Of all the things trending in the world of photography (and on Instagram and on blogs) flat lays seem to receive the most attention. Flat lay photography styling is the modern take on photography where a photographer stands above the thing(s) they intend to photograph, and photographs down, from the perspective of a bird’s eye view.
Flat lay photography is essentially the action of placing everything flat, in a visually appealing way, on a flat surface, in order to create a beautiful photograph which is snapped from above. Most flat lays are quite simple, as to focus on the items within the picture.
Flat lays started as a way for people to photograph, or Instagram, their outfit of the day (#ootd) but has now progressed and has being adapted to suit all kinds of items, not just clothing.
I have spent hours pouring over beautifully laid out flat lay photos, always too intimidated to give it a shot myself. I thought it really takes a special eye to lay things out aesthetically…until I decided to just give it a try.
While it certainly does take some time placing and replacing, and then adjusting of your items to be straight and composed, it’s a much easier process than I would of thought. It did take me a while to get the hang of it in the beginning, but after playing around it does get easier (and quicker).
Things you need
Flat lays also create beautiful images without honestly needing any professional equipment. Sure, reflector and diffusors are nice, and a tripod with a DSLR makes the job earlier…. But truth be told, you just need some good natural light and a decent smart phone and a creative eye to do an equally beautiful job.
- A background – you can keep it plain white like me, or get creative and use texture. Just be careful that your textured background doesn’t clash with the items you will be photographing. I personally like to use a white piece of cardboard.
- A camera – either your smartphone, point and shoot or DSLR
- Things to be photographed: your key item and additional items to fill the space
- Optional & useful: something to assist with shadows, such as a white piece of cloth or a white board. The white board / cloth helps to stop the shadows by reflecting light onto your objects, whereas black adds shadows.
The how to’s
You should start by choosing what it is you would like to photograph, and find things which compliment or enhance it.
For the purpose of this post, I decided I wanted to display my lovely travel journal. Keeping the theme of travel in mind, I thought about what things I usually use when I am traveling, as well as what I have at home in a similar colour scheme to the notebook. I pulled out my wallet, passport, hat, pen, scarf and a few bracelets (all things which I have picked up through my travels).
Step 1: Find a spot close to a window or glass door where there is lots of natural light. I like to use my office which gets lots of sun.
Step 2: Lay down your background. In this case it would be my white board.
Step 3: Lay down the item you want to be included in the photo, and then slowly add in your filler items. I started with my notebook and slowly added in the rest of the elements.
Step 4: Assess your shadows. Do you have any shadows from something inside or outside the room that is reflecting shadows onto your picture? If you do, remove these by blocking them out with your white reflectors.
Step 5: Take your first picture. Try and get higher than the things you want to photograph, and remember to shoot from a birds eye view, holding your camera as straight to what you are shooting as possible. I love using my tripod because it’s easier to keep the camera in one position and quickly fix the composition if need be. However you don’t need a tripod. If you need high just standing on something higher such as a chair.
Step 6: Assess your photo. Look at the composition (layout) of your items together. Does it work? Does something need to be added? Are there too many colours or does it need a pop of colour? Is the picture too cluttered or too empty? Fix all of the things that you think could improve. I shuffled my things around quite a few times until I was happy with the image I got.
Step 7: Recheck your shadows. The sun and clouds move all the time,and can make the shadows move around on your items too. It’s easier to remove the shadows before taking the photo than afterwards, so adjust your reflectors if need be.
Step 8: Retake the photo. If your pleased with the picture you have then you can move onto step 8. If not, redo step 6 & 7.
Step 9: Edit. I am not a massive fan of over edited work, and usually only enhance my photos with editing software (Lightroom). If you would like to edit your image before posting it online, you may want to look at your white balance, exposure, shadows and highlights.
Step 10: Post it on Instagram and tag me (@rafiquaisrael) so I can see your beautiful images!
A sneaky behind the scenes
It’ all about trial & error
Here are a few pictures that I took while trying to follow my own steps. It is a bit tricky in the beginning to “set up” a flat lay without trying to make it look overdone / too composed.
Here are a few photos I took, which include both photos which I think need further work (composition editing) and a few which I like and would post on Instagram.
Pay attention to how I tried to move things to create a better composition.
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For some more flat lay inspiration I have created a Pinterest board!
Follow along and stay inspired!