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I am a food + product photographer & educator specializing in eco-friendly and sustainable brands. When I am not working with clients, I empower creatives to start their journey by sharing my knowledge on the business of food + product photography.
If you’re an Instagram addict like me, you’ve definitely noticed the abundance of amazing flat lays coming from some of your favorite bloggers, influencers, and brands. A good flat lay is carefully constructed and pieced together with purpose, yet it effortlessly tells a stylish story. So what are their secrets and how do they do it? I’m so glad you asked! Here are 10 tips for the perfect flat lay photo.
Opt for a flat lay background that complements the featured products and doesn’t distract the viewer from the main subject. Simple backgrounds, such as tabletops, wooden floorboards, white cardboard, bench tops, marble tiles, shaggy rugs, and clean bed sheets work well in almost any situation, so have a look around your home for surfaces to flat lay on.
The number one rule of flat lay images is to always shoot in natural light, either in the morning or afternoon as the midday light is quite harsh. Make sure to choose a spot that is filled with natural light, yet not directly in the sunlight, perhaps near a large window or glass doors. If you have sheer curtains, they will be your best asset to create soft beautiful light. Try different places around your home and office until you find a place that gives you the best natural lighting.
The theme is important because your flat lay should tell a story or describe a moment in time, so ensure every piece of the flat lay helps to tell the story and is in line with the overall theme. The theme could be anything, from travel, fashion, beauty, and food to “a day in the life” or “what’s in my bag”. Whatever the case, use objects that naturally go well together and would be seen in the same scene.
The aim of a flat lay is to shoot from above the layout, so get up high if you need to and stand on a stool or ladder. If you’ve set up your flat lay on the floor, you’ll be able to shoot from above once standing up. It’s a little harder, though, when you’re shooting on a table or benchtop. Get above and over the top of your flat lay for the best shot.
If your photo doesn’t look right and you can’t quite figure out why, try the layering approach: if you are styling food, add a napkin on the backdrop, a plate on the napkin, a cupcake on the plate, and sprinkles on the cupcakes (yes, the sprinkles absolutely count as a layer). If you are styling a desktop shot, stack several notebooks and place a pair of glasses, a pen, or headphones on top. Adding layers creates dimension and visual interest to your images.
Just like choosing a theme, it is important to choose a color palette for your flat lay so that everything matches. Choose a color scheme and stick to it, whether it is earthy hues, shades of blue, or strictly monochrome. Whatever you choose, resist the temptation to add a contrasting color to your flat lay and instead accessorize with black, white, and metallic.
Don’t always settle for the first arrangement you place. Move things around and experiment with your flat lay layout until you find something that you are happy with. Be creative and place large items next to small and dainty items, or layer products on top of each other.
Check out some epic flat lay images for inspiration before you venture out into the world of flat-laying. Some of my favorites are @breakfast_and_coffee, @themoderproper, @flatlayforever, @bevcooks. Of course, Pinterest is also an excellent source of inspo.
If you create flat lays regularly for fun or for your blog or social media, build up a box of props to help give your image a finishing touch each and every time. They come in handy (and it’s a great excuse to go shopping). Check out this blog post for 10 great props for under $10.
Now you’ve got all the info you need to start creating some incredible flat lay photography! I can’t wait to see what you come up with, so make sure to find me on Instagram and share it! Be sure to sign up for my email list, as well. I send out business and photography tips to my newsletter crowd that I don’t post anywhere else.