Flat Lay Photography 101: How to Take Flat Lay Photos

Flat lay photography is one of the most popular “Instagram aesthetics”. It’s found in food photography, product ads, and even fashion capsules. 

These photos look easy to replicate. However, there are a couple of best practices to get your flat lays from “I think I saw this on Pinterest?” to “I want this now!”.

So, if you’re looking to use flat lay photos to elicit action from your audience, whether it's buying products, building a following, or brand awareness—stick around! 

In this article, we’ll be going over:

  • The basics of flat lay photography
  • Best practices.
  • And, how to edit your photos without the need for editing knowledge.

What Is Flat Lay Photography?

Flat lays are photos taken from a bird’s eye view. It’s one of the most popular product photoshoot ideas that shows contrast, order, or specific themes. 

Think of flat lays as a medium of photography that tells a story. Let’s say you have a food blog and have a great new recipe uploaded.

You’d want a featured image that captures the entirety of your dish, not just the finished dish itself. What you can do is gather all the ingredients and lay them out in order. 

Here’s a great example of this from Honeywell Bakes:

Source: Instagram / Honeywell Bakes

Getting The Most Out Of Flat Lay Photography

There are different styles you can use to make your own flat lays unique. But if you want to get the most out of your photos, follow these nine actionable best practices for flat lay photography.

Pick Your Surface

As the name implies, we’re going to need a “flat surface”. Use a coffee table, a desk, and even your bed. 

There are tons of options to choose from. But, flat lays are best against neutral backgrounds, free from textures or patterns that can distract from your subjects. 

You can even use tools like PixelCut’s background remover if you can’t find any suitable surface for your flat lay photos.

Patterns on your surface could take focus away from your audience. In this case, you can use a baking sheet or neutral-colored cloth. 

But, if the texture fits the aesthetic you’re going for then you can use that instead. For example, a marble table top for product photography or a wooden desk for a more rustic look.

Build A Story

As mentioned earlier, flat lay photography is an excellent medium for conveying stories. Think of this as the theme of your photo. 

Remember, good stories have great sets of characters. You have your main protagonists and the supporting roles. The same can go for flat lay images. 

Your main character can be your main subject, complemented by supporting elements. This can be colors, other objects, or even the background itself. 

Purposefully Place Objects

Several formats are used for flat lays, the most popular being square. It allows the photographer to shoot a clean composition. 

You’re free to use whatever format you want. But as a rule of thumb, use the rule of thirds to guide how you position them in your shot. 

Play With The Lighting

Lighter or softer lighting is better for flat lays. If you’re doing this DIY, use a big window as a light source. But, if it’s too bright, diffuse the light with curtains or chiffon fabric.

Consider using reflectors as well to fill to prevent shadows and dark areas in your composition. An alternative to expensive equipment is using white polystyrene or even a white card. 

Add Layers

The issue with flat lays is that you're staring at your subject from a perspective that doesn’t have much depth. Stacking elements prevent your shots from looking flat. 

You can stack elements underneath your subject, use objects that are different in height, or have some be closer to the camera.

Work From Height

Your image should be parallel to the surface your subjects are on. This is easier if you’re directly above. But getting off balance can result in a shaky shot. So, consider investing in a tripod. 

Include A Human Element 

One of the best ways to incorporate movement or a sense of action in your flat lays is to incorporate human elements into the scene. 

Capture movement such as reaching out for a cup or picking an object up. You can ask a friend for help with this so you don’t have to set up the shot and pose for it at the same time.

Think About The Use Cases

Your photos should have a purpose. Are you using it as a product photo? A new recipe? Or are you just trying to build your brand?

No matter the case, it’s best practice to think about how you’re going to use the finished product. Some leave space to make room for graphic design to promote their brand. Here’s an example:

Edit To Achieve Best Quality 

Photographers edit photos not to alter but to enhance key features. This could be as subtle as changing the contrast a nudge or adjusting the white balance and shadows. 

At the end of the day, you want to edit your photos to achieve the best quality you possibly can. However, not everybody knows how to use editing tools like Lightroom or Photoshop. 

But, there are free alternatives like PixelCut that use AI-powered technology to help you streamline editing.

With Pixelcut, you don’t even need to edit photos individually, you can use its intuitive batch edit tool.

Key Takeaways

Flat lay photography is an excellent way to highlight your featured products. It can show contrast, movement, and even inspire action from your audience. 

If you want to use flat lays for your next content campaign, consider the following:

  • Pick a suitable surface for your flat lays, if you can’t find one, use a background remover tool and add your own background digitally.
  • Purposely place objects in a way that can show movement or add depth. 
  • Use softer lighting for flat lay photography. If you don’t have studio lights, use a window as a light source and diffuse it with curtains or chiffon fabric.
  • Add a human element to your photos to portray candid movements.
  • Always edit your photos to bring out the best in each shot.

Streamline your next photoshoot with the help of PixelCut! You don’t even need editing experience to use it. Create your first project for free today!

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