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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Revealing my flatlay secrets

I've been a freelance product photographer for more than a year, but before that, I was creating content on Instagram. I enjoyed it. It allowed me to be creative. I felt like I was creating art simply by taking pictures of aesthetically pleasing products.  

I started out not knowing anything. My flatlays were poorly lit, I overused white bedsheets, and I didn't have a signature style. Fast-forward to 2020 and my flatlays have been featured on the pages of local and foreign brands. I've even gotten offers from international brands to take official product photos for them. (Which sadly never pushed through because of issues with logistics.)

I'm telling you this not to brag, but to let you know that it's fine to suck at taking flatlay photos when you're just starting out. Eventually, you'll discover how you like to take photos, and you'll be amazing at it.

What is flatlay photography? 

They call me the flatlay queen... but I rarely take flatlays. Typically, flatlays are photos of products surrounded by objects that are related to it. They're laid out on a flat surface, and photos are taken from above. But the term flatlay has been so loosely interpreted, I just roll with it. 

Others have interpreted it as a photo containing several objects, usually associating it with product photography. But calling it product photography makes it sound like you took those photos as a job, so people just call it "flatlay" photography. 

These tips can be applied to both traditional flatlays and every other picture with objects in it. I learned these through years of practice as a freelance product photographer and Instagrammer, but even non-photographers can try these out! They'll give your feed that much-needed kick to keep your followers interested.

1. Good lighting is key
You know what they say with selfies: good lighting is key. The same applies to taking beautiful flatlays. Good lighting gets more detail into your shot. It's how you can get rid of ugly grain or noise.

Investing in ring lights or flood lights is a good idea but only if you plan on doing Instagram long-term, aka making money from it. That way, you can shoot wherever and whenever you like. But if you just want to up your flatlay game, you can live without a professional setup. Find spots at home that allow natural light to come in -- ideally, these are in front of large windows or outdoors. The more light, the better!

I wanted this photo to feel warm and Christmasy, so I went with props that evoked those feelings. These are all items you'd associate with the holiday.

2. Props that make sense
I've seen too many flatlays that have props that shouldn't be there. Please don't do that. It just looks funny. 

If you're taking a flatlay of breakfast in bed, why would you put a pair of high heels in there? When you're styling your flatlay, always think of the story you're telling. If it's about breakfast, then use appropriate props like pillows, a cute serving tray, flowers and fancy cutlery. Don't use props that don't belong.


All kinds of textures here: fur, wood, even plain old paper. Texture gives "oomph" to your shot.

3. Texture, texture, texture
Give your bed sheets and curtains a break, and try playing with new textures like marble, wood and glass. Using different textures gives life and depth to your flatlays. It adds another element to your photo without distracting the viewer from the subject of your shot.

Combining two of the same texture can work, but not all the time. For example, using two colors of faux fur won't work while using different colors of paper will. Whenever you're shooting, it's good to have a box full of textures so that you can mix and match as you go along. You'll never know what will look amazing on camera!

Proper spacing between objects makes your photo more appealing to the eye.
4. Proper spacing
Your boyfriend/girlfriend isn't the only one that needs space. When arranging your props, including your textures, be mindful of the space between each object. Don't place them too close to each other -- you'll just end up creating one big messy flatlay.

In flatlay photography, even the smallest centimetres between objects matter. You want to create one image that looks balanced, whether you're going for a symmetrical or asymmetrical look. Ever time you take a picture, review the image to see if there's any adjustment you need to make. Trust me, moving props around even for just one millimetre makes a huge difference.

Stuck with red and gold for this photo I used for a Christmas giveaway. 

5. Cohesive color scheme
Having a cohesive color palette will make your photo stand out. Joining together too many clashing colors will just make your photo very confusing. You want your followers to know exactly what they should be looking at the moment they see your photo. This means choosing colors carefully. The colors you choose should tie all of the elements of the photo together, not draw attention to each individual prop.

Practice whenever you can
I know you've heard this before, but this is the best advice I can give you. Following tips from other photographers isn't enough. You have to actually start taking photos. Find any pretty thing in your house, and challenge yourself to photograph it using the tips I mentioned above. And if you don't like how your shot turned out, don't stress it. Try again another day. 

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