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Product Photography: How To Achieve The Ghost Mannequin Effect

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4 minute read

A conversation emerged out of the comments on last week’s post Can Product Images Improve Conversion? Showing Products in Context about how to achieve a “ghost” mannequin effect like these examples, where the body is filled out, you can see through the V-line but the mannequin is invisible.

invisible mannequin

As the post explained, showing products “in context” can be more persuasive than flat images – models and mannequins give customers an idea of how a garment fits a real person. I recently researched how to achieve the invisible mannequin look and found answers like:

Make a mannequin out of a very open wire mesh, and then edit the mesh out in post. You could even paint the mesh with green or something like that and chroma-key it out.

Make a mannequin out of a thin, cheap material (perhaps even wire mesh again) and put the garment on it, and position the camera. Then, start cutting away the mannequin in all the places where it’s visible to the camera, even with the shirt over it. You’d end up cutting off it’s left arm, part of it’s left ‘shoulder blade’ and some stuff around the neck.

-djlemma, from Flickr discussion

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Looking at a few of the examples I reckon the mannequin is being chopped out. Looking at some of the tops you can see no back to the item even if there is a lower front if you see what I mean.

An ideal solution could be to get a mannequin and a background with a strong colour. Take the photo then in Photoshop make a clear layer below the image layer so you have a transparent background. On the photo layer click the Select main menu item and choose “Color range” and click the mannequin colour on the photo. It should select just this colour, use the sensitivity slider to get the best selection and the just cut it out. Do the same with the background. It is not the quickest but compared to hand tracing each item and mannequin area it would potentially save a lot of time.

-MickeyFinn, from Freelance UK Forums

I noticed a couple photographers left comments on our post, so I tossed out the question, what’s the best way to achieve the ghost mannequin look? Anna Yeaman, professional photographer who specializes in product photography for apparel and accessories shared the following:

Two years ago I tried plastic and wireframe mannequins to achieve the “ghost” effect but I was not happy with the results. Also this limits the types of mannequin you can use.

I sometimes combine two images in Photoshop if its just a small part of the label I’m after.

I never found a simple way to do this in-camera, I decided that there must be custom made mannequins out there but could never find them. I considered taking a saw to one of my own and cutting out the chest area!

I’m going to renew my efforts and contact some websites using this effect. I will let you know how it goes. Most of my clients are after the Bluefly.com look and don’t mind the mannequin.

One thing I do a lot is take a photo on a mannequin, in Photoshop I edit out parts of the mannequin that are showing (around the hem, arms ect). You end up with an item with shape and form without a mannequin showing, but you cannot see through to the back…We take multiple angle shots and close ups of every item instead.

I have a hook that I hang bags off, then I edit it out later in Photoshop. For earrings I use clear fishing wire (craft shop), the earrings hang perfectly and the wire is invisible. I also use a clear plastic board for studs (I drilled a small hole) and clip ons (clip onto the bottom).

In a follow-up comment:

I contacted a bunch of product photographers to find out how they achieved the “ghost” effect.

John Gibbens of, G2 Catalog Design sent me this reply,

“We either shoot two images and piece together or we use an inexpensive plastic mannequin supported from below (for shirt/jacket images) whose neck is cut down below the open neckline. We then keep a couple different lengths of removable arms to fill sleeves – long arms with hands cut off for long-sleeve items and shorter arms for short sleeve garments.”

So we can conclude that the invisible mannequin look, though very slick, takes a bit of pre and post production effort. Another alternative would be to shoot a flat image and mannequin shot, so customers can still see the product on a form and see through the V-line. Works for Net-A-Porter…

Linda Bustos
Linda Bustoshttp://www.elasticpath.com
Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.
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