Five Easy and Inexpensive Tricks for Better Flat Lay Photography

Let’s be honest, no matter where you go on the internet, there are going to be pictures. They’re essential at this point for establishing brand, creating content, marketing, etc. And the bread and butter of that is the flat lay because it works great for product photography.

And if you don’t know what that is, it’s pretty simple: a flat lay is a photograph taken from above, with items arranged in a way that looks visually appealing. You’ll see them all over the place on Instagram, and it’s a super-easy way of creating aesthetic or relevant images for your blog or social media feed.

A few examples of my own flat lays. I try to keep the look and colours similar so my Instagram feed looks distinctive and kinda matchy.

It can seem pretty intimidating at first, but I really encourage you to try it. You have nothing to lose by pulling out your camera or phone and snapping a few shots. Eventually, you’ll learn what you like and what works for you. And there are plenty of resources out there to help you sharpen your technique. I’ve done it for a while now, so I have a few suggestions that are easy and inexpensive, and will really help you step up your photography game.

Note: The one thing I don’t suggest here, which might be obvious, is a camera. Phones these days have amazing photographic capabilities, so I felt there was no point in mentioning that here. If you’re just starting out, your phone will probably do you just fine.

1. Get Whiteboards.

Head to the nearest craft store and get a couple of foam core whiteboards. Seriously. They will do wonders for your photography. I use them to reflect light or create a pseudo-lightbox effect. They’re widely available and very inexpensive. You can also get a lightbox if you so desired, but it can’t beat the couple of dollars you’ll spend on those whiteboards.

2. Bright White Light.

Natural light is the best. I will never be able to suggest a cheap light that can beat the sun. It’s not going to happen. Even if you don’t have a lot of light if you can find a window that gets some decent sunlight, use it. Prop up a table and make use of those whiteboards. I also like to use a bright white light, especially if its cloudy or too late for good lighting. The light I use is this one from Amazon. You don’t need that one specifically – any inexpensive bright white light will do the trick. You can also put something over the light to help disperse it, so you don’t end up with any harsh reflections. I don’t have a full studio or anything to take these pictures (who does really?) and I don’t have professional-level lights, but I make it work. And now you can too.

3. Keep Things Close

When I first started I did have a habit of spreading things out. I kept thinking things were too close, so I would spread them out and my picture would end up with a lot of white space. It’s the weirdest thing, but when you take the picture things don’t look as close as they do in real life. There’s probably a very scientific term for this, but don’t be afraid to smush things closer together. Move things around and see what you like.

4. Zoom Out

Always take the flat lays from far away. It doesn’t matter that you might see your plate from that morning’s breakfast in the corner, or a smudge on the desk you couldn’t get out. You can always crop and edit but you can’t zoom out. It gives you another chance to play with the composition of your picture after the fact. If you do a large and complicated flat lay, it means you can crop and edit it into more than one picture too, which will save you more time in the future. It also helps to stand up on a stool or chair (be careful when doing so!) so you can get the photo as ‘flat’ as you can. A cheap tripod can get you some of that height and will help stabilize your photos as well if you happen to have an unsteady hand.

5. Backdrops Are Crucial

If you have a lot of darker items – notebooks, keyboard, camera, etc – things that are dark in colour – you’re going to need some contrast. I like to use a white backdrop, and I actually bought the IKEA LINNMON desk top that I typically use as my base. I also purchased a bunch of different 12×12 sheets of cardstock that I can use to spruce up my images with a bit of colour and texture. If you have a large flat lay in mind you can use bristol board, or a scarf or blanket to add some texture.

When you see some of those amazing pictures online, it can feel like achieving that sort of professional image is impossible, when it really isn’t! There are plenty of small tricks out there to help you achieve that sort of quality, and this post just happens to name a handful. I think you’d be surprised at how innovative some set-ups are in the first place. Get creative, and don’t be afraid to experiment!

I want to hear from you!

Let me know if you try out any of these tips and show me some of the amazing pictures you take! Do you have any other easy and inexpensive tips to share? Is there something I didn’t address that you really want to know more about? Let me know in the comments below!

And if you found this post helpful, consider supporting Alyssa Lost in Space by purchasing its caffeine-dependent writer a Ko-Fi!

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