Seven Tips to Create Stunning Flat-lays in Ten Minutes

Mar 03, 2020

This week I'm thrilled to feature photographer Nadeen Flynn. Nadeen is a talented multi-genre photographer. Today, Nadeen is sharing tips on how to create stunning flat lays and if you haven't seen her photography before today prepare to be in awe and inspired!

"Thank you for sharing your talents with us Nadeen!"

How many of you have gotten 'the hand' from your kids when you tried to photograph them? Or maybe it was the 'photographer's child' look. If your kids (this includes fur babies) are not cooperative, but you want to shoot and document your days, what do you do? Because we are all busy, I have some simple tips for quick flat-lay setups for you. And, what a great way to still document life, yours and theirs. Here are seven basic tips to get you started with making a flat-lay image in just ten minutes.

1. Light

It's always about light, isn't it? My favorite light for still life is window light. Look around your home and find a window with some nice indirect light. A northern exposure is often good. Or, you can try an east window in the afternoon/evening, or a west window in the morning. You want indirect light. For flat-lay setups, I prefer side light over backlight or front light. If you are limited to dark hours, you'll have to rely on flash or continuous artificial lighting. Keep it to the side.

Pullback: Side window light

Resulting image: ISO 500, 50mm, f/2.5, 1/60sec 

2. A table, counter, or floor

You don't need a lot of room, but you do need to be able to put the elements of your flat-lay within a few feet of the window with the light coming in from the side preferably. The island across from my kitchen sink window provides beautiful soft light.

Pullback: side window light

Resulting image: ISO 100, 50mm, f/6.3, 0.3sec

3. Elements or subject

You can make a great flat-lay with a single subject, or a number of related things. Keep that number odd if possible. It is best that all the elements you are including in your flat-lay be related somehow. It helps with cohesion within the frame and it makes sense to the viewer.

Single-subject: ISO 100, 100, f/2.8, 1.3 sec

Three-elements: ISO 100, 50mm, f/4.5, 0.8sec

4. Background

Background options are endless! You can have the surface of your table, counter, or floor be the background. But, you can also use fabric, paper, tablecloths, napkins, cookie sheets, wood, or any other relatively plain background. Don't be afraid to mix backgrounds with various textures as in this photo.

ISO 1600, 50mm, f/2.8, 1/60sec

In this example of the baby items, I've used a rather busy background, but because the elements stand well on their own, it works.

ISO 100, 50mm, f/8.0, 1/5sec

5. Arrangement

Now it's time to arrange everything on your chosen background. Begin with the main element placing it while keeping in mind compositional guidelines such as the rule of thirds. Add the other supporting elements in a triangular or circular shape as you arrange things. Give the eye a pathway to follow. You can stop right there or now begin placing small, supporting items in the frame.

ISO 800, 50mm, f/2.2, 1/60sec

6. Angle of the Camera

You want your lens parallel to the table or flat-lay. Whether you stand on a stool or on the floor, keep your camera lens level to the subject you are photographing. The slightest tilt can create distortion, so keep it level and parallel to the floor/subject.

Incorrect angle

Correct angle

7. Plan ahead

My other advice to you busy moms is to begin mentally planning for your flat-lay shoot early in the day or the night before. Pull things throughout the day that you think you'll want to include. Then when it is nap time or you have a few moments to yourself, you're ready to begin the setup.

ISO 100, 50mm, f/5.6, 1/6sec

I hope these tips will help you create a quick, easy, meaningful flat-lays. The more you create these flat-lays, the easier they become. Good luck and happy shooting!

About Nadeen: Nadeen is a multi-genre photographer, living in rural northern California. Formerly a 4-H member, administrative assistant, elementary educator, and consumer of all things chocolate. Nadeen has left most of those roles behind for her current role of light seeker, aka landscape and still life photographer, and teacher. She LOVES helping others learn. Nadeen's photography and teaching are labors of love but she hopes also some inspiration for you. She's happy knowing some of her images are hanging on your walls. But she'd also like to teach you how to make your own art. Nadeen invites you to join her in the world of fine art photography and chase the light, find the inspiration, capture the moment, and create the story for the most amazing photos. To purchase prints or for more information about Nadeen's workshops, learning, and her still life photography retreat, please CONTACT her at [email protected] or call at 530-633-7575.

How you can connect with Nadeen:

Website, Instagram (Still Life), Instagram (Landscape), Facebook, YouTube 

Check out Nadeen's 'Life Exposed' still life photography workshop. Registration is now open. 

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