Have you ever noticed that popular flatlays often have a similar bright feeling? It has to do with the lighting.
Flatlay photography is usually shot with a soft, broad light to get that bright, clear quality. Soft meaning no sharp shadows, and broad meaning even all over. This lighting design emphasises the shapes and details of the objects in flatlays. Since your flatlay story is usually found in the details, this bright lighting design is ideal for flatlay photography. So, how do you make that happen?
Choosing Your Light Source
Light sources can fall into two categories: Natural and Artificial. There are pros and cons to using either. As a content creator, it’s up to you to decide what works best for you.
Natural light pretty much means daylight. Window light is king for getting the soft lighting you see in most flatlays, but you can also get a similar look by shooting your flatlays outside in the shade or on an overcast day. The main goal is to avoid direct rays of sunshine on your set because that would create hard shadows and too much contrast.
Pros – It’s free, available everywhere, and it’s easy to use.
Cons – You have less control of your light source, and you can’t shoot at night.
@danibarrois for Pottery Barn
Artificial light is any light source that is man-made such as a lamp or studio light. If you follow my Instagram feed @whatshepictures you’ll know that I often post behind the scenes photos showing my studio lighting setup. I use a strobe (aka flash) light with a soft box attachment to mimic soft window light.
Pros – You get ultimate control, and you can shoot at any time of day.
Cons – It can be expensive, you need a power source, it takes up a lot of space, and it’s bulky to transport.
Whether you use natural or artificial light, stick to one type of light source per photo shoot. Mixing different light sources together (ex: sunlight plus a desk lamp) messes with your white balance because it can create a strange colour cast in part of your photo. So, if you’re using window light, turn off the other lights in your room.
Pro Photography Tip
I have one favourite trick for improving my lighting: I use at least one white board to reflect light back into my shadows. It’s cheap, easy, and does the best job at lightening my shadows. It’s how I get my flatlays to look so evenly lit.
I usually keep several foam boards in the studio. You can get them from a craft store and they cost a few dollars each. Their only function is to be a white, flat surface to reflect light so any other white, flat surface can do the same thing if you don’t have foam boards handy. Use a white wall as your reflector or the side of your cupboard. Heck, I’ve been known to use bed sheets in a pinch!
It’s All About The Light
Photographers have a saying: It’s all about the light. It means that the most important element in any photograph is always the lighting. Always. So when you plan your next photo shoot, devote more time to improving that skill. It’s your skill and talent with lighting that will truly raise you up as a pro.
Connie Chan is a photographer and photo tips blogger with over 15 years behind the lens. Her specialty is creating scroll-stopping flatlays for brands that their audience loves. Based in Sydney, Australia, you can learn more about Connie and her services at whatshepictures.com or follow her on Instagram @whatshepictures.