10 Tips for Getting the Perfect Flatlay Photo

You’ve seen them across social media, on websites, in magazines and product advertisements. They also just so happen to be my favourite photography style but I’ll be honest, creating them is not always easy.

I’m talking about flatlays, and how they have this ability to truly tell a story in just a single snapshot or make products incredibly desirable. It’s no wonder magazines and websites love using them, and when it comes to social media, you’ll find them being used for personal branding, social media ads and advertising. So as a self proclaimed Flatlay Queen, I thought I’d share 10 tips to help you create the perfect flatlay photo.

1. Find Creative Inspiration

If you have no idea where you should begin with your flatlay, or need some guidance on how you can get started with your flatlay photo, the easiest thing for you to do is find some creative inspiration. Browse through online platforms like Pinterest and Instagram (follow the #khaliphaflatlay hashtag on Instagram as a start). YouTube videos are also a great way to find some creative inspiration for your flatlay photo.

2. Pick a Theme

Once you have some ideas on how to get started with your flatlay photo, it’s time to decide on what theme your flatlay will be. From beauty and skincare to fashion and food, your theme should be decided on what story you want to tell in your flatlay photo, or what product you are trying to showcase. It might not make the best sense to highlight a beauty product in a gym-themed flatlay (unless you can make that work, then go for it!), but make sure that the theme you choose aligns with the goal of the flatlay photo.

3. Have the Right Props

I can’t stress this enough – your props are the supporting act in your entire flatlay photo. They should be used to enhance the overall flatlay or help tell a story in your photo. Your props shouldn’t overtake the main product of your flatlay, nor should you have too many props that they become overwhelming and more of a distraction in your photo.

camera flatlay photo with canon 400D and SD cards and instax photos of khalipha ntloko

Once you have the theme of your flatlay photo in might, remember that you need to select props that will match the theme. Make sure that you also give yourself a good selection of props to choose from when creating your flatlay photo, so that you can exchange props as you compose your flatlay. For more insight into props for flatlays, read my 6 Tips to Remember About Props for Flatlays.

4. Keep Your Background Clean

Another piece of advice that I’ll give whenever it comes to the background of your flatlay photo – keep it clean and simple. A plain white background is the best go-to colour to use as a background because of the versatility it offers. It doesn’t distract from the items you will put on it and you have the most freedom to play, especially when it comes to colour palettes.

I love South African brand, Flatlay Studio, for its wide selection of flatlay boards to choose from. All of the flatlay boards I own are from this brand, and it’s made the biggest difference in being able to create better flatlays with them. However, if you can’t get flatlay boards, use the surfaces that you have around your home. From wooden floors and tiles to kitchen countertops and coffee tables, your options are genuinely right in from of you.

5. Choose the Right Layout

In a recent #CanonCollectiveSA episode, I went into more detail about the 3 composition or layout techniques that you can choose from when composing your flatlay photo:

  • Structured: using gridlines to lay your items out in an organised manner
  • Unstructured: using curve lines to lay your items out in a more casual manner
  • “In The Moment” where you include a piece of yourself in the flatlay photo.

6. Shoot from Top-Down

This might seem like a very obvious tip but just in case you didn’t know, flatlay photos are taken from above so you’re going to need to get comfortable with this angle. Sometimes, you won’t need to use ladders or chairs to get your perfect shot but what is important to know with flatlay photos is that the more you want to fit everything in the frame, the higher you will need to photograph the flatlay photo. If you’re doing a flatlay that focuses more of a product, then you’ll find yourself photographing your photo at a much closer angle.

7. Leave Space for Text

This was something I learned when working with a client who had enlisted my to take some flatlay photos for social media. I’m used to creating a scene with my flatlays but this time around, I needed to do that and leave space for the client to add text on the image. This is a tip that will benefit anyone who wants to use flatlays for their business and advertise themselves. If you are creating a flatlay photo for an ad, you might want to leave some space in the middle to add your business name, your products and services or a special promotion that you might be having.

8. Keep Your Edits Simple

Once you finally have your flatlay photo, it’s time to do a little post-production work. You don’t need to do anything major (unless the way you took the actual photograph in-camera wasn’t the best) but I highly recommend that you get familiar with some of these editing terms for your flatlay photos:

  • Crop: if you plan on posting your flatlay photo on social media platforms, like Instagram, you might want to crop the image so that it better fits the dimensions of the platform that you are posting on.
  • Brightness: this helps to add some light to the overall flatlay photo
  • Saturation: this is helpful for making the overall colours in your flatlay photo stand out or pop. This works best for food flatlays!
  • Contrast: this will help with brightening some of the whites while deepening the blacks, creating depth in the flatlay photo.
  • Sharpness: if your camera hasn’t captured the crispness that you were hoping for, you can use this tool
flatlay with sunflowers and fruit in a bowl and bread

9. Don’t Forget Textures

I recently shared a Twitter thread on why textures are so important in a flatlay photo. Feel free to read through the thread to get more details but in essence, textures help with two things in a flatlay photo”

  • It gives your flatlay photo visual interest, especially since textures help give a 3D element to a 2D photo.
  • Textures help create depth (because you have a flat background so you need to create foreground with textured elements)

10. Balance is Everything

Whether you’re using a flatlay photo for your Instagram feed or a Facebook ad, balance is everything. Now yes, this is subjective and relative but here are some things to remember when it achieving balance:

  • Don’t put all of your big items on one side of the image, and all of your smaller props on the other. You want a good, equal distribution of the two spread across your frame.
  • If you have a big item placed in the centre of your frame, try and disperse medium to smaller props around the bigger item so that you have some balance.

This takes some practice and finessing but creating balance is possible and training your own eye

This takes some practice and finessing but creating balance is possible and training your own eye will help you spot when you have an odd placement of products and when your flatlay photo looks more balanced.

Now Go Slay Your Flatlay

Now that you have these tips on creating the perfect flatlay photo, I hope it helps you with your Instagram feed or social media ads. One thing I love about flatlays is that you certainly will get better at taking them with patience and practice.

If you want to learn more about flatlay photography, read some of my posts below:

Author: Khalipha Ntloko

I'm a South African blogger with a love for writing and photography. After completing my BA Honours in Industrial Sociology degree, I'm taking on the real world and embarking on a wonderful journey of continuous growth and success that is filled with nothing but authenticity. So, here's to inspiring real life!

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