Flat Lay Photography: The Perfect Flat Lay In 5 Steps

Flat Lay Photography: The Perfect Flat Lay In 5 Steps

A new nook in your apartment that you want to showcase? An on-point outfit that deserves some extra attention? Or a lazy Sunday in bed-scenery that you want to use productively? Flat lay photography comes in handy when you want to give details a stage. Flat lays are creative still life photos shot from an above angle. They are often used in product photography because it’s easy to stage a scene and tell a story through an image, as they allow for a narrower frame with more details without looking crammed.

Let’s have a look at the 5 most important aspects for some flat lay inspiration!

Step 1: Story

We’re starting off with arguably the most important step when creating flat lays – the story. The story basically leads the rest of the creation process. Therefore, it’s worth taking a bit of time to think about the mood you want to set and which main items (1-3 products) you want to showcase in your flat lay. Those accessories will be your hero items. Something that inspires you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be placed at the center of your photo, but it is certainly the center of attention. Having a clear idea of the story you want to tell around your hero item will also help you define complimenting items.

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Step 2: Colors

When it comes to colors, less is more. Pick 2-3 base colors that you use throughout your arrangement from backgrounds to props, Colors help you direct the story or mood you want to transmit in your flat lay. Moreover, you don’t overload your photo by keeping to the limited amounts of colors. You can also soothe the photo by easily enhancing or de-saturating specific colors with a little help from filters, for example for editing apps like Lightroom mobile CC. This will give your photos a professional touch with just one click.

Usually, it presents itself to pick colors that go well with each other to create a well-balanced photo. Color palettes are often a good way to seek out matching colors and shades. If you can’t decide, you can start with your key object and use its color to base a color palette around it.

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Step 3: Backgrounds

Despite the fact that the background solely serves as the base foundation of your photo, it nevertheless plays a huge part in the composition. You can get really creative with the choice of your background and it gives you the possibility to set the scene for the story you’re telling. Let’s say you want to arrange a beach vacation-themed flat lay: why not opt for a towel, rustic beachwalk-like wood planks or even sand as the background?

Generally, it’s a good rule of thumb to use a rather neutral background without a lot of texture or color. The focal points should be the props in the foreground of your photo and not the background itself. A staple for flat lay backgrounds for example is a bed sheet or blanket. We’re curious to see with what kind of background you come up!

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Step 4: Lighting

Lighting is a pretty sensible topic here. If the light source is not bright enough, you’ll get a lot of very contrasty shadows. In turn, if the light source is too bright, you’ll end up losing fine color nuances and you still have the shadow-problem.

With flat lay photography in particular, lighting should be carefully placed. Ideally, you can use natural light as this allows for an even lighting. Cloudy days work best, as you don’t get any harsh shadows. When shooting indoors, you’ll best place your items next to a window for some natural light. If that’s not an option, you can also go for a strobe light with a soft box attachment to mimic soft window light.

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Step 5: Flat Lay Styles - Choosing & Arranging Props

Let’s have a look at some of the most used styles to give you some flat lay photography ideas for your next shooting.

The Minimalist

If you’re anything like a minimalist, this flat lay might be for you. The minimalist flat lay style is coined by neutral, toned down colors, high contrasts and few focal points. To pull it off, find one object that you want to set the stage for. The rest of the image can be open space. 

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This format is quite popular in advertisement because it puts the product at the center of attention while leaving room for the viewer’s thoughts and associations.

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The Chaot

At a first glance, this flat lay might look chaotic. Props laying around seemingly without any order, no red thread when it comes to color palettes? But taking a closer look, it becomes obvious that there actually is a system behind the composition.

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The Color Lover

Popping colors are a great way to add excitement and a bit of playfulness to an otherwise rather clean and orderly shot. This is also a perfect theme when you want to drive the attention to your photo. Even more so, colors enable you to drive the attention to your product or the props in your photo when you pick up your color theme in other props or the background. 

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The Copywriter

You’re always on the hunt for a good story and you know how important it is to support your story visually? Flat lays are a good option for copywriters to open a blog article, a photo series or even a recipe article.

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If you want to use a flat lay as the header image of your article, simply leave some room for headlines or text when shooting your photo. If you’re not sure how much space you will need, you can use a paper stencil in the form of your text – a square or circle – and arrange it together with the other flat lay props.

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When editing your flat lay afterwards, you can now insert any kind of text and edit font, size or text background to your liking. Good apps to do so are for example Wordswag or Canva. Simply upload your raw flat lay there and start getting your message out there.

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Why not try all of the flat lay ideas above with your favorite hero items and find out which of the styles resonate most with yours? Or are you using another style that we haven’t mentioned yet? We’re curious to see how you use flat lay photography for your Instagram feed or blog!