Owing to the recent surge in the number of Instagram users and the rise of the social media bloggers, flat lay photography has evolved as a trend taken up by a number of photographers and influencers alike. With “bookstagrammers” and bullet journal enthusiasts taking the game to the next level, flat lay photography is being used for everything from food to makeup to clothes.
Flat lay photography, in the layman’s term, is still life photography taken of a flat surface, containing a subject matter, from a bird’s eye view.
Though this kind of photography is not new to the scene, it has become quite the rage in the recent years, making it an ongoing trend. Apart from catering to the factor of timeliness, it also gives room for a ton of creativity with a plethora of innovation opportunities hiding in the very seams of the fun setup of flat lay.
Some tips and tricks to make flat lay work for you
The theme is the very first and probably the most important element in this kind of photography. Picking a theme that goes with the overall message that you intend to communicate to the audience is crucial as it determines the element of validity in your picture. Choosing a theme can be tricky with the internet throwing a million ideas at you at a blinding speed, making you flail madly to catch up with them. To help with this process, it is important to keep in mind the subject matter that you aim to illustrate via your picture. If the subject matter is, say a beautiful slice of cake, then an overall theme of food is something you can potentially work around.
That being said, this can be both a deductive and an inductive method. In simpler terms, you can both go from a broader theme like food to narrowing down your subject matter, the slice of cake or choose your subject in the very beginning, using the same to identify the broader theme involved.
A color scheme is important for the basic reason that it harmonizes all the elements involved in the picture, making it look put-together and uniform.
A good picture should involve colors that complement each other without any strong clash of pallet that proves to be chaotic. Though the concept of “organized chaos” is fairly legitimate, it is not the best course of action here. A strong pallet grabs attention with an aesthetic iron fist all while not giving you an aneurysm just by looking at the disturbing contrast in schemes.
This does not mean that every element of your picture should be of the same color or variations of it, even. You can still play with colors by picking ones with similar undertones. This will ensure that the picture has a kind of uniformity to it that makes it look a lot more aesthetically well planned than when there is a color massacre involved.
A well thought research on this; to identify the different kinds of undertones that you wish to use, before your initial set up will go a long way in producing the photograph of your dreams.
Textural difference or similarity in this case, is also a very ideal addition to the photograph as it adds character to the picture.
The props involved in the set up of a picture are an important element. In fact, this is one of the most defining and prominent features in this genre of photography.
Selecting the most valid props for your picture is the next important step. This can be done keeping your theme and color pallet in mind. The relevance of the props to the theme, although, is vaguely defined. Present day flat lay photographers use props that are of the same color scheme but are somewhat irrelevant to the subject matter or the theme that they are working with. This is done because the highlight of the picture is the main subject, the rest being background elements that bring the picture together.
Both these techniques have been tested and proved effective and choosing either is a decision made by you, the photographer. Whatever floats your boat works here.
It is very important for the background of the picture to be neutral.
Of course, you can choose a whole bunch of wild patterns and colors and merge them together to create a Picasso-esque effect to work as your background…if your aim is to create a distasteful mess that screams at you a high pitched, off tune sonata that you didn’t ask for.
The background should be presented in a way that it highlights the subject matter which is pretty much the star of the photograph.
With a setup involving multiple elements, neutral or plain background is the way to go.
In the words of many a photographer, lighting is God.
For your flat lay photography, you can either choose to go with natural lighting or choose artificial means of the same.
Natural lighting does not require the purchase of expensive equipments but the presence one and one source only: well, the sun.
Choose a spot that gives room for a lot of natural light and work around it. The time during which you conduct your photoshoot is also important. Most people suggest doing it during the golden hour, the period right after sunrise or before sunset, as it gives a very desirable mellow look to the picture but you can choose any hour of the day based on the kind of look that you are going for.
Artificial white light is another tool which you can implement in your set up, if that is what you choose to work with. It gives you more control over the entire process of your shoot as it does not come with any time constraints or similar restrictions. It is adjustable but one of the main cons of using artificial light is the whole set up of it.
Flat lay photography is and can be done with anything from a smartphone camera to a high-end DSLR. Both of these, or rather many of these devices, have produced pictures that are worth mentioning. Choosing the equipment based on your requirements is what works best here.
A reflector to balance out the shadows and facilitate white balance is recommended. It is to be noted that any white surface can be used for this purpose.
A tripod to assist shaky hands is an added bonus. You most definitely do not want your picture to look like something out of a Van Gogh knock off.
The Final Set Up
So you’ve got your lights ready, your background on point and all your props carefully curated. The next big step is to go ahead with the actual set up of the layout.
The purpose behind the layout should be the highlight of the main subject of the picture via strategic placement of both the props and the subject.
It needn’t necessarily mean that the main subject should be the central point of the picture. There are a number of unique placement options that a person can pick from and put into use in their photograph.
Here, a lot of photographic strategies can be used.
One good strategy is to use the “rule of thirds” which requires of the photographer to place the elements in such a way that they are aligned at the intersecting points of each other.
An important point to note is that there should be just enough space between the objects in the picture. If the objects are placed too close to each other, it creates a cluttered look defeats the purpose of the subject matter. Similarly, if they are too far apart, the overall image of the picture is too loose and unfavourably fluid.
The placement should also be done in such a way that it creates the illusion of emphasis of the subject which makes the overall theme of the picture pop and easier to grasp by anybody who looks at it.
Why you should try flat lay photography
Flat lay photography, in general, provides a creative space to experiment with technique, color, matter, lights, space, texture and a lot more. It provides scope for an organized layout that is of great metaphoric value. The rules of flat lay are highly subjective and volatile with the ever changing moods of the internet dictating them.
The purpose of this technique is the proper representation of the subject matter. The props assisting it play a key role in this representation.
Whatever the theme or method used, flat lay is a great technique to explore. It is easy to understand in theory and even easier to put into practice.
Any photographer, amateur or otherwise, can keep the key rules of flat lay in mind, grab a camera and a few props, create a whole new theme, set up the picture and go to town with it!