Flat Lay Styling: Photographing and Editing
While they may look effortless, the gorgeous photos you see on social media and in all your favorite wedding blogs and magazines aren’t so easy to put together! Flat items can photograph…well, flat! Bringing them to life takes skills and strategy. It may take some work to get there, but it’s totally worth it to be able to creatively and accurately capture the beauty of your clients’ wedding details.
In this three part series, I’m going to be covering my entire flat lay process, from materials to composition, photographing, and editing. If becoming a flat lay master is on your to-do list, stay tuned, and these tips will help you get there. Today, is the third and final part, talking all about actually photographing and editing flat lays.
Please remember that all of this is coming from the perspective of a stationer. I am by no means a professional photographer, just someone who has had a lot of experience photographing and editing her own work for her own brand. Everyone’s experience and priorities will be different, but these may be good things to keep in mind.
Flat Lays are Different
In the previous two posts, we talked about the prep works that goes in before this point: materials and styling. At this point, you should have your board set up in good lighting with the stationery styled and ready to go. Now it’s time to actually capture the photo!
Styling is often considered the trick part of flat lays, and while it definitely can be, it’s important to know that photographing and editing stationery photos requires a different approach than doing the same for portraiture or landscape shots. You can’t use the same presets or techniques, even for editing photos from the same gallery. If you do, the result is photos that are overexposed or too dark (depending on your editing style), and inconsistent with other photos from the wedding or shoot.
Tips for Photographing Stationery
Set Up on the Floor
When shooting flat lays, you’ll want to get some shots that are top-down. Setting up your board on the floor (or close to the ground) will make getting those shots so much easier, and your back will thank you for it!
Bring a Footstool
A footstool is another tool that will help in getting those top-down shots. Using one all day will get tiring, but for a few full width shots they can be a lifesaver.
capture top-down shots as precisely as possible
It can be hard to get a shot that is perfectly above the composition. But, try and get as close as possible. When shooting stationery, it’s painfully obvious when the sides of the stationery aren’t parallel with the edge of the photo. Some edits can be made in post, but if you’re way off, it’s going to show.
get a variety of shots from one styling
You can spend a ton of time styling one look—make sure you get the most out of it by getting a variety of shots from it. Full shots are really important and great, but take advantage of close ups, too. When large suites are styled right, there’s going to be at least two or three interesting vignettes to capture in close ups. Explore photographing from the side as well as straight down, too.
Style more than one composition
You absolutely want to get a good variety of shots from one styling, but it’s also important to rework the layout at least once. Experimenting with different compositions will show off different parts of the suite and create an interesting gallery that clients, stationers (and wedding blogs if you’re looking to get featured) will love.
Photographing flat lays can be exhausting. Your back, legs, and arms can tire after shooting top-down for awhile, so it’s important to take breaks. Schedule more time for photographing than you think you may need, because the last thing you want to do is push yourself too hard and be in pain for the next week. Been there, done that. It sucks.
tips for editing photos of stationery
I probably sound like a broken record, but I’m going to say it again: flat lays are different. I can photograph and edit stationery photos all day, but if you ask me to edit a portrait it’s going to take awhile for me to figure it out. You need to approach editing from a different angle.
Note: I know most photographers use Lightroom, but I edit in Camera Raw and Photoshop, so I’m speaking from that program.
start from scratch
Avoid using any presets designed for portraiture or landscapes. When editing the first photo in the gallery, start from scratch, making adjustments until it looks right. Then, you can create a preset for this set of stationery photos.
correct angles in top-down shots
Like I said before, it’s painfully obvious when top-down shots of stationery aren’t parallel to the edge of the photo. Hopefully you got some clean photos that are close, but use this chance to edit ones that are a little off. In Camera Raw, there’s a transform tool that allows you to make small angular adjustments, meaning you can make those edges perfectly parallel.
lighting and color correction
Just like any photograph, the final shots should honor and hold up the integrity of the subject. With stationery, that means making sure you’re showing off the details, the color is fairly accurate, and you aren’t losing the text on the page. If your style is light and airy, this might mean paying extra attention to your exposure levels so things aren’t blasted out. If you edit dark and moody, you’ll want to make sure the colors are accurate. The photo can be darker, but you don’t want a blue envelope looking grey. At the end of the day, you want to be able to show off the details that your clients paid for and love!
use the blemish tool
Despite best efforts, hairs, dirt, and dust can make their way onto your composition. Use this time to check for any unwanted spots, and use the blemish tool to fix them.
compare to rest of gallery
Because you started from scratch and took an intentional approach to editing the stationery, you want to make sure the final piece fits the aesthetic of the gallery.
If video is more your speed, check out my Instagram story highlight on styling (@caitlinobryantdesign) or watch part three here!
Don’t forget to have fun during the process. Experiment and play with new ideas, materials, compositions, and styles. Just keep the integrity of the subject at the forefront throughout.
Styling, photographing, and editing flat lays is a unique skillset, and it can take a lot of time and effort to hone that skill and become comfortable with it. However, if you invest your energy into mastering them, your work will be so much stronger for it, and clients will love how you can capture their details. Not everybody can rock a flat lay, so if you can you're ahead of the pack, able to serve your clients in an amazing way.