A flatlay is a top-down image that is effective at showcasing various products, themes, or stories. Here are our 10 tips on how to create flatlays that excel.

Creating an effective flatlay image is a technique every creative needs to master. As a photographer and a content creator, you need to constantly innovate to bring potential clients’ visual goals to life. Flatlays are wonderful images that you can use to showcase products, portray themes, or tell stories.


Image by Kate Aedon.

What Is a Flatlay?

A flatlay is a style of top-down photography that captures the composition from a bird’s-eye perspective. Flatlays are an incredibly popular trend on social media channels such as Instagram, as they are a visually appealing way to showcase a brand or a product in a beautifully propped composition.

Create the Perfect Flatlay Image with These 10 Tips — Flatlay
Image by Flaffy.


1. Preparation Is Key

Preparing to capture the flatlay is the longest part of the process. You want to ensure that you’ve sourced props that complement the key product — without sacrificing variety. You want to be able to play around with a number of different options in case something doesn’t quite work when you’re on location.

Create the Perfect Flatlay Image with These 10 Tips — Preparation
Image by Anutr Yossundara.


2. Use Enough Light

The best time of day to shoot a flatlay is in the early morning so that you can capture the softest, most natural light possible. Set your flatlay up near a window — or outdoors if you have a moveable backdrop. Angle your flatlay camera and setup to minimize shadows (which you can adjust in post-production if you need to). If you don’t have time to shoot when the natural lighting is perfect, use artificial lighting to set up your shot.

Create the Perfect Flatlay Image with These 10 Tips — Lighting
Image by cemal taskiran.


3. Pick a Color Palette

If the colors in your flatlay don’t match an overall theme, your image can become messy or complicated. Select a color palette with a few complementary colors, and choose supporting props to highlight these tones. Check out this article for more tips on colors in photography and design.

Create the Perfect Flatlay Image with These 10 Tips — Color Palette
Image by Foxys Forest Manufacture.


4. Select a Backdrop

For most flatlays, unless otherwise specified, you’ll want to use a neutral background to ensure that the product really pops in the photograph. However, especially on Shutterstock Custom assignments, you should always keep the overall theme you’re trying to capture in mind. On assignments with us, you’ll always get helpful suggestions on individual briefs that outline our recommended backdrops. These can include light wood, rustic wood, pure white, wicker, marble, or other textures. If you don’t have guidelines on what backdrop to use, keep it simple, and let the props and product to do the talking.


5. Composing a Flatlay

One of our most important tips when it comes to composing a flatlay image is to start with the focus product and then add props accordingly. A great way to do this is to start with the product in the middle so you know that it will be the center focus for at least a few shots, and then play around with the position of the props to create variety. Select briefs will require images that are croppable to square, so ensure that your focal product will fit in a square frame. For more tips on square composition, check out this article.

Create the Perfect Flatlay Image with These 10 Tips — Compose Flatlay
Image by Floral Deco.


6. Leave White Space

When you’re shooting a product flatlay, use white space to let the product breathe. This will help you avoid over-propping the image. First, take as many photographs as you need with only minimal propping, and then add more props for additional photos. That way, you have enough to work with in post-production in case you get carried away and over-prop some of the images.

Create the Perfect Flatlay Image with These 10 Tips — White Space
Image by Martins Melecis.


7. Tell a Story

A flatlay is a wonderful tool for storytelling, and you should always ensure that the props, product, backdrop, and theme you are shooting all align to tell a specific story. Often, a client will tell you what story they are hoping to tell, which makes it easier to select props that highlight this. Even so, it’s always best to check with the client before shooting to make sure you both understand what the images need to accomplish — especially if the images are prop-heavy.

Create the Perfect Flatlay Image with These 10 Tips — Story
Image by Dmitry_Tsvetkov.


8. Use a Tripod

Using a tripod is a great way to get your angles and perspective right. Setting up on a tripod lets you use a remote clicker to capture the images while you play with the composition itself, freeing you from the camera. Set up your frame with the product in the center, and then experiment with the props. If your budget allows, hiring an assistant to help you eliminate tripod shadows with a reflector is great. Alternatively, play with the tripod position to minimize the risk of shadows or tripod legs in your frame.

Create the Perfect Flatlay Image with These 10 Tips — Tripod
Image by New Africa.


9. Use live View

Using live view on your camera is a great way to shoot a flatlay. It minimizes the risk of off-kilter perspective by framing everything at the correct angle. Most DSLRs have a live view option, which allows you to view your frame within a grid. This is a great way to ensure both square and non-square compositions.

Create the Perfect Flatlay Image with These 10 Tips — Live View
Image via Ekkalak Ngamjarasvanij.


10. Editing a Flatlay

When you’re editing a flatlay for a client, the last thing you want to do is add any filters that create noise. Flatlays need to be simple and clean. We suggest sticking to brightening your image and reducing any shadows that may have popped up. And be sure to spot remove any extraneous logos if you’re shooting for a specific brand or business.

Create the Perfect Flatlay Image with These 10 Tips — Editing
Image by Mongkolchon Akesin.