February 22, 2010

The Case for Adding Human Models to Your Product Photos and Web Design

Filed under: Branding,Ecommerce — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 5:04 am

Image by Art Comments

Here and there you’ll see debate crop up about whether customers want to see human models on websites or in product photos. The naysayers will usually have a germaphobic argument about not wanting to buy something another human touched/wore/looked at/etc. There are definitely those people out there but it’s probably not most people. After all, most of us buy clothing in stores that’s been tried on by other customers, so we’re used to the idea that someone else may have had an item on before we purchase it.

If you sell something like earrings or underwear, it makes sense that customers might be wary of buying that type of item if it’s been worn. In those cases, you can still use a model, just be sure to indicate to customers that the item they’ll receive is not the exact item in the picture. (Chances are you won’t even have to make a note of that unless you sell on a site like Etsy. We all know when we shop on the Victoria’s Secret website that the underwear on the model is not the exact same item that we’ll get in the mail. Otherwise VS might have a very different kind of customer base.)

So why do I advocate for using human models? Two main reasons:

    1. Scale and Fit
    If I see a pair of dangling earrings sitting on a white background it may be hard to imagine how they’ll look on a person. Even if you tell me how many inches long they are, it helps to see the earrings in an ear so I instantly understand if they’ll dangle down to my shoulder or my jawline.

    If I see a tote bag on a chair it might be hard to imagine if they bag is going to just hold a loaf of bread and a bag of oranges or if I can fit my entire haul from the farmer’s market in there. I can get a better sense if I see the bag slung over a human shoulder.

    Clothing should be a no-brainer. Unless a model is wearing it, I can’t tell if the dress comes to just above the knee or all the way down to mid-calf. I can’t tell if the empire waist is fitted or loose. A mannequin might solve some of those problems but a mannequin probably can’t address point number 2, below, speaking of which…

    2. Lifestyle/Relatablity
    Human models help customers identify with your brand. A customer wants to feel like the product they’re buying is made for someone just like them. Stores like Talbots and Forever 21 might both sell plain white tank tops this summer, and if you saw them photographed on a mannequin they might be almost indistinguishable. We know those stores have radically different audiences, and part of the way they signal to consumers who they’re trying to woo is models.

    If your target audience is a preppy looking, all-American, clean cut bunch use models that look like that. Pick models that are your customers’ age and share your customers’ style. If your brand is edgy and punky you might want models with blue hair and nose rings.

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article on the importance of using visual cues to help increase your brand’s affinity with your target market. Your choice of models can be extremely helpful in this regard.

    Also make sure that the models you choose have the same body type as your target audience. If you sell plus-sized items use plus-sized models. If you sell fitness items, use athletic models. If you sell maternity, make sure your models look pregnant. Even if you sell something like skin care items, incorporating a happy looking model in a bathtub into your web design can help sell the idea that your product is enjoyable.

So, all this talk of models might seem intimidating. How do you find them and get good shots of them? Here are a few places to look.

    1. Friends and Family
    Use friends and family ONLY IF they’d be an appropriate choice as models for your brand. If they would be, this can be a pretty inexpensive route to go.

    2. Craigs List
    You can find just about anything on Craigs List, including inexpensive models. You might not get professionals but you don’t necessarily need that. An aspiring model might be willing to work for a fairly low rate to help build her portfolio. If you aren’t confident in your photography skills, you might also find photo majors at your nearby university willing to do the work at a lower rate than a professional photographer. Keep in mind that you’ll get what you pay for so if you need things to be perfect, consider working with pros. If you’re willing to take a chance on people that are new to modeling or photography you can probably save some dough this way.

    3. Stock Photography Websites
    Sites like istockphoto.com have a large assortment of photos that you can use for product images or website design. If you need a picture of a baby in a generic looking bodysuit or a girl in a bathtub, this option may be your best bet. You probably will have to sift through a lot of images to find images you want to use, but if your needs are fairly generic this is definitely the cheapest and easiest way to get pictures of models.

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  1. I don’t think you are nasty. I think you are verbalizing the reaction we all have to a poor choice of model, concious of it or not.

    Comment by Meredith — March 3, 2010 @ 6:47 am

  2. I personally love to see models wearing clothing, jewelry, etc. It allows you to visualize the product in the real world and if you have a drop dead gorgeous model there is that little voice in everyone’s head that says “Yes, you too will look this fabulous!” I am however, completely turned off from products modeled on dirty, sloppy, or disheveled models. There is a reason Victoria’s Secret is successful 🙂 I have been toying with the idea of using models in my pottery photography, right now I try to get at least one shot of a hand holding the mug for size reference but I would like to create more of a social, coffee house, fun with friends feeling. No lips touching the mugs of course!

    Comment by krystallin — March 3, 2010 @ 7:04 am

  3. I like the images on Istockphotos, but I need to buy them to use them, right? :-/
    In this case, is not so cheap!

    Comment by Paola — March 3, 2010 @ 7:06 am

  4. @Paola, yes you have to pay for Istock photos. They are pretty inexpensive (around $1 each for smaller/lower res shots).

    Comment by Meredith — March 3, 2010 @ 7:22 am

  5. I think that using models vs. a mannequin or other prop really brings LIFE to your product. I originally tried to used models on my Etsy site and ran into scheduling problems, so opted for a mannequin. Now that worked great for some pieces but for other pieces I really could see that my work was not showing at its full potential. Sooo, I put in an ad on CraigsLists and Jackpot!! I was shocked with the response that I received for aspiring models that wanted to model for my shop. I haven’t updated all of my pics yet, but am well on my way. 🙂

    Comment by Amina — March 3, 2010 @ 7:44 am

  6. Great article and the comments were very informative also. I know I prefer looking at products photographed on people, babies, pets as it brings the items alive. I have the most difficulty with this aspect of my webshop as I am not a great photographer & I don’t have great models easily available. But now I have some new great ideas & will rework my whole site. Thanks all.

    Comment by Deb S — March 3, 2010 @ 8:17 am

  7. Very helpful, I will ask my neighbor girls to help out I am sure they would love it! Thx:)

    Comment by silva — March 3, 2010 @ 8:19 am

  8. Great article! Thank you for all your hard work.


    Comment by Spidr — March 3, 2010 @ 8:54 am

  9. Great article, Thanks for all your hard work!


    Comment by Spidr — March 3, 2010 @ 8:54 am

  10. Nope. I hate models and the modeling industry and I hate small designers copying this crap and I’d rather keep costs down not using people and I don’t want to buy clothes from people who look stupid/bored/rich/cooler than me. So if you use models you lose my sale. I prefer mannequins or clothes layed flat. I never have a problem with fit when things are measured accurately. My love of Japanese fashion magazines, and then Lucky, came from not having to look at teenagers I despised and someone telling me how to wear things when I looked at clothes. I love it when everything looks like paper doll clothes!

    I keep a blog of the worst ugly item + bizzarre models + ridiculous price combos on etsy, not because I want it to be famous, but because I need to get my anger out when someone puts ugly clothes on a model and then tries to make her look high fashion with overdone makeup/hair/poses and sell something for a high price.

    The whole thing annoys me. Just take a clear picture and give accurate measurements if you want my sale.

    Comment by Courtney — March 3, 2010 @ 10:19 am

  11. Very nice advice. In our historical costume company, the question to use live models or mannequins has come up several times. Our conclusion is in favor of live action photo shoots as nothing beats seeing a costume on someone with movable arms and legs and great facial expressions.

    We use family and friends generally and they absolutely love to travel back in time for a few hours plus getting to keep there very own ‘old fashioned’ pictures. It does take time, but the more outfits we do in one sitting the quicker it goes. You can see our work on http://www.mattionline.com or on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/mattionline .

    Comment by MattiOnline — March 3, 2010 @ 11:00 am

  12. I’m with Courtney. I have an Etsy shop and love to buy there also. Some shops I’ve seen just turn me off. Having a model showing body parts that I don’t care to see is a real sale buster. I read an article from a professional business advisor who has been in the business a long time. He said a lot of non professionals don’t have good enough skin for the close-ups in jewelry modeling. It’s distracting and tacky.

    Comment by Sylvia — March 3, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

  13. @Sylvia The issue is actually not about whether non-professionals have good enough skin, it is whether non-professionals have good enough Photoshop skills. With photo retouching you can make most models look pretty good.

    Comment by Meredith — March 3, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

  14. Thank you for such valuable information and I will be back to visit.

    Comment by Debra — March 3, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

  15. Okay, 64 comments later, I’ve changed my mind about that many times! But I keep coming back to the idea that photos not only sell products, but lifestyles. As a consumer, I find the lifestyle projections of a brand oh so alluring–so I can assume that my customers do as well.

    Comment by Jen Gallagher — March 4, 2010 @ 8:53 am

  16. Great article. I am a children’s clothing designer and this has been my question for a while. Thanks for clearing things up for me.

    Comment by Joycelyn — March 4, 2010 @ 9:51 am

  17. Thank you so much for this valuable information! Great answers to questions I had about my shop!
    Thank you

    Comment by CreatiKnit — March 5, 2010 @ 2:08 am

  18. […] Photos and Images Ed. Note: This is hands down my favorite read this week. It nicely follows up my article about using models. This article is part 3 of a 3 part series about working with images. Check out […]

    Pingback by Smaller Box :: Blog :: Link Love: The Most Valuable Small Biz Articles Posted This Week — March 5, 2010 @ 8:25 am

  19. @blubird – Not sure where you are located, but in the US you can use contract labor, which is what models are. Pay them by the hour or by the job, or in trade.

    Go to http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/index.html for more information.

    Comment by Ken Ewald — March 7, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  20. Whew! That was a Lot of information! I am new here and I can see that this is the place to come with questions. I think the important thing is to have excellent photos. I myself have a way to go, but am working on it. Models or not, it comes down to that.

    Comment by Willow — March 8, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

  21. I’m a child photographer and also have an etsy website. I would love the opportunity to photograph your children’s clothing, hats, etc.

    I’m located in San Diego, CA and could schedule a casual consult if you live in Southern California.

    Comment by Shelly VanLuit — March 14, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

  22. I have my own models that I would use to photograph your children’s clothing. If you don’t live in Southern California, you would simply send me the products you want photographed on children and then I would create a CD.

    Comment by Shelly VanLuit — March 14, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

  23. I was a model and I completely understand the value of a live model with some merchandise. However, I create one-of-a-kind jewelry. I am not germaphobic, but I personally would not like to purchase jewelry that others may have worn. Since you are not allowed to try-on jewelry (earrings) at department stores, I prefer not to put my jewelry on live models. I will look into the alternatives mentioned, until I can find something better, I will not use live models.

    Comment by Duchess — March 18, 2010 @ 5:00 am

  24. If you approach family members or friends and ask them to be your model and they say that they don’t want their face or the like in photos on the Internet, you can tell them that you’ll crop the photos in a program like Adobe Photoshop.

    Tell them that you’ll show them the photo before you use it and that you won’t use it unless they say it is okay to do so.

    Tell them that you can cut the photo off around the neck or the chin-line. Depending what the item is. This will usually do the trick. They might agree to that.

    You can even make the face area fuzzy or even erase the face out in the photos when using Photoshop, too. I took some FREE lessons from Adobe on the Internet where I learned how to do some of these photo tricks.

    You can even use yourself, if standing in front of a mirror. Do not use the camera’s flash when doing it this way. Here, you can block your face if using the larger digital DSL camera or the 35mm SLR camera. Putting them in the automatic mode is helpful.

    Or, if you have the self-portrait delayed timmer/setting, can even use yourself as the model, too. Be sure to snap off a couple of photos, with facing in diferent directions, etc.

    If it’s a handmade item that you make several of, offer to let the friend or relative keep the one that you used in the photo. That’s another way of possibly getting them to pose for you.

    There’s inexpensive half/quarter manikins that have tops like clothes hangers that can be used. I use one of them alot for photographing things that I make both clothing and non-clothing items.

    hang the manakin off of the curtain rod of my shower curtain with using my shower curtain for a backdrop. Sometimes you’ll see these in use in clothing stores. I purchased mine on eBay. They come in both woman’s regular and plus sizes along with men’s and children’s sizes.

    Might I suggest taking dozens and dozens of digital photos when you first get involved with taking your own photos.

    Try different locations, different backgrounds, and different angles. Also different lightings. Then upload your photos to a program like Adobe Photoshop. Here, you can do some cropping and cut the excess off of the photos. You can also adjust the color, the lighting, and, a lot, lot more. Even masking your photos with different background frames and shapes, etc.

    Over 25 years ago, I had taken some NYI of Photography courses. To me, the most valuable one one seemed to be “The Eye of the Photographer.” In that one, it suggests that you check the background area and remove any unwanted item from same, or change the angle you are shooting from, etc. Some high schools even have inexpensive adult ed photo courses to learn more about photography, too.

    Yes, I’ve been dabbling in photography for well over 30 years and have been putting some of the tricks I learned over the years to use when snapping off photos of the items I have listed in my shop here. Learned how to do both film print and digital photography.

    Comment by Peggy — October 21, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

  25. OOps slipped up when putting my Etsy store link addy up above. Corrected it. A senior moment… LOL.

    Comment by Peggy — October 21, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

  26. Found your article from link on Etsy. Thanks for the great info!

    Comment by Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares — October 6, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

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