How to Master Flat Lay Photography in 2023

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This guide will help you create a beautiful flat lay photo to suit any brand or style that will tell a visual story about your product.

What Is Flat Lay Photography?

Flat lay photography an arrangement of items is laid on a flat surface, taken from directly above or with a slight angle. They’re a very popular style of photo for products to create a scene to showcase your brand. Flat lays are a fun, versatile way to display products in a way that’s visually appealing and very satisfying to view in a lifestyle setting. With this in mind, you’ll want to make sure you’re pairing your products with items that look like they naturally belong next to the product you’re shooting.

Blank Notebook and Writing Flat Lay

3 Flay Lay Photography Tips

1. Start with a plan

Getting organized is always the best first step. Grab a notebook and jot down some notes on the story you’d like to tell in a product photo. How would you like your customers to feel when they see the photo? Depending on your product, and your brand, you might want to create a laid back, relaxed look or a more vibrant, exciting vibe. You can check out some flat lay inspiration on Burst.

You may want to feature a few of your products in a single flat lay or focus in on each product individually. Once you know what story you’d like to tell with your products, take notes on the photos you’d like to create, and list some props you have that you think will add to your image. For example,

2. Flat lay photography equipment

In flat lay photography, there are some equipment and items you’ll need to complete your photoshoot. Here are some suggestion tools you’ll need to get started.

Camera: This could be your smartphone, a point and shoot, or camera with an interchangeable lens. Any camera that can take high resolution photos is perfect! I would also bear in mind that there is no minimum number of megapixels your camera needs to have, but as an example most modern smartphone cameras are at least 12MP.

Lighting: If you’re using natural light, you can use a bounce card (white card or foam board) to bounce light back on to your items and soften shadows. You can also utilize a ring light or light box to achieve consistent lighting no matter the time of day.

Background: A simple neutral background is a favorite for flat lay photos. You can use craft paper, a countertop, fabrics, wood - whatever fits with the story you want to tell!

Tripod: Steady hands are great but a tripod with an arm that extends so that the camera is held directly above the photo is even better!

Props: Props are there to complement the hero of your photo - your products! Props should be from a complementary color palette and provide balance to your photo. If your background isn’t a textured material like wood or cloth, adding fabrics are a great way to introduce more texture and depth.

3. Set up your flat lay

As the name suggests, we’ll need to start with a flat surface; this can be the floor, a table, a counter, your bed - whatever suits your idea best. To add a little texture to your photo you can also pick up kitchen counter samples or wooden boards from your local hardware store. If you’re planning to use natural lighting, you’ll want to set up next to a window for some soft natural lighting. Direct sunlight can cause harsh shadows so cloudy days are great. You can also use your bounce card on the side opposite to the window and reflect light back on your flatlay and soften any shadows.

You can start building out your photo using your products and your props. How you style your flat lay will depend on the story you want to tell and the mood you want to create, as well as the purpose of the photo. Also remember, social media platforms can crop image dimensions (we’re looking at you Instagram) so take this into account when framing your flat lay product photo.

You can create a clean, minimalist flat lay with simple, structured placement - fewer items arranged neatly creating strong, balanced lines. For a more casual look, you can add further props and textures laid out in a more contrasting fashion to create a less structured, laid back feel. Keeping the placement of all the items well balanced will be important no matter what style of flat lay you want to create. If you’d like to add text or graphics, leave plenty of negative space (empty space in your photo) so you can add this later when editing.

Rolling Out Paper with Purple Flowers

How to take the Perfect Flat Lay Photo

With your first image laid out, you’ll need to position the camera over the flat lay to take the photo so that you’re shooting from directly above. You’ll need to make sure that you, or your camera, aren’t casting any shadows over your flat lay. Using grid lines on your camera will help to ensure that your camera is held flat above your layout. Take a few shots of your first layout and evaluate the photos when they’re taken. Some questions to ask yourself include:

Is your product standing out as the key focus of the photo?

Does the layout of the photo look balanced?

Are the props complementing the hero (your product) in your photo?

Do the colors in your photo work well together?

Add and remove props to see how they change the feel of the flat lay photo. Tweak the positioning and angles of your props and make sure everything that’s featured in the photo adds something to it, avoiding too much clutter. The layout of your flatlay doesn’t necessarily need to be very neat and structured, but it's best to make sure your props are placed intentionally and are serving a purpose. You can use layering to add more depth to your photo - fabrics are a great way to do this. Experimenting is key for creating the perfect flat lay for your products.

Make sure to take a few photos every time you make a tweak to your flat lay layout. Having a wide variety of layouts is ideal if you’re planning to use them across different platforms and for different purposes. It’s a great idea to take notes while you work on what you feel is working well, and what you’ve noticed doesn’t work so you can keep it in mind for your next shoot.

How to Edit Flat Lays

Using mobile editing apps can simplify the editing process and are convenient for sharing photos on social media platforms. Apps like Lightroom, VSCO, Snapseed, or PS Express are free to install on Apple iOS and Android but provide the option for paid advanced features should you need them. You’ll also find paid Lightroom and Photoshop subscriptions are available for desktop apps if you’re looking for a more comprehensive means to edit your photos.

Apps like these will allow you to apply filters to your photos which will automatically create a certain look. Applying pre-made filters, also known as ‘looks’ or ‘pre-sets’, are a fantastic way to ensure that your photos remain consistent. These apps will also allow you to easily adjust elements of your photo such as brightness, contrast, saturation, and more.

Editing a Flat Lay Photo on a Laptop

If you’ll be adding text to your flat lay photo, an app such as Phonto is a great option that allows you to select from a wide variety of fonts and customization options. It’s free to install on iOS and Android and does have a paid option for advanced features.

Less is often more when editing a photo, as we’ll always want the final result to be clean and natural. Aim to make subtle changes to enhance the photo, but avoid over-processing which can result in a grainy, artificial looking image which can be quite jarring to view. Always ensure that you keep the original photo when editing in case you want to start fresh to give your flat lay a different look.

Share your new Flat Lay Photos!

Now that you’ve mastered the art of creating the perfect flat lay for your products, it’s time to share your photos with the world. Creating beautiful, engaging photos is awesome, but you’ll also want to make sure they are seen by your audience so make sure you optimize your photos to get the best reach on social media.

Whether you’re posting photos on your website or social media, adding alt text to your flat lay photos when you post them online will make your images more accessible, and has the added benefit of making your images easier to find by improving their SEO (search engine optimization) so they will rank higher in search results.

Alt text also provides a description that screen readers can use to let your visually impaired audience know what the picture is about, and search engines will also use this information to rank your images in their search results. Website images should also have descriptive file names - a combination of descriptive, keyword-rich file names and alt text descriptions will result in the best performance.

When adding alt text to your photos, you’ll want to use a specific description of around 125 characters or less so that screen reading software and search engines know exactly what the image contains.

Sliced Pumpkin Pie Flat Lay

For this image, a description of ‘A picture of pie’ will be much less effective than ‘Delicious Thanksgiving pumpkin pie dessert with cream and cinnamon next to a rustic napkin’. Including important keywords in your alt text description is a good idea, but having the alt text be a string of keywords should be avoided. It’s not necessary to include ‘an image’ or ‘a picture’ in the alt text, it’s best to focus on providing an accurate description of what your photo contains.

In addition to alt-text, when posting on social media platforms such as Instagram, hashtags will help make sure your flat lay photos are reaching your potential customers. Keep your hashtags relevant to the image and, for Instagram, use a mix of large, medium, and small hashtags to increase the reach of your posts.

A large Instagram hashtag will have upwards of a million posts and move quickly, so your image won’t be easily visible for long but the tag will have a large volume of viewers so it can still be a great way to increase engagement on your post quickly. For the image above, a large hashtag might be #thanksgiving at 18.4 million posts.

A medium-sized Instagram hashtag will range between 100,000 posts up to one million and are a great option, as they’re popular enough that your photos will be seen by plenty of people, and your image won’t move out of the most recent posts as quickly as it would for large tags. AS an example, the hashtag #thanksgivingdinner is a medium hashtag at 577k posts.

Smaller hashtags are focused and while fewer people will view these, your image is more likely to remain high on the most recent photos, or even be included in the top photos for that tag, and the people viewing that tag are most likely to be interested in that topic. #thanksgivingdessert has 34.2k posts, and people viewing this smaller tag are most likely to connect with your image as they’re looking for this specific content.

Instagram will allow you to include up to 30 hashtags on a post but around 11 hashtags, a few from each category, is generally optimal. On Facebook, posts with 1-2 hashtags seem to perform best, with reach dropping off when more tags are added. Utilize post insights on social media platforms to see what generates the most engagements and leads for you!

Young Woman Checking Her Phone

Now that you’ve set up, taken, and edited the perfect flat lay photo, shared that image with your existing and future audience, and analyzed the performance of the image, it's time to use everything you’ve learned about flat lay photography to start planning your next shoot. Be creative, experiment, and most importantly - have fun finding new ways to show off your products!