Flat Lay Photography Troubleshoot

For the longest time the focus was on perfecting a good standard of writing as a blogger with the photography aspect being something that could be muddled through. From taking your own amateur shots to seeking out royalty-free images or even investing is a photo stock bundle. Fast forward to 2018 and I think it's fair to say both the written and visual content of a blog is now of equal importance (give or take a few blog niches). 

These days brands are not only looking for blogs and Instagram account to collaborate with that have basically professional photographer lever skills but readers are also wanting, and to some extent expecting, to see visually pleasing blog content and grids. High-quality content all round is the new norm!

So, while I've pretty much covered the flat lay basics (and beyond) of blog photography I thought it was about time I shared solutions for some common flat lay mistakes that can mean the difference between your images looking amateur and pro! If you have any specific flat lay questions then feel free to leave them in the comments below and I will try to answer them as best I can. 

PROBLEM: Every flat lay I seem to put together looks unnatural and staged
SOLUTION: Creating an authentic looking setup for your flat lay can be tricky! If you are struggling with this then I would highly recommend shooting in existing areas of your home (i.e your desk or a bedside table) and adding in just a few props to fill out space. This should hopefully solve the issue of your flat lays looking staged.

However, if you do want to create a setup from scratch using a DIY background on the floor or on a table then it is important to first be mindful of the kind of flat lay you are wanting to create. For example if you are wanting to create a flat lay of products on a bed without shooting your actual bed then it's important to first create the correct base background of the quilt, possibly laying part of it with a blanket/throw to add texture and then placing only items you would possibly put on a bed into your frame in a natural manner. This may mean any filler items such as flowers or a cup of coffee should be placed on a stable tray and placements of blankets and magazines or books should look informal and not neatly placed. It may also help to look at popular flat lay accounts or hashtags on Instagram, looking in detail at images you like most and working out how they appear so natural, what are they doing right?

PROBLEM: My flat lays always look messy
SOLUTION: A cluttered flat lay is something that can either work amazingly well, adding a rich element to your shot, or it can simply look chaotic. Now if you find yourself producing 'messy' looking flat lays then I would say it's better to learn how to do them well rather than pair them back thus working against your natural photography style. Again, looking at how similar images have been staged should help you get an idea of what you are or aren't doing in your own work. However, if it's still not clear then it's time to start thinking in layers when it comes to building your flat lays. After your background, before placing any smaller props or objects onto your setup you want to think about layering your background with some larger and more textural props; think a blanket, a stack of magazines, a tray with a pile of books on it. Next, you will want to place down your focal item or the products you are shooting, making sure they are evenly placed yet look natural. Then finally, the finishing touches. These are your space fillers that should never overshadow your main items; think rings, dried flowers, fairy lights, makeup brushes etc. Ensuring your base layers are overlapping and messy while keeping your top layers evenly spaced should ensure a perfectly chaotic yet uncluttered flat lay every time!

PROBLEM: My focal product doesn't stand out
SOLUTION: Your focal or hero product should always catch the readers eye in every photo, but how to do this without it getting lost within your setup can be tricky at times. My main piece of advice would be to always keep your main product to the centre of your setup, that doesn't mean it has to be positioned exactly in the middle and straight on but within that middle zone and slightly on a slant to make it look more naturally placed. Then to ensure nothing steals the limelight ensure all other props around your hero product are smaller and with nothing of bright colour or pattern.

PROBLEM: There are too many shadows
SOLUTION: A shadowless image isn't necessarily what you want to create when it comes to flat lay photography however large dark shadows can look severe, so we are ideally looking for soft or minimal shadows. When shooting from above with your setup on the floor or a table it's always best to have your natural light source (ideally a large window) on one side and then a reflector or a large piece of white foam board on the other side, reflecting the light onto your subject, thus balancing out harsh shadows. Another solution, if your setup isn't portable or next to a window is to pick up an inexpensive handheld reflector (I found a good one here), these are handy to hold while taking your images as you can move the silver reflector around your subject until it lifts the harsh shadows you are seeing. Time of day and weather is also worth being aware of!

Of course, shadows can also be corrected by lightening, softening or removing them in the post editing of your images in Photoshop or similar.

PROBLEM: A few of my props look tilted when I take the photo but not in person
SOLUTION: This is all down to perspective and not having your camera at the exact angle so that everything looks how it does in real life. Products or items that are smaller on one end can also give this effect to no fault of your own. 

I highly recommend always taking a test shot to see how everything is looking and then addressing any issues you have with your flat lay. The way I like to combat props/products from having that slightly warped or tilted down look is to prop up one side of them from underneath. For example a book I will sometimes need to place something that's a few centimetres in height hidden under one side and for smaller items I will use a ball of blue tack under them. I then look at the live view of my camera to check if that's corrected the perspective issue and generally it does! However sometimes due to the awkward shape of an item it will always look off when paired with items that sit correctly - in which case I ditch said prop and fill the space with other less awkward items.  

Let me know if you have any of your own flat lay photography questions and if you liked this format as I may create a blog photography series addressing problems and issues that can arise! 

Fee xo.
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