It’s crazy to think that Instagram is less than a decade old (it was launched on October 6th, 2010), because it’s already changed the world in so many ways. Some of those changes are positive, some less so. And if the photo sharing app finds itself with a lasting legacy, it will surely be for the fact it made flat lay photography an art form.
Was the term “flat lay” even in your vocabulary before October 6th, 2010? Did you ever predict you’d spend so much of your adult life photography your possessions from above with a camera phone? I sure didn’t. But it’s the reality we currently inhabit. And if you want to take the quality of your images to the next level, here are my ultimate flat lay photography tips…
Backgrounds are hugely important to flat lay photography. Get the background wrong and your image will most likely bomb on Instagram – even if all of the other elements to the photo are fantastic.
On Instagram I find that light, simplistic backgrounds generate the most positive response. Think white-washed floorboards, white lacquer-finished wood, marble countertops, white bedsheets and pale tiles. (I generally use the same backdrops for blog photography.)
Now, you may be thinking, “That’s all well and good. But I don’t live in an Instagram-worthy palace filled with marble countertops!” And there’s no need to panic, because neither do I… I fake it!
Over the years I’ve created a selection of DIY flat lay photography backdrops. The glossy, white background I regularly use is just an A2 foam board from a stationery store. I’ve mounted marble-effect sticky back plastic onto large, cardboard sheets (I’ve also created fake floorboards this way). And I have a few large bathroom tiles, purchased from home improvement stores.
As with your background, it’s also essential that you get the lighting right when photographing a flay lay. Arrange your props in front of, or below, a window to fully benefit from the natural light.
If you live in the UK (or a similar climate) and find natural light hard to come by during the winter months, invest in a set of light reflectors. It’s much more cost-effective than purchasing photography lighting, and you can easily hold a reflector in one hand and your camera in the other to bounce the natural light back onto your flat lay arrangement.
Props are my favourite part of flay lay photography. They help to convey a story, and also bring energy and personality to your images. I keep a small selection of photography props in my office at all times. Objects to collect if you’re building a prop box of your own are: candles, spectacles, magazines, stationery, makeup bags, LED light boxes to write messages on, small plates/dishes, perfume bottles and jewellery. And don’t forget the power of fresh flowers, succulents, coffee and croissants…
Coco Chanel famously said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.” And the same is true for flay lay photography: you don’t want to overcrowd the frame. Less is more!
Empty space shouldn’t be feared, and I like to leave at least a third or a quarter of the frame blank at all times. Silly as it sounds, I feel like it gives your props more room to breathe.
And just as empty space shouldn’t be feared, neither should experimentation. The focal point of your photo doesn’t have to be placed in the centre of the image. So be bold with your layouts, and try placing objects on the outer-edges of your frame instead.
5. CAMERA & EDITING
I shoot flat lays on both my iPhone 6S (yep, I still use a really old model) and the Olympus PEN E-PL8. The Olympus is my got-to when I’m capturing images for the blog, or photographing Instagram flat lays that include lots of intricate details (brand logos and embroidery, for instance). The flip-screen on the E-PL8 is particularly helpful when you’re shooting from above!
However, I still believe that 9 times out of 10 you can capture beautiful Instagram images on a smart phone. Granted, you can’t control the settings like you can on a professional camera. However, it’s easy to work miracles with editing apps. I use Snapseed to adjust exposure, brightness, contrast and saturation; and apply filters on VSCO. Both apps give my iPhone images a professional look!
Will you be putting these flat lay photography tips into practise? What do you struggle with the most when shooting flat lays? Leave a comment below to have your say…
Lead image by Marlene Lee