Creating Beautifully Styled Flatlay Photographs | Jennifer Corbett | Skillshare

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Creating Beautifully Styled Flatlay Photographs

teacher avatar Jennifer Corbett, Pro Photog. Illo/Lettering Enthusiast.

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (26m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Your Class Project

    • 3. What is a Flatlay?

    • 4. Elements of a Great Flatlay

    • 5. Sourcing and Gathering Items

    • 6. Shooting Basics

    • 7. Styling Your Composition

    • 8. Thank you!

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About This Class


In this class, we'll cover my aesthetic guidelines for creating stunning flatlay compositions. Topics covered include:

⭐️Elements of a great flatlay

⭐️Sourcing and gathering items

⭐️Styling your composition

⭐️Shooting basics

This class is geared toward wedding photographers who want to improve their flatlay imagery, as well as for anyone who wants to great beautiful photos for use on social media, blogs, and online sales sites. 

You don't need any special camera equipment or have advanced knowledge of photography to take this class.

Meet Your Teacher

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Jennifer Corbett

Pro Photog. Illo/Lettering Enthusiast.


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1. Introduction: Hi, everyone. I'm Jennifer Carroll Corbett and I'm a professional photographer specializing in portraits and weddings. I've been photographing in some form or another for most of my life, and I work with both film and digital cameras. When I photograph weddings, I love to create styled flatlay photos to highlight the wedding details, like the invitation suite, florals, bridal jewelry, and special mementos. In this class, I'll be sharing what I look for when choosing elements for my flatlays and how I combine them into a composition. Flatlay photos have a variety of applications, including for social media content, online sale sites, and special interest blogs. Whether you're a wedding photographer, an Etsy seller, or a food blogger, you'll be able to use the information presented in these videos to help you create beautifully styled flatlay photos. For your class project, I'd love for you to create and photograph your own flatlay. This class is suitable for all levels of skill in photography. You can use any type of camera or even your smartphone to photograph your class project. I'm so happy to have you join me for this class. Let's get started. 2. Your Class Project: Welcome to creating beautifully-styled flatlay photographs. For this class project, you'll pick a theme and gather your materials, and then you'll style your own flatlay. You can photograph your flatlay with any camera or your smartphone, and you can edit it in Photoshop or any editing app. When you're happy with your image, you can share your flatlay in the class project gallery. Let's get started. 3. What is a Flatlay?: A flatlay photograph is a photograph taken from above. Oftentimes from a 90-degree angle of an arrangement of objects. These items are generally related thematically in some sum way. Some examples would be wedding details like jewelry, invitations, and flowers or objects in a workspace like a keyboard, a cup of tea, and a datebook, or kitchen items like measuring spoons, flour, sugar, and a rolling pin. There are many uses for beautiful flatlay photos. They make great social media and blog content. They can be used to promote items for sale in online shops and for those of us who photograph weddings, they look gorgeous and our clients' wedding albums interspersed amongst the portraits and more traditional photos. 4. Elements of a Great Flatlay: When I'm creating a flat lay, there are a few general ideas that guide me. The first is color palette cohesiveness. When I'm planning my flat lay, I'm always thinking about the general color palette. If there's an object I definitely know I'm incorporating such as a wedding invitation, that might dictate the color palette somewhat. If I'm starting completely from scratch, I think about where I'll be using the photo. If it's for my Instagram, will the colors and tones look nice on my grid? My palettes are often pastel or neutral, but depending on your style or your intended use for the image, you may go more bold or moody. The important thing is that your palette be cohesive within the image. Similarly, I also consider the thematic cohesiveness of my flat lay. It can be interesting to juxtapose different items, but generally speaking, I like to keep the overall feeling of my flat lay cohesive. Everything that I place in that composition will be in some way related to the central theme. The third element to consider is the lighting. You can use natural light or artificial light, but you do have to have sufficient light to create a great flat lay image. In general, I like to use diffused even light for my flat lays. But there are some times when a bright light with deep shadows works better. If you have a darker room that you're working in without great natural light, you might have to get a little bit creative. I'll talk more about this when I show you my setup. The next thing I look for is an interesting surface. I look for something that has texture and variation without being too distracting. You should be able to see your items clearly and there shouldn't be any vertical or horizontal lines or seams that will pull away the viewer's eye or that will make the image look crooked or tilted. Some of the surfaces I like to use for flat lays include linen, stucco or plaster, and weathered wood. Because I need to create flat lays on location at weddings and shoots, I have a variety of styling surface boards that I can bring with me because you never know what you're going to find on-site. You can buy these surfaces from a variety of sellers or like me, you can just make your own. The next element that I like to incorporate into my flat lays is something that I call anchoring. I often like to take some of the smaller items and anchor one or two of them to the surface by placing them on a small plate or tray. To me, this just helps to make it feel like the items aren't all just floating in space. The next component that I try to incorporate into my compositions is something organic. I feel my flat lays are always better when I can include something natural such as greenery, blooms, fruits, or herbs. I know when I'm working on the composition and it doesn't seem quite right, maybe too sterile or with too many sharp edges, that I need to incorporate something from nature. Textural variations goes along with what I just mentioned regarding organic elements. Having variation in your textures really helps to make your flat lay more interesting. You can create different textures with floral elements, or some raw silk ribbon, or maybe a bride's veil. If your flat lay is featuring art supplies, you can include some paintbrushes with interesting bristles to add more texture. If you're photographing gardening implements, you can include canvas gloves to create a nice textural foil to the hard lines of the metal tools. Finally, Number 8 on my list of elements of a beautiful flat lay is negative space. Negative space is the space between and around the items or the subjects of the photo. It's the empty space. It's okay and it's sometimes more interesting to leave some open spaces in your composition. It gives the eye somewhere to rest and can make the rest of your image easier to process. Next step, I'll be talking a little bit about gathering and sourcing all the items for your flat lay. 5. Sourcing and Gathering Items: The first thing we need to do is decide the theme of our flat lay and gather all of our items. I always collect as many items as possible that fit into my concept, knowing that some of them aren't going to work or that I may need just one more thing to make it perfect. Because beautiful details styling is important to me, I've created a styling kit that I bring to shoots and weddings. In my kit, I keep items that are not specific to any one event or shoot but that I use across my shoots whenever I'm photographing details. Since I'm mostly styling wedding flat lays, the items I keep in my kit are wedding-related. I use a lot of small dishes, bowls, vintage trays, and ring boxes for anchoring. I have silicon velvet ribbons, wax seals, calligraphy pages, vintage jewelry, and perfume bottles. I also have some general items that I usually find helpful like acrylic spacers, glue dots, double-sided tape, scissors, and food styling tweezers. These are all things that fit with my personal style and my professional brand. Your items in your styling kit might be very different, but items like spacers, tape, and scissors will be useful in creating any type of flat lay photo. You can source your flat lay elements from an infinite number of places. I love to look for vintage trays at thrift shops. I found simple ceramic dishes on Etsy, and I've bought vintage opera glasses on eBay. Fabric and crafts stores, stores like Anthropologie, Trader Joe's, and antique dealers are all great sources for interesting items. Again, it all depends on the theme of your flat lay and your own style. If you're creating an image about making homemade pasta, you might head to Williams Sonoma or Crate and Barrel for a ravioli wheel. For me, if I can find a vintage version of an item, I always prefer that over a modern one. But you might like very sleek modern styling and might find some cool items at a place like IKEA. Next, I'll be talking briefly about how I actually photograph the flat lay. See you in the next video. 6. Shooting Basics: You can use almost any camera to shoot a flat lay image, including your smartphone. You might not have quite as many options for manual settings on a smartphone but they take great photos and there are tons of really good editing apps to help you get the final look you want to achieve. I use a variety of camera bodies and lenses in my work including DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, and medium format digital and film cameras. I use all of these to photograph flat lays at different times. With my digital cameras, I most often shoot flat lays with a 50-millimeter lens or a 35-millimeter lens, and the film camera that I use most often has an 80-millimeter lens. A digital camera with live view shooting can be really helpful in what I think is the most difficult part which is getting the image straight. It can be so hard to hold your camera exactly straight over your composition, particularly if you're standing at a funny angle, if you're on a stool and you're trying to look through the viewfinder. Using live view can help you to see if you're shooting straight down and it can definitely save you some back pain. I usually take a lot of shots making small changes to my camera position between each one so that I make sure I get something that is as close to perfectly straight as possible. If you're working in a studio, this is much easier to achieve using a tripod extension arm or a C-stand setup. The best light in my house is in the guest bedroom and as you can see, it's a pretty tight fit. Since the window is fairly high up, I set up my flat lay on a small table to bring it closer to the light. I usually use a white blanket or sheet hanging opposite the window to reflect some light back onto the composition and I use a step ladder to more easily stand over my flat lay. Just a couple of notes on camera settings. Your aperture is one of the things that's going to determine how much of your composition is in focus, so you might want to play around with that setting and make sure you're getting everything that you want to be sharp. Sometimes it can be hard to hold the camera still when you're standing on a step ladder and holding the camera over your composition, so just make sure your shutter speed is fast enough. If you're not a photographer, the easiest thing to do is just to set your camera to auto and shoot away. If you're using a smartphone, try experimenting with the portrait mode versus the regular camera mode and see what results you like the best. In the next video, I'll be styling a wedding invitation suite flat lay. See you there. 7. Styling Your Composition: Here I've gathered all of the things that I might potentially use in my composition. I definitely won't be using all of these things, but it's nice to have a lot of options because you never know what type of space you're going to need to fill as you start working on your composition. For my flatlay today, I'm going to be highlighting this wedding invitation suite as the main focus of my composition. This suite has a lot of blush tones, and mauves, and a very neutral color palette, so I've tried to reflect that in all the items that I've gathered. I've got blush and mauve tassels on my vintage keys. I've got some blush ribbon, some pink and blush tone vintage stamps. My styling board itself is a peachy blush color, and then everything else is in that neutral palette. I've also included some softer feeling items like the tassels, and the fabrics, and ribbons. Then harder edge items like the metals and woods to create some textural variation. I just wanted to share a few things that I keep handy when I'm ready to start styling. The first is scissors for cutting flower stems and ribbon. The next is food styling tweezers, which are great for picking up really small things without messing up and moving the rest of your composition. Then a towel because if the water from the flowers drips onto the styling board, you'll have to wait till it dries before you can take your photos. For my organic elements today, I'm going to be using some greenery and some small blooms. The greenery is a couple of different varieties of eucalyptus, and then I have some Ranunculus blooms. Ranunculus are great because you can cut the stem right at the very base of the bloom, and it gives a nice flat surface for the bloom to sit on when you're styling. Then I also have some pink spray roses in a nice really peachy pink color. Then I have a white variety of spray roses. I do like to use spray roses because they aren't quite as big as the full size roses that are used as the main flower in bouquets and centerpieces, so they don't really take over the composition. They're just a nice accent. If you are a wedding photographer, you can ask ahead of time for the florist to bring you some extra flowers and greens for styling. These can be just extras that they didn't use, pieces that were broken or weren't long enough to use in a centerpiece or whatever. It doesn't really matter because you're going to cut them and use them in your composition. Now, I've cut my greenery into some smaller pieces and selected my blooms. I've reflexed my roses, meaning that I have gently bent back the petals to reveal the colorful inner center of the rose. When I'm doing this, if any of those tiny inner petals fall off, I hang on to those because they can look really pretty scattered throughout the composition. Before I start styling, I just wanted to briefly show how I use some of the items I mentioned earlier in the class. The first are the acrylic spacers. These are great for when you want to just lift up an item in your flatlay and elevate it above the other items. If you don't have these, you can use any number of other items, like wood crafting blocks. I've used those before and toy blocks, anything like that. I've also used the body cap from my camera, just like that. If it doesn't show, you can use it. The next thing I wanted to mention are glue dots. I will probably use a glue dot under this envelope flap because it pops up and I don't want it to do that. Once I get things in place, I'll probably tack that down. Then the double-sided tape is something that I often use for the vintage stamps so that I can attach them to the envelope, but then I can still reuse them again. Since the star of my composition today is going to be this wedding invitation suite, I have that laid out on my styling board. Normally I would take all of my flatlays in a portrait orientation because it looks really nice for social media and photo books, but it doesn't look great for a video. Today I'm going to be creating a horizontal flatlay. I'm going to start off by spacing out some of the items using my acrylic blocks and just elevating one or two pieces to create some dimension. When I first started learning to create flatlay compositions, I often left a lot of space in between the different elements of my composition, and over time, I've just come to realize that for me, I prefer closer placement of items and overlapping placement of items. Now this right here looks a little bit like I wanted it to be overlapping, but I didn't quite overlap it enough or that I wanted there to be space, but I didn't leave enough room. I would probably just move that to make it look really intentional. That's just one thing you really want to check, is to make sure that your placements look intentional and that you always check them through the view of your camera as well. Next, I'll start adding in some personal details. For the purposes of this video, we can just imagine that maybe this bride has a beautiful lace handkerchief that was given to her that she'll carry on her wedding day. I want to include that, and I definitely want to make sure that the lace is peeking out from under the edges of the invitation. I also want to make sure that I give myself room at the borders of my styling board to frame the shot and give myself a bit of extra space for cropping in post-processing. Next, I'm going to add in the wedding rings. Now these can be placed directly onto the styling board surface or onto one of the pieces at the invitation suite. But as I mentioned earlier in the class, sometimes I like to use a small dish or tray to anchor some of the really small items in my composition and give them a place to sit in the flatlay. That's what I'm going to do here. I love these antique keys with the tassels that coordinate with the colors of our wedding invitation suite, so I'm going to place this one here with this mauve tassel, echoing the color of this envelope and balancing that out. Since I really love symmetry, I'm going to add a second key below it with the lighter blush tassel. These silk tassels add some lovely textural variation to the composition as well. I'm not really liking this space between my two envelopes, so I'm going to start moving all of these pieces over to the left, making sure that I don't get too close to the edge of my styling board. Then I'll just have to adjust everything else accordingly and make those small adjustments to the rest of my pieces. Now that I've moved everything over, I have this space here that definitely need something. I'll try my vintage opera glasses and see how those look. It seems like they need something behind them, so I'll pop in this cool vintage postcard and see how that looks underneath. When there's a special detail that I really love, like this venue drawing on the invitation, I like to try to come up with a fun way to emphasize it. I'm going to use this vintage magnifying glass to sort special attention to that drawing. I feel like this area up here could use some color and softness, so that might be a good spot for some silk ribbon. One thing I don't want to do is to let my ribbon cut through my composition in a straight line, so I'm definitely going to try to create some movement and softness with the ribbon. I can also use my ribbon to camouflage or hide parts of my composition that I feel take away from it, so for me, this large envelope flap is a bit too much. I don't want to see the whole thing, I just want to see it peeking through, so I'm going to use my ribbon to cover up some of it. I really love wax seals on envelopes, but I don't really want to have the entire backside of an envelope showing in my composition. I remove the wax seal and I'm just going to place it on this envelope to give the suggestion of what it is. I'm not trying to be literal, I just want to show how beautiful it is. I also have a champagne cork that I'm going to incorporate. This could be something that the couple saved from the night they got engaged or some fun detail like that. Then I have a vintage brooch. This could be a sentimental piece of jewelry belonging to the bride. Maybe she's going to pin it on her bouquet, so I'm going to add that in. I'm ready to add in my botanicals now. I'm going to start by making some room over here in this corner for our grouping. When I do a grouping of similar items, I like to choose odd numbers, so I'm going to start off with three blooms here. I'm also adding a sprig of eucalyptus leaves here. This is just a personal preference, but I don't really like to see the cut end of the stem, so I'm going to just tuck that in underneath the flowers. I definitely need some florals over here in this area as well. I think I'll choose this really beautiful white Ranunculus bloom and add that in. Then I'll just add in a bit of color with a pink spray rose. Next, I think I'll add this lovely open white rose up at the top, but I'm not really liking the way those two are sitting right next to each other. I'll move things around and try to create some angles. It feels like something's missing over here in this area, so I think I'll try another bit of eucalyptus to fill that in and see how that looks. I'm fairly happy with the way that looks. I think I'll take this as my first shot. You might notice that these torn paper edges are definitely not straight. I really like straight lines in my images, so what I'll do is I'll just do my best and get them as straight as I possibly can. Then if I just can't get happy with it, I will sometimes take one of the elements and set it a skew from the others, and that way it's crooked on purpose. I like the way this looks and I'm going to take this as my first shot. After looking through the camera, I realized that even though it looked fine from where I was standing, in the camera view, the reply card and the key were starting to merge, and I didn't intend for them to be touching. I made a small adjustment so that they look separate in the camera view. Once I'm certain that I've gotten that first shot, I'll come in closer and shoot some smaller vignettes of each important detail in the composition. Then if I have plenty of time, I will clear everything off the styling board and see if I can create some completely different compositions with these same items. Having that variety can be really nice in a photo book, in social media posts, and for publication. I'll see you in the next video to wrap things up. 8. Thank you!: Thank you so much for joining me to talk about creating beautiful flat lay imagery. We covered some of my own aesthetic guidelines for achieving stunning compositions, we talked about sourcing and gathering items, and we learned about styling and shooting flat lay photos. You did it, I can't wait to see the images you create. Please share your photos in the class projects section. If you post on Instagram, please tag me with my handle @as_ever_photography, or use the hashtag aseverflatlay. I hope the ideas I've developed in my career, photographing details will help you to create great images. Remember, these are things that worked for me, but a lot of it is trial and error, and sometimes you just have to keep working at it until you're happy with how it looks. If you have any questions, please post them in the discussion section and I'll be happy to try to help. If you enjoyed this class, please do leave a review and follow my profile for a future lessons. Again, many thanks for taking my class. See you next time.