Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

How to Master the Art of the Flat Lay

Did you know the flat lay started out in 1987 as knolling, a concept of arranging objects at right angles? Today, it has evolved into one of the most popular photography trends, with over 4 million posts tagged #flatlay on Instagram to date. Aside from featuring clothes and accessories, it is a popular way of showcasing food photography, especially coffeetography, also known as photographing coffee for Instagram.

So, what goes into a perfectly formed flat lay? Don’t be fooled; a lot of thought and planning goes into this carefully constructed visual in order to tell a story stylishly. Up your Instagram game with these essential tips for flat lay photography.

flat lay of sunflowers and baby breath on wooden table

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, f/11, ISO 100 by Michelle McGrady

Use Natural Lighting

Shoot in natural sunlight whenever possible. Get close to a window to achieve the effect of beautifully diffused light. Avoid photographing in the middle of the day as the sun would be too strong. If you’re using a DSLR, play around with the aperture settings to control the amount of light you need, especially when it gets dark. Work with the light streaming in from behind or at the side to add dimension or highlight textures in your photo.

fashion flat lay of men’s shirt, loafers, sunglasses and watch in earth colours

Canon EOS 1100D, EF35mm f/2 IS USM, f/5.0, 1/60, ISO 800 by Robert Sheie

Think about the theme

Before you start, pick a theme so that your visual tells a story or describes a moment in time. It could be anything; from food to fashion, or popular themes like ‘outfit of the day’ and ‘what’s in my bag’. Keep to one colour scheme, whether it’s pastel pinks, earthy hues or monochrome for more visual impact.

flat lay of breakfast orange juice, toast and eggs on wooden table

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, f/11, ISO 100 by Michelle McGrady

Composition is key

Make use of negative space to let your subject stand out and automatically draw your viewer’s attention. Find a common link between the items. Choose one product to focus on and place the others around it. Remember to choose items that look visually interesting from above.

Canon EOS 60D, EF50mm f/1.4 USM, f/7.1, 1.6, ISO 200 by Marcus Rodriguez

Shoot from above

A good flat lay is one that’s taken directly from above. Because height is essential for a good flat lay, use a step, stool or even a chair to achieve a bird’s eye view. But remember, safety first, and take care not to get in the way of the natural light. Ensure your lens is clean before photographing as it can make a difference!

Canon EOS 60D, EF50mm f/1.4 USM, f/7.1, 1.6, ISO 200 by Marcus Rodriguez

Find your own style

Practice makes perfect flat lays. Play with shapes, lines and angles for a more dynamic image. Use a variety of backgrounds and experiment with different textures to help compliment or contrast so that your visual pops. Remember to never overdo it though; the cleaner the visual, the better.

Canon EOS 760D, EF-S18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, f/5.0, 1/60, ISO 2500 by Susanne Nilsson

To edit or not to edit

Avoid using filters and if necessary, use an editing software like Photoshop. If you must, do not oversaturate or over-edit your photos because ultimately, a good flat lay is about making it look as natural as possible.

Love to capture flat lays? Why not submit your photos to My Canon Story and share your stories, experience and tips with other shutterbugs!


Receive the latest update on photography news, tips and tricks.

Be part of the SNAPSHOT Community.

Sign Up Now!