If you spend much time reading fashion magazines or browsing Instagram, you’ve likely seen outfit inspiration photos where the garments are laid out on a flat surface.
This styling trick, known as flat lay photography, is a great way to showcase your favourite clothing and accessories. Even better, it’s easy to recreate these shots for your blog, shop, or social media account!
How to Make Flatlays
Choose Your Subject
What’s the highlight of the picture? Want to show off a new pair of shoes you got? Necklace? Loving stripes right now? Choose something to focus on and build an outfit around that item.
Find A Large, Flat Work Surface And Choose Your Backdrop.
When you’re setting up a flat lay, you’ll need to find an area that’s big enough to spread out your garments, like a tabletop or a floor.
However, since the flat lay background is a big part of the picture, you may want to create your backdrop by laying down a sheet of paper, fabric, poster board, or another similar item.
Just make sure that any location you use will extend to the edge of the photo, or else it could mess up the flat lay effect.
- Try to match the backdrop to your style. For instance, if you’re shooting a casual, feminine outfit, you might use a washed-out barn door as your backdrop.
- Linens and rugs can also make great backgrounds for a flat lay.
- If you’ll be doing a lot of flat-lay photography, it’s a good idea to use the same or similar backdrops in most of your pictures. That way, they’ll be more easily recognisable when your followers come across them.
Balance Is Key
Ensure that you balance out large items with more delicate items to not end up with a bundled mess.
Arrange And Rearrange
Rarely take just one picture when doing a flat lay.
Sometimes some pictures cause a shadowy wrinkle, others may look disproportionate, and there may be some that you might not like. So to make sure you get the perfect shot, take multiple pictures while rearranging the items in the picture.
Pick A Color Scheme
Colours can help evoke emotions, so pick a colour that goes for the mood you convey.
Summertime is all about blue hydrangeas, so these made the perfect statement colour for the photo. To me, it screams Totes Adorbs.
Now that Instagram lets you upload a larger photo than just a square utilise as much space as you can! It’s proven that an image outside of the square setting gets better engagement than one shot on the court.
You also will have more of a canvas to work with when shooting on the standard photo frame.
Instagram does have a limit of only uploading a photo size that is 1080 pixels by 1920 pixels, so make sure you are uploading an image at least that large to get the sound clarity while viewing it in the app.
Get High Above Your Subject
If you need more height, make sure you get enough between you and your subject so that the entire focal point can be in the frame.
Also, the further away you are, the better chances you have to adjust the straightness of the photo without compromising the picture itself.
Take the photo from straight above. When you’re shooting a flat lay, it’s essential to take the picture straight on, rather than at an angle, to achieve the right effect.
However, you may need to stand on a step ladder or a stool so you can get high enough above the frame to shoot head-on.
If you do have to climb, be careful, especially if you’re carrying heavy camera equipment! It may be a good idea to have someone else nearby to hand you your camera once you get in place.
Only Use Natural Light.
Good lighting is hard to come by inside unless you’re willing to buy expensive lighting kits and setups. Take your subject outside in either early morning or later at night, right before the sun is setting.
You can’t shoot in direct sunlight any time between then, or you may get odd shadows and extreme colour saturation. So if you can, plan your outfits, and then take the shots during the “golden hours”.
If you still think the picture needs more “oomph” after you’ve taken it, upload it to Photoshop and adjust the brightness.
Lighting is always important in photography, but shadows in a flat lay shoot can throw off the whole effect. To avoid that, try shooting near a large, open window or set up your workstation in a shady spot outdoors. Avoid setting up directly in the sunlight since that will create harsh shadows.
Use 1 or 2 external lights if natural light isn’t available. If you don’t have good natural lighting in your work area, the best option is to set up a controlled light source.
If you only have one light, place it to the side of your flay lay setup, tilted at a 45° angle. If you’re using two lights, put them on either side or at opposing corners, facing each other and rocking at the same 45° angle.
- If you want to add shadows to the shot deliberately, move the light a little further from your product. If you’re using two lights, only move 1 of the lights.
- Try experimenting with different lighting options, including flash diffusers to soften your flash, reflectors to help redirect light, reduce shadows, and softboxes to create a new light source.
- Photography equipment can be expensive, but not all lighting solutions require a significant investment. For instance, you can help diffuse shadows in your photo by holding up a large piece of white poster board to reflect light down into the shot.
Have A Neutral Background
The biggest game-changer between successful flat lays, and unsuccessful ones were the backgrounds they laid on.
Everyone wants that perfect white background or white marble for their photos, but marble is expensive, and contact paper gets messy quickly.
There are many great background companies to choose from, and you can even get creative with your background like this whitewash “wood floor” look alike. You may use Vinyl mats as they are easy to transport.
Use A Low Iso, Fast Shutter Speed, And High F-stop.
When you’re shooting product photos, use an ISO of 200 or lower to get the most precise picture. Also, you’ll get a sharper image if you use a fast shutter speed and a higher F-stop, which will give you a smaller aperture opening. Set the white balance based on your light source.
- Go through the settings in your camera and adjust the white balance to match the type of lighting you’re using, such as fluorescent, incandescent, tungsten, or natural.
- Use a standard camera lens for most flat-lay photography. Please don’t use a wide-angle lens, as it can distort the image.
Make Minor Adjustments Until You’re Happy With The Shot.
Once you get your flay lay set up, please take a couple of shots, then look at them carefully.
If any shadows interfere with your image or you aren’t happy with the product placement, make any necessary changes, then shoot again until you get the perfect picture. Once you’re finished, upload your photo to your blog or social media accounts to show it off!
Arranging the Clothing
Lay Shirts And Dresses Flat On The Backdrop.
Spread your garment flat on your work surface, taking a few minutes to arrange it neatly. For instance, if you’re displaying a shirt, you might fasten any buttons, smooth out the collar, and put the arms.
- In general, it’s best if the garment is symmetrical in the photo. However, when you’re arranging long sleeves, you might place them at slightly different angles, so they look more natural.
- It’s a good idea to iron the garments before you shoot them since wrinkles will look unattractive in the picture.
Fold Pants In Half Longways, Then Again At The Knees.
It can be not easy to fit an entire pair of adult-size pants in a frame, so try folding them in half with the legs together first, then fold them again at the knees.
You can then either lay the pants flat or display them in a V-shape to show the entire length of the legs. Also, try to arrange the folded pants to show off any excellent details, like pocket stitching or distressing.
- Try cuffing jeans to give them a little more personality!
- If you’re shooting baby clothes, you may prefer to leave the pants unfolded.
Tuck In The Hems To Give The Clothing A More Natural Look.
If you’re laying out a top or a dress, roll the side hems slightly underneath the garment rather than pressing them out flat. This will give the piece a little more movement, and it will look more like it does when it’s hanging naturally on a person’s body.
- Since the back of a garment is often a little longer than the front, you may need to tuck the back bottom hem under the piece, as well.
- If you’re styling a woman’s garment, fold in the sides a little more just beneath the arms to give the clothing a gentle curve. For men’s and children’s clothing, keep the line straight.
Place Tissue Paper Inside The Garment If You Want To Add Dimension.
If you find that your garment looks lifeless, try adding a little lift by sliding a few stacked sheets of tissue paper into the inside of the piece.
You can even roll up stacks of tissue paper to put inside the arms and legs of the clothing for more movement. For instance, you might put tissue paper inside the body of a T-shirt or in the torso of a dress.
Arrange Clothing In Outfits To Create Inspiration Shots.
Shooting a single piece can be an excellent way to showcase it, but flat lay photography is commonly used to different group items in fun outfits. For each shot, challenge yourself to mix and match other pieces to show your unique style.
- In general, it’s best to try to arrange outfits similar to the way you’d wear them. For instance, you might place a dress in the centre of the frame, shoes near the bottom, and a hat and sunglasses near the top or off to the side.
- Similarly, you might put a blouse closer to the top of a shot, with pants either below the top or down and to the side.
Add Accessories To Create A Complete Look.
As you’re styling your outfit, think about what you might wear with those garments. Something as simple as a chic pair of shoes or a cool hat can help take your flat lay photography to the next level.
- For instance, if you’re shooting a swimsuit, you might include accessories like a floppy hat, beach tote, coverup, sandals, and sunglasses.
- Think about how you’d display these items if you were planning an outfit you wanted to wear. For example, you might drape a necklace across a T-shirt, or you might put a belt around the waist of a dress.
Shoes can go near the bottom of the shot or off to the side, depending on what looks best.
Include Details That Help Sell Your Outfit Story.
To make your flat more dynamic, try to include particular touches that will help tell a story. Think about where someone might go if they were wearing that outfit, and add details that help sell that idea.
- For example, in your swimsuit picture, you might also include 1 or 2 items you might bring to the pool, like a book, sunscreen, or cool water bottle.
- Even a simple tee-and-jeans combo can be dressed up as a perfect vacation outfit by adding interesting details like a pretty tube of lipstick, a flower, a hotel room key, or a plate with a delicious-looking pastry.
Tips for Acing the Flat Lay Photography
Creating a flat lay photo is one of the easiest ways to take your Instagram posts from “nice” to “are you a production designer? This looks like it was in Vogue.”
If you’re unsure where to get started or what direction you want to take, we suggest browsing Pinterest or Instagram with the #flatlay to get an idea of what looks you like. Or browse our Pinterest pins and other templates for inspo.
Assemble Your Props
What’s the theme of your flat lay photo? Maybe you’re running a beauty blog.
The answer is super straightforward (cosmetics!), or perhaps you’re going for something a little less concrete (like trying to capture the feeling of excitement before an impending journey).
Whatever you’re going for, keep your theme in mind while selecting your props, so you end up with a cohesive look.
Pick a lot of props (more than you would conceivably use) so that you can swap things in and out while you’re composing your shot.
Also, try to pick objects of varying sizes and shapes to create visual interest. Lastly, it helps to have a colour palette in mind while choosing your props—the colour coordination adds to the overall polish.
Grab An Extra Pair Of Hands
Some of our favourite flat lay photos look more “candid” because they include people (or, more accurately, body parts).
If you want to create a look that has a sense of movement and action, consider enlisting the help of a friend/hand model. It’ll be way more accessible/less impossible than trying to pose and photograph yourself.
Pick A Background
When choosing a background, it’s best to keep things simple. A plain white background works well because it won’t distract from your props, but you can also pick a neutral wood floor or table.
If you want to use a coloured background, you can get crafty by taping some matte wrapping paper to a foot or table.
Or, consider investing in some vinyl backdrops to create a rustic look easily. You could also magically erase any background you have and put in a new one with our background remover.
Compose Your Shot
Now that you have all your props and your background, it’s time to get organised. Set up next to a window and try to shoot in the morning or late afternoon, when you’ll get the best light. Try not to use a flash, as this is going to create shadows.
When setting up your shot, leave a little bit of space between each object. This will help highlight each prop and keep your picture from looking cluttered. Create balance in your photo by mixing more minor things with larger objects and placing objects of similar colours on both sides of the image.
If you want to post this photo to Instagram, a square layout will look nice. If you’re shooting with your phone, it’s easy to set up a shot by picking the square setting in your camera.
Leave Space For Text And Graphics.
You might want to leave some space where you can add text or graphics in post-production. If you’re creating an ad, this is where you can add your brand name and logo. Or, if you’re going for a more inspirational look, you can stick in a quote.
Shoot From Above
Climb up on a ladder or step stool and get shooting. Creating distance between you and the flat lay will help you fit everything into the shot. This is also one of the only ways to ensure that your photo looks flat.
Once you’re up there, take a few test shots and don’t be afraid to keep moving props around until it looks just right. When you have your perfect image, it’s time to get editing.
Post It And Bask In The Glory Of Your Social Media Savvy
Click Share at the top of the screen and post directly to your social media feeds. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the shiny glow of all your newly acquired likes.