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How to Shoot and Edit the Perfect Flat Lay Image

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Cup of Tea with text "How to Shoot and Edit the Perfect Flat Lay"

I love a good flat lay image, they’re my favourites to look at and also to shoot. I’ve been flat laying for a couple of years now, and though I would never claim that my images are perfect, I have picked up a few tips and tricks that I would like to share with you, so if you’re looking to up your flat lay game then keep reading.

Choose Your Background

Pink macarons in a blue box on a marble background with pink peony flowers

The very first step is, of course, to lay down your background. The style of background you choose will influence the way your image feels, choose marble if you want to portray a high-end luxury aesthetic, a fluffy rug for cosy vibes or you could just use a plain white tabletop if you want a more neutral base - this is my preferred option because it works best with my editing style. Luckily sourcing backgrounds can be easy and inexpensive, using laminate marble roll stuck down to an Ikea tabletop provides two backgrounds in one (the marble side and the plain white side) and eBay is the home of affordable textiles.

Whichever background you choose you should start to think about the mood/feeling you want your flat lay to portray at this point, is it chic and Parisienne? Warm and Autumnal? if you’re not sure about the purpose of your image before you start to shoot then you may find that the setup ends up looking a little mismatched, as you’ll find it harder to imagine the overall shot.

Style your props

Flat lay image of a Jo Malone shopping bag filled with pink peonies

So you’ve chosen the theme for your image and added a complimentary background, now comes the fun part - styling with props. I always start by placing the largest props first and then I add the little details at the end. I generally build my image from the outside in, keeping the crop in mind as I’m styling (if I’m shooting for Instagram then I create my setup in a square shape, for example) and I consider how I can add interesting layers and levels to the image. I usually take the final photo on my Canon 600d, but I’ll use my iPhone camera to help me to see the crop and angle as I’m building the setup. I find that images with less blank space at the corners are more interesting to look at, so I like to make sure I have something placed in all four corners. Please keep in mind that this is completely subjective, there’s no ‘right way’ to style a flat lay!

If you plan to create a series of posts then it’s a good idea to choose props that you can use across the set, this will help to keep your images consistent. My ‘signature props’ are gold stars, roses and macarons, you’ll find at least one of these in every flat lay I share and I hope that it helps to make my images more recognisable as being uniquely mine.

Edit your final shot

Flat lay image of an iPhone with the quote "shine brighter than the stars" on a pile of books

I know a lot of people find the editing part of the process to be a bit dull but I adore it, so much so that I chose a career as a retoucher! Ideally, you will have shot your image in a perfectly well-lit room, but let’s be honest, if you live in the UK then you'll know that perfect lighting days can be hard to come by. Maximise the available light by shooting as close to a window as possible and using a large piece of white card as a reflector to bounce the light from the window back over your setup. If you have a DSLR camera then you have a big advantage when shooting in low light, switch your settings to shoot in camera raw and you’ll easily be able to tweak the lighting in Photoshop using the raw file editor. If you’re shooting on an iPhone then all is not lost, you can still get amazing results using some of the techniques below.

Photoshop Curves

Infographic showing how to add a curve in Photoshop

For a finishing touch I like to use the Curves tool mentioned above to brighten my photos and to add a pink tint. I add a little warmth using the red curve (pulling it upwards into an arched line) and then use the Hue and Saturation settings to remove the blue tint from the background. With these tools you can get really creative and make a signature editing style that works for all of your images.
Lightroom settings

Infographic showing how modify colour settings in Lightroom

The curves method mentioned above can also be used in Lightroom, but I thought I'd show you another easy way to edit your images using the Color/Color Mix settings provided. If you can't seem to get the look you desire using those settings or you're struggling to get to grips with those tools then another option is to buy pre-made Lightroom settings, there are lots of beautiful styles available on Etsy for all themes and looks. If you don’t have access to Photoshop or Lightroom then you can still create your own editing style using apps such as VSCO and A Color Story. 

Flat lay image of a desk setup with pink accessories and flowers

Those are some of the techniques I’ve picked up along the way, as I said, there is no correct way to shoot a flat lay, just because I like my images to look a certain way it doesn’t mean that yours have to look the same - freedom and creativity is what makes photography so much fun. I’d love to know your techniques and tips for shooting flat lays, so please do let me know!

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