Flat lay product images are a treat to an eye – customers’ eyes included – which have a direct connection to customers’ purchasing intent, as any savvy entrepreneur knows.
With over a decade of experience in ecommerce product photography, taking quality commercial imagery in New York and Los Angeles for over 1,000 brands, Squareshot is delighted to reveal some insider tips on how to make flat lay photography that sell.
What is Flat Lay Photography?
Flat lay photography is a method of positioning of items for the shoot employed in the production of commercial product images, whereby objects are placed on the horizontal surface and shot from above.
This method is widely used in social media visual content plans, in the creation of food, jewelry, fashion, cosmetics images.
It's just to say that all smaller objects are subject to this type of commercial shoot sooner or later.
When it comes to alternative methods of item positioning, professionals also distinguish the ghost mannequin, hanged/pinned and on-model techniques. Let's quickly run through them for a better understanding of the flat lay characteristics.
Types of apparel photography
- Ghost Mannequin [an item is on a mannequin, that allows for a better understanding of how a garment will fit]
- Hanged / Pinned [this technique is often used to shoot accessories and jewelry, where an object is dangling in the air – for example, a bag or a necklace.
In the same way, you can take a picture of clothes, just pin it to the foam wall]
- On-Model shots [lifestyle images and model images impart lots of mood and life into an item you are trying to sell – provided a model is a good fit to the product of course]
- Flat Lay [items are placed on a horizontal surface and shot from above]
10 flat lay photography ideas & tips from seasoned photo studio pros in NY
Tether shooting and camera setup
Most of the professional product photography studios will operate a flat lay shoot when their camera is tethered to a computer – so they can see the images on the bigger screen right away.
A tether cord needs to have the respective connections that fit both your computer and your camera on opposite ends. There are software programs that enable this mode of the shoot, but Lightroom also has this feature for those who are not looking to master yet another software product.
Why shoot tethered?
- To have a better understanding of the quality of the image right away on a bigger screen and introduce required changes.
- To show the images to any people on the site with you – client model, colleagues, MUA, etc.
- To speed up processing and uploading.
But what's most important in this type of shooting is arranging the flat lay photography setup.
There are a few ways how you can approach this mission, the most common ones will include a sturdy heavy-duty C stand with a sandbag for stability and a combo of a tripod and an arm like Manfrotto 131DB, that can also be stabilized with sandbags if needed. For a full list of professional photo equipment, that we use please see the respective paragraph below.
Lighting setup and color passport usage
You can use natural light or professional photo studio equipment. The main mission is to have your product well-lit so that every detail is available for inspection.
Well-lit objects will also require minimal photo correction in the post-editing stage, which can be really expensive and time-consuming.
If you choose to shoot with the natural light, these insights may help:
- Use chiffon or cloth taped to the window to soften the light on a sunny day.
- Use reflector cards to soften or minimize sharp shadows.
- If a professional softbox is available, placing it at an angle may produce a nice effect, whereby light is dispersed in graduation.
If a client provides an example image, try to set up your lighting to replicate that. Resulting exposition is vital when setting up flat-lay product photography lighting. To ensure the image is not overexposed or underexposed, it's good to make 2 test images with a color passport. The first image of the darkest item in the series needs to be taken with a color passport showing a grey card and the second test image is for the lightest item with a color passport showing a spread with a color bar.
Equipment for a high-quality product shoot with horizontal lay
This is exactly the equipment we use for our professional flat lay product photography, but you can certainly find cheaper as well as more expensive alternatives.
- Flat lay table ~ $500
- Godox DP400II Flash Head ~ $180
- Canon EOS Rebel T7i DSLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens and Accessory Kit ~ $800
- Vello EW-73D Dedicated Lens Hood ~ $13
- Canon ACK-E10 AC Adapter and DC Coupler Kit ~ $80
- Godox XProC TTL Wireless Flash Trigger ~ $70
- Impact Super Clamp with Ratchet Handle ~ $20
- Oben BA-106A Single Lever Ball Head ~ $40
- Impact ME-122P Single Background Holder Hooks for Super Clamps (2-Pack) ~ $10
- Impact Varidrive with Black Chain ~ $39
- Avenger E250 Long Double 5/8" Baby Pin ~ $6
- 20 Foot USB cable ~ $9
- Savage Widetone Seamless Background Paper (#01 Super White, 86" x 36') ~ $54
Preparation of the product: clean, creaseless, and spotless
Just a kind reminder for all the noobs out there trying to save money and DIYing your flat lay product photography clothing session: the speckless item means less expensive postediting.
If you are hiring a studio, the best practice will be to ensure a thorough wipe beforehand and only give a final dust on the spot immediately prior to the shoot. Ensure you bring along all the necessary gear to make your items sparkly: microfiber cloth, lint roller, compressed gas duster.
Needless to say, the clothes must be freshly-ironed and creaseless, while jewelry must be handled in gloves to avoid fingerprints.
Shooting angles for flat lay photography service
When it comes to positioning your items for a shoot, whose results will be served on one of those big platforms like Amazon and Shopify, you definitely need 3 to 5 angles to start with and assortment can go up to 10 for premium items or one-product landing pages.
Below are the examples of the angles we recommend to our clients with images for better illustration:
- Full-length item straight up
- Close up straight up
- ¾ camera angle
- Shot of a detail or texture
When we work in our flat lay photography studio in New York, we always pay extra attention to the positioning of all of the symmetrically-designed objects symmetrically. We can even use a ruler to ensure the distance from the rightest line of the photographed garment is exactly the same as the opposite distance on the left.
Not only does it reduce post-production time, but it also provides the overall feeling of harmony and balance, which absence may subconsciously scare a perfectionist away without even realizing the reason for the urge to bounce.
Approaching the shadow-y matters
Flat lay ecommerce photography standards are rather strict on global marketplaces, but if you are shooting for a personal website, there can be different shadow requirements in the technical specification:
To ensure drop shadow, shoot against the paper background;
Mind your horizon level
It’s the best practice in flat lay product photography to keep an object and a camera in a plane.
The other pro trick that helps to ensure a perfect shot is to always use a level to make sure the table for shooting and the camera are both 95% in a horizontal position. Naturally, if you have a tripod with a level – this is the best model for this type of job.
Technical standards of an image
These are some of the fundamental technical standards to keep in mind when shooting your products laid horizontally for your ecommerce projects.
- The image needs to be in focus, sharp, and not blurred under 100% increase.
- The background behind an object is as white as it gets.
- The image is neither overexposed or underexposed.
- The image takes over 80% of the frame.
- The shadow of the product is not cut off.
- If the product has shiny text or any other shiny parts it should be visible.
Aesthetic standards of an image
As for the aesthetics, there can be quite a bit of creativity in the flat lays, but if you are on a mission to create photography for the ecommerce, these are our recommendations to be aware of:
- The angles of shooting must match angles in the client order form or reference images.
- Keep the right perspective. Use the appropriate camera lens and focal distance from 35 to 90mm.
- Maintain the right composition of the frame and proper framing.
- An object must be clean, without dust, dirt, or marks.
- Avoid unnecessary Reflections, like that of a photographer or studio furniture.
- The image reflects the actual color of the product.
Flat lay photography pricing
While photography is no rocket science, the resulting images can make it or break it for your sales.
If your sales have a few zeros to them, consider hiring a professional photo studio to perform such jobs. Not only it may cost you less at the end of the day, but the results are also likely to bring a lucrative ROI.
When it comes to the rates for the flat lay photos, they range across the board and will depend on these factors among many:
- Bulk vs single product shot
- Group vs individual shot
- Delivery & postage charges
- Location: country / state / city
- Level of professionalism & expertise
Squareshot has heaps of experience to produce the images that capture the eye and make one reach out for the wallet. So our ecommerce photography pricing is an investment worth making with one-shot starting from $35 in the enterprise package.
While it may take a few hours or days for you to take exactly the photos you are not ashamed of posting to your web or social media, photography is an enjoyable process.
If you need flat lay product photography clothing services, or quality jewelry shots, but don’t feel like experimenting with all the lighting, reflectors, positioning, props and textures, commission it to the pros. Squareshot has done some amazing job for thousands of growing brands, check out our portfolio and pass your own judgment.