9 Tips for Taking Beautiful Flat Lay Product Photography
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This post is all about how to take great flat lay pictures for social media.
Taking pictures is one of my top favorite parts about the handmade business! So I wanted to create this all-in-one post with some tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way, including some of my favorite props!
The first thing I want you to know when it comes to taking pictures for Instagram or Etsy is…
Have fun and do what feels good!
Decide on a day/time
If taking pictures is something you despise, then try making it fun! If you’re having fun, then that will most definitely come across to your customers or viewers. I like to make an afternoon of it (when time allows) and my kids love helping me. They feel so proud of themselves when they hand me props or help me set up for my photo shoots and it makes me happy because they are having fun! I like to do this on the weekend, but you’ll have to figure out what works best with your schedule.
Now if you don’t have enough inventory or items to take pictures of in one day, don’t fret! Work taking pictures into your schedule…all you need is a few minutes. But make sure you choose a time of day when you’re not feeling rushed or stressed. If I take pictures during the week, I usually take pictures in the morning some time between breakfast and lunch. By then, I’ve gotten myself and the kids dressed and we’ve already done some activities or games. So I’ll have a few minutes to snap a few pictures. And if they don’t turn out okay right then…try again later! Above all, don’t stress! You can totally do this. :)
Think about the mood you want your pictures to convey. Do you want your pictures to read fun, dark and moody, cozy, bright and airy?? Pick a mood and stick with it! I personally, like to have an overall cozy and earthy undertone to all of my pictures. I try to keep this in mind so they all look consistent. I want people to see the picture and immediately know it’s mine without looking at the name. And you can do the same thing! Pick a mood that you love and represents you and your brand…whatever feeling you wish to convey to others when they look at your pictures…and try to keep that in mind with every picture you set up. It sounds kinda tedious and not worth all the trouble, right? No! Because when you’re taking pictures that represent YOU and the products you took SO LONG to make, it’s worth it…and you’ll get way faster at it once you know what mood you’re aiming for. Think of your pictures as an extension of your art! Make sure they come across as unique and awesome as you are.
Okay, I get asked this question all the time. What do you use for lighting?? I am here to tell you, you do not need fancy or expensive equipment to take your pictures. Especially when you are starting out. Nobody has money for all of that, amiright!? I’m fortunate to have lots of windows and natural light in my house so that definitely helps with taking better pictures. However, I recently moved to a new house (military) and my old house was DARK. So it was frustrating for sure to try to get decent pictures. What did I do in that dark house? Welp, I moved furniture around so I could cram myself and all of my designs and props underneath the window with the most light. Yeah, it was a bit uncomfortable twisting my body into weird shapes just so I could get the right angle, but I had fun! I love being able to show the world my creations and I take pride in making sure the pictures come across exactly how I want. And if it’s a really nice day outside?? Load up a few things and go outside! You’ll have a ton of fun posing outside or setting up your flat lays on the sidewalk…trust me, enjoy that fresh air. It helps your mood and the creative process. :)
But what about when it’s storming outside and there is no light whatsoever?? For these moments, I have this little tripod ring light from Amazon. It’s pretty compact so I can hide it away in a closet when I’m not using it. It also can sit on a tabletop or extend taller and sit on the floor. It has a cell phone holder in the middle of the ring light so that is great for taking videos or selfies. Mostly, I use it for lighting (it has a few different light settings that you can choose from) on those stormy or cloudy days when I really need to get pictures done.
Let’s talk about your background. This is probably the easiest part! Again, think about the mood you want to convey, okay? Also, this is important—keep in mind the colors of your products you most often use. You don’t want to choose a background that will clash or overwhelm the colors you constantly use. You want to have the background make your products shine and standout! Also, you want to choose 1 or 2 (3 at the max) backgrounds that you can rotate between. You don’t want to go crazy and have your pictures on a different background each time because it might come across as a little jumbled and thrown together. I like to use a white foam board (find it here) and either a cream blanket or my cream couch. My background is always either white or cream or most often, a mix of both. It could also be as simple as using your kitchen table or your living room rug as a background! No need to buy anything expensive or search high and low for the perfect background. Chances are, it’s already in your house.
We’ll touch on this lightly here because I plan on writing an entire blog post about this for you soon. But here is a little introduction.
Are you a neutral lover or do you just love ALL of the colors!? Don’t worry so much about picking “brand colors” right now. If you have them already, great! That will definitely help you narrow down the colors for your pictures and products. But if you don’t know right now, no worries! Look at the products you are photographing and see what colors you tend to gravitate towards the most. If you like to use all the colors that exist in this world, don’t you dare limit yourself! That’s what makes you, you. You will probably lean towards a “fun” and “colorful” mood. So go with it! The props and filter you use (we’ll cover that next) in your photos will help tie in your pictures and make them look consistent. If you’re a neutral lover, go with that! No need to change because you think people want to see more colors. These pictures are first and foremost, a reflection of you and your uniqueness. Don’t be like anyone else. Be you! Please. We all want to see what you’re about…not someone else.
Okay, so say you’re like me and you like some pretty specific colors. I have 6 brand colors (shown below) and let me tell you, these colors are me in a nutshell. They are me on a served up on a plate. Seriously. My home are these colors, my clothes are these colors, and the designs I make are 9/10 times in these colors. And they just make me so happy! So when I am taking pictures, I make sure they always have at least a few of these colors. Take a look at my Instagram and see what I mean. Even if the project I’m working on at that time includes a color I don’t normally use, I surround it with my normal colors or “brand colors.”
What I want you to take away from this…be you. Don’t limit your color palette because you think you need to or you think people won’t like what you like. Do what makes you happy and the right people will be attracted to your vibe.
Props — keep it simple!
I like to go with the “less is more” concept in my pictures. I’m a pretty simple person…I don’t have a ton of knick knacks laying around my house so why would my pictures be any different!? I like to use my favorite things in my house in my pictures. I alternate between them and switch them out every so often so the pictures don’t all look identical. Using the same props throughout my pictures keeps everything looking consistent. The props I use are my favorite things in real life…I wouldn’t buy something just for pictures and then never use it again! I love just picking things from around my house. That’s what makes my pictures different…they’re me!
Some common things you can find in my pictures are: plants (real and faux), tea (because I drink tea all day everyday), blankets (to keep with that cozy theme…right?), pillows, cutting board (because I’m most known for my dishtowels), and candles (because I always have a candle burning in my house), and yarn of course! What are some of your favorite things in your house?? When you go to Target (or any store), what are the things you just can’t resist buying? Try adding those elements to your pictures and see what you think! If you make and sell beanies, lay out your absolute favorite outfit on the background of your choice and the beanie on top. That way, people can see how the beanie can be styled. Whatever your product is, think of some other things that would go with that item. What will people use it with? Include that in your photo!
Try adding some texture to your pictures for some visual interest! Some of my favorite props to use for texture include: blankets, pillows, table runners, scarves, wood (like cutting boards), or baskets. You could even knit or crochet a small square using chunky yarn to use specifically for your pictures. Use it as a background or just put some of it in the frame to give the picture some textural interest. Again, you want to keep in mind what your overall mood is. Since mine is cozy and earthy, I include lots of comfy blankets and candles because I want my viewers to get a sense of calm when they look at my pictures. I also make sure to include natural elements like wood and plants. These all add texture around my products and designs. Just pick a few things that you love and rotate them between your pictures. Easy, huh?
A little note about balance in your pictures: don’t worry so much or overthink this. But if you’re worried that your pictures don’t look balanced enough, then you’re probably right. If you haven’t guessed by now…it’s all about the feeling. So if you feel like something is off, then it is. You need to be over the moon excited about your picture…and if you’re not, then others probably aren’t either, right? So try to balance colors…if you have one color in a corner, try placing something with a similar color in the other corner. It’s okay to make some objects angled…everything doesn’t have to be perfectly straight. Play with the arrangement of your props until you find a setup that looks right to you. You should try to balance the colors and objects. If you have a large object in one corner, try balancing it out in the opposite corner with a few tiny things to equal up to the large size of the other object. If you have a standout color, try placing that in the middle and your normal colors around it. Otherwise, if you have a bunch of neutrals and something bright yellow in a corner, the picture would feel off because your eye would be drawn towards that little yellow corner. Now, I am no pro. I don’t have any special art training at all. I honestly just go with my gut and keep rearranging until it looks good to me.
The key here is to take lots of pictures! If you take a picture, look at it, and realize it feels empty somewhere…fill it up! Or if you feel like there are too many objects or colors on one side, try adding more to the other side or spread it out some more until you are happy with it. Eventually it will get easier for you to create more balanced pictures.
Yay filters!! Filters are a ton of fun because you can choose whichever filter best fits the mood you’re going for. See how that “mood” thing keeps coming up? ;) When you’re looking for filters, some of them actually say “dark and moody” or “bright and airy.” It’s seriously that simple! I buy my filters from Etsy and save them to the Lightroom app on my Iphone. When you purchase the filters, they give you instructions on how to download them and save them in your Lightroom app. My favorite company to get filters from is LouMarksPhoto but I have also tried and like TrendyMobilePresets too. Once you find a filter that you just love, make sure to stick with it! All you do is import your photo into the Lightroom app, apply the filter, and bam! Watch the magic happen! Haha. But seriously, it’s a ton of fun. This is the number one way to get all of your photos to look consistent on your Instagram feed and Etsy page. Plus, you’ll totally look like a pro and look like you know what you’re doing
Pin it for later.
So Let’s put it all together. You ready!?
- Decide what day/time of day works best for your schedule. Make sure this is a non stressful, non rushed time! Make it fun!
- Decide what mood works best for your brand or business. What mood resonates the best for you? What feeling do you want your viewers to feel when they look at your pictures?
- Choose a place in your house with the best lighting. Or, take it outside! Low on lighting? This is the tripod ring light I use all the time.
- Pick 1-2 backgrounds to use. I like to use a white foam board, a cream blanket, or my cream couch. Most times, I use a mixture. Rotate between these backgrounds for some visual interest.
- Colors — Choose your favorite colors and make those reappear in all of your pictures. Decide early on if you’re a neutral lover, prefer just a few colors, or if you want all the colors! Make it show in your pictures. Above all, be you. Don’t be someone you’re not because you think people want more color. And definitely don’t tame yourself because you think it’s too much for people. Be you and the right people will find you.
- Props — keep it simple! No need to go out and buy anything. Use whatever is around your house. Make sure to include your favorite things! These pictures should be a reflection of you so make sure they portray that. Think about how your customers will use the product you’re photographing and try to include the items they would use your product with. Example: I am most known for my dish towels, so I like to include my favorite cutting boards in those pictures. Again, think about the mood you wish to convey and choose props that will help.
- Texture — My favorite items to use for texture include: blankets, pillows, scarves, and table runners. You could even use clothes or handmade sweaters. Anything with texture that fits into the mood you are aiming for is good!
- Balance — Try to balance the same colors on either side (or corner) of your picture. Also, pay attention the the size of your objects and make sure there aren’t any “holes” or empty spots in your picture. Take lots of pictures so you can see which one looks better. This will also help you to identify if there are any spots in your setup that need some more color or props. Don’t overthink it. If it looks good to you, then it’s perfect!
- Use the same filter for every picture. This will make your pictures consistent and you’ll look like a pro! Again, choose a filter based on the mood and colors you’re going for. Take a look at my Instagram to see how a filter gives my pictures a nice flow.
And there you have it! Some amazing pictures you can share to your Instagram, Etsy, and website! When you’re setting up your pictures, don’t overthink it. Don’t worry so much about it looking perfect…just do whatever feels good. If it looks and feels good to you, then it’s done! If you love it, we will too. Your pictures will show if you are having fun or just plain stressed and annoyed. So make it fun and just be yourself. These pictures are an extension of yourself and are a chance to show the world whatever you worked so hard on! Own that picture and say, “yeah, I’m pretty amazing.” Because you are. :)