I love creating beautiful flatlays (photos taken from directly above of objects arranged on a flat surface) that help set the mood for the “story” I’m going to tell or the message I want to convey. Whether it’s inspiring you to go outside and notice the plants going on buildings, capturing a moment in time whilst packing for a trip to help remind you of everything you might need to pack, or conveying a sense of tranquility found in an English garden, flatlays are a fantastic way to convey meaning.
Here’s a quick rundown of how I create my flatlays by layering in different objects, textures, opacities, and dimensions of interest. Some of my favorite things to use in flatlays are perfume bottles, vines like vinca or ivy, flowers, flower petals, or dried flowers, lace, ribbon, or eyelet, items of clothing, and small pieces of jewelry like rings. Your imagination is the only limit to what you can create with flatlay photographs.
I always begin by gathering up the items I want to use that either share a common theme, motif, color scheme, or season. This allows me to quickly draw what I want from my cache of materials as the image begins to come together in my mind, so that I can quickly and easily lay it out and make adjustments as necessary. I then set out a layered base, whether that’s a picnic table on a mossy section of the forest, or a vintage mirror layered on a scalloped quilt as shown in the video, layering means I’m not confined to the square shape of my set, and if I rotate my camera beyond the borders of the mirror in this example, I can still get an interesting shot without it looking sloppy.
Next I add framing elements, here I’ve used living ivy I grew specifically for this shot, however anything like fairy lights, rows of cosmetics or seashells, ribbons, an interesting item of clothing or accessory, or something like fringed fabrics. This helps create a border, direct the eye to your focal points, and adds contrast and interest to the shot. It also helps soften a shot to prevent it from looking too sterile or corporate.
After the framing elements I begin to place my focal points, or the objects I want to emphasize. When creating a photograph around a certain brand, as I did for this shot for French Perfume house Diptyque, the focal points will be the Diptyque perfume bottle that I want to emphasize. I can reposition these later and play around with the order I want them to be shown in, but these will likely take up the most space of the shot, so we want to add them in first to give them the best positions in relation to every other object in the shot.
Then I add supporting objects, in the example below I used an alabaster dish and vintage sterling silver bowl to draw your eyes to the items inside each piece. These supporting objects also help to emphasize or elevate the focal points above the surrounding items, in order to highlight their importance in the scene we are creating.
Next I fill in any gaps with smaller items like the vintage sterling silver rings I used here, flower petals, flowers, paper confetti, leaves, or anything else that helps fill the image and convey another level of interest to the viewers. These items could also be small things like stamps, earrings, seashells, candles, or the lids of perfume or makeup items or other similar things in your shots. Don’t be afraid to deconstruct your scene a bit at this point, untying bows, removing caps, lips or holders of the objects you used and incorporating them into the image.
Lastly I make any adjustments that might be necessary like rearranging items or fixing the spacing until I’m pleased with what I’ve created.
Check out the video below, and let me know if you found this tutorial useful. If you take any photographs like this, I’d love to see what you create, so please tag me @AnnieFairfax on Instagram!
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