What is Flat Lay Photography?

Those familiar with Instagram know the popular "bird's eye view" shot, which is often used to show a tableau of attractive objects. They might be new shoes, delectable pastries, or colorful flowers, but the visual style is known as flat lay photography. Below, we've outlined how to create your own flat lay arrangement with the best props, lighting, and camera equipment.   

Selecting Props

Flat lay photography doesn't need to be flashy, so long as you choose objects that go well together and share a common theme. For example, you might select items based on their color, shape, texture, or brand. A food-themed shot might incorporate a variety of creative cupcakes, while a jewelry shot might focus on leather accents. As a general rule, try to choose objects that are similar in height, so that your camera can stay focused on the entire arrangement. 

Once you've chosen a few items, you can arrange them in a more casual or perfectionist style, depending on the visual effect you're going for. We recommend setting these items on a tasteful background, such as a wooden table or textured blanket. It's important to choose a stimulating background that emphasizes the subject, without being so busy that the audience can't focus on the props. Before snapping any photos, think about the overall composition, if the colors are matching or clashing, and if there's enough negative space.  

Setting Up Your Camera

If you have a prosumer camera, such as a DSLR, the best way to take flat lay photos is to mount the camera to a boom tripod. This will allow you to find the ideal height, while also minimizing camera shake as you work. With this setup, you can stand on a small ladder or stool and use the camera's viewscreen. 

However, most flat lay photography takes place on a smartphone, and it's definitely possible to capture quality images without a tripod. We recommend diving into your settings and choosing the "lock focus" feature, which allows you to specify exactly where the camera should focus.     

Lighting the Shot

Finally, a great flat lay makes the most of natural light sources, while also using a few lighting tricks for improved results. We recommend setting your objects near a north or east-facing window with unobstructed sunlight. This type of light is generally better than what you'll see from a south or west window, because it's less harsh and produces fewer shadows. If you still have shadows obscuring the shot, however, you can place foam core boards near the affected objects. Meanwhile, overly shiny objects can be tamed with a diffuser, which you can buy from a camera shop or make yourself. Just take an old picture frame or embroidery hoop, and stretch some white fabric across it.      

Need images for your project? Shutterstock’s impressive collection of more than 70 million images can help! See what our library has to offer.

  • Was this article helpful?

Can’t find what you’re looking for?