Whether you’re new to flat lay style photography, or want to know some tips or tricks to improve your imagery keep reading to learn more…
Firstly, what exactly is a flat lay?
Simply put, it’s an image which is photographed from a bird’s eye view, or from a height in a downward fashion. A selection of props or items laid out on a background in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Often, one item will be the spotlight and the other props are arranged around it to form the picture.
When done right, your image can tell a story and create a feeling or emotion for the viewer. Conversely, it can just be a pretty picture which might stop us scrolling in our tracks.
Follow some basic rules…
The rule of thirds…
The rule of thirds is based on the how the human brain perceives an image. our eyes are generally drawn to a subject placed two thirds up from the bottom of the image. Also, when items are placed where the lines cross, the image appears pleasing to the eye and you’ll naturally want to look at the entire image, not just the main subject.
“Not a flat lay per se” but for example purposes, the photo of me (above) was taken by my husband on our recent summer holiday. I’ve overlayed the grid and cropped the photo on the right to improve balance, lining up the top of the wall with a grid line and placing myself where the lines intersect. This improves the overall appearance of the photo. The same rule can be applied to the flat lay. read more below.
Getting your flat lay right is all about balance. You want to draw the eye to the composition as opposed to directly focusing on one particular object as I have shown above. Off-set the key object rather than having it sitting in the middle. For example. If you use an iPhone you can set it to have a grid overlay while taking photos which is really useful. To turn the grid on go to the main settings >camera and photo setting > find the grid toggle and switch it on. You can always leave the grid on permanently or just for the shot. I tend to leave mine on both for my phone and my camera as this is my preference.
The theory being, if you place your items where the grid lines intersect, or along the lines, your eyes will naturally be drawn to those objects more readily. The shot will also look balanced and your eyes will naturally wander around the image taking it all in, and therefore, making it more attractive to us. Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule and if you want to break it, go ahead. My lavender photo (Top) is just a simple shot, minus any rules but is pleasing to look at.
Use the square setting
If you’re shooting with your iPhone for Instagram, use the square setting so you can see what the finished shot will look like, and how it will fit into the square. If you’re using a camera, set the image aspect to square. This is really useful as it’s not always easy to fit the whole shot into those Instagram squares without losing half the image when you upload it. However, in a recent 2019 update, Instagram has upgraded the pixel square with the optimal size being 1080 wide by 566 to 1350 pixels high, so it’s a little less restricting, size-wise. Otherwise, like myself, I’ve switched to posting in portrait orientation as a longer image takes up more room on the feed of your followers, making it more eye-catching.
My style of imagery isn’t your regular beauty style flat lay and I love to use botanicals, florals and linens to add texture and warmth. Play around and develop your own style of shooting, just as I have.
I find a good “white cloud” day is actually preferable, and do bear in mind that early morning light is ideal, as is late afternoon. Midday light tends to be harder creating harsh shadows. Find a window and take a quick test shot there to see what the light is doing. Don’t limit yourself to one room, chase the light and seek out a good position in your surroundings for the shoot. Once you’ve found the right place, start by arranging your background as you’d like it and then slowly add your items.
A little tip is to bounce the light back onto the items by using a light reflector or diffuser. Alternatively, a large piece of white card will do. Prop it up on the opposite side so that it bounces the light from the source (your window) back onto your set up, this creates an even light and reduces overpowering shadows. Flat lays are best taken from a height, so carefully stand on a chair or stool and take your shot from above. Be mindful that you can overshoot the setup, creating a strange angle for your products, so try and keep your camera lens directly above. Some cameras have a built-in level so you can manage it that way, otherwise, most can accommodate a spirit level attachment which helps overcome the problem.
Hands are so interesting, aren’t they? Not only do they allow a sense of scale to any props or products they really add value to the image. Hands are a bit tricky though, as you want to try and avoid too many imperfections such as chipped nail polish or prominent veins distracting the eye. One thing I always do if my own hands are featuring in the shot is to hold my hands up in the air for a few seconds before taking the shot. This allows the blood to drain away from the hands and makes the skin appear smoother. Be quick though, as they’ll soon return too normal. Remember, a few imperfections are fine or you may be mistaken for a mannequin.
Obviously, if your hands are in the shot you’ll need a tripod for your camera, or get a family member/friend to take the shot.
Do you have any of your own tips to share?