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The beauty of the flat lay photo is its simplicity. And yet it can be an incredibly powerful part of your image content and one of the most effective ways of story-telling.

Scroll through Instagram and it won’t be long before you come across a flat lay image. Shot from above, it provides an overhead view of an assortment of carefully arranged items.

Flat lay photos work with an array of subjects: food, technology, art – it doesn’t matter. They are simple to set up and shoot yourself so here are a few tips to get you started.


As with any social media image, the key to an effective background is to have as few distractions as possible. Which is why a piece of plain white paper is as effective as it gets!

But consider what colours work best with your brand. Pastel coloured or even subtly patterned paper might be more appropriate.

And don’t overlook the use of different textures too, for example the wood grain of a desk or the fabric of a rug. Just ensure that the background complements the subject.


Whether you are using natural or artificial light, avoid having shadows unless you are intentionally using them for creative effect.

Bouncing light with the use of a piece of white foam board is extremely effective in helping to soften shadows.

Diffused, indirect window light is a good starting point for your flat lay and experiment from there. Soft, intentional shadows are fine but you want to avoid any harsh contrasts.


It might feel like overkill but I’d recommend using a tripod for two main benefits.

First, it ensures that there is no risk of motion blur in your images. This might not be an issue if using artificial light but if you are relying on natural light then your shutter speed might not be high enough to compensate for hand shake.

And second, using a tripod and fixing the camera in place allows for minute adjustments to your framing. It is far more precise and accurate than eye-balling it hand-held.


Flat lays are all about story-telling in an instant. The key to its effectiveness is to consider every item you include and its position very carefully.

Try to achieve a sense of balance. You want to fill the frame with detail but not in a haphazard manner. Start by distributing the items evenly throughout – don’t overload one side of the frame.

Look for items that have natural shapes and try positioning them to help accentuate the framing.


Try limiting the colour palette. When selecting the items you wish to include start off with two or three complementary colours.

Not only will this help keep focus but it will avoid the risk of a visually over-stimulating, colour clashing image.

By all means experiment with contrasts but it can help to begin from a neutral starting point. With flat lay photography it is easier to add than it is to take away.


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