Tell us a story using flat lay photography

Image courtesy of SPS Member Beth Reed. This image honors the memory of her grandma and is a great combination of items that would not normally be displayed together.

The November and December theme in our Members program is “Your Story” and we’re looking at different ways to tell our stories. We’ll be sharing some posts in the coming weeks encouraging you to capture your own story this year. 

What is a flat lay?  Think of a flat lay as a bird’s eye view of a collection of objects, mementos, and/or keepsakes. It’s a way to tell a story with items that would not likely normally be gathered together. You can create your own keepsake flat lay in just a few easy steps. 

1. Pick a theme

A few themes that fit this month would be things you’re grateful for or memories of someone you have holiday memories of. Vacation, birthday parties, ages and stages, or the current season are other great ideas. Maybe you want to document a bunch of your kiddos’ artwork (because we just can’t keep it alllll). Flat lay is perfect for that, too!  Really, the sky is the limit with themes.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, SPS Member, Jennifer Orwig, put together this flat lay honoring her grandfather’s service in the Korean War. She combined items with dimension as well as flat items and used a textured background to add visual interest to her flat lay. 

2. Gather your items

As soon as you have your theme, start thinking about the items you’d like to include in your flat lay. Start to visualize how you would like it to work. Try choosing a main item and then supporting items to go with it. It’s okay at this point to gather more items than you will use. You’ll figure out what stays and what goes when you work on arrangement in step 5.

SPS Member Cassie Roybal used this flat lay to capture elements from her little one’s fourth birthday party. Her placement of items incorporates some negative space so that we aren’t overwhelmed by colors and textures.

3. Find your light

Natural light will be easiest to work with. A window, your front door, your porch, or even the edge of your garage can be fantastic sources of light.

You’ll need to take a look at where the shadows fall on your objects and decide if you need to adjust your items or the entire flat lay. Shadows are inevitable for the most part and will help add dimension to the objects, but you don’t want such harsh shadows that they distract from your flat lay.  

Pro tip – avoid standing between the light and your objects or you’ll cast your own shadow across them.

SPS Member, Lisa Krumweide, used her flat lay to document the joys and chaos of motherhood. She has both light and shadow here, but her shadows are concentrated toward the top of the frame which helps draw our eye to her main focus. The shadows from the fruit snacks help to add dimension and context so that we can identify them.

4. Find your background

The textures and colors of your items might determine what would make the best background. If you have a lot of texture and color represented in your items, you’ll definitely want to have more of a plain background. Other times, a little color or texture in the background can add to your story and really help to add perspective to your items.

Don’t forget that you’ll want to be near some good natural light, so keep that in mind, too.

In this flat lay, SPS Member Kristin Boudon used a solid color background to keep focus on her items, but allowed the light to play a little with the texture of her background to add a little extra visual interest to her flat lay. It works really well because many of her items don’t have a lot of texture.

5. Arrange your items

You can arrange your items however they are pleasing to your eye. You can play with layering, negative space, leading lines, and each item’s coloring. 

Not all items have to be completely in the frame. Start with the items most important to you and then use the other items and their placement to draw the eye to it.  Do two items clash?  Spread them out or pick the most important.  Try propping items on one another to add more depth.  

Keep in mind how a viewer who doesn’t know the significance of these items would see them. Can they pick out the story?

SPS Staffer, Sarah Gannaway, used this flat lay to honor pieces of her grandma’s kitchen that have become part of her own. She made the bowl the main focus and then arranged the other items around it. The wood tones and texture of the background helps add to the rustic feel.

6. Take the shot

Get up high.  Make sure you are high enough so that your camera lens is parallel to the surface.  You want to be sure to take your shot from directly over your items and not at an angle. Take your time and preview your shot through the viewfinder. You’ll see if anything needs to be adjusted, if you’ll want to crop your image after you shoot it, and if anything falls too far into the shadows.  

Pro tip – if you do any rearranging, take a quick snap with your phone before you do it. It’s so much easier to backtrack to an arrangement that was almost perfect if you have a reference point.

This flat lay, from SPS Member Lindsey Larivee, was taken from directly above. You can see that the angle looks flat which is exactly what we’re hoping for with a flat lay. She combined colors, textures, layers, light, and shadow in a tribute to age 9.

Remember that your flat lay doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s okay if your angle isn’t quite right or your arrangement isn’t quite what you hoped. You’ll be so glad that you gave it a try!

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