how to create Magazine quality flat lays Tutorial

When you pick up a magazine in the grocery store and casually flip though you are bound to come across some gorgeous flat lay photography.

Flat lays are simply images taken from above with a straight-down perspective. They don't need to be overly complicated and often a simple flat lay layout can have the most powerful effect.

 

Normally, a collection of items are laid out and placed on a flat surface. If we think of flat lays as a story; one item is the main character (and thus the main focus) with all other items acting as complimenting and supporting characters. It's also worth noting that the majority of flat lays are shot in vertical orientation to fit within a typical magazine format so it's a good habit to get into when shooting flat lays yourself. 

 

The final photograph should tell a story. 

Let's dig a bit deeper into creating powerful, magazine quality flat lays that tell a story and maintain visual interest. 

5 tips for creating magazine quality flat lays 

1. All items selected should make sense and work together in harmony to create a story with visual appeal and depth

  • Select an item that will be the main focus.

  • Select additional items that compliment the main item. Ensure all the other items are working to strengthen that story. If any items aren't contributing to the story, consider removing them.

  • Take home task: Try using items in odd numbers and see how you like the results.

2. Keep colour in mind when selecting items. Colour is a powerful storytelling element and should not be overlooked. 

  • Stumped on how to work colour into your flat lay? Look to the colour wheel which will show you how to pair colours together using colour theory.

  • Cloth napkins, plates, fabric, lace, greenery, flower petals, pinch bowls are all great ways to add pops of colour 

  • Enhance colour through editing (see tip 4 for suggestions) 

  • Take home task: Try creating a flay lay with shades of the same colour or similar (like the image below) and see how you like the results  

3. It's all in the details which create depth and keep viewers attention longer. The idea is to keep the viewer engaged and increase desire to explore the frame. If the viewer wants to learn more of the story than you have succeeded in creating an interesting flat lay!

  • A favourite tip: Sprinkle little pieces around the flat lay. Try corse sea salt, pepper flakes, cinnamon, flour, loose leaf tea, small pieces of food, crumbs of baked goods, sprinkles, chocolate shavings, drizzled honey or maple syrup.  
    Note: It's important to  ensure the sprinkled pieces make sense to the story. Pepper flakes on a sweet dish does not make sense but cinnamon and honey drizzled over grilled grapefruit makes perfect sense and definitely contributes to the story. 

  • Vintage flatware, vintage bake ware, cloth napkins are items which a little extra to a flat lay. Consider visiting your local thrift store and stocking up on some items.

  • Items like cloth napkins, twine, lace, pieces of fabric can add beautiful, subtle texture to the flatlay as well as colour or pattern depending.

  • Crop your image so some of the items are falling off the frame, a technique often utilized in food photography (and flat lays in particular). We want the viewer to be left wanting more, especially when it comes to food photography! 

4. Layers are your best friend

  • Consider placing a cloth napkin or tea towel down underneath the main item. If you have a cast iron skillet, gently wrap a tea towel around the handle and some underneath the base of the skillet.

  • Consider wrapping twine or thin ribbon/material around utensil handles 

  • Try placing cookies on a vintage cooling rack on top of a old worn out cookie sheet and place some on top of a cloth napkin, then sprinkle shaved chocolate overtop so it falls naturally. Do you see the layers happening there? Layers add visual appeal and depth so make them your bestie.

5. Think about final touches and how you can add pop or polish through post processing. 

  

  • The main subject should be the focus. Consider cropping to make sure that item is placed properly compositionally if you did not get it right in camera. 

  • Try adding in light or adjusting shadows in post to highlight your main item. 

  • Try adjusting colour tones in the highlight and shadow split tone section in Lightroom if the colours are not as you envisioned. 

  • Try adjusting the contact, shadows and highlights sliders in Lightroom to add a pop or create a S shape on the tone curve until you get the desired results. 

  • Use an overlay or enhance tones and or add slight texture

Bonus point: Don't be afraid to get creative!

Normally all items in a flat lay should be in focus. To achieve this, shoot from above with a higher Fstop selected. 

 

But, do they always have to be in focus?

 

Slight blur can look beautiful if intentional and added for a reason (such as enhancing mood or a romantic feel). As long as the general rules of a flay lay are understood first, it's okay to break them for creative reasons.

The flat lays in this tutorial with blur were shot using a Lensbaby.  Shooting with this type of lens is a bit harder than a regular lens because of distortion that can occur. To counteract this, try shooting from higher above and cropping tighter in post.

With practice, you can embrace the blur while still ensuring the main item is in focus. You don't want the blur to be misunderstood as a mistake in achieving overall focus. 

Have fun and experiment! 

Try working through the 5 steps above on your next flat lay and start creating to achieve that magazine quality look!

Do you have an additional flat lay tips? Please share in the comments below!

Hollie Jeakins is a child and family photographer. She services Hamilton, ON and the surrounding areas and is available for travel.

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© 2018 by Hollie Jeakins