Inspiration, Photography Tutorials, Quick Tips & Tricks

5 tips for the perfect flat lay

As promised in my post a few weeks ago I’ve got some tips on how to capture the perfect flat lay. Flay lays are hugely popular on Instagram right now and for good reason. They look great, can tell a story and are a perfect way to style up your products, or props to create engagement with your viewer.

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Don’t be fooled, they are trickier to get right than they look! It has taken me lots of practice to master them and I am still learning. I do have a couple of things that I consider must-dos and I’ll share them now to help you get on your way to mastering them too.

1. Have a simple background

My favourite is the plain white background like in the Laced with Kindness 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, white bed sheets or other fabric. 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.

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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 Flying Fairy Creations tooth box 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.

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. I’ve written an entire post on composition and how to style your flat lays for maximum impact. You can find it here.

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!

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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 > Photos & Camera > Grid).

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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.

I hope that these quick and simple tips get you on your way to mastering that flay lay image!

I go into lots more details on flay lays and using your phone to take amazing photos in the Photography and Social Media Masterclass that I host with Denika from Social Elucidation. Our last one was a huge success and the next one will be held at One Brighton in Mandurah on the 21st of June 2017. You’ll get to practise your flat lay techniques with me! Tickets on sale soon. Register your interest so you don’t miss out.

EDIT: Tickets are on sale!  Purchase them here but get in quick as seats are limited.

10 thoughts on “5 tips for the perfect flat lay”

  1. Fantastic tips AJ, great to jog my memory of what we learnt in class! Can highly recommend the Photography and Social Media Workshop, I learnt so much more than I expected to. Amanda and Denika sure know there stuff and loved the small business focus.

  2. Thanks for another great article.
    AJ has great practical advice and tips for small business using online photography. I recently attended one of her workshops and the skills I have gained have definitely improved the way I look at my stock imagery, photographing my products and my overall business brand.

    1. Thank you so much Perin! Am very glad you found it so useful 😊 (Can I please use your comment as a testimonial for the next workshop?)

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