Great to see you here. :) I take it you are here because you are serious about stepping up your flat lay photography game. Good on you! So am I. Let's do this together!
Flat Lay Photography – 10 Must-Know Tips
There is just no way around social media nowadays, is there? Especially as an online solopreneur, you will have to engage with social media as part of your marketing strategy. As long as you are doing ALL THE WORK yourself, improving your photography skills should be pretty high on your agenda.
To be honest: I’ve avoided social media for a loooong time and I know I’m seriously late to join that party. Once I decided to start my own creative online business, however, it pretty soon became obvious that this wasn’t going to work without social media. So now I’m trying to learn how to rock these (really not that new) tools and I’ll be sharing my experiences with you, so you don’t have to spend your precious time with all that tedious research. The first thing I wanna share with you today is what I learned about creating flat lay photos. Let’s dive right into it!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means when you purchase something through those links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions expressed here are my own and I only recommend products and services that I personally love!
The (In)famous Instagram Flat Lay
If you are using Instagram, it’s highly likely that you’ve admired all those beautifully styled bird’s eye views of carefully arranged objects – the Instagram flat lay. Often used for food, fashion and beauty features, they illustrate the art of visual storytelling by meaningfully placing objects in relation to one another. Which brings us right to our first and probably most important point: You have to tell a story.
Flat Lay Photography Tip #1 – Visual Storytelling
Even though, those photos might look random and effortless, believe me, they are most definitely not! You have to be intentional. Be sure to know what you want your image to convey before you start creating your setting. Your story can be anything though – colours, an upcoming holiday trip, your outfit of the day, Sunday brunch, favourite books, etc. Let’s walk through an example here. For the blog post header image above, I wanted it to represent my blog. For the other example pictures on this site, I chose flowers as a theme, simply because I love flowers. 🙂
Flat Lay Photography Tip #2 – Choosing Props
Continuing with the blog image example, I needed to find the right props for my shot. Since this blog is about art, design and a healthy sustainable lifestyle, I thought that good items to include in my flat lay were pears, a camera and a piece of artwork as objects to represent my blog. Obviously, I used garden flowers for the floral compositions. Before you storm off to gather your own props though, hold your horses! There are still a few things to consider first.
Flat Lay Photography Tip #3 – Choosing a Colour Palette
You will definitely want to choose a colour scheme for your photo. Much like a painter, you carefully consider which colours you are going to use in your artwork before you start creating. You can choose different shades of just one colour, black & white, or your own beautiful colour schemes. Think about what feelings you want to evoke with your picture as well. If you are going for cozy and moody, then dark blues and maybe soft blush as an accent colour will work in your favour. Fresh green and crisp white on the other hand, might be a good colour combination if you are going for an uplifting and airy feeling. For more information on colour psychology, you can visit sprucerd.com’s infographic colour psychology. In my example, I mainly used pink, yellow and green as those are the colours I chose for my blog.
Flat Lay Photography Tip #4 – Choosing a Format
Another thing to consider right from the start, is the format of your picture. If you know you will only be using your photo on Instagram, then you can go ahead and shoot in square mode, which will make your life much easier. If you are using your iPhone to take your photos you can also go to settings > camera > grid and have a grid displayed when taking your photos. This is especially handy when composing your image according to the rule of thirds. In a nutshell, this rule states that dividing your picture using a 3×3 raster and placing objects on the intersections, creates more visual interest.
While considering basic design principles like the rule of thirds is always a good thing, shooting in square might not always be the best option for you. Blog posts often require horizontal images. Pinterest works best with long vertical formats. You could, of course, take a variety of pictures in different formats to be on the safe side in case you wanted to use them on different platforms.
Flat Lay Photography Tip #5 – Composition
Still more things to contemplate before you start! The holy trinity of size, shape, and texture of objects needs your careful consideration. Varying those factors will also increase the visual interest of your composition. Have you heard of another design rule, the rule of odds? It states that an uneven number of objects in a composition is perceived as more interesting and aesthetically pleasing. So you could choose one statement piece and surround it with two accessories in order to increase its appeal. Symmetry and an even number of objects, on the other hand, create the impression of order and balance.
Remember to pay attention to negative space – the space between your objects. This should be balanced as well. If you intend to add text to your photo at a later stage, it might also be a good idea to leave enough room in your picture to do that without the picture feeling cluttered. So much to consider! I know – bear with me, we are almost there.
Flat Lay Photography Tip #6 – Backgrounds
Plain backgrounds work well with this kind of photography style because they let the objects take center stage. A nice black or clean white background doesn’t compete with your composition. On the other hand, you can use your backgrounds as part of your composition and use patterns or colours to accentuate the story you want to tell. Just don’t go too crazy or your picture will look overly busy.
Flat Lay Photography Tip #7 – Flat Lay Grid vs Lifestyled
Now that you have decided on your props and background and have thought about these basic design principles, you can finally start laying! You can either go for a traditional grid, where you neatly arrange all your pieces next to one another, or you go for the lifestyled version, where you artfully create the impression that all those carefully-selected pieces have accidentally fallen to the ground where they formed a stunning, natural and effortless arrangement. As if… 😉 The traditional grid tends to convey order and balance, while the lifestyled version emphasises artful chaos and serendipity. Oh, and don’t shy away from layering things, as it creates additional depth in your picture.
Flat Lay Photography Tip #8 – Bird’s Eye View
Well, this is an obvious one: Find yourself a steady ladder or chair to give you an aerial vantage point. Depending on the size of your composition, you might want to use a tripod. Consider your lighting before you start to shoot. Find yourself a nice spot with lovely natural light, ideally next to a big window. If your lighting situation is not ideal, you could use reflectors, bouncers, and absorbers to get better lighting. There are several blog posts that have covered this topic in more depth, like understanding natural lighting on the foodbloggersofcanada website, that will give you more information.
Flat Lay Photography Tip #9 – Photo Editing
You’ve done it, hurray! Now that you are happy with your flat lay composition, all that’s left to do is edit your photos. There are a variety of photo editors available, VSCO or Snapseed for instance. For simplicity’s sake, I took all photos for this post with my iPhone and used Photoshop and VSCO to edit them. Those iPhone have become so great that I don’t bother getting out my big camera most of the time, to be honest.
In case I DO want more control over the image results, I use my Canon EOS 750D instead. If you really want to up your photography game, investing in a DSLR is probably a good idea in the long run. Even though it’s not the latest model nor super fancy, I’m really happy with the Canon EOS 750D. Unless you are a professional photographer, I don’t think you need to invest in anything more expensive than that.
Flat Lay Photography Tip #10 – Photo Tagging
Last but not least, if you use your beautiful photos to share them on Instagram, don’t forget to tag them (all brands and products that you used) for maximum exposure of your images. I’m really curious to see all your pretty images, so please post them on Instagram and tag me (@peartreepond) so I can cheer you on! 🙂
If you found this post helpful, or have more tips to add, let me know in the comments below. You can also follow my Pinterest “Photography Inspiration For Beginners” board, to discover additional tips on this subject. Creating stunning flat lays is definitely something that needs quite a bit of practice and I’m far from an expert. I do think I got better though! But judge for yourself: Below is a shot from the start and one from the end of this project.
Floral Flat Lay Stock Photos
In preparation of this blog post, I prepared a bundle of high-resolution, floral flat lay stock photos for you and put them up in the shop. For when you don’t have the time to create your own pictures and just need a quick fix. 😉 Also, if you could do me a favour and pin and share this post, that would be awesome!
Beautiful flat lay photos don’t just do well on Instagram. Stunning branded flat lay photos are a great addition to your branding material in general (read more about branding here). You can use them everywhere on your blog or other social media. Just use your business’s colour palette and maybe add your logo when editing your pictures.
If you have products to sell, this is a great way of displaying them and making them look appealing. And what’s an awesome source for free traffic to your website? You might have guessed it: Pinterest. 🙂 All you need to add is a text overlay with a click-worthy headline (optional) or at least a well-keyworded description (this is a must!) and your Pin is good to go! If you’d like to learn more about using Pinterest for your marketing, check out my Pinterest for Business blog series.
Learn More About Photography
If you are interested in learning more about great lifestyle photography, I highly recommend you check out Marte Marie Forsberg’s Skillshare class “Lifestyle Photography: Capturing Inspiring Visual Stories“*. She’s a gem! Even though she’s originally from Norway, she has the most adorable British way of walking you through her process of capturing great photos. What an inspiring class! Well worth 19min of your time, I promise! Use my link to get two months of Skillshare Premium for FREE and watch this class and as many other classes as you can manage. 🙂
If you are hooked and keen to improve your photography skills further, Skillshare is such a great starting point for you. For example, should you decide to invest in a DSLR, Skillshare has lots of classes to teach you how to use it. Like “Fundamentals of DSLR Photography ” or more specific “DSLR Photography For Bloggers“. If you decide you don’t need a DSLR just yet, you can learn how to make the most of your iPhone camera in the “iPhone Photography: Make Your Pictures Stand Out” class.
As for Photoshop classes, check out the “Adobe Photoshop CC – Essentials Training Course” by Daniel Scott. Dan is a fantastic teacher! He is funny, entertaining, certainly knows what he’s doing and makes it easy to follow along.
Now it’s your turn! Happy experimenting!