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October 9, 2020

Shooting for Instagram: camera tricks to make your fashion products pop!

By: Peter Gregory

Dashes Graphic

When you’re the owner of a small apparel brand or fashion startup, it can be hard to make time for social media promotion. You’re doing everything you can to act as head designer, accountant, CEO, marketing manager, sales director, receptionist … the list goes on and on! 

Instagram is a great tool for growing your fashion brand, and it doesn’t have to take up lots of your time. We’ve been active on Instagram for years now. We’ve learned a thing or two about making Instagram work for our business. 

In this helpful Instagram guide for fashion startups, we’ll show you some photography tricks your business can use to make the most out of every post. We’ll show you some small changes you can make to grab more attention, elevate your brand and win a few sales at the same time, and we’ll share some examples from our own Instagram channel.

Why should I be on Instagram?

Instagram is a fantastic channel for fashion brands. Unlike Twitter or Facebook, it’s a visual platform. To post to Instagram, you just need to take a photo — you don’t need to write up lots of text — so it’s very quick to update. 

Instagram is also a really popular social media platform in the United Kingdom. With an estimated 27 million users in the UK alone (see footnote 1), there’s a high chance that most of your customers are already using it.

So much of making instagram work for your business boils down to the photos you take. If you put compelling, beautiful pictures up on your instagram channel, people will start to notice. Beautiful photography and big follower lists aren’t enough, of course. You want to attention, but you also want to sell your products at the same time. So how do you do that?

What Should I Show?

A good Instagram post can compel people to learn more about your brand and buy from you. But what does a good Instagram post actually look like? What do you need to physically put in front of your lens? How do you keep a social media account fresh and interesting if you only have a handful of products?

All of the tips we’re about to share should help you answer this question. These tips add a spin to product photography that will lead to more engagement on social media. We’ve taken these examples from our own channel and our clients’ channels, so we know for a fact that they  work!

Show Context

One simple trick is to use the background to explain how the item will be used. We’ve seen some great examples of this over the years…

Beth Salt of Salteria spilled the contents of one of her patterned coin purses for this shot. You can’t see the whole product, but it’s immediately clear what the product does just by looking at the background. 

This next photo from Arra Weaving Studio in Scotland uses context in a slightly different way. Rather than explaining the function of the product, it evokes a feeling. The rocks, sea and blue sky in the background evoke memories of wintery coastal walks, making the scarf in the foreground especially appealing:

Show a Detail

You don’t have to show the full product to create a beautiful Instagram post. If there’s one specific part of your garment or accessory that you’re particularly proud of, put that front and centre!

We love this shot from Silly Girl Club, which makes a feature of just one part of the maker’s handiwork:

Show a Customer 

If you can picture someone using your product, then go for it! There’s no better way to demonstrate how your product looks and feels. 

You don’t need to hire a catalogue model for this. Some of our favourite ‘model’ photos have been of pets or body parts! Just take a look at these two examples:

With just one hand, frankie & i have made this cushion look truly irresistible! See how they’ve lit the cushion so that you can see every groove and dent:

You can barely see the dachshund in this photo from Designed for Dogs, but there’s no mistaking just how happy they are in their Doggy Den Bed!

Show a Range

If you have a few different versions of a single product, try grouping them into a single Instagram post. It’s important to show that you’ve got more than one design, as it will encourage people to visit your website and see the full range. It also helps if you’re running a viral campaign — the first person viewing your photo may be drawn to one particular colour or fabric choice, but the friend they share it with may be drawn to another. 

Pullup and Slouch made this Instagram post a few years ago and it has stuck with us as a great example of a ‘multiple product’ shot. It shows multiple products, but it’s not too busy and you don’t feel overwhelmed with choice.

How should I shoot?

What you photograph is only half the story – how you photograph is the other half! You need to take your photos in a way that improves their chances of going viral, and to do that you’ve got to think about a few photography basics, as well as how the Instagram platform actually works. Here are our top tips:

Light your photographs well

Instagram’s app allows you to use filters to alter your photos, but for a really professional look, you have to get your lighting right before you push the shutter button. 

First, think about where your light is coming from. Most camera phones have one LED flash positioned directly under the camera lens, but that shouldn’t be your only source of light, especially if you’re trying to capture depth or texture. 

Take a look at this example from Maria Quinn (Pool of Wool). Most of the light is coming in from right-of-frame, and this casts shadows that show off the deep chunky stitch of the product. There’s also a small amount of light coming from behind the product. It’s not much —  just enough to pick up the fine strands in the wool — but it helps the garment stand out from the background.

In an ideal world, we would all have professional lighting rigs with lots of spotlights, but you’d be surprised at what you can achieve with a few household lamps. Experiment with different angles and see what you can do!

Go against the grain

Take a look at your own instagram feed. Is there a visual pattern to what you’re seeing? What can you do to make your instagram post clash with this pattern?

If you see a lot of photos that share a theme on Instagram (whether that’s pastel colours, natural woods or certain fabrics) make a note! There’s a good chance your target customers are seeing something similar. Try to come up with a theme that’s opposite, in some way, to the general tone of your Instagram feed and see if your results improve.

Simple juxtapositioning like this makes a big difference when you’re trying to win attention on social media — it’s a trick that even the biggest companies in the world use in their marketing. For instance, in 2012, Procter & Gamble discovered that orange advertisements worked best on Facebook. The orange colours stood out against the dark blue background of the Facebook website (see footnote 2). Always try to look different — you’ll get more attention!

Discover the art of Bokeh

A weird word, but a great trick. Bokeh (pronounced like ‘OK’) is that effect you get when most of a photograph is blurry, but one specific part of the photograph is in sharp focus. It’s a great way to grab an Instagram user’s attention.

Just take a look at the post below, which uses the Bokeh effect. You’ll notice that your eye is drawn to the intricate loom work on the top cushion (this is the handiwork of Chloe Scott Woven Design by the way!). By focusing sharply on one specific detail, this photo feels richer and deeper than it would with a broader range of focus. 

Most smartphones can give you a Bokeh effect. It works best when there’s a bit of space between the foreground and the background, and you’ll get different results depending on how close your camera is to your subject. Feel free to experiment with this one and take a look at this helpful YouTube video if you’re stuck!

Managing your Instagram Brand Over Time

You can take a few great photos and get a lot of likes in one day, but if you want Instagram to work for you as a business tool, you have to be in it for the long haul. 

Instagram is a long-term commitment. There are a few things you’ll need to do, week after week, to get the most out of it.

  • Stay consistent. Don’t give it a month and then drop it! Instagram, like most social media platforms, takes a long time to build up a following. A few minutes a week is all it takes to keep things fresh. Adopt a ‘little and often’ approach, and commit to opening the app once a week at the very least. 
  • Use hashtags. Hashtags give Instagram’s algorithm a bit of context into your post and the kind of people who might be interested in seeing it. If you use a really popular term like ‘#fashion’ for instance, your post will appear in the Instagram feed for that hashtag.
  • Reply to people. If someone asks you a question or leaves you a comment, you should at least acknowledge them. This could be as simple as a quick ‘like’, or a note asking them to contact you via email.
  • Follow other brands. Take a look at what other fashion labels are doing with their instagram pages. See if there’s anything you can learn from them. The biggest brands will often have full-time teams working on their social media accounts, so watch them closely. You might see the experts doing something that you can replicate quickly and easily on your own channel!
  • Learn from your stats. Over time, your stats will start to paint a picture about what people like to see on your channel. If your most popular posts may be sent at a certain time of day, or feature a specific product or set of colours. Use that information to your advantage with your next post!

That’s it! I hope this gives you some helpful tips on how to make the most out of Instagram. We think it’s a great platform for British design startups — it costs nothing to get started, and it helps build trust in your brand. What’s not to love?

Let us know how you get on with these tips, and if you have any questions or comments, get in touch! 

Thanks for reading!

– Pete

Footnote 1:

Instagram’s UK user stats were taken from “Instagram users in the United Kingdom (UK) as of September 2020, by age of users” on the statistica website at the link below: 


Footnote 2:

Procter & Gamble’s orange ads story can be found on the Ad Age website at the link below: https://adage.com/article/digital/p-g-finds-orange-ads-work-facebook/232931 

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