best foot forward

the official indigo invitational photo guide


We’ve all heard it, and almost all of have said it: “These pictures don’t do this denim justice. You should see it in real life.”


While denim is notoriously difficult to capture in living colour, we don’t have to settle for lacklustre photographs. With a bit of practice and a bit of ingenuity, we can take pictures that are even better than the real thing. 


Though we will make the case for investing in a digital camera below, this guide is not only for those who have hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on equipment. You don’t need fancy gear to take beautiful photographs. You just need to make the most of what you have. This guide will help you do that. 


There is still plenty of track ahead of us, but there’s no time like the present to start working on your fade photo formula. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be in top form when we cross the finish line.   


Light: less is more


If you’ve struggled to take good photographs of your fades, it might simply be a problem of light, and probably too much of it. Your camera needs dramatically less light than you might think it does.


Denim is a serious and heavy fabric. Lean into this serious quality by giving it less light than you think it needs and you’ll see your denim’s rich inner character shining through in your photographs.


Start by getting outdoors. No amount of fiddling with your camera will manage to produce beautiful photographs when the only light source is artificial indoor lighting. Indoor shots lit by incandescent, fluorescent, or LED bulbs are flat and uninteresting. They always look rushed, and the denim appears drab and lifeless.


NB: All negative examples below are my own. 

Bathroom light and white tiles are bad combo.

The indoor lighting washes all the blue out if this pair.

Indoor lighting just can’t do justice.

Windows with indirect light can be excellent light sources for indoor photography, but for the best light, we need to go outside, and we need to stay out of the sun. Direct light flattens out texture and drenches our denim in dark shadows.


The best denim photographs, whether taken by amateurs or professionals, showcase every inch of the denim and its texture. They do this by reducing shadows to an absolute minimum. When we get out of the direct sunlight, the light is diffused evenly, giving the most accurate picture of how the denim actually looks. 


I took these photos in the early afternoon. In this first set, I’m facing into the sun. Shadows on my inner thighs and around the knees have turned blue into black, and it’s even worse on the back side, where most of the left thigh has disappeared entirely.


When the sun is at my back, the shadows are gone, but the sun is shining directly into the camera, creating that fuzzy light-drenched aura. The denim looks a little better, but the photograph is far from perfect.



Head out with your camera in tow when the sun is either hiding (behind clouds, buildings, or the horizon) or very close to the horizon. During sunrise and sunset, when shadows are long, your photographs will have a warm, idyllic glow. 

L: Alex Swords R: Philip Dotsenko

The mid-evening light is perfect for denim photographs. Stay out of the sun and your pictures will have a heavy and almost cinematic quality. 



It’s worth planning your photo session to capture the last few minutes of good daylight. The most striking denim photographs utilize this late light. 

There’s no hard and fast rule that will help you capture the ideal evening light. Some cameras need a little more light to function optimally, others less. When you find the right light, you’ll know it. 

Gear: spend a little to get a lot


Camera gear isn’t essential. Get the light and the staging right and you can point and click with just about anything and snap a great-looking photograph. 


If you’ve got the budget for it, though, a small investment in photo gear will give you more control over your photographs and a much higher resolution, which allows you to zoom in on photos without them becoming blurry messes. 


A good entry model DSLR will set you back about the same amount as a pair of top-shelf Japanese selvedge. You can, if you like, spend thousands of dollars for premium photo equipment, and there’s value for money if you exploit the camera’s full range of settings. If you’re only really planning to point and click, though, the budget models will be more than enough.

This difference isn’t immediately obvious until you see side-by-side comparisons like the ones above. The camera phones take nice pictures, but the digital camera captures a mountain of texture and detail that the phones miss. A quick glance should be able to tell you which is the DSLR.


At 200% magnification, the differences become even more obvious.


iPhone 8 – 200% magnification

iphone 11 pro max – 200% Magnification

Sony nex3 (dslr) – 200% magnification


staging: depth, interest, and contrast


To do justice to our beautiful denim and the fades we’ve worked hard to produce, we need to do more than simply throw our jeans on the ground or on the bed and snap a few photos. We need to stage our photographs for interest, depth, and contrast.


Unless you’re taking boudoir shots, beds and photographs don’t mix. Same goes for your toilet, your couch, your laundry pile, or your TV. Remember that we’re showcasing workwear, not loungewear, and definitely not lingerie. Put your jeans in an appropriate context.    

If you absolutely must take your photographs inside, do so next to a window and use only the natural light. As a bare minimum, clear a space for your photographs. There should be nothing in the background of your photos that catches the eye.


A little bit of out-of-doors exploration can go a long way. Parks are often brimming with perfect locations for a quick photo shoot. A patch of grass or a wooded area will be an immense improvement over your bedroom, bathroom, or living room.


Grass and wood are great, but there’s no reason to shy away from brick, mortar, rebar, and concrete. Parking structures, train tracks, or back alleys (sans trash) can all provide excellent backdrops.


Keep your eyes peeled for a perfect location, and then come back either very early or late in the day when the light is just right. If you don’t have somebody to take the pictures for you, bring a tripod and a remote shutter (both small investments that pay big dividends).  


Here are a few examples of monthly updates that have been staged in ways that arrest the eye:

What you’ll notice in all of these pictures is depth. There is a foreground (in sharp focus) and a background (in softer focus). This bokeh effect makes denim leap out at you, and it gives photographs that glossy magazine quality.


Go out of your way to find a location for your photographs that allows for this kind of depth and interest and you’ll never want to go back to taking indoor photos.


A bit of depth goes a long way. A few trees or a textured wall can make an excellent background for your photos, provided that you put some distance between foreground and background.


L: Cheerayu Phokrachang R: Patrick Gessner

Depth and interest are nice to have, but they’re not absolutely essential. If you choose a background that contrasts nicely with your denim, you can keep things simple and stunning. When exploring your environment, keep your eyes peeled for coloured or textured surfaces that might be used as backgrounds. 


Here are a few examples of photos with eye-catching contrast. Even though there is very little here in terms of depth or even of interest, the contrast does the heavy lifting, bringing the denim front and centre.

Hanging up the hang-ups


My first pictures of denim were all taken in the bedroom with the door closed.  I didn’t want anybody to see what I was doing. I felt vain and frivolous, and, to make matters worse, I was deeply unhappy with the photographs I was taking.


There’s no getting around this. Nobody starts out perfectly at ease either in front of or behind the camera. It’s only by experiencing this discomfort that we can pass through it. It gets a little easier each time we push the shutter.


In time, the camera will start to feel more comfortable in your hands, and your photographs will begin to improve. They’ll improve again when you step outside and start taking photographs out there. 


This is, of course, more difficult than it sounds. When we take pictures of our clothes, we attract attention. Why? Because we are (let’s face facts) doing something unusual. The feelings of embarrassment are not easy to ignore or overcome.  


Remember, though we might look peculiar, we don’t look foolish. Quite the opposite. We’ve aroused people’s interest and curiosity. We need to embrace this, to hold our heads high, to be shameless denim enthusiasts. Again, this becomes easier every time we push that shutter. 


So push that shutter a lot. Rather than quickly snapping three or four photographs, take thirty or forty of them at a time. When you get home and sift through all of the pictures, there’s almost always a nugget or two of solid gold among them. Even professional photographers delete about 90% of the photographs they take, so don’t expect every picture to be a masterpiece.


Be patient with yourself, and embrace the peculiarity of this passion we share. With your camera in hand, step out your front door and start exploring, and try to ignore the gawkers. If you feel embarrassed, that’s perfectly natural. Focus on your task and the embarrassment will pass.


Do this and your photographs will improve dramatically. Then, when we come to the end of this road we’re all on together, you’ll be able to showcase the fades you have worked so hard to produce. When you cross that line, you’ll be putting your best foot forward.


why we need the redline rally

rally around the indigo invitational


The Redline Rally isn’t just something we want to do. It’s something we need to do. If you’re on the fence, here are a few things to consider.


the invitational needs the redline rally


A shirts/jackets fading competition is something the people have been asking for. It’s clearly something the community wants, and we’re as eager to dedicate a year to a single piece as we know many of you are, but the Redline Rally is about more than that.


For nearly two years, the founders have been pouring their time into running the Indigo Invitational. It’s been a labour of love, and that love has been returned to us in so many ways. The costs were negligible during the first year, but that was when we had a little over 100 competitors. We started Year Two with more than 850 competitors.


To put the matter simply, the competition needs support to remain viable and independent.


“The Indigo Invitational needs support to remain viable and independent”


It’s been suggested to us more times than we can count that we should start charging competitors to enter. From the beginning, we promised not to come to you with our hands out. Our position is that competitors have already paid for their entry by spending hundreds of dollars on your denim. In our books, that’s enough.


We knew the support for the Indigo Invitational would have to come from elsewhere. Tentatively, we reached out to a few brands and stockists to ask for their help. They came back to us immediately (almost instantaneously, in fact). One after another, brands and retailers we contacted pledged their support in the form of a small commission on pieces registered in the competition.


This support is a two-way street. For the Redline Rally, we will support the brands and retailers that support us. We hope you will do the same.


keep the ii wide open and free


By supporting our sponsors and registering a shirt or jacket in the competition, you are making a small but essential contribution to the Indigo Invitational. Each registration is a small signal that you think what we are doing is valuable and meaningful.


Like the Indigo Invitational, The Redline Rally is not about winning or even about competing. It’s about doing something together. We’re building a community, and we want that community to thrive and, most importantly, to last. The Redline Rally is how we do that.



Yes, your choices are limited to items available through our participating sponsors. Thanks to support from some of the largest names in the made-to-fade game, faders have access to hundreds of eligible products from dozens of brands. If you’re dead set on something that’s not yet on the list, email us and we’ll see what we can do.


If we can do this as a group, the Indigo Invitational can remain exactly the same as it has always been. It can be entirely free for competitors, and faders can choose any pair of denim they like.


If you believe, as we do, that the Indigo Invitational needs to remain wide open and free, help us keep it that way.    


we’ve saved the best for last


The best reason to join the Redline Rally has nothing to do with supporting the competition or the makers and sellers that have supported us. If the reasons above aren’t enough to convince you, do it for the fades.


We have all seen beautifully faded examples of shirts and jackets. We know what we need to do to produce these fades, but many of us keep adding pieces to the rotation. It’s the same problem that we created the Indigo Invitational to address, and the solution is the same.


Last year, we proved that fade masterpieces are within our reach provided that we have a good reason to remain disciplined. Can we bring this same level of discipline to above-the-belt fades? The Redline Rally is how we find out.


Want proof that, with discipline, incredible above-the-belt fades are possible?

9 Months in Sweden – Photo from Heddels

I recently came across a Heddels Fade Friday piece that showed exactly what is possible when a determined fader meets a made-to-fade shirt. Nils Johansson of Sweden put nine months’ worth of wear into an 11oz Nudie Gunnar shirt. After nine months’ worth of wear (including four washes and one soak), he had a faded masterpiece. Those of us who put the work in and remain discipline can expect something similar.


Nils Johansson’s Faded Masterpiece – Photo from Heddels

More than anything, it was seeing these fades that convinced us that a shirt and jacket fading competition was viable. Beautiful high-contrast shirt fades are as rare as hen’s teeth in this scene, but made-to-fade shirts will do what they were designed to do if we bring all of our focus to them.


We don’t have to forsake all our other tops, and we certainly don’t need to spend 365 days in one piece, but we do need to put one shirt or jacket at the very center of our rotation, and we need to leave it there. When that new release calls our name, we need a very good reason to keep our focus on the slow work we’re already doing.


Resisting temptation won’t be easy, but we’ve proven with the Indigo Invitational that, when we share a common and attainable goal, anything is possible.







Step into the Light

Making the Case for Competing


In a recent post, I highlighted a few of the reasons why we compete in the Indigo Invitational. We compete because fading is an experience that becomes more exciting and rewarding when it is shared with other enthusiasts. We don’t compete for the prizes, or even for the glory of victory. This competition is not a battle for first place. It is a year-long communal celebration of a shared passion.


The proof of this is everywhere you look. Look for smack talk and gamesmanship. You won’t find it. Instead, you’ll find competitors supporting and encouraging each other. You won’t find any boasting, bullying, or jostling for position. Instead, you’ll find the Indigo Spirit, a powerfully magnetic fellowship of fading.

All of us can attest to this magnetism. It is felt by all, even at a tremendous distance. Selvedge enthusiasts are, by and large, few and far between. Some of us (the lucky few) are plugged in to local denim scenes. Most of us, though, fade alone. The Indigo Invitational turns the solitary activity of fading into a communal one.


This is reason enough for most people. Some, though, still aren’t convinced.


The Argument Against Competing


If the Indigo Invitational has appeared on your radar, there’s a good chance that you’ve got a few pairs of raw denim on the go. A handful of people joining the competition are making their first foray into the world of raw denim. The vast majority of us, though, have closets bursting with selvedge. We’ve faded at least a pair or two down to white bone.



Having once faded a pair to perfection, we want to do it again and again. We’re hooked, and we start looking for our next project pair.  Here’s the thing, though: the more we look, the more we see. The more we see, the more we learn. We begin the slow slide into enthusiast territory, and along the way, we armloads of the stuff. We end up with a stack of fresh pairs that (we’ll readily admit) only get part of the attention they’re due.


And now, here comes a fading competition that asks you to take a step back from collecting and wear one pair for 365 days. For those who given themselves over to the collecting impulse, this is simply a bridge too far. “I’ve got too many pairs on the go”, they say, or “I can’t do justice to my rotation if I only wear one pair.”


I don’t have an answer for this. It’s not my place to tell you what your denim priorities should be. If you’d rather collect and rotate than fade aggressively, I’ll admit that you’ll probably find the Indigo Invitational more frustrating than rewarding.


If you know that you won’t be able to resist the siren call of your unworn pairs, if the thought of monogamous fading for a month (let alone for 365 days) sends chills down your spine, it’s unlikely you’ll cross the finish line.


From Out of the Darkness


Nobody wants to start something that they’ll lay down half completed. If you know you won’t cross the finish line, the Indigo Invitational probably isn’t for you. Perhaps, though, you’re caught between the competition and your rotation. You have a few pairs on the go, and you don’t want to lay them aside for a year to compete, but the idea of the competition intrigues you. If you’re one of these fence-sitters, allow me to approach this from a different angle.



While there are definitely denim lovers who prefer the look of crisp, dark selvedge to faded pairs, we don’t see many of them round these parts. Most of us were drawn into this world (and into this competition) by the pull of the light side. We light-side acolytes know that denim in its raw state is essentially incomplete. It is not truly finished until it bears on its surface the outline of our body, until the sun shines on the white core of the yarn.



This is what almost all of us want. We want to be on the light side, but the dark side calls out to us each time a new collaboration drops or a long-coveted pair goes on sale. We love the look of beautifully faded raw denim, but we add new pairs into the rotation faster than we can fade them. With each new pair, we swear that this time will be different. We will, we say, dedicate ourselves to this pair and forsake all others. We try, but we can’t resist the call of the other pairs in our rotation, and, to make matters worse, that rotation grows by a few pairs every year.


We want to step into the light, but the pull of the dark side proves almost impossible to resist. The dark side exacts a cost in more ways than one. We spend thousands of dollars chasing the perfect pair. And this isn’t all: when we give in to the power of the dark side, we never do justice to our jeans.



Do Justice to Your Jeans


The Indigo Invitational was born as a rejection of the dark side. In 2019, I challenged members of the Raw Denim Facebook group to show me their fades. I was seeing a lot of pictures of amazing selvedge, but it all looked practically brand new. When I asked why this was, the answers had a familiar ring. They had too many pairs. They knew they couldn’t fade them all at once, but this didn’t stop them from trying.


They needed a very good reason to focus exclusively on one pair, and I gave them that reason by starting the competition. Sponsors soon joined and gave us an added incentive to hold the line. Nearly half of our competitors bowed out (many drawn back to their neglected rotations) in the middle of the race. Those who crossed the line a full year later, though, felt the full power of the light side. Their jeans were beaten and tattered, held together with homemade patches and crude stitches. They had embraced the light side and, in the process, they’d done justice to their jeans.

This is what has pulled so many of our faders back into the starting blocks this year. Last year, with only a month of lead time, many of us reached for the closest available pair. This year is different. We’ve carefully selected our pairs, and we know that, as long we can hold our nerve, we’ll cross the finish line next October with a pair that has been given its due.


It’s a partnership between the fader and his or her pair. Give a year of uninterrupted wear to one pair and it will return the favour. It will give you it’s absolute best.



Show and Shine


I close my case with this. My best friend (and this competition’s co-founder) Dave recently told me a story. On the quiet street he lived on as a child, there was a man with a ’69 Mustang convertible. On weekends, when the sun was shining, Dave’s neighbour would back his car out of the garage and onto the driveway. He would polish the Mustang for hours and then, after he was done, he would climb back behind the wheel and, feathering the pedal, inch his pride and joy back into the garage.


Dave only ever saw the car leave the man’s driveway once. It was a Saturday morning, and Dave watched as his neighbour eased the car onto a trailer and took it to a show and shine. At the car show, it sat next to other pristine muscle cars. Owners bragged to each other about the low mileage on their babied machines.


Dave’s neighbour was intensely proud of his Mustang, but it was, he said, too nice to drive. He had taken it out for a spin once when he bought it, but the sight of the odometer running was more than he could bear. He took it home and parked it in the garage. He was more concerned with preserving the value of his investment than he was in flexing the American muscle atrophying in his driveway.


The car cried out to be driven on the ragged edge of physics down a windy country road, the top down, the throttle wide open. It deserved to be pushed to its limits, to do what it had been designed to do.


Our jeans deserve the same kind of throttle-wide-open use. They were built to fade, so fade them. The light side is calling your name. Your jeans want you to answer the call. Just as that Mustang wanted to belch smoke and fire and eat up the tarmac, your denim is begging to be used and abused.





There are, at last count, more than three hundred of us, all poised in the starting blocks ready to give our pairs absolute hell—it’s what they were built to do, and it’s what they deserve. Join us. Stomp on the gas pedal and leave a trail of indigo in your wake. Empty the tank and spin the odometer. Your rotation will be waiting for you when you return back to the garage next October.


Step out of the night and into the light.




“Raw denim is a journey. The path  looks a little different for each wayfarer, but we all pass the same milestones along the way.”

“The full denim experience begins with the struggle.”

“Denim heaven isn’t so much about what the jeans look like as what they feel like.”


Where are you on your raw denim journey?

the 8 stages of denim enthusiasm

Denim enthusiasm is a journey with definite milestones that we can all recognise. Where are you on your raw denim journey? To find out, click the link below. 

Read the Article


“The world of raw denim spins on an axis of fades.”

“With a vigorous lifestyle, you can expect to see fades emerging in three to four months.”

“What we end up with depends on what we start with, but there’s no consensus on what the end product should look like.”

raw denim faqs

answers to all your denim questions 

What is the best way to fade denim? How should I spend my denim dollars? Especially if you’re new to the denim fading scene, you’ve probably got a ton of questions. In this pair of articles, you’ll find the answers you’re looking for. Click below to read the full articles. 

Fading & Washing FAQRaw Buying FAQ


“Recipes for top-shelf fades are like bellybuttons—we’ve all got one, and they’re all slightly different.”

“By the time I washed my first pair of Naked & Famous (after a year of constant wear), you could smell me coming before you could see me coming.”

“The initial leap into selvedge is fully justifiable for the fade fanatic. After that first price jump, though, the fade enthusiast faces diminishing returns.”

raw denim myth busting

putting raw denim myths under the microscope 

Is selvedge really a better foundation than non-selvedge? Does Japan really make the best raw denim on the planet? Does heat really accelerate fades? We put these commonly cited denim fading myths to the test. What the evidence tells us might surprise you. Click below for either buying myths or fading and washing ones. 

Buying MythsFading & Washing Myths