A flat­ley is a still life lying on a table or oth­er flat sur­face, tak­en from above at an angle of 90 degrees. Such pic­tures are com­mon in prod­uct and food pho­tog­ra­phy, often used for social media design, web­site lay­out and adver­tis­ing print­ing. We talk about how to shoot flat­ley on a smart­phone and more advanced tech­nol­o­gy and how to make beau­ti­ful and inter­est­ing shots in this arti­cle.

Spices, spoons, greens — one of the clas­sic sub­jects of food pho­tog­ra­phy, shot from above / Pho­to: unsplash.com

At one time, all social net­works were full of flat­leys, there were even blog­gers who were engaged exclu­sive­ly in shoot­ing such still lifes, devel­oped and sold cours­es on pho­tograph­ing the right flat­ley. And as always hap­pens with phe­nom­e­na that sud­den­ly become very pop­u­lar, one day every­one got tired of flat­ley.

There were too many such pic­tures, and if at the begin­ning of their pop­u­lar­i­ty flat­leys aroused the view­er’s inter­est as some­thing unusu­al, then after a few years they began to be per­ceived as com­mon­place. Like a pic­ture of a hap­pi­ly smil­ing fam­i­ly from a may­on­naise ad.

How to shoot flat­ley with and with­out a tri­pod
Shoot­ing with a tri­pod
Remote cam­era access
Good set­tings for shoot­ing flat­ley
Com­po­si­tion prin­ci­ples and ideas for flat­leys
The Biggest Mis­take When Shoot­ing Flat­ley Still Life
Choos­ing a back­ground for shoot­ing flat­ley
Arrange­ment, the rule of thirds and the pro­por­tion­al­i­ty of objects
Ideas for cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful frames

How­ev­er, if we digress from the his­to­ry of flat­ley as a trend and return to flat­ley as an angle, it is still inter­est­ing and used. Because:

  • only one back­ground is need­ed. For a clas­sic “stand­ing” still life, you need to think over both the back­ground on which the objects stand and the one that is vis­i­ble in the frame behind them.
  • easy to imple­ment (you can shoot on a smart­phone).
  • gives vari­ety when shoot­ing a large num­ber of sub­jects. Unless, of course, you do not make a “flet­ley ceme­tery” out of your pro­file.
  • a cor­rect­ly shot flat­ley is quite ver­sa­tile. Such pic­tures are well suit­ed for cre­at­ing mock­ups and apply­ing inscrip­tions, which is con­ve­nient for cre­at­ing adver­tis­ing and lay­out of web­sites and print­ing.

Flat­leys can be shot with­out a tri­pod, just hold­ing the cam­era or phone in your hands over the still life. How­ev­er, this option is suit­able for expe­ri­enced peo­ple who can imme­di­ate­ly com­pose a com­po­si­tion in their head, then remove it at a time. If it’s eas­i­er for you to first lay out the main objects, then twist the over­all com­po­si­tion, shift­ing and cor­rect­ing the lit­tle things, it’s eas­i­er to work with a tri­pod. Because it is almost impos­si­ble to com­plete­ly repeat the angle of incli­na­tion and the posi­tion of the cam­era from frame to frame.

In addi­tion, with­out a tri­pod, blur­ring prob­lems can occur due to too long shut­ter speeds. Espe­cial­ly if the room where you shoot is dark.

It is quite pos­si­ble to shoot with­out a tri­pod if it is light and you are not a per­fec­tion­ist / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Shooting with a tripod

It is much more con­ve­nient to cre­ate pic­tures from this angle using a tri­pod. This will allow you to use longer shut­ter speeds and refine the com­po­si­tion in the frame as much as nec­es­sary.

Not all tripods will work. We will need a mod­el in which the bar can be pulled out and turned 90 or 180 degrees. As a rule, more expen­sive and advanced mod­els, for exam­ple, Man­frot­to MKBFRA4GTXP-BH Befree GT XPRO, have it.

At Man­frot­to, the turn of the bar looks like this / Pho­to: fotosklad.ru

You can find more bud­get options. For exam­ple, Van­guard Ves­ta TB204AB. With him, the bar can be turned upside down, which will also allow you to shoot at an angle of 90 degrees.

Van­guard Ves­ta TB204AB with invert­ed stem / Pho­to: fotosklad.ru

In an even more bud­getary ver­sion, the tri­pod can be replaced, for exam­ple, with a clamp. This option is suit­able if you are shoot­ing, for exam­ple, above the kitchen table, and a shelf hangs above it. We fix the clamp on the shelf, and the smart­phone or cam­era on the clamp — and voila. This approach will save you a lot of mon­ey.

Just make sure that the clamp is able to sup­port the weight of your equip­ment. Oth­er­wise, you may drop and dam­age the cam­era. If you’re shoot­ing with your phone, it’s a good option.

Remote camera access

Anoth­er trick that will make work­ing on a still life more con­ve­nient is remote access to the cam­era via Wi-Fi. Most recent mir­ror­less cam­eras and many DSLRs have this fea­ture. To shoot via Wi-Fi, you need a smart­phone and a spe­cial appli­ca­tion. Each cam­era sys­tem has its own:

  • Nikon has Snap­Bridge;
  • Canon has Canon Cam­era Con­nect;
  • Fuji­film has Cam­era Remote;
  • Olym­pus has OLYMPUS Image Share;
  • Sony has Imag­ing Edge Mobile;
  • Pana­son­ic has LUMIX Sync.

This approach allows you to con­stant­ly see the frame if the cam­era on a tri­pod is, for exam­ple, high and it is incon­ve­nient to reach for it every time.

Good settings for shooting flatley

In prin­ci­ple, the cam­era set­tings for shoot­ing flat­leys are not much dif­fer­ent from the set­tings for any still life. Let’s go over them briefly:

  • ISO — 200 or 400 (min­i­mum, depend­ing on the cam­era) to avoid noise;
  • it is best to cov­er the aper­ture to val­ues ​​​​from 4 to 8 and make sure that the objects are com­plete­ly sharp. When shoot­ing lay­outs, it makes no sense to open the aper­ture, since you do not need to blur the back­ground;
  • The excerpt can be of any length. You can let the cam­era select it auto­mat­i­cal­ly. If you shoot from a tri­pod, a slow shut­ter speed will not hurt you, if you shoot from a hand, choose a shut­ter speed based on what you are able not to smear. For more infor­ma­tion on how to choose a shut­ter speed when shoot­ing hand­held, read this arti­cle.

Anoth­er impor­tant thing to pay atten­tion to is the focal length. It is bet­ter not to shoot flat­leys at a wide angle. It will give dis­tor­tion in the ver­ti­cals of more or less tall objects, which is not very beau­ti­ful.

On the left is a wide-angle shot (most like­ly a smart­phone), the bag of flour slight­ly “turns out” (you can see not only the top of the bag, but also the bot­tom), which makes the pho­to slop­py. On the right this prob­lem is not / Pho­to: unsplash.com

If you shoot with a cam­era, do not take wide-angle lens­es, and set the focal length of the zoom lens around 50 mm. If shoot­ing with a smart­phone, use 2x zoom.

The Biggest Mistake When Shooting Flatley Still Life

The nas­ti­est mis­take you can make when shoot­ing flat­ley is a slight­ly crooked angle. And just a lit­tle bit. If you shoot a still life from the side or from above at an angle of 45 degrees, this is ok. But if you tried to shoot exact­ly a pure­bred flat­ley, but slight­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed the cam­era (it turned out 80 degrees), this is a mar­riage, it will be notice­able.

Some­one, of course, may object that the trend is nat­ur­al, which means that it’s okay. The sad thing is that such a shal­low, under-turned angle gives the impres­sion not of slight neg­li­gence and nat­u­ral­ness, but of visu­al dirt. As if you are shoot­ing a por­trait of a beau­ti­ful girl, and in her hands she has a plas­tic bag from the near­est super­mar­ket.

More­over, if the pack­age is at least vis­i­ble, then in the case of a crooked angle, the view­er will have the feel­ing that “some­thing is wrong here”, that the pic­ture is “some kind of poor qual­i­ty”. And why exact­ly this feel­ing aris­es, it will be dif­fi­cult to say.

Looks like it was tak­en from above and not from the side. Just hell of a per­fec­tion­ist / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Choosing a background for shooting flatley

First you need to choose a back­ground for the future still life. It is best to choose min­i­mal­is­tic options: the more tex­tured the back­ground is, the more it par­tic­i­pates direct­ly in the com­po­si­tion of the image. And the more sim­ple it is, the more room it gives for maneu­ver.

Back­drop options can be found at home: white sheets, wood tables, neu­tral floors, and mar­ble coun­ter­tops all work. Kraft paper or col­ored paper from an office sup­ply store is also a good bud­get option. There are also spe­cial pho­to­phones for sub­ject shoot­ing. They can be ordered from online stores.

If there are bright objects or expres­sive shad­ows in the frame, a sim­ple sheet of what­man paper can also be used as a back­ground. The less expres­sive objects and back­ground, the more tex­tured back­ground it makes sense to take / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Arrangement, the rule of thirds and the proportionality of objects

Any lay­out begins with the main object, for which every­thing is start­ed. There may be one such object, there may be sev­er­al. If they are not in the frame, there will be not a beau­ti­ful com­po­si­tion, but chaos. So first of all we choose the main sub­ject or sub­jects.

Here the main sub­ject is obvi­ous­ly a cup of cof­fee. Every­thing else builds around it / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Next, we find a suit­able place for the main sub­ject. One of the fun­da­men­tal rules for prepar­ing a lay­out is the rule of thirds. Its essence is this: if you men­tal­ly divide the frame into thirds ver­ti­cal­ly and hor­i­zon­tal­ly, impor­tant objects should be placed at the inter­sec­tion of these lines. This works because the view­er’s atten­tion is focused on these points.

A vivid exam­ple of using the rule of thirds: the glass­es fall just at the inter­sec­tion of the lines. The upper left cor­ner is left blank — prob­a­bly for inscrip­tions / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Next, add the sec­ondary props. It is worth choos­ing objects that fit into the sto­ry, adding con­text to the main object, but not draw­ing atten­tion away from it. In a still life with a cam­era, this can be a roll of film, glass­es and a watch, in a still life with food — spoons, spices and tow­els. We arrange small props so that the frame looks bal­anced and not over­loaded. There are sev­er­al basic clas­sic lay­outs for flat­ley.

For exam­ple, a com­po­si­tion in the shape of the let­ter C is wide­spread (the objects are arranged in a semi­cir­cle, in the cen­ter of which an inscrip­tion or logo can be placed in per­spec­tive).

Com­po­si­tion in the shape of the let­ter C / Pho­to: replicasurfaces.com

There is also a com­po­si­tion in the shape of the let­ter S, in which objects are arranged in this way:

Such arrange­ments are also sub­ject to the rule of thirds / Pho­to: i.pinimg.com and foodideas.ml

It is also impor­tant to mon­i­tor the pro­por­tion of objects in the frame: putting a large bag and tiny ear­rings in one frame is not a good idea. Ear­rings in such a frame will sim­ply be lost.

A large bag for cam­eras or a pho­to enlarg­er in this frame would look out of place / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Ideas for creating beautiful frames

Rhythm and pat­terns. The clas­sic flat­ley is built around the fact that there is a main sub­ject and sev­er­al sec­ondary ones. But this rule can be safe­ly bro­ken and cre­ate pic­tures with a large num­ber of iden­ti­cal objects.

It will not work to high­light the main sub­ject here, but in gen­er­al the pic­ture looks inter­est­ing and unusu­al / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Frame full­ness and min­i­mal­ism. The pic­ture can be both heav­i­ly filled with objects, and almost emp­ty. In prin­ci­ple, even a com­po­si­tion with a sin­gle object on a plain back­ground has the right to life. It all depends on your vision and goal. Here — full scope for exper­i­men­ta­tion.

Two shots on the same top­ic, and each is good in its own way / Pho­to: unsplash.com

Sat­u­rat­ed and neon col­ors. Bright col­ors are the trend of the last few sea­sons. It also seeped into sub­ject pho­tog­ra­phy.

Hand­some­ly. Bold­ly. Prac­ti­cal­ly Andy Warhol / Pho­to: unsplash.com

The play of light and shad­ows. Shad­ows add vol­ume to flat­leys, and if you use glass objects and side light in the frame, you can achieve an even more inter­est­ing effect.

Refrac­tion of light and glare make these pic­tures inter­est­ing / Pho­to: unsplash.com