Flat lay

If you are not in the design world then you may not have heard this term. A flat lay is when you lay an object or a group of objects on a flat surface, hold the camera above and shoot down. Designers often use flat lays to show their clients fabrics, color swatches, finishes and other material samples. Below is an example of a flat lay. As easy as this looks here are five tips on how to shoot a flat lay with a cell phone.

Example of a flat lay

1. Pick a background

Before you lay out your items, think about what kind of background you want. Is a plain white board best or would you rather have wood or maybe some colorful fabric?  Choose the background first because that will set the mood for your image.

2. Set up near a window or find a spot with plenty of natural light

The one thing you DON’T want are shadows cast onto your flat lay from over head lights. Look for a spot with natural, even light to set up your image.

3. Balance the light by using a reflector or white board

One thing to note is if you set up near a window, the light will begin to fall off the farther from the window it travels.To correct this, use a reflector or a piece of foam core to reflect and balance the window light.

The image below was taken without using a reflector or white card to balance the light. See how the light falls off and the image gets darker as the light travels from left to right?

flat lay photo with unbalanced lighting

In the image below the white board was put in place to reflect and balance the light. The flat lay is now evenly lit.

using a reflector to shoot a flat lay

4. Assemble your objects

This can be time consuming depending on how many items you are placing in your flat lay. Try different arrangements and don’t be afraid to move things around for a more pleasing arrangement. Be sure to leave some space between each object. This is called “negative space”. This will help highlight each object and keep your shot from looking cluttered. Create balance in your photo by mixing smaller objects with larger objects and placing objects of similar colors on both sides of the image.

5. Set your exposure manually and lock the focus

You don’t want to go to all the work of setting up a flat lay only to have the image not properly exposed or out of focus. If you are using the iphone be sure to set the exposure by activating the sun icon. Hold your finger on the screen until a yellow box appears with a tiny sun on the right side of the box. The box will start to blink. Once it stops stops blinking the focus is now locked. Then by sliding your finger up or down the screen, you can control the lightness or darkness of the photo.  Below is an example showing a screen shot of the sun icon activated and the Auto Focus Auto exposure locked (AE/AF LOCK).

iphone sun icon and focus lock

You may be participating in my new Face Book Group Isolating at Home cellphone photo challenge.

The current photo challenge is to create a pattern by using objects from within your home. This is a great opportunity to try your hand at a flat lay and by following the above tips you should get a great shot!


Linda Holt | Interior Designer & iPhone Coach

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