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5 tips for the perfect flat lay

So you’ve spent hours, weeks, years creating your amazing handmade products and now you need to show the world your talents right? How do you do that in a way that creates a connection, an emotional response that means your audience falls in love with your product, remembers you and wants to buy from you?

When taking photos of products (and people) giving them something do to is a way to give energy and life into your image. It’s a way to give your image a time, a place or an emotion. A way to show your viewers how your product fits into their life. One of the best ways to do this is in a flat lay. The nature of a flat lay (a collection of objects photographed from a birds eye view) means that props and story telling elements are essential. These add context to your subject and create that connection.

As you may have found out for yourself flat lays are tricker to get right that they look. It’s more than just chucking stuff on a table and standing on a stool with your phone held in the air. I’m going to share with you now 5 practical tips that will improve your flat lay photography.

1. HAVE A SIMPLE BACKGROUND

My favourite is the plain white background like in the shot above. I use Coreflute sheets (in the wood section at Bunnings). They are cheap, light, easily manoeuvrable and also make great reflectors (see next tip). Foam board from craft shops will work well also and a lot of my phone flat lays are taken on my daughters white IKEA table. If white isn’t your brand then there are heaps of other options out there. A wooden table, marble bench top (or marble-look vinyl tiles), coloured card, blackboards, cork boards, placemats, white bed sheets or other fabric. You could even paint your own. Just make sure it is flat, that it doesn’t reflect light, that it doesn’t detract from your subject and that it adds to your story.

2. USE NATURAL LIGHTING

Try and take all your images during the day. Close to a bright window but not so close that it creates harsh shadows. You can use the white Coreflute mentioned above to hold up opposite the window to reduce or eliminate the shadows. In the tooth box image above I have strong light coming in from the right, and a reflector set up (just propped up against a chair) on the left to reduce the shadows. It’s still visible, but not distracting. It actually helps add depth.

I never shoot flay lays (or at all actually) at night. The number one no-no for flat lays and lighting? No phone shadows! Always check to see if you or your phone are casting a shadow across your subject. This is almost impossible to avoid with overhead lights, thus the ‘shoot during the day’ rule.

3. COMPOSITION

Possibly the trickiest thing to get right in flat lay photos is the composition. This is going to be trial and error depending on your subject, props and the story you want to tell. There are a couple of approaches you can take… all lined up, organised randomness, all within the frame or some elements being cropped.

Keep some space between your items whether they are in a grid like the first example above or more random like the third image. Make sure the image is balanced, too many heavy elements on one side will make it look uncomfortable and an odd number of elements generally works the best. Don’t forget you can keep it as simple as you like!

4. LINE UP YOUR SHOT

There are two fantastic tools on your phone that will help you line up your shot for the perfect flat lay. The ability to shoot in a square format and to display the grid function on your screen (iPhone Settings > Camera > Grid. For Android it is in the Camera Settings).

Keeping your phone flat is essential. By using the grid and square-capture format you can easily check your elements are lined up and that your phone is parallel to any lines you have in your composition. It’s easier to see if your shot is balanced and if you have an even area around your subject. I always have mine turned on and I always shoot my phone flat lays square.

5. EDIT YOUR IMAGE

By the nature of using your phone to take the shot, you will need to edit your images to get the most out of them. You don’t need to download an abundance of apps and go to town on all the options and filters they provide. Keep it simple. I recommend you at least increase the exposure/brightness (if you’ve shot on a white background then you want it to look white when you load it up) and not using filters at 100%. The tools that Instagram provide are simple to use and a great place to start. Keep your editing consistent, remember you’re telling your story and connecting with your brand when you are sharing your images.

 

These basic, practical steps should get you on your way to creating fabulous flat lay images. I hope you have found these tips useful. I have a few other blogs up my sleeve for LAH readers about styling and storytelling, using texture and adding depth for next level flat lay images so stay tuned.

 

If you have any questions about flat lays or phone photography please reach out. You can find me on Instagram @ajharringtonphotos where I share quick tips and there’s more tutorials on my site www.ajharringtonphotos.com. I look forward to connecting with you!

All the best,

AJ

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