Flat lay photography

flat lay photography - smoothie bowl

What is flat lay photography?

It’s basically a photo where the depth is removed. They are taken from above, from bird’s eye view.

I’m sure you have already seen some perfectly arranged clothes, fashion items, breakfasts, etc. Well, there is a good chance that they were flatlays, as this style is very popular on Instagram today.

2 types of flat lay photographs:

  • centered around an object

There is a highlighted object. The other parts of the photo are styled around this main, showcased object.

  • centered around a mood

It has a “story” you tell with your image.

How to get started with flatlay photography?

1. Arranging objects

Arranging things aesthetically needs practice, but it is also a good playtime and it is a great mood booster. There are no strict rules, so you are the boss. There is no right and wrong here. It is art.

2. Decide your message

What story would you like to tell. The concept is the essence of a good flatlay.

Never throw random objects on a background, they might look great together, but if there is no meaning behind the creation, it can not deliver a message.

Flatlays are like visual theaters. The objects are the characters.

Do not stress on it though.

The message can be anything:

“my afternoon at home”

“rainy day”

my trip to X”

“my skincare routine”

3. Choose your objects

After deciding on the main object, choose other ones that relate to the theme, enhance the message.

Pay attention to sizes, shapes and colors.

Hunt for props around the house, your grandma’s house, dollar stores, groceries, candy stores, book stores, vintage stores, office supply stores, your garden, etc.

Pull the items together before starting to compose the image to see how do they match. Maybe some are too bright, too tall, etc.

4. Choose soft lighting

Flatlay photos are 2 dimensional (there is no depth in the photo) so shadows should be avoided.

Use diffused, soft light. Early morning and early evenings (or rainy days) are the best time to shoot as the sun causes sharp shadows.

That being said… it is quite hard to take a sharp flat lay photo without artificial lightning and/or tripod.

A softbox (preferably two) can help tremendously.

5. Choose a plain background

Since the objects you arrange on a background tell the story, the background itself should be simple. In this case, less is definitely more.

Plain white background works well with everything.

You can also use colored backgrounds if it matches the objects well (and if it is not competing with them, but enhance them).

A wrinkled sheet, a wooden board or marble can work well depending on the objects, the message and the mood you are willing to show.

Do you want to give it a cozy feel add something furry like a fur rug or throw blanket.

6. Bird’s eye view

Keep your phone or camera straight and parallel to the composition. Even the slightest tilt can ruin a flatlay photo so try to do your best to maintain the flat-level, straight position.

Holding a DSLR (even it is quite a small one like mine) is a challenge, believe me. So always take more photos than you thing you need to.

7. Help of a grid

Iphones, cameras have a grid feature that helps you make a great composition.

Flatlay photography is allll about organizing! Organizing shapes, colors, textures. It is like Tetris. 🙂

Composition types in flatlay photography

  • Minimalist (with negative space)
  • Grid
  • Diagonal grid
  • Lifestlye (free form)
  • Mock ups

8. Styling

This is the best part but can be a challenge. Practice make perfect! 👌

Look at some Instagrammers or Pinterest boards for inspiration. Ask yourself what are those things that you like on your favorite photos: the mood it showcases? The usage of white space? The props? Maybe how crowded they are?

Try to incorporate what you liked into your creation. Take a lot of photos, play around and look back the photos taken. Are you missing something? Are the objects too much? Could you catch a mood? If not, try again. If you did great, try taking more of it.

You will soon be able to see what is working for you and what is not.

flat lay photography - self care package

Flatlay photography styling step by step

Step 1:

Decide where do you want to use the photo?

If it is for Instagram for example, make sure that you compose the objects into a square. If it is for a Facebook cover, you will need to compose your photo differently.

If it helps for you, use a pencil and draw lines on your background lightly.

Step 2:

Decide on a theme and suitable color palette that you wish to use.

Step 3:

Place the hero object first. This is the object you want to highlight.

If you don’t have a hero item, use the largest item first.

Don’t let any other item fight for the main attention.

Step 4:

Start placing the smaller, but still meaningful objects.

Think about the shapes and sizes that work well together.

Don’t let every item compete with one another. Each item should add to the main focus feature.

Move them around on the board until you like what you see.

Take a photo and review it. This way empty spaces or too crowded areas will show up.

Step 5:

Add some more props or remove a few and take another photo. Review again.

Composing is always related to the cropping of the image.

Even if you crammed a lot into the space, if all the colors are within the same tonal family, it will still look neat and modern.

Step 6:

Add small details where needed.

+ Step:

This step is not necessary:

Add a human touch like a hand, legs into your flat lay to give it a personality. 

While you can compose your legs into the image (not that) easily, if you would like to add hands to the picture, you will ask for a helping hand for sure. 🙂

You can also add some playfulness into the scene: bite in one of the cupcakes. 🙂

Step 7:

Taking the photo.

If you are using a smartphone, just hover over the image and click.

If you are trying to handhold a DSLR, pay attention to the settings:

  • shutter speed set at least 100
  • F-stop is set at least 5.0 – to keep most of your picture in focus, for a crystal clear shot
  • play around with ISO until it is bright

If you have a tripod, you can dial the shutter speed down a little bit if you need a little more light.

If you have no idea what I am talking about here, check this out.

Tips for taking a great flat lay photograph

  • If you are planning to add text to the image later, keep it in mind during the whole process and leave enough empty space. Leave white space on top, bottom and also in the middle. You may not know right now how would you like to use this composition exactly in the future. Leave yourself room to experiment with the text, too.
  • Uneven numbers are more interesting as they seem to be more unfinished. They are also more pleasing to the eye. Use groups of 3, 5, 7…
  • Do not put a huge item in the middle. Put it on the edge so some part of it can be cut off, making a better balance on the photo. Objects don’t need to fit completely onto the photo.
  • Spend time with editing, use suitable filters.
  • Never stop searching for new props! The hunting is the best part!

Best props for flatlay photography

  • Tech, Phones, Laptops
  • Coffee cups
  • Flowers
  • Candles
  • Fabric and linens
  • Cameras
  • White / Colored boards as backdrops
  • Books and journals
  • Jewelry
  • Pens, painting tools, pencils
  • scissors
  • Office supplies like clips, push pins, post it notes
  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • sweets and treats
  • glasses
  • wallets
  • bags and purses
  • Nail polish
  • Paperweights
  • Small vases
  • Maps
  • flower petals
  • leaves (eucalyptus)
  • paper cuts
  • sprinkles

If you are interested in taking flat lay photos but lack inspiration, check out my 30 day flat lay photography challenge!

Happy snapping! 📷

For additional 5,000 points, share this post with your friends because if you share, you care and that is what motivates me.

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how to do flat lay photography

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