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A Professional Demonstration of the Ghost Mannequin Technique by Fotoempresas

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The “ghost mannequin,” “invisible mannequin,” or “ghosting” technique is a popular alternative to using models or mannequins in product images. It’s an easy and effective way to communicate fit and garment shape while minimizing distractions.

Creating a ghost mannequin effect is relatively simple with the proper image capture workflow. The eCommerce and product photography specialists at the Spanish photo studio Fotoempresas were kind enough to help us demonstrate, using a beautiful tunic dress.

In this demonstration, for intermediate to expert photographers, we will skip over the basics of studio setup, camera settings, and post-production. If you’re a beginner, you may wish to reference some of our introductory how-to guides for product photography, like this DIY guide to creating the ghost mannequin effect.

Now let’s get started!

A stylist and photographer work hand-in-hand

A stylist and photographer work hand-in-hand.

Divide and Conquer

Fotoempresas uses a two person team: (1) a stylist, who is in charge of organizing the materials for the shoot, arranging the garment attractively, and highlighting details for the photographer; and (2) a photographer who is responsible for the technical side of capturing images and delivering them to the retouching department.

Use a White or Grey Background

Fotoempresas uses a white or grey background, depending on the client. A roll of seamless paper is swept beneath the mannequin, which has removable arms and legs.

Seamless white paper is swept beneath the mannequin to create an unshadowed background

Seamless white paper is swept beneath the mannequin to create an unshadowed background.

Light It Up

Lighting, as always, is key. In this demonstration, we will use four Hensel flashes and white photography umbrellas.

Flashes are prepared with two in front and two in the background. The front left light is powered at nine, the front right light is powered to eight, and both rear flashes are set to ten. At Fotoempresas’s studio, there is ample natural window light streaming in at a 90 degree angle.

Be Prepared

Garments are steamed and prepared ahead of time, making them quickly available in the studio on a rolling rack.

Garments are prepared and kept on a rolling rack for easy access

Garments are prepared and kept on a rolling rack for easy access.

Style Naturally

The garment is styled on the mannequin just as would be done for a normal (not ghost mannequin) shot. Buttonholes are threaded, collars are turned, and laces fall naturally as if worn.

In the first shot, the garment is styled as if it’s being worn by the mannequin.

Capture First Image - Standard Mannequin Shot

The mannequin is positioned directly in line with the camera and fills the frame. In this demonstration, we use a Canon 6D camera, a Canon 24-70 IS USM L f2.8 lens, and will capture the image remotely on a computer using the Canon EOS utility.

Our camera is set to an aperture of f11, shutter speed of 1/125, ISO 100, and WB 5500 K.

Photo of studio setup with camera and styled mannequin, compared to captured image

The camera and mannequin are aligned in a straight line, and the product fills the frame.

The potential image is reviewed in camera, before capturing it using a computer application (in this case, the Canon EOS Utility). Capturing it via the computer minimizes camera shake and allows you to immediately observe the resulting image.

Three combined photographs: photographer looking at mannequin through camera, reverse angle from behind mannequin, and remote capture sitting at computer

The image is captured by a camera that is fired remotely from a computer.

Capture Second Image - Uncovered Garment

This is where we take a slight detour from standard mannequin photography in order to get the necessary shots for a ghost mannequin effect. After capturing the front-on mannequin image, we need to capture the portion of the garment that was obscured by the mannequin.

The idea is that we will combine the two images in post-production in order to remove the mannequin and show more of the garment, while maintaining natural shape.

This can be done multiple ways, with different techniques working better for different types of garments. A simple way to handle a dress is to remove it from the mannequin and hold it up at the same height as the previous image, which is what we do here.

You can see the laces are slightly undone and the collar held open to make sure the neck and other previously blocked portions of the garment are exposed.

Photographer holding dress in front of mannequin, from camera view and viewed on computer monitor

In the second shot, expose previously covered areas like the neck

Now we move to post-production to combine the two images. Here are our originals: the first image on-mannequin and the second image opening up previously covered areas, especially the neck.

These two images are combined in post-production to create the ghost mannequin effect.

The above two images are passed to post-production, where skilled retouchers work to combine them. The final result is below.

Our end result: a ghost mannequin product image

Our end result: a ghost mannequin product image.

The appeal of ghosting is that you can demonstrate fit and shape without the expense of models or the potentially alienating effect of mannequins. As you can see, it doesn’t take a lot of extra effort to add the necessary shots into your workflow - it just takes planning and post-production resources.

To see examples using more products, and to learn how to use Pixelz for post-production and save yourself time and money, check out this complete guide to DIY Ghost Mannequin product photography.