Flat Lay – the new black
Flat lay or shooting straight down has always been a useful way to bring a unique look to photographs. From shooting down from above, say from the top of a ladder or a building to the street with a fashion model below or from an over head shot of food. Lately on Instagram and other social sites as well as in magazine and in food spreads, the over head shot has become all the rage.
Take photos like a fashion blogger as per the #flatlay, currently trending on Instagram.
The flat lay style in particular are popular. People arrange objects usually separated by some white space. On social media, often the flat lay represents a theme such as “contents of my purse”, “my photography equipment”, or “My Breakfast”.
Shooting straight down from above or flat lay turned the photograph almost into something closer to a drawing or painting when it comes to composition. The objects in the photograph can be moved around and positioned on a linear plane. It takes the z axis out of the composition and makes the composition more 2D. You worry less about having a foreground, a middle ground and a background, and more about the relationship of the objects to each other.
Also with this shooting from above method, traditional effects used by photographers to add interest to an image such as shallow depth of field via a large aperture opening, are typically not used. Plenty of light, a tripod and a small aperture opening to keep everything in focus is the usual method.
Food Photography from above
In food photography there are typically three shots. Straight on, three quarters view or the view the diner would have sitting at a table and the above shot. Shooting straight down is great for showing multiple food dishes at once. For example if you have three bowls of soup, the only way to show the variety all at once is to shoot from above.
In the above 3/4 shot of spices the focus is on a single bowl of spice.
The above shot shows off multiple spices at once.
Here the straight on shot has the same limited to 2D composition possibilities but more depth is possible then if you are shoot straight down on a flat floor or table.
Although it is possible to use shallow depth of field in an straight down photograph, for example in this over head shot of a basket apples had enough depth to allow me to use a shallow depth of field to highlight the one apple with a leaf.
So how does one create these straight down or flat lay shots? Well, you can always simply bend over and point down at the subject between your feet. Or you can get up high on a ladder and shoot down. Neither method is great on your lower back. Another method could be to lay down on some kind of scaffolding. Hand holding has a lot of issues. For example its very hard to judge if you are shooting squarely and it hard to maintain a composition or make adjustments.
But if you are going to do a lot of flat lays or want a consistent look to your shots or want to swap out products for multiple shots, you are going to want to have some kind of stable tripod or studio stand set up.
The top of the line product is the studio stand.
Found only in professional studios, these stands are very heavy and not very portable. They provide a vertical column and rock steady support but are not very affordable or practical for the average photographer. But the fact that your camera slides easily up and down the column is great for the studio environment. Side arms can attached to bring your camera out future from the main platform.
At the other end of the scale, a decent tripod with the ability to swing the center column into a horizontal position (use plenty of counter weight on the other end!) is a good choice. I would go with a Vanguard AT Pro. At around $150 depending if you get a head or not, the Vanguard has a center column that can be used to shoot straight down.
But if you have a heavy camera system like my Canon 6D with a L lens and battery pack, this arrangement can get dicey and it can be hard to get the setup in perfect alignment. An even better solution would be to go with a heavier, sturdier grade of tripod and then add a side arm such as the Vanguard Multi-Mount 6 Horizontal Bar for Mounting Multiple Devices on One Tripod.
This bar attaches to your tripod and provides a variety of mounting options. You can attache multiple cameras, tables, tablet holders, lights or what ever to the various mounts or simple attach a head and camera to one end to shoot straight down. Tethered photographers who shoot with a wired to their laptop can use this to see thought the camera without having to stand on their tippy toes to look at the back of the camera.
Here is the mount bar in use:
Vanguard Multi-Mount 6 Horizontal Bar
Flat Lay 101
For cell phone photographers blogging with flat lays in their Instagram accounts or on their blogs, I’ll leave you with these tips:
Edward M. Fielding – fine art photographer and visual artist, Edward M. Fielding’s work can be seen and purchased as fine art prints, canvas, acrylic and framed and matted ready to hang museum quality artwork at www.edwardfielding.com