Modeling Your T-Shirts 101 (Part 1)

Modeling Your T-Shirts 101 is a guest post that was written by tee and belt designer, Jon Wye. In Part 1, Jon discusses how to create quality product shots using a DIY lighting box.

After four years of trying various photography methods for T-shirt display I’ve learned a few things that, with the help of Coty, thought I might pass on.

When I first started my company I was convinced that the photos had to be the best. I pulled in a favor from a professional photographer friend. Rented backdrops, rigging, lighting, lighting, lighting. Lighting is expensive. Asked a few attractive friends to help model. I even hired a professional hair and makeup team. My girlfriend, Nikki, was the hostess and helped provide a constant source of conversation and food.

It was the most professional endeavor I had organized to date! The photos came back amazing! My T-shirts were looking like a million dollars. The products looked hot, the models looked hot. Everything was in place.

I launched the new photos of the new products. Day one, day two, day three: where were my sales??? I didn’t get it. I had created some world-class imagery! Surely people would see my stuff and want to buy.

I realized many many months later that the problem wasn’t the photos, it was the fact that my site, my fans, my image, my WALLET wasn’t ready for a photo shoot like that. I was trying to walk the walk too early, portray myself as a bigger designer than I really was. So I took a step back and asked, are they buying me or my tees? And the answer was both. All the fancy photos were distracting from me, the small designer, selling you my vision.

So I took my licks and kept pushing ahead. And so I keep it small time, but really fun and classy!

And over the years I have come up with a few good methods for photographing on the cheap and hip, and just wanted to share some of them.

Method 1: The Abercrombie Method (no models)

Despite whatever violent ideas come to mind when you think of Abercrombie they have an impressive and consistent method for t-shirt photography; the precisely wrinkled head-on t-shirt photo. Check out their stuff, you’ll understand. Basically they take a freshly ironed shirts and do some hand wrinkling to make it look rugged, wearable, hip, and intentional.

But how do they get such good lighting and all those cool mini shadows that form from the wrinkled tees? The quick answer is a professionally lit photography room, but I’m guessing if you are reading this then you probably don’t have one and neither do I. But you can create a mini lighting box!

1. Paint It White. Get two 4 ft. X 4ft. board and paint them a matte white finish. Make sure it is matte white! And paint on enough layers to be completely opaque. The t-shirt will lie on one board and the other will go on the top of your creation.

White Paint

2. Built The Frame. Find a way to build a 4 ft. X 4 ft X 4 ft. frame (I used PVC pipes and fittings). Place that frame over the 4 X 4 board you just painted.

PVC Pipes

PVC Box

3. Cover It Up. Drape a WHITE cloth over all four sides of the frame. You can buy something called white duvotene cloth from many stage supply houses, and it will block out excess light from within your frame, but still keep the interior white.

4. Cover It Up. Take your second painted board and cut a 5 inch hole in the center of it, this is where your camera lense will go through.

5. Add The Lights. Go to the hardware store and buy four duel fluorescent lighting fixtures (3 ft in length). Buy some DAYLIGHT BALANCED bulbs to go in them. Now screw those into the white side of the 4 by 4 board that has the hole in it. Starting to make sense?

You are basically done with the build. In the end you should have a 4 by 4 by 4 cube that has a white board as a base (one that you lay the t-shirt on) and a white board on top that has lights attached and a hole in the center for a camera.

Lighting

6. Set Your White Balance. Turn the lights on and watch that baby glow. Don’t put any t-shirt in the box yet. Before you start shooting you need to WHITE BALANCE your camera from the light and color inside the box. Consult you camera’s manual to determine how to properly white balance. This is extremely important or your images will turn out like crap.

Cameras

7. Take some photos. Start putting those t-shirts in your new lighting box and start snapping away.

Octopus Boy by Jon Wye