Flat lay photography is a simple and easy way to create beautifully crafted images that can serve a variety of purposes. Here are some techniques to use.

Chances are you’ve come across flat lay photography if you’re a social media user. Whether it be by filmmakers showing off their camera gear or that one friend who always seems to share their latest meal, flat lay photography is a relatively simple and easy way to create beautifully crafted images that can serve a variety of purposes. There are no set rules to taking the perfect flay lat photo, but in this article I put together some tips to keep in mind before getting started.


In order to write this article, I decided to do some hands-on research by creating a flat lay photo of my own. I’ll bring you through my process and hopefully you’ll finish this article feeling inspired to try it out yourself.


Find the Story

Before getting started, I wanted to come up with a theme, something to build the image around. Currently I’m reading this book called Backwards & in Heels by Alicia Malone about the history of women in the filmmaking industry. My mind immediately jumped to the idea of creating an image with the theme of women in filmmaking, centered around the book as the main subject.

When it comes to photography in general, one of the determining factors (in my opinion) that separates good from great is whether the photo tells a story or not. Figure out what the purpose of your image is; it may be to showcase a certain product, capture a workspace or present what gear you use on a daily basis.


Setting Up

Once you’ve got your idea or story down, it’s time to decide on the background and choose items that will amplify this main theme. It’s important to choose your backdrop first, so that you know what sort of colors and textures will contrast with it in order to make informed decisions when choosing your props. For my image, I wanted it to have warm tones so I decided to use a beige bed sheet as my background.

I started by picking items that reinforced the theme of “woman filmmaker,” including a spare camera, an old script, glasses, and a notebook. Since the cover of the book is pink, I added some roses to add pops of color as well as a large leaf to create more contrast. Deciding on a basic color scheme before getting started is extremely important to create more interest and overall a more cohesive image.


Balance is Key

One of the appealing things about flat lay photos is how they’re aesthetically balanced. It can be a more chaotic look like the image I took, or it a more structured approach with the objects assembled in a grid-like pattern. The goal is to create a balanced image by strategically placing the items in the frame in whatever style fits your photo’s needs.

When creating a bunch of different layouts trying to achieve that perfect balance, it’s important to keep in mind all the aspects listed below in order to not have one section of your image appear “heavier” than another.


Creating a Dynamic Image

Texture

Add objects that have a contrasting texture from your backdrop and the objects around them. For example, for my image I added a woven blanket and placed the objects on top of it to break up the background and add more texture to the image. Also, the plants break up the static nature of the shot and add a new element to the photo. Especially with this style of photography, creating contrast is key to creating a dynamic image when you’re working with a 2D layout.

Lighting

How you set up the lighting can completely change the look and feel of your image. I find that natural light works best to preserve shadows that enhance the organic feature of the objects, unlike a straight on light source that can reduce the natural curves. If you choose to use an artificial light source and your goal is to retain natural shadows, avoid positioning the light straight on. Instead set it up at a slight angle to create more depth.

Dimension

Adding different levels to an image helps break that 2D appearance and create a more engaging photo.

For my photo, I decided to stack a couple random books under the main one to separate it from the background a little. Focusing on layering objects, or if you’re going for a more minimalist approach still finding ways to create differences in height is crucial. One trick I saw in a YouTube video. If you want to elevate an object without stacking it, you can put a smaller object underneath the one you want to elevate, hiding the base underneath it and creating more dimension.


Cover image via Kat Ka.

Looking for more on creating the perfect flay lay photos? Check out these articles for more tips and tricks.