Creating Flatlay Photography for Products: 8 Insider Tips


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flat lay photography on aqua background

Want to switch up your aesthetic or showcase your products and services? Flatlay photography is a fantastic way to do both!

In this article, we’ll go through the whole process of creating a scroll-stopping flatlay product photo. First, we’ll brainstorm the visual story, arrange your objects, and then edit the final photo.

And even if flatlays aren’t part of your style, this is a great process to follow when fine-tuning your photo styling skills, too!

Want to learn how to take jaw-dropping photos on your smartphone? Watch our FREE webinar to learn all the tips, tricks and steps you need to know!

What is Flatlay Photography?

A flatlay is a photo of objects taken from directly above. 

You’ll organize props and your main subjects on a flat surface, then stand directly over it to snap the picture.

The props are used to tell a story and create a feeling based on that main subject. Common main subjects of flatlay photos are books, clothing, food, art, and other small- to medium-sized objects.

Flatlay photo
Photo by @tehteredandtold on IG

Flatlay Photography Set-up: A Checklist of What You Need

Before you gather the equipment for your flatlay, here are some things to consider:

  • What color scheme do you want your photo to have? If you want some inspiration for color combinations, use the free color palette planner coolors.co.
  • What will the main lighting source of your photo be? Natural light is best for flatlays, so you might set up near a window or even outside.
  • What will your background be? This could be a hardwood floor, your desk, a patterned cloth, or whatever best fits the aesthetic you’d like to create in your flatlay. Make sure it’s a clean, flat surface.
  • What will you stand on to take the photo?

This may seem like a lot, but don’t let that stop you. It’s so much fun to experiment with different backgrounds, lighting, and color combinations!

Once you do one flatlay, you’ll know exactly what to do next time.

Now, let’s gather some essential items:

  • Your primary object (the “hero”)
  • Props: think about how your photo’s main subject makes you feel, and pick props that help tell the visual story.
  • Light sources: you can also “dress up” your photo by having a secondary light source, such as fairy lights or candles. 
  • Textures: for visual interest. This could be a scarf, crumpled paper, ivy vines—anything!

teacup on white surface with scattered tea leaves
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

How to Create a Stunning Flat Lay Photo (8 Tips!)

You’re ready to take stunning flatlay photos for your brand! Let’s start with the story behind your photo and create a set based on that.

Create a Story for Your Photo

A great flatlay photo is much more than throwing some objects down and snapping a picture. Each element helps tell the story of your main subject. 

The props should add to the overall vibe you want the photo to have.

If a book is your main subject, think about what objects showed up throughout the story that were important: perhaps a map or a key. 

If your focus is a cake, some measuring bowls and a spoon may work.

Set Up Your Surface

It’s time to build your set! You may choose to set up on the counter, table, or floor. Make sure to clear any clutter and give it a good wipe-down before arranging.

The background is a key element in the story of your photo, but if you don’t like it as is, don’t worry.

Example: if you’re featuring cookies but don’t want to show your countertop, you can hide it using cloths, cutting boards, or baking pans. Get creative!

journal on grey chair in dappled light
Photo by @tetheredandtold on Instagram

Check and Adjust Lighting

As in all photography, good lighting is crucial.

Like we mentioned before, natural light works best for flatlays rather than harsh, artificial light. Do you have a window that gets indirect light? Take some test photos to see how the lighting works in different places around your home. 

You could even set up outside (overcast days work best because the light is more even). Don’t forget: you can also play with shadows.

Too dark? Think about other ways you can brighten up the photo. Fairy lights and candles are commonly-used props and secondary light sources in flatlays. 

Place Your Product

It’s good for the “hero” object to differ in size and/or color from the props so it stands out. (This is called “visual hierarchy.”) The question is, where do you put it?

In the middle of the frame is a simple option, but there are so many ways to change it up while still making sure it’s the main focus of your flatlay.

One option is to use the “rule of thirds.” This means that your photo is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically, and you place the hero object where the lines intersect. It’ll be slightly off-center.

Your hero object doesn’t have to be fully in the frame, either; it can be partially out of view as well. It might also be situated diagonally rather than perfectly straight.

flatlay photography example
Photo by @tetheredandtold on Instagram

Place Your Secondary Props and Items

Arranging your props and secondary objects may take some time, but it’ll really make your flatlay photo stand out. The rule of thirds will definitely come in handy here, as will the “visual hierarchy” we talked about a minute ago. 

Create “leading lines” with your props—that’s when they lead your eye straight to your hero objects. Your hands and arms make wonderful leading lines!

Texture is important to maintain visual interest as well. Successful flatlays contain many textures to keep the viewer’s eye engaged.

You can also put objects on top of one another. Stacked objects come closer to the camera, even being out of focus, creating depth, and making the photo seem more lifelike.

fairy lights add interesting depth and texture to a flat lay photo
Photo by @thebookaroma on Instagram

Shoot From Above

Standing on a chair might be able to get you to a good height for shooting. Alternatively, you could use a tripod or even a ladder.

Be sure to double-check that your camera or phone is as flat as possible before taking the picture. 

Include Shots That Leave Room For Text

Using your flatlay photos for other social or sales channels, like Pinterest or Facebook? If so, it’s a good idea to photograph multiple versions of your flatlay, sometimes leaving a blank space to add text or graphics later.

Like with the hero objects, you can leave that space in the middle, along the intersecting lines of the rule of thirds, or around the edges of the photo.

For tips on adding text and graphics to your photo, check out our “How to Add Text Overlay to Your Pins” article.

Edit Your Photo

Now that you’ve taken some gorgeous flatlay photos, it’s time to edit. This is the last step and it’s where you’ll make the aesthetic come to life. Oftentimes, this includes reducing shadows, increasing brightness, and adjusting HSL.

If your chosen colors are warm and cozy like browns and earthy greens, you’d increase the temperature and tune them using HSL. Or, if you’ve chosen clean whites and grays, you’d decrease the temperature, desaturate a bit, and up your highlights.

Need editing tips? Our article on basic photo editing covers all your questions.

flatlay photo of book surrounded by paper and keys
Photo by @frantargaryen on Instagram

Conclusion: How to Get Perfect Product Photography Flatlays

Flatlays are perfect for showcasing your products and services. Practicing is the best way to figure out what fits best with your brand!

Follow people and brands on social media whose photos inspire you to keep experimenting. Take loads of pictures of your set, rearranging your hero objects and props to find what works best visually. Spend a little time making new sets, and you’ll become a flatlay master in no time!

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Puzzling over how to make your products shine on social? Use our handy guide to take stunning flatlay photography that your followers can't resist!

Syd Wachs

Syd Wachs is a nomadic photographer, writer, and visual artist. Originally from the US, Syd lived in Asia for 7 years before moving to New Zealand, where they’re currently based. Find them everywhere @videmusart.

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