Flay lay photography (also referred to as top down photography) can be an incredibly powerful tool to grow your business and social media profiles.
In fact, a lot of my success on Instagram is because of flat lay photography!
While Instagram is a big part of why top down photos continue to increase in popularity, IG also isn’t the only way that you can use this style of photography to grow your business.
Consider incorporating top down photos as:
- Photos used in the background of pins you create for Pinterest
- Brand photography to sell specific items on your e-commerce site
- Photos created to compliment a gift list/roundup post or as general lifestyle blog photos
- A subdivision of your blog – sell your images individually or as part of a bundle!
These top down photography tips are perfect for beginners as well as those looking to brush up their top down photography skills.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and I could earn a commission if you use them. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
The Complete Guide to Flat Lay Photography:
Tips, Props + Inspiration
This photography guide is meant for online business owners, bloggers, and social media content creators and covers:
- Top down photography equipment
- Tips for how to style a flat lay photo
- Flat lay props ideas
- How to shoot a stunning flat lay photo in 7 steps
Let’s start by understanding exactly what a flat lay photo is before moving onto setup and taking the perfect shot!
FREE PRO BLOGGER BUNDLE
Get Paid to Blog & Post on Social Media
Get FREE blogging resources including checklists, calendars, & more. Learn how to make money online with blogging and social media!
You are subscribing to the Nikki Blogs newsletter. Unsubscribe at any time.
What is a flat lay photo?
A flat lay photo is a top down image of items that have been aesthetically arranged on a flat surface.
Photographers and experienced social media influencers utilize a tripod with an arm attachment and camera to capture the photo from above – something which can help to alleviate issues with lighting and shadows.
So, how do you do a flat lay?
With a bit of photo styling experience and a great flat lay photography kit, anyone can shoot a beautiful top down photo!
Flat lay images are perfect for social media, blogging, and e-commerce so you’ll definitely want to master shooting top down photography for your business.
The most challenging parts of this style of photography are using new equipment and styling photos but after a few shoots, it becomes natural!
Let’s break down what a great flat lay photography setup looks like first.
Flat Lay Photography Equipment
To start shooting a variety of flat lay photos, you’ll want to have the following:
- white foam boards and/or other simple backgrounds
- a great camera – I use a Sony mirrorless camera with a 16-50mm lens but this one by Canon is a great budget-friendly option
- a tripod – a flat lay photography tripod requires an arm attachment
- natural lighting and/or studio lights
Your flay lay photography kit should also contain a few photo styling props.
Let’s break down each item.
I probably have about 20 foam boards of various sizes and depths in my household at any given moment!
A foam board is a fantastic flat lay background and thicker boards provide stability when working on small or uneven spaces.
I usually shoot flat lay photos on my office desk or on our bed since this is where the biggest windows in our house are located – which brings us to our next topic.
Source out the brightest spot in your home and see if you can set up your flat lay studio here.
If your home isn’t very well lit, studio lights can be used to provide bright even top down photography lighting that’s just as great.
Good ones are a bit of an investment but will provide flexibility in where and what times you shoot at!
As a busy parent and content creator, studio lights have personally saved me on numerous occasions where deadlines were tight and shooting during the day just wasn’t an option.
Phones are definitely the most popular camera choice around – most of us already have one anyway!
However, there are a few drawbacks when it comes to using yours to shoot flat lay photos:
- Accessories and tripods for professional cameras are usually better quality than those made for cell phones.
- If you get a phone call or an important text while you work, you also won’t have to take apart your rig to answer it!
- Professional cameras take much better quality photos than cell phones do.
- Starting with RAW files is the best way to minimize loss of image quality – RAW images contain 68 billion more colours than JPEG files and create photos with far more depth and colour range.
- So, when you go to edit your photos in Lightroom, you won’t have to worry about ending up with grainy images!
- Imagine this – you’re ready to spend a day shooting all kinds of fun flat lays when suddenly… PING! Email notification… PING – Facebook!
- I’ve turned off most notifications on my phone and prefer to keep it off or on do not disturb when I’m working – it’s just better for work flow!
4. Limited prop use
- This one is definitely a first world problem but since I shoot a lot of tech flat lays, it’s worth noting.
- If you’re shooting photos with your phone, you can’t use it as a prop in your photos!
Shooting with a tripod and arm attachment makes shooting flat lays that much easier!
Just assemble your rig, attach your camera, and start staging.
Using a tripod eliminates battling the shadows you create with your positioning and helps ensure that your images are shot at a 90 degree angle.
However, if you’re on a tight budget, a step stool and steady hand can do the trick – although it will require more time and patience!
10 Tips for Flay Lay Photography
Shooting great flat lay photos is something that anyone can do with the right equipment and knowledge.
Here are a few flat lay photography tips for how to take blogger style photos!
1. Find inspiration
Use Pinterest and Instagram to build a collection of reference photos.
Search flat lay or #flatlay and see what you find!
I have a Pinterest board for Instagram picture ideas you can follow – there are a ton of flat lays in there.
2. Build a photo props kit
Think about items you can use to decorate your image – they should be simple but beautiful.
Mugs, candles, faux flowers, etc.
Here’s a guide to popular photo styling props to get you started.
3. Choose simple backgrounds
Investing in something as simple as a white foam board is enough to take your images to the next level.
Think about your favourite retail sites, catalogs, and magazines – items are usually shown on their own against a white background.
Using a simple coloured background prevents your flat lay from get lost somewhere that’s not supposed to be seen.
4. Incorporate different textures and contrast
Mix colours, shapes, sizes, etc.
Including stationary like paper clips or a cup of coffee is a great way to add more character and create a scene for a tech flat lay, for instance.
Experiment with your beauty kit or what’s in your purse to start playing with contrast.
5. Be thoughtful in your colour choices
Be conscious of your colour choices and if possible, choose a maximum of three to four.
This makes your image jump out of the page more than a photo with too much going on in it.
6. Create balance
Carefully arrange your items so that your space is balanced – between your items and along the edges of your image.
You want your photo to look complete without any empty or cluttered spots.
An easy way to do this is by dispersing small and large photo props evenly throughout your shot – too many similarly sized items can take away from your photo.
7. Incorporate living elements
Your hands and plants are a great place to start.
Capturing a top down image of your hands knitting creates a more relatable photo than just yarn and a couple of needles!
8. Embrace natural lighting
Shoot photos by a large window or open door, if possible.
You can also use a white reflector or foam board to change the angle of shadows and eliminate some contrast.
9. Leave space for text
Having some white space in your photos is great for adding text later on in case you decide to use it for:
- Pinterest pins
- Blog post feature images
- Instagram posts
- Instagram stories
- Buttons for your website homepage
- Printable promotional material
I always shoot a couple of alternatives for my flat lay images so I have options later on – moving just a couple of objects or eliminating them all together can make all the difference in how you use a photo.
10. Use a good photo editing app like Lightroom
You can even create your own preset in Lightroom.
Flat Lay Props
To shoot a great flat lay, you’ll want to choose a theme and make sure your props are consistent with it.
But certain items are more versatile than others.
A few of my favourite photo styling props for flat lays include:
- faux flowers
- paper clips
- makeup and beauty tools
- technology – cell phone, laptop, tablet, etc.
You can also add pretty food items like macarons and croissants to feminine flat lays – treats like this just have a way of making people happy 🙂
For food flat lays, stick to the ingredients you used in your recipe or foods that pair well with the dish you’ve created!
Here’s an image I created for a sponsored Burnbrae post.
How to Style Flat Lay Photos in 7 Steps
How do you take good flat lay pictures?
Flat lay design is the most crucial part of shooting the perfect top down photo!
You can easily create a flat lay photo in 7 steps:
1. Choose a theme
Does your image fall in the food category? Beauty? Tech? Narrowing it down makes prop selection and styling easier.
2. Research related images
Scroll through Pinterest and Instagram to see what others are creating in this niche.
Pin to a relevant board or save images for reference.
3. Choose a background
Have a gorgeous but simple kitchen floor? Love clean white backgrounds like I do?
Be thoughtful in your background choice and make sure it suits your photo’s theme.
Pro Tip: This flat lay photo utilizes an object arrangement style called knolling – organizing items in parallel or 90-degree angles.
This is the simplest style of flat lay photography to learn since spacing is kept even between objects and items are placed either vertically or horizontally alongside one another.
4. Set up your work station
Go to an area that has plenty of natural light and set up shop!
If you’re using a foam board, drop it down and then pop up your tripod above it.
Note where you are seeing any shadows and make necessary adjustments – add reflectors to brighten your work area.
If your camera syncs to your phone like mine does, open the app on your phone so you can view your work space while you style.
5. Select a focus point
Unless you’re intentionally creating a collage style photo, a focus point will help your audience see what you want to stand out.
This is an especially important part of creating flat lay images for sponsored content – choose an item you want to be prominent and build your flat lay around it.
The object doesn’t necessarily need to be centred to draw attention to it.
Choosing more muted or natural colour props, smaller items and/or accessories is one way to give your focus point attention no matter what part of the shot you place it in.
6. Style props
Start styling your photo with additional props.
Focus on the spacing between your items as well as colours, textures, contrast, shapes, and size.
You want your photo to look balanced, so be sure to keep enough space between similar objects.
Feel free to make adjustments while you shoot as well – add, remove, or shuffle items to different spots to create a different scene.
7. Shoot your flat lay!
Check out your styled flat lay in your camera’s viewfinder or display screen.
Focus on your main object before experimenting with various other focus points.
How will you use flat lay photography to grow your business? What are your favourite flat lay props? Share your thoughts in the comments below!