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What Is Flat Lay Photography?

What Is Flat Lay Photography?

Banner Photo: Haupes on Unsplash

Photography is a powerful way to tell a story.

Just as there are different ways to convey a storyline through words, there are various approaches to taking a photo to say what you want to in an image.

A popular trend in photo storytelling is flat lay photography.

What Makes a Flat Lay Photograph?

Maybe you have never heard of the term, but if you are on Instagram or do any ecommerce shopping, then you have certainly seen an explosion of examples of this technique over the past year.

A flat lay image is one in which the shot is taken from directly overhead.

One of the primary features is the simple and clean composition. The subjects within the photo are also placed on a flat surface.

Flat lay photographs have a very distinct look that makes them stand out among more traditionally shot images. For this reason, you are seeing this style on social media, in magazine layouts and on online shopping sites. Rather than placing a t-shirt on a model, sellers are presenting the item against a simple, flat backdrop, surrounded by props that help to highlight the product’s details and features.

Flat lay photographs aren’t just great for selling physical products, people are finding that they work for selling services as well.

How To Shoot Flat Lay Photography

The basics of shooting flat lay are really very simple, but it still takes careful planning and thought to do it well.

Simply tossing a bunch of items on a table, standing above them and firing off a shot is sure to produce disappointing results!

Here are a few tips and tricks for how to shoot a flat lay that produces appealing and effective results:

  • Choose the backdrop: For the best results, choose a white or light-colored background. Even if there is some texture on the surface, the point is to eliminate competing details.
  • Consider the story: One critical factor that can’t be overlooked as you think about how to do flat lay photography is the purpose of your image. Know why you are taking this photo and what message you want to convey with your shot before you set it up.
  • Determine your focal point: Every good story has a hero, and the same holds true in a flat lay story. If your story is about a particular product, then the hero — or the focal point — is probably obvious. If your big message is about something more abstract, then choosing an appropriate focal point takes a little more creative thinking.
  • Select a supporting cast: While it is perfectly acceptable to feature just a single object for your shot, you have likely noticed that flat lays most often include several items in the composition. Choose props that will help you tell a fuller story, but make sure they don’t take away from the primary feature.
  • Compose the shot: Get creative and try several different arrangements that highlight your focal object, but don’t forget your basic rules of composition.

DIY Flat Lay Photography – What Do You Need?

One of the beautiful things about flat lay photography is that you do not need a big kit to get started. When it comes to photography equipment, there are three primary considerations.

First, you need good lighting that is balanced across the image. Second, your image needs to be in sharp focus, which generally requires the use of a tripod or monopod.

Last, you need the right kind of camera lens to capture a professional looking flat lay photo.

Types of Lighting for Flat Lay Photography

Soft, natural light is great for this type of photography, so setting up next to a window or heading outside are both good choices. However, it's important to pick your times wisely and be aware that the positions of your shadows and overall quality of light can change quite quickly when working outdoors.

If you need or desire artificial lighting, choose sources that mimic natural lighting. This can be something as simple as a lamp with an LED bulb or a photography flash gun with a soft-box diffuser.

Best Flat Lay Photography Tripod


The Vanguard VEO 3+ 263AP Pro Tripod is a fantastic flat lay photography tripod. The column tilts 180 degrees which enables maximum flexibility for horizontal shooting.

This tripod also converts to a monopod and can be adjusted to shorter or longer distances from the base, so you don’t have to move the entire tripod to make adjustments.

Best Lenses For Flat Lay Photography

Capturing the full layout of a flat lay image often requires a wide-angle lens, preferably with full frame compatibility.

In addition, you need a lens that does not have the distortion commonly associated with wide-angle lenses.

The two best lenses are the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG DN Art Lens and the Tokina FiRIN 20mm f/2 FE MF Lens.


The Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG DN Art Lens gives you the flexibility of a zoom without sacrificing resolution.

The full-frame compatible construction gives you a wider view, and this camera is capable of capturing a sharp image all the way to the edges.

Another great feature is its ability to capture low-level light, which is a bonus when you are shooting in soft light. The mirrorless version of this lens comes in both L-mount and E-Mount for Leica, Panasonic, Sigma and Sony cameras. An older version is also available for Canon and Nikon DSLRs.


The Tokina FiRIN 20mm f/2 FE MF Lens offers superior resolution while keeping aberrations to a minimum - it also has full- frame compatibility.

The focal length is 20 mm, and the aperture range is f2-f22, giving you a lot of control over your depth-of-field. This lens also allows you to manually control focus and aperture.

Lower cost manual focus only lenses like this are a good choice for flat lay or product photography, as the extra cost of Auto-Focus is rarely required

If you’re after flat lay photography gear that is both affordable and functional, look no further than C.R. Kennedy.

C.R. Kennedy is one of Australia’s leading distributors of cameras and photographic equipment. We offer a wide range of DSLR, mirrorless, full-frame and action cameras.

If you need more information check out more articles on the C.R. Kennedy blog.