Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ghost Mannequin

Click on the photo to see a larger version.

An increasingly popular and powerful way to present clothing on a website or in a catalog is by using the Ghost Mannequin (or Invisible Mannequin) look. This dynamic, three dimensional representation helps capture and focus a potential customer's interest. It is an exciting alternative to an apparel laydown photo, or a standard model or mannequin shot.

1. Initial Photo

Without a great base image, the Ghost Mannequin technique can fall flat (pun intended). So I start with a carefully styled product shot on a mannequin. I pay special attention to my lighting. I generally use hard side lighting in combination with soft front lighting. This helps to accentuate the texture and detail of the clothing.

The initial photo is all important. Side plus front lighting to bring out details in the garment.

2. Insert Photos

I've tried different ways to capture the Ghost Mannequin look directly in-camera, but none really worked. So what I do is take additional photos of the parts of the garment I need to complete the look and then combine them with the base image in Photoshop. The additional photos may include interior shots of the collar, cuffs, waist band, hem line, pants legs or shoulder straps depending on the garment. (Tip: turn the item inside-out and then redress the mannequin. Shooting lingerie inside out is particularly fun - OK I'm easily amused. J)

The insert photos for a shirt include the interior of the collar and cuffs. Turning the garment inside out on the mannequin is a useful trick to get those shots.

3. Making a Selection in Photoshop

I keep saying it, but I usually spend more time in Photoshop working on photos than I do shooting them. The Ghost Mannequin technique is no exception. In fact, it requires more time in the computer than almost any other technique I use. I begin by creating a "selection" of the front of the garment. There are several selection tools in Photoshop, but I often end up drawing what is known as a "clipping path." A clipping path involves tracing a line around the outside edges of an item. Drawing a clipping path can be time consuming but it usually yields the most accurate selection.

Creating a selection in Photoshop allows me to remove the item from the mannequin and background and have a clean representation of the product to build the Ghost Mannequin effect.

4. Combining the Images in Photoshop

The next step is to combine my insert photos (in this case, the inside of the collar and cuffs) with my base image in Photoshop. This is as much art as science. First, I create a selection to grab those parts of the inserts that I need. Then I scale and align them with the base image so they appear normal. Then I create shadows along the inside of the inserts to sell the effect. For instance, the front collar of a shirt normally casts a shadow along the interior portions of the collar. These shadows have to be created in Photoshop. Experience and imagination really pay off here since an unnatural-looking shadow can undermine the entire look.

5. Finishing touches

To complete the look I may do some refining of the shape of the garment, such as smoothing bulges or creating a more flattering waist line (not much different than what I do when I shoot model pics.) I can also add a special background to the image, or a simulated drop shadow to polish the overall effect. I might also use one garment as my base image and then do color replacements in Photoshop to create identical-looking photos of a piece of clothing offered in several different colors. Finally, I adjust my color, contrast and saturation, and then do some sharpening to create the final image.

The final image may benefit from a drop shadow on the background, or an entirely new background. I can also do color replacement for clothing offered in more than one color.

That's it - everything you ever wanted to know about creating the Ghost Mannequin look. As always, I welcome any questions or comments. Please check back in a few weeks for my next post.

Peter Alessandria