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how to shoot flat lays


  • flat lay images are still life images usually shot from above of a group of objects hopefully aesthetically placed on a flat surface with the usual intent to create an interesting image to attract viewers to your Instagram account

General principles of creating an aesthetic flat lay

choose a simple surface

  • many use a piece of white art cardboard but it could be a table or floor boards, etc
  • it should be clean - otherwise you may be doing a bit of annoying editing in Lightroom or Photoshop to clean it up!

create an interesting, aesthetic composition to convey a narrative

  • there are many principles of composition that need to be considered
    • in general, keep it simple, consider using a restricted colour palette and perhaps negative space
    • know how to use colour or textures (textures generally are better when lit from the side not straight on)
  • your flat lay should ideally tell a story or communicate an emotion and should keep to a single theme
  • check each object to ensure it looks good from when shot from above
  • review these 3 aspects:
    • layout of your items
      • determine what your primary item is
      • secondary items should not detract from the primary item but should support it and thus they should generally be smaller and meaningfully relate to the primary item
      • if there is no one primary item, then consider symmetry of composition but in a way that creates a story, perhaps leading the viewers eye from left to right
      • consider adding items that can be made into curves to help drive the composition
      • avoid having too many items as this becomes over-whelming
      • however, adding something different but visually complimentary can create interest
    • balance
      • ensure your large and small items are combined to give a balance
      • don't have the large items on one side and the small on the other
      • avoid leaving too much negative space
    • texture and the small details
      • generally, a smooth, flat surface will not create sufficient interest to your flat lay, although in some situations such a surface can be useful for certain flat lays
      • in general, look for textured surfaces
      • consider adding small textured elements such as pencil or cardboard shavings or what-ever is contextually relevant to your image that can provide additional textural interest

optimise the lighting

  • generally a large bright light source such as a window (not direct sunlight), bounced flash or a studio style softbox works well
  • look at the shadows each object gives off, you may wish to place the light source to minimise shadows - this may mean two overhead large light sources at 45deg angle to the flat lay to minimise unwanted reflections
  • you generally will want an evenly lit flat lay and this is where multiple light sources placed at 45deg angle to the flat lay can really make a difference

get the white balance correct

  • light comes in all kinds of colours - especially window light or flashes bounced off walls or ceilings
  • either get the color balance right:
    • before you shoot by doing a custom white balance - check your camera's instruction manual on how to do this
    • after you shoot in post-processing - for this you should ideally take a photo of a colour balance or at least a photographic neutral gray target with the same lighting and then use PS, Lightroom or whatever you are using to determine the correct color balance settings and then apply those to all your images.

optimise image quality, exposure and depth of field

  • one generally wants everything in focus, so a fairly small aperture eg. f/5.6 on a Micro Four Thirds system, f/8 on APS-C or f/11 on a full frame camera will generally be the best for overall sharpness and detail - but if using available light from a window, you may need long exposures that require a tripod (avoid shadows from the tripod legs!)
  • remember that when shooting at small apertures, any dust on the sensor may become visible as an ugly smudge on your photo so clean your sensor if there is dust on it
  • shoot in RAW mode at the camera's base ISO will allow the best image quality (if you are happy with jpeg output and no post-processing then you might get away with just shooting in jpegs)


  • generally for most flat lays and product photography you will be wanting a natural looking result, so you probably will want to avoid using Instagram filters or Lightroom presets, and just restrict post processing to tonal adjustments and sharpening, and perhaps removal of lens vignetting if present (you generally will want an evenly lit flat lay).
  • if an accurate natural representation is not required, you can get really creative with post-processing, this may include using matte presets to create a retro styling, or vibrant settings to give the image a visual pop and emphasize individual colours, although over-saturating colours is probably not the way to go for most images
  • consider adding some simple text in Photoshop or Enlight to add further explanation or context
photo/flatlays.txt · Last modified: 2019/07/14 13:00 by gary1

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