Mastering The Flat Lay

What Is A Flat Lay?

  • It’s a photograph taken from above, pointing down. 
  • It’s a curated collection with a coherent theme. It’s a way of grouping elements together based on a particular theme in order to tell a visual story. 
  • It’s artistic, and has become an icon of social media photography. That gives flat lays a kind of cultural relevance that your audience will ascribe to your brand, if you can do them well.  

 

Why Flat Lay?

  • Show off products to their best advantage. Some products are meant to be seen top-down. Cards. Jewellery. 
  • They make amazing filler content. In your grid or in the product photos on your online store, it’s almost impossible to keep the horizons of your photos consistent. It’s such a small detail, but this is something that adds a whole lot of polish. Flat lays can be used to circumvent this issue. Use them in between straight-on shots that have a different horizon. Use them to tell a story. Use them to show your creativity and give context. 
  • If you have a lot of white in your grid, then a few brand colours as well, you can use flat lays with different backgrounds to ensure you have the right kind of image always to hand. I like to post a photo that’s white or nearly white with lots of negative space - then a photo with a bit more colour and texture - then a photo that’s white or nearly white with lots of negative space… because I find this pattern creates a pleasing balance between lots of visual interest on my grid, and enough space that it’s not overwhelming to the eye. 
  • Other grids use colour blocking, or have strong colour themes, and you can use flat lays to easily create original content to fit your needs from scratch. 

 

Practice + Patience

  • Mastering the flat lay takes practice. I personally find it the hardest kind of photo to take and edit… but it’s such an important part of your brand’s photo collateral that I don’t want you to be without them.

Set Up

  • I like to take my flat lay photos on the floor because you need more space than you might think. 
  • Lighting is also really important. While I sometimes use studio lights for other kinds of product photography, for flat lays I always use filtered natural light. I don’t like hard shadows, so I shoot by a window when the sun isn’t directly coming through, or on a cloudy day. That gives the most even illumination to the scene. 
  • May need to use a reflector board on other sides of your scene to bounce light back onto your flat lay… otherwise you’ll have an overexposed side and an underexposed side. 
  • I use a tripod with an extension arm to shoot over the scene.
  • Remote shooting. I like to see what the photo looks like on the computer screen. It’s bigger and I can analyse it. The tripod holds the camera, so I have my hands free to get down, play with different elements and angles that might not be working for me, then test shoot again.  

Background

  • Can use a lazy susan and a piece of foam core. This is helpful for swivelling the flat lay so you don’t always have to be moving the camera. 
  • Or, can layer other textures over the floor. This could be bed sheets, a furry throw, coloured papers, tiles, or a printed backdrop. This depends on your brand aesthetic and also the story you’re trying to tell. 

Choosing Your Objects

  • The objects grouped can follow a strict theme, or the whole mix can be more whimsical.
  • The colours of the elements should fit your brand / theme.
  • The objects should all either fit the same purpose (ie: office supplies) or be things the same person would have (ie: baby booties, rattle, childish animal print, blocks). Can be themed by colour, by texture, by object, or by owner. 

Composition

  • The way you arrange objects speaks to your brand’s character, and this is something to think about when you’re creating flat lays. Compositions can be quite loose, or highly structured. Sparse or very full. 
  • The way the camera sees angles and shapes isn’t the same way your eye sees them. This is called distortion, and it’s the bane of any flat lay master’s existence. I use the tripod because it frees up my hands to constantly arrange and re-arrange items until I’m happy with how they appear in my square. I use dimes, and a lot of white tack to prop objects up at angles that make them look straight to the camera. 
  • Give objects more room to breath than you’d think. Really crowded flat lays don’t tend to look as good, and they create so many shadows that they can be difficult to edit. They always looks a bit murky. 
  • Structured flat lay
  • Loose flat lay

http://www.popsugar.com.au/fashion/Margaret-Zhang-Best-Instagram-Flat-Lay-Pictures-36274114#photo-36274122 

  • The magic circle
  • The rule of thirds
  • Deconstructed parts of a whole
  • Add in hands

Editing Tips

- I use Lightroom. 

Flat Lay Tips For Iphone

  • If you don’t have a fancy camera, a tripod with an arm, or Lightroom… and you don’t want to invest in these things just yet - or you want to be able to snap cool flat lays on the go, here’s what you need to know.