How To Do Flat Lay Photography (Step-By-Step Guide)

The internet is filled with pictures of objects creatively placed and spaced on a flat surface and then snapped with a camera positioned directly over them. Creative and appealing, these pictures fall under a niche of photography called flat lay photography.

Just as the name implies, flat lay photography describes a style of photography in which objects are arranged on a flat surface and an aerial or “bird” view picture is taken of them.

This style of photography is commonly used to market home made and DIY products. You can try and shoot different flat lay photos and show your creative ideas on them. Below, list of some trendy flat lay style photography ideas in 2023.

Where it is easy to write off snapping objects arranged on a surface as simple, the best pictures require as much understanding of photography and most importantly, a handsome amount of creativity.

In this article we shall be looking at 8 aspects of this unique flat lay style of photography tips to help you come up with amazing pictures.

  • Create A Story
  • Arrangement Style
  • Colours, Shapes And Patterns
  • Appropriate Use Of Light
  • Create Depth
  • The Right Equipments
  • Photography Style
  • Post Processing

How To Do Flat Lay Photography

01. Create A Story

As stated earlier, flat lay photography is beyond just randomly placing objects and snapping them. It is a deliberate effort to connect with an audience. A message is being passed and creatively so through photography. 

Therefore the first step to take will be to create a story through which your message will be passed. This story will largely affect what your picture will look like. To come up with a compelling story, do the following.

Define The Purpose For The Picture

Flat Lay Photography

The purpose for your picture has to be defined early. Is it to sell a particular product;  to create awareness; to be a guide or just a display of your creativity? Clarifying the purpose for your picture will guide your creativity.

Define The Target Audience

Who is your target audience? The more specific you are on their demographics in terms of sex, age, occupation etc, the better. An understanding of your audience will help you in selecting the right objects for your composition. 

If you intend to promote a new brand of jumpsuits for women between the ages of 18 and 28, it wouldn’t make sense to add a gamepad as part of the composition. However, a gamepad as part of the objects for male joggers would make more sense.

Create Your Story From Everyday Scenario

Your purpose has been defined, and you know your target audience. You can go ahead and come up with a story based on everyday scenarios. If you intend to photograph a freshly baked cake, a convincing story might be you are done baking and are ready to start eating.

Based on the above story,  it is only natural that eggs should be a part of the objects. Other objects would include a cake knife, butter, a hand mixer, a brand of your favourite soft drink, serving plates and an opened packet of flour. 

An average cake lover who comes across a picture you take containing the objects mentioned above will easily relate with it.They would understand because the scenario is relatable.

02. Arrangement style

You have created your story, and also successfully selected all the objects you intend to feature in your picture. The next stage will be to appropriately arrange the objects.

When it comes to arranging objects, the best option is to follow regular, everyday patterns/shapes. The most significant object should be placed in the most prominent spot. Regular shapes to utilise include:

  • Circular: The most prominent object can be placed at the centre
  • Triangular: The most prominent object can be placed at any of the vertex or at the centre 
  • V-Shape: The most prominent object can be placed at the vertex
  • C- shape: The most prominent object can be placed within the C, at the centre
  • S-Shape: The most prominent object can start, be at the centre or placed at the end.

While laying out your objects, there are certain guidelines you should bear in mind to produce an amazing picture. 

  • Avoid cluttering the flat surface
  • Allow reasonable space between objects
  • Do not centralise the objects on the flat surface

03. Colours, Shapes And Patterns

Your ability to combine the colour and shape of the objects alongside the colour and pattern of the background will affect the end result of your pictures. The most important thing to remember when balancing these elements is “balance’. To achieve balance, you can subscribe to one or more of the tips below.

  • Always go for complementary colours when choosing objects. The main object’s colour should be used to determine the colours of other objects
  • The background of the flat surface should be plain, and patternless ideally. The color chosen for your background should help shoot out the colours of the objects placed on it
  • The shape of the objects should be used advantageously. This means there should be balance in proportion. 2 large bananas should be put side by side to form a circle next to a watermelon. 
  • Another important aspect is size. Try using objects that are within the same range of size. The main object must be the largest item.  

04. Appropriate use of light

As much as possible, always use daylight to your advantage. This style of photography is entirely staged which gives you room to manage where you can take pictures. You want an abundance of light to fill up the space where you are shooting.

In a case where you must use artificial light, your goal is to soften the emission. You also want to make sure the light source is not angled to prevent shadows from the object being cast on the flat surface.

Also, when shooting, position your camera in such a way that it doesn’t block the source of light. This is also to prevent shadows of your hands and camera from being cast directly on the surface you are taking pictures of.

05. Create Depth

Depth gives your picture more perspective and more pleasing aesthetic if done well. To achieve depth, stack objects over themselves. This can be clothes, plates or anything that can be arranged upon each other to a significant height. 

Another way to create depth is to place certain objects on crumpled cloth. This will create the necessary illusion required. A final way is to use shadow. Shooting the flat surface from a different position at bird’s view will reveal shadows under some of the objects.

06. The right equipments

Like every other niche of photography, there is specific equipment you need to capture excellent pictures. These include:

  • Phone Camera/ DSLR Camera
  • Tripod
  • Lens

Phone Camera/DSLR Camera

Starting out with a phone camera is good practice. Having grown in your ability to properly composite images, you can then proceed to using a professional camera, like the DSLR. Understanding the basics of manually adjusting aperture shutter speed and ISO might come in handy in more professional shots. 

Tripod

The biggest challenge when it comes to snapping your picture would be balancing your camera as you shoot from top. A tripod with adjustable handles that can turn your camera down comes in handy. If you are using your phone, get a phone mount.

07. Photography style

There are two photographic styles which you might find useful as you take your shot. These include the rule of thirds and framing. 

Rule Of Thirds

The rule of thirds will be your go-to style as it offers a variety of creatively capturing your pictures. It requires splitting your image into thirds and aligning your images to any of the vertical lines. Using rule of thirds is quite simple as you can switch on grid lines on your DSLR, and on you camera phone depending on the spec.

Framing

Framing simply means ensuring your picture stays within frame. However, a creative way of using framing as it relates to flat lay is to focus on the objects rather than the flat surface. Hence,  the background can be sacrificed as long as all your images sit well within the frame. 

A second method is to capture the objects cut off at the edge. But this will work as long as the primary object falls within the frame, while the non-essential ones can be cut off artistically.

08. Post Processing

This is often the last stage in the entire process. Editing your picture might involve a bit of color correction, addition of filter or effect. However, once done, the picture should be as natural as possible.

People Also Ask (FAQ’s)

Who does flat lay photography?

Flat lay photography is common with people who create products from their home. Professional photographers are also hired by large manufacturing companies to help them create flat lay pictures of their products.

How are flat lay pictures used?

Flat lay pictures are often used on social media handles, and websites often as marketing materials.

How demanding is flat lay photography?

In terms of photography, it is not as demanding as other types of photography, however, it requires a lot of creativity.

My Final Words

Flat lay photography requires a lot more creativity mixed with basic understanding of photography. Having touched on all the aspects of this unique style of photography in this article, the tips shared will guide you in producing really awesome pictures.