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How to perfect your flat lay photographY

Flat lay photography is a great way to showcase products or menus in a creative and sophisticated way whilst working to capture the attention of potential clients and customers. At its core, a flat lay photograph is a visually appealing birds-eye view of items on a flat surface. These types of photographs are found all over social media and are very popular in the lifestyle and hospitality fields.


Although this form of photography graces our social media feeds today, flat lay photography actually originated in 1987. The first known flat lay came in the form of ‘knolling’, an organisational method created by Andrew Kromelow and Frank Gehry. Kromelow worked as a janitor in Gehry’s furniture store, at the end of each day he picked up things he found lying around the floor and arranged them on a flat surface at 90 degree angles. A few years later, sculptor Tom Sachs adopted the art form after working with Gehry and seeing the photographs of Kromelow’s ‘organising.’ Since then, knolling has adapted into what we know today as flat lay photography which offers a lighter approach to the basic principle of the art: objects organised on a flat surface. 


Although the art of flat lay photography has changed over time, there’s more to the photography style than just simply placing products and taking a photo. A great flat lay is able to tell a story through its objects, placement and colour choices. This blog post will detail our top five tips to make your flat lay stand out on social media and help achieve your individual or business goals.

Flat Lay Photography

Tip 1: Plan Ahead

Planning is so important. More often than not, if you’re going to mindlessly throw miscellaneous items together without much thought or planning, the result will likely be unstructured and chaotic. Take the time to think about exactly what you want to achieve with the photograph, what emotions you want to evoke and what purpose it holds. For example, if you’re creating a flat lay of new menu options at your cafe, the purpose of the photo is to make your food look appealing and in turn, bring in customers. You need to plan what food best complements your entire menu, what other objects may be in the photo and what type of lighting you want to use, just to list a few considerations. Creating a Pinterest mood board is a great way to conceptualise your ideas and gather some visual inspiration to get you started.

Tip 2: Evoke an emotion or feeling

A great flat lay should work to tell a story, or evoke a certain emotion amongst the audience. As mentioned previously, this decision should be a part of the planning process and consideration should be given to not only the emotion or feeling, but the values and qualities associated with the subject of the photograph. By focusing on certain sentiments, the photograph should be able to capture the attention of your target audience and express visually exactly what you are trying to achieve. For example, if launching a new face mask to your beauty line, you may want to portray a feeling of calmness and relaxation within the photograph. By incorporating colours that reflect this, like light blues and featuring objects that also evoke similar emotions, i.e. a plant, bathing oils or a pillow, you are able to convey to your audience exactly what they’ll enjoy if they purchase your product. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what your overarching goal is, it’s whether or not you can reach the right audience to present your point of difference. 


Tip 3: Use NAtural Light

Lighting is one of the most important aspects when it comes to shooting your flat lay. Ideally, we recommend using super soft, diffused natural lighting, either in full daylight or next to a window or door where beautiful light shines through. Although stunning, direct natural lighting can sometimes create harsh shadows and contrasts within your photo. Typically, avoiding direct sun rays will work to minimise shadows, but this isn’t always possible. Understanding how shadows and their appearance can work to actually benefit your photograph will lead to high quality shots, at any given time. For example, shadows and contrasts can be used to help create a ‘full’ feeling within the image by making use of the entirety of space available, without adding more products. Although we do recommend natural light, we understand that such soft, natural lighting isn’t always available or a viable option. If this is the case, artificial light can work just as well. A few of our go to lighting setups include:


  • A strobe light with a softbox attachment

  • An easy way to mimic soft window light and achieve that natural light ‘look’. Use softboxes to modify and diffuse the light from the bulbs to give you a clean look where shadows are minimised.

  • Ring lighting

  • Ring lights with bendable necks are perfect for flat lay photography due to their ability to adjust the warmth or coolness of your images. They cast an even, shadowless light across the frame and allow you to shoot directly through the centre of the light over your flat lay.

  • Lightbox

  • The technical idea behind a lightbox is to create a space with light surrounding it. Lightboxes are used to diffuse out other light factors that may disturb your shot making them great for taking clean product shots. 

Whether you’re using natural or artificial light, the most important thing to remember is that light illuminating your flat lay should be as even as possible. This will ensure you have a great starting point for the products or objects you’re about to style on the space.

Tip 4: Layer

Layering is a perfect way to add dimension and depth to your flat lay if you feel the photograph is looking a bit too flat. This can be achieved by simply adding a multi dimensional object to the frame. Layering with different textures is a great way to add visual interest. Whether it be a towel, cloth or stacking different sized plates and placing an object on top, adding dimension will make the photograph stand out. Alternatively, moving objects closer to the camera may work to add more depth to the photo. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of playing around with different options and styles until you find what works and looks best.

Flat Lay Photography

Tip 5: Less is more

Composition is hugely important when photographing flat lays, specifically when it comes to creating balance within the shot. Unlike the traditional form of ‘knolling’, where Kromelow evenly placed every object, now, creating balanced flat lays involves mixing a series of different sized objects and colours on both sides of the image frame. We recommend sticking to the principle, ‘less is more.’ There’s no need to over complicate the photo or fill the entire frame. Using empty space is a great way to make certain products stand out, particularly if you have a ‘hero’ product you are styling the entire photo around. The effective use of space can truly transform a photograph, which is why experimenting with the space in your frame is super important to find what combination of products and objects look best.

The Power of flat lays

There is a reason why flat lay photography is used by so many businesses, stylists and influencers on social media. They are the perfect photograph for visual storytelling and truly work to make a strong visual statement about your product, service or self. Have you got a new menu or product about to launch? Give flat lay photography a go and see just how much power these photographs hold online.

If photography isn’t your thing or you simply don’t have the time, leave the content creation to us! Here at MBP we offer a range of different services from photography, social media management and content creation to help bring your brand to life!

Get in contact with our team today!