative with this or do whatever makes sense for you.

🔭 Don’t crop the photo too close in the initial photo and center the item in the frame as much as possible. This will leave space to rotate it if your framing wasn’t perfectly vertical.

👆 Don’t forget to tap on the item in your camera view to get the camera focused on it.

🧶 For knits or things with raglan sleeves, consider tugging up a little at the item’s shoulder area to create more of a defined silhouette.

flat photos 2

If you’re taking photos for personal use:

✂️ If the goal is to simulate what the item looks like when worn, you can fold it under around the edges a little to make it look less wide. When you wear the clothes, they will slim out from the front since they have to wrap around your torso/legs/arms, so if you take all the pictures of the completely flat item, it will not show the same proportions as when viewed from the front when worn. (Don’t do this if you’re taking pics for selling an item! In that case, show the item as-is.)

🥞 If the fabric is thin enough, you can fold it in some around the edges. If it’s too thick to allow this, it may also be thick enough that artfully wrinkling it in a way that slims the overall item may work. Depending on the type of item though, it may be best to just lay it completely flat if folding back the edges creates too many weird creases or looks too fake.

👖 If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to lay out an item so it isn’t completely stretched out flat, try holding it by the shoulders/waistband and “throwing” it out flat. You’ll probably still have to adjust it a little, but I find this often looks reasonably natural while also slightly compressing the item’s width.

Taking Photographs

🚠 Hold the phone parallel to the ground. This will prevent the image from becoming skewed and throwing off the proportions. Take the photo from the side of the item or “upside down” from the top edge of it if it’s easier. Lean over it or stretch out your arms if you need to!

📐 It will help with positioning / checking for skew to enable a grid overlay on your phone camera. You can usually find this option in the camera app’s settings.

flat photos 11

Editing

Depending on what you’re doing with the pictures, having the plain backdrop may be fine and you can leave off here, or just do small manual edits (e.g. change the exposure) in the native photo app on your phone or editing software of your choice. I don’t usually get too intense with editing and just fiddle with all the settings in the native editor (on my phone or in the Preview app in MacOS) until it looks good 🤷‍♀️

remove background 1

You can use https://www.remove.bg and automagically remove the background to make a transparent PNG (there are other sites and apps, or you could just use a generic image editing software like Photoshop, but this is the one that I’ve been using and it Just Works™ which is great). You can also manually remove the background there with an eraser tool. I do this for images that I’m putting into a wardrobe tracking app, but not for things I’m selling, as keeping the IRL background is a softer effect.

Hope that was helpful! Happy cataloguing/selling/collaging ✂️

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