In this post I will go through the exact steps to take to curate the perfect flat lay photography set up. From how to style flat lay, how to light your product photography and all the best props to use for your flat photography.
Ever since I rebranded my blog from travel to lifestyle, I started really getting into flat lays. I love the freedom of being able to create amazing content from inside my own house, as opposed to having to wake up at 5h am to take pictures in front of the Trevi Tountain without tourists.
Plus, with a little bit of imagination, you can create stunning visuals and ways of telling a story without the need for words.
Table of Contents
FLAT LAY PHOTOGRAPHY SET UP, A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE
WHAT ARE FLAT LAYS?
If you’re totally new to this wording, flat lays are now the most common style of blog photography. A flat lay is a picture taken of a collection of items laid out on a flat surface from a bird’s eye perspective, or from a quirky angle.
Usually there will be one hero item that is the main focus of the shot, while all the other items in the flat lay are there to complement the hero piece and help to tell a story. You literally arrange everything lying down in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Improving your product photography skills is also a great way to work with brands, as you can offer the extra service of taking original stunning photography for them, as opposed to only posting a picture to your social media/blog.
However, it is easier said than done and many times what we visualize in our minds doesn’t turn out at interesting one the shot is taken. That is why it’s important to get the basics right!
Below will you find a step-by-step style guide to creating the ultimate flat lay for product photography, from how to set up your shot to understanding your color scheme and the props you will use in order to tell a compelling visual story.
Step-By-Step of the Perfect Flat Lay Photography Set Up
Step 1. Plan Ahead
Don’ overlook how much work flat lays can be. The first important item on the flatlay style guide is to plan ahead.
Do you already know which products you want to photograph? Do they go visually well together (as in a color, or a theme)? What is the best time of the day to photograph and where will you do it?
Don’t forget the basics, such as charging your camera and setting everything aside beforehand so that you don’t waste time and so that you can batch as much content as possible with the time that you have at hand. This takes me to the second item on this list
Step 2. Set up your background + camera
Once you have your focal product, you then want to prepare your photography gear.
Think of where you will want to shoot. If you need natural lighting, you will most probably need to be near a window. How does the background look? Is it clear from distractions? Is it visually appealing?
The best and easiest way to solve an ugly background is by simply using a white sheet of paper. This not only guarantees a clean aesthetic, but it is also cheap and convenient.
If your house has bad lighting such as mine, it is best to set up your camera on a tripod to avoid getting blurry images due to the slower shutter speed (to allow more light to come in).
Another reason to use a tripod is to be sure you are getting the best angle from above. Feel free to use your hand and freestyle it as well. This will allow you to get different angles and perspectives. In flat lay, what is important (in my opinion) is to try and get as many angles as you can. Don’t be afraid to move the objects around.
My own tripod is a pricey one that Cris recommended my buying from Amazon (this is the one I bought). It is extremely stable and accompanies us in our travels as well, so it was well worth the investment (and hey, if a professional photographer recommends you something, you take their advice).
Step 3. Build up your background adding different textures and props
Shooting on a totally blank background definitely works (especially if you’re into minimalism), however you can also evoke emotions by simply adding different props to your background.
Props can be anything: from clothes with interesting textures (such as silk, wool, cashmere, etc), to different colors and vibes (such as patterns, nudes, bright colors). You can use things fro your own kitchen, such as bowl and plates, and even dried/dead plants.
The sky is the limit when thinking of props (and that is why step 1 is so important: plan ahead to avoid wasting time).
Step 4. Place your focal product(s) into your frame
Next, place down your focal product or products if you are shooting a range of items.
If you are working with multiple products, look at the tones of each and balance them out within your frame.
Step 5. Add smaller props to fill blank spaces
This is my favorite part!
You can probably already tell that I like to think of flatlays as a compelling visual storytelling method. That is why I find it so amusing to challenge myself to create unique ways to share a feeling whenever I do product photography. Finding fun and creative props is a fun challenge at home (especially during quarantine).
In simple words: get your props right and magic can happen!
The same goes with regards to background props: you don’t want anything with a pattern or something too bold as it will detract from your focal point. The best way is to add small neutral-toned items that will help compliment your picture, not take away from it.
Props that work well include: rings, glasses, sunglasses, notebooks, postcards, magazines, dried rose petals/leaves, stationery items, technology (such as a laptop, phone, AirPods, etc). These are all non-imposing props that will fill gaps and make your flat lay shine!
Product Positioning tips:
- Point items in different directions and at different angles to give a less staged feel.
- Does the product have a lid (such as a perfume or lipstick)? Open it up.
- Move objects around and take pictures as you do. You never know how it will turn out
- Don’t be afraid of using water and other creative materials to help compose a mood.
- Scatter jewelry and accessories such as sunglasses around
This takes me to my next point:
Step 6. Reposition products to look less staged
Does your setup look too fake (i.e. staged?). That is a common problem many people have when they start out flat lays. Something about the way the picture comes out doesn’t look natural.
If you believe they look too staged, simply shift them around and experiment with different camera angles. If you feel stuck, refer back to a mood board or to Pinterest for quick inspiration.
Lastly, don’t forget that a lot of the flatlays magic comes out only after editing the picture.
Step 7. Check your shot & consider lighting
Again, experiment with angles and camera positioning. Try to get close-ups and shots that are further away. This will give you more options when editing.
As for lighting, natural lighting is free and gives the best results!
If harsh shadows are a problem use a white foam board (you can find these in Hobbycraft) or a silver reflector (I own this inexpensive 5-in-1 reflector here) to reflect light back onto your scene and tone down shadows.
Regarding having a color scheme, you can either determine in advance if you want to follow a unique pattern of color (such as nudes, pinks, colorful, etc) and stick to it forever or allow your focal products to determine the color of your flat lays.
For example, when I shot my Kiehls product photography, I wanted to match the blue tone of the bottle and its primary ingredient (which is Lavender). Since I didn’t have lavender flowers at home, I used a bouquet of purple flowers that I coincidentally bought that weekend. I think the results came out beautiful, don’t you agree?
I hope this step-by-step flat lay photography set up guide was useful to you.
As there are a few things that can go wrong when creating a flat lay, from lighting problems to perspective issues, don’t discourage when things don’t come out as you had imagined.
If you have any question let me know in the comments and I will answer them in my next blog photography post!
What are your biggest struggles when it comes to product photography?