What is Flat Lay Photography | Step-by-Step Guide

Last Updated on December 28, 2021 | In Food Photography by Stefano Caioni Leave a Comment

Last Updated on December 28, 2021

So you want to learn flat lay photography?

Have you ever wondered why this photography style has gained so much traction on social media?

Do you want to master flat lay photography in no time and you’re looking for some inspiration?

I’m going to introduce you to all this and more.

flat lay shareable pin

A flat lay is a type of photography that consists of photos of “orderly” arranged items taken from above, parallel to the surface.

It is a sub-niche of still life photography, and what made it so popular is that it’s easy and fun to do. Moreover, flat lay photography is pleasant to watch.

It’s common to see flat lay compositions getting hundreds if not thousands of likes on Instagram. It’s an easy way to step up the look of your feed and look like a real product photography expert.

The colorful and ordered display of items shot from above creates engaging compositions pleasant to the viewer’s eyes and very satisfying to do.

Not only they work well on social media, but they also look great for magazine ads, as headers on a website or as YouTube thumbnails.

Flat lay photography camera and map

If you want to stand out on social media, this is one of the best ways to make the most out of your photos.

There are endless flat lay photography ideas that can make your photos unique.

They are surprisingly easy to follow when you stick to some simple rules.

Flat Lay Photography, What You Need to Know About it

It is all about the details.

Laying out your “objects” (what you want to photograph) on a table or desk, or on the floor and taking a top-down shot of those objects is not enough.

Let’s see what you have to do to master flat lay.

Where to Start: Inspiration

Mug of hot chocolate by Natasha Breen on 500px.com

You need to seek inspiration.

I cover different flat lays compositional techniques and ideas later in the article.

Getting inspired helps you define your story.
In fact, thinking of your flat lay photo as a story is key to compose your shots.

What are you trying to tell?

The basic “ingredients” or elements of your story are represented by the items you want to photograph and how you are going to arrange them.

Remember, storytelling is crucial in photography.

Use Instagram, Pinterest or 500px for inspiration, they are the best places to look when it comes to flat lays. Here’s a couple of profiles you can check

Set up for the Best Light

Proper light is essential. It will make the photograph look clearer and sharper.

You can also play with light, to place extra emphasis on a specific part of the photograph and make it stand out.

Try with different arrangements and find out how light affects your photo. Your goal is to make the light look natural to set your shot apart from others. So avoid using a flash. Natural light will give you a soft and balanced effect.

Set up next to a window and pick the right time of the day the best light.
The morning sun and late afternoon are the best to obtain a nice soft light.

Consider the amount of shadow you are getting with your set up remembering that you’re shooting from above which I’ll get to in a moment.

Lay Your Items Down

Once you’ve decided the theme for your flat lay, and found a good source of light, choose a good background .

For simplicity, you can start with a white one.

Flat lay photography apricots and white space

Even a white blanket would do. A long as it matches the theme of your flat lays.

Then, choose your main focal point and drive attention to it with the objects around.

Don’t make an overwhelming composition that will only confuse the viewer, but place the items with the intention to create interest and drive attention to the main subject. You can create visual paths to follow to make the flat lay drive the viewer’s eyes from left to right, right to left, top to bottom and so forth.

Don’t include items that stand out more than your main one. If your intent is to highlight a camera, for example, don’t include other cameras.

Work with the less is more concept in mind.

Choose your props carefully, a consistent and strategic color palette is also important to make the viewer go smoothly through the items in your image with interest and not getting inundated by confusing random tones.

Shoot a Bird’s-eye View

Flat lay photography bowl of eggs avocado and veggies

Flat lays are shot from above.

The easier way to do so is to place the items on the floor.
So that you can grab a chair and create the right distance from you and the composition and include everything in the shot.

Use a lens wide enough to have a sufficiently large field of view and fit the entire composition.

A 35mm on a full-frame camera, or 24mm on an APS-C or 17mm focal length if you are a Micro Four Thirds shooter. It all depends on the distance you can create between you and the flat lay.

If you’re afraid of lens distortions, worry not. You can adjust them in Lightroom or Photoshop

Flat Lay Photography Ideas for Inspiration

Tips for Food Flat Lay Photography

Make food look as good as it tastes

Flat lay photography bowl of veggies

You can either create an entire composition made of food or just use decorative ornaments made of food. Always try to not create an unnecessarily busy image.

If you want your food flat lay to look captivating, make use of negative space.

A great food photography idea is to play with bowls and plates and try also to place some food elements directly in touch with the background to create more texture.

Show Hands in Your Flat Lay

Flat lay photography coffee and watch
Image credit: writix.co.uk

To make your photograph more engaging, you can introduce the human element of hands.

This is useful when you are doing crafts or showing someone how to carry out a certain task such as painting their nails. If you like, showing hands in your frame adds movement photograph and makes it look more alive.

it’s particularly useful when you want to show an action or trying to describe a task.

Leave Space For Text

Flat lay photography various bowls of veggies

Cluttering up your photograph too much will not allow you to leave any room for text.

An effective way to promote products in your images if to who the logo or name of the product.

If the product you are promoting is a certain color, you can choose to use text in a similar color or contrast color to make the product stand out.

The same thing goes for food photography. Give your cake a special name and add it to the photography using a photo editor. 

Control the Color Palette of Your Flat Lay

Flat lay photography cereals

As I said before, color is important. A photograph that has too much color, or the wrong color palette, can look confusing.

The photograph will fail to make a point.

There are many ways of achieving a good color palette.

The background is certainly important, but so are complementary objects. If you have decorated your cake with red roses, you may want to compliment the finished product with a red rose in a vase.

Stop and think about it – adding a colorful teacup or even a rich dark cup of coffee will make it look like you are about to throw a tea party or eat your cake. Tell a story and create balance.

Flat Lay Photography Pro Tip

Coffee is one of the most interesting and photogenic items to obtain a cool looking flat lay. Here are a few examples.

Flat lay photography coffe beans

Christmas composition on a wooden background. by Jozef Polc on 500px.com

Top view of black coffee and coffee beans by Nuchy Lee on 500px.com

Black-Out Carry (almost) by Ming H on 500px.com

Flat Lay Photography: Get Inspired

You can easily find flat lay photography ideas online. Check out Instagram or Pinterest.

Since you are here though, let me share with you some of my favorite flat lays.

Flat Lay Photography From Instagram

Some of my favorite flat lays from Instagram for your inspiration.

Flat Lays From @petermckinnon

Flat lays from @dennitheprescott

The Takeaway

Spend some time putting together different compositions and find out what works for you.

My favorite rule is to avoid clutter as much as possible.

Less is more.

Especially if you are new to this flat lay.

It’s your turn now.

I hope you liked this blog post, if so share it with your friend right now.

Before you go

I’d like to grow Pixinfocus’ readership and I need to ask you a huge favor. Photography, writing on this blog and helping people improving in this art are a true passion for me.

It takes several hours to create content such as the one you’re about to read here.

I’d be very grateful if you’d help me spread this post by sharing it on social media or simply emailing it to a friend. It would mean the world to me and it would help me out helping more people. Thank you!

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