How to Nail the Flat Lay

Last modified on March 8th, 2018 at 11:51 am

Our first Instagram photo was taken using an iPhone 5 camera. The subject was almond pulp cookies. Fresh out of the oven, we arranged the cookies on a white circular plate, laid it on the white wood floors of our condo as a background, and snapped from a bird’s eye view. A flat lay is what they call it; a photo of objects arranged flat on the floor, a table or a background, then photographed directly from above.

A few aerial photos later, the flat lay defined our photography style, and this insta-iconic image would later help us mold our brand. Since our first snap, we’ve moved from an iPhone 5 camera to a Nikon D3200, expanded our cooking range from pulp cookies to more gourmet influences, and have fine tuned our flat lay skills using a few of our favourite tips and tricks.

No. 1 | Composition

Arranging ingredients in a visually pleasing way is the most important flay lay skill you can hone. How you bring items together can either compliment or confuse the simplicity of this photography style. Think of your flat lay like a gallery wall; lines should be clean and clear by creating negative space between each object, and each object should have a space of its own as though it was meant to be. Here’s another tip: to keep your flat lay square shaped, use four items to corner off a square and fill in the remaining items within the square shape.


Flat lay image of nuts, seeds, coconut, cinnamon and styling props
No. 2 | Lighting

Natural lighting is ideal for shooting all types of photography. Our 10ft ceiling space is flooded with light but on cloudy days we prop our shoots next to a window, paying close attention to shadows and levels of exposure (which can be tamed by diffusing or bouncing the light with a white sheet or reflector). Once we capture our lay, we enhance the brightness and vibrancy of our raw photos using PhotoShop CS6. If you’re not A PhotoShop wiz, try mobile based apps like VSCO Cam or Lightroom and play around with techniques that enhance your photos.


No. 3 | Neutral Background

One of our favourite hashtags to use is #mywhitetable. It’s a curated collection of flat lay arrangements where objects and dinglehoppers are pronounced and featured on, yep you guessed it, a white background. Not only does a neutral palate help reduce composition noise, but it’s versatility allows you to play with a multitude of backgrounds from  floors to  tables to  bed linens to marble pastry boards.


Beef Shepherd's Pie in a cast iron skillet next to a plate with a piece of shepherd's pie and small bowl of parsley
No. 4 | Tell a Story

All the best flat lays work your eye around the image telling a story that captivates, interests and entertains the viewer. Try selecting one item as the star of your story, then spin a theme around colour and props to create a mis en place that sets the tone and mood of your photo. Sticking to elements that echo or enhance your purpose will help viewers establish a connection with you and your brand and keep them coming back for the tales you’re spinning.


A flat lay of the finished Christmas Morning Wife Saver in a square casserole dish with a plaid napkin and mini Christmas tree ornaments
No. 5 | Details

Inject personality into your photos with props and texture. We love mixing dishes with kitchen utensils, foliage and herbs, and books that tell our audience a bit more of what interests us. Detail can also be added to a photo through texture. Get messy; spread, smear, sprinkle and spill ingredients. Add fabrics; a crumpled napkin, burlap, parchment paper – anything that adds layers and depth to your flat lay.


Sous Chef



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