How To Style A Flat Lay Photograph

 

Flat lay is the art of arranging objects in a visually pleasing way and taking your photograph from above. Flat lays can be an arrangement of anything you want from food to fashion to nature to random objects, the possibilities are endless.

I have an acronym to remember as you enter the world of flat lay. Use them as helpful suggestions to help you enjoy creating your own flat lay images.

 

THINK FLAT (in no particular order):

F:    Foundation

L:    Light

A:    Arrange

T:    Theme

 

FOUNDATION

Your background or foundation anchors your flat lay. It needs to complement your items and not compete with them. Keeping your background simple and basic allows your arranged objects to get the attention they need. That said, a good background can get some attention also in its supporting role.

Some ideas for backgrounds include:

  • old boards
  • fabric
  • wrapping paper
  • newspaper
  • scrapbook paper
  • cookie sheet
  • sidewalk
  • foam core (black or white)
  • a table top
  • tile flooring, etc.

A simple kitchen towel is used as a foundation in this photo.

 

A textured table top as the foundation helps add interest to a simple flat lay yet allows the minimal items to be the main focus.

 

LIGHT

As we know, light is key in photography. For flat lays you can use side light, back light, full light, any of it works.

Natural light is my favorite. I typically arrange my flat lays by my patio door. Many people use light boxes (purchased or homemade) for flat lays. Reflectors are also helpful to remove shadows (with white foam core) or add shadows (black foam core). I purchased foam core from the dollar store. I have scored it about eight inches in on one side so it will bend and prop on its own. You can filter your light with tissue paper taped to the window or with photography screens.

This photo shows how you can use black foam core to add shadows for a dark and moody photo. I like to think of it as the black foam core swallowing up some of the light. This was an overcast day so I did not need to block or diffuse any of the natural light.  You will notice that the foundation for this is a printed vinyl background! They take up way less space than real planks of wood, are easy to move around and store and give a great backdrop for a minimal investment. Of course, it also helps if your pet keeps watch at the patio door during the photo shoot.

 

 

Then if you remove the black foam core you have a whole different look!

 

ARRANGE

There are many ways to arrange a flat lay. You can have minimal items with lots of negative space. You can have a lot of items arranged in a pattern. You can arrange your items into shapes. You can arrange your items to show movement like flower petals “flowing” out of a cup. You can spell out words. The only limit is your imagination.

You will notice in this flat lay there are different textures such as the hard wood and tools. Yet there is softness added with the little flowers and petals and soft paper of the book.

 

This flat lay is arranged with some items on an angle with the puppy face on the thirds and then your eye moves around the photo. (Yes I can do photos other than dark and moody!) The foundation in this photo is white foam core.

 

THEME

Gather objects that go along with your theme or the story you want to tell. As you gather these items consider what you might want to be the focal point of your flat lay. Themes can include holidays, colors, an era, clothing etc. I usually gather more items than I think I will use. Consider your background in your theme too. For example if you are doing a vintage style theme you might want to use old boards.  Gather items with different textures like hard and soft. Gather items of varying sizes.

Themes are some of the easiest ways to practice flat lays and learn and grow in your skill. Here is a flat lay based on a color theme. The foundation in this photo is a chalkboard.

 

Here are a few based on a season theme.

 

 

One of my favorite themes is Christmas. The foundation in these photos is an old cranberry crate.

 

 

Another theme would be to take your items and lay them in a shape. The foundation in this photo was Christmas wrapping paper and a wooden cutting board.

 

The foundation for this tree-shaped flat lay was a bulletin board.

 

THE HOW

Position your foundation in good light and lay your focal point object on the foundation. View this through your camera to make sure that the foundation and the item work well together and that you can see the item. (I learned the hard way to check first with a few items instead of arranging everything only to discover that the background clashes with the items or doesn’t photograph well with the items and then I had to start all over).

Begin to build out from there, adding and taking away items. It helps to have some space between your items and not crowded too close together. Arrange the items in a way that seems pleasing to you visually. If your items like to roll use little rolled up pieces of paper hidden underneath to stop them or a sticky tack product.

Set up reflectors if needed to remove shadows and reflect light onto the scene or to add shadows.

Position your camera or phone over the top of your arrangement looking down at the flat lay and take your photo. Tripods are definitely helpful.  Sometimes it also helps to take a quick cell phone photo throughout the process to check if you like what you see in the photo frame.

Here are a few behind the scenes shots and the final photo.

The use of a reflector in front of the patio door diffused the light to soften the harsh midday sun. The use of the white foam core then reflected the soft light back onto the arrangement.

 

Finished photo.

 

Here I once again I used the light reflector to diffuse the light. The foundation in this photo is an old seed bag.

 

Finished photo.

 

I hope these tips will help you the next time you want to photograph a flat lay. Flat lays really can become quite addicting!

 

INSPIRATION

Instagram and Pinterest are great places for inspiration. Search the hash tag #flatlays on Instagram and you will be amazed at the variety of styles. On Pinterest just type in flat lay and you will be further inspired. A few of my favorite artists on Instagram include:

thestudio2.O (Kim Klassen)

kpardell

keepingwiththetimes

alajamie

 

Learn more about flat lays:

How To Create A Flatlay Image with Jeannie Thiessen

Using Texture To Create More Interesting Images

 

Do you have a  favorite tip for flat lay or a question about creating your first flat lay? Let me know in the comments below!


10 Comments

  1. Debra Rehrig

    I need to get black and white foam core 🙂 I see a trip to the dollar store in my future!

  2. Thanks for this post! I’ve done a few flat lays for photographs on my blog recently, and your tips are very helpful. You also gave me a great idea for a flat lay I need to do for a photography scavenger hunt!

  3. Julia Colli

    Thanks for this article, Rhadonda. These photos are truly inspirational!

  4. Nikki Bradbery

    What a fantastic post Rhadonda!
    You are the queen of flat lays.
    Thanks so much for sharing your tips and behind the scenes images.

  5. Sharon Billings

    I so agree with Lee! You truly are a master of this art! This may just influence me to move more of my photography from outside to inside…that was a compliment!! 😉

  6. Andrea Greene

    Love, love, love. Thank you so much for sharing all this helpful information!!! I’m excited to try 🙂

  7. Martha Schlesselman

    Yeah, what Lee said! 😉 Thank you so much for this, Rhadonda! I love flat lays, but haven’t been able to shoot one properly yet. This is soooo thorough and helpful! I can’t wait to try again!

  8. i just adore your flat lays and seeing the ideas and the pullbacks have helped so much!!!!

  9. Well done Rhadonda!!! Your post is chocked full of great tips. I love all the pull backs.

  10. Lee Glasby

    Oh my Rhadonda, you are a master of the art, this is an amazing brilliant insight to your fabulous photos, thanks so much for all the wonderful tips!

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