How to Flat Lay – 5 Top Tips
The flat lay format has been a big trend in photography for some time, seen everywhere from the pages of Vogue to my home feeds on Instagram and Pinterest.
The fashion industry has wholeheartedly embraced this style and it serves the sector well; showing the whole look in just one image, encouraging the followers of fashion to share their daily outfit with #OOTD.
The food & drink sector has also produced some lovely examples – I am particularly fond of the snaps of latte art and photos of fresh ingredients from behind the scenes in a restaurant, cafe or kitchen.
The flat lay is full of marketing opportunities: brand positioning, networking and even search traffic – I’ll come back to this later. This photo format provides a way to communicate an aspirational, lifestyle feel and when done right, a chance for some storytelling too.
Already one of my favourite brands on Instagram, Black Milk are dab hands at the flat lay format and have run competitions inviting the audience to submit the flat lay entries to win prizes. Westfield shopping centres have also taken part in the photography trend with #flatlaythenation.
Flat Lay Photography Guide
To access the full value of this photo format, you have to compete with an army of talented fashion bloggers, stylists, photographers, who are producing beautiful examples every day. To prepare you for flat lay battle, here are my top flat lay tips:
1. Lights, camera, action!
Every article you can find about flat lay tips includes lighting as one of the key elements for a successful result. They are right. It is. Some of these articles went so far as to say that shooting in daylight works best. They are also right. Artificial lighting brings a whole host of shadow issues, which is my first tip: avoid shadows as much as possible.
The camera (I used my iPhone) must be held straight (flat?) above the items to take the photo, but this presents the first big problem with shooting a flat lay: your body – likely your hands and phone – cast a shadow over the items. This cannot be avoided but you can work with it – here is how: place your flat lay in the shade (if you are outside) as you will still get the benefits of the sparkly sunny light OR place the items between you and the sun – your shadow should cast behind you and not over the subject of your photo.
If the sun is behind you and you lean over the flat lay, you are going to cast a big shadow – you can use this – what you need to achieve is even lighting all over the flat lay area.
2. Be square
The square photo format is the popular choice among the luxury brands, both in terms of the shape of the image (iPhone users have the option to shoot a square photo within the camera app) AND laying the items out into a square shape.
I am not so keen on the huge rectangles full of clothing which take up so much of my Pinterest feed – see what I mean here – so my tip is to focus creativity into a square space.
3. Edit + Filter
Post-production covers up a multitude of my photographic shortcomings – we cannot all be David Bailey, but we can all change the brightness, balance and exposure of photos. Use as many apps as you like – there are so many good ones – I like VSCO and A Color Story, but Snapseed is also popular at G&I towers – and of course, pick a good filter – easily done when posting to Instagram.
4. Tag + Link
A flat lay can contribute to search traffic if it is correctly optimised and thus also harnessed for brand positioning and networking. There is already a sizeable #flatlay community, so make sure you use the correct #hashtags when posting (no more than two per photo) such as #flatlayinspiration
5. Focal Point
My last tip was formed in collaboration with the G&I team – an observation we all made when shooting flat lays for our clients. Pick one focal point for the photo and select all other parts as complementary accessories. Play with angles, choose a plain background (black, white, wood, slate are all winners) and leave some space between the items.
Creating a great flat lay is more than just curating the right objects; it must be a high-quality photograph too. Follow these five tips and you will be well on your way to becoming a flat-lay pro.
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