Hello, hello friends! Today, we’re going to be talking all about product photography. This can sometimes be in the form of what are called “flat lay” photos. Usually, when you work with a brand, they’ll probably want you in the photo; however, there are some times where they may ask you to create additional content that features only the product itself. These are really fun, in my opinion, because it allows for a lot more of an “editorial” vibe from the photo. You can have fun with textures, tones, backgrounds, focus and lighting to create something that conveys a story to your viewers without words. Usually (and admittedly), I don’t put too much thought into a flat lay photo or product photography photo because I’m not asked to from the brand. I usually just go for something quick, effective and clear, sometimes in front of my black and white rug or on a glass tabletop. This is for photos that are much more thought through than those. Let’s get into it!
What story are you trying to convey?
When first receiving your products, think through what the brand means to you. What do you like about this brand? What story do you want to tell about the brand? For example, if I’m creating a campaign for Dior, I want to create something that feels luxe, elegant and clean. I want an ethereal vibe, playing with neutral tones and silk or chiffon fabrics. If I’m creating product photography for a sustainable fashion brand, I may look for products that convey a more raw and natural vibe; unfinished linen, raw edges and dried flowers or grasses come to mind. Identifying the brand’s mission and values can help guide you toward what type of “vibe” you want to go for.
In addition, of course, it helps to look at a brand’s creative briefs (if they have one). You can see what type of vibe they themselves are trying to go for and model your products after it. I think this is especially helpful — for example, when I worked with Secret, they wanted a fun, college-aged vibe. Meanwhile, Dior’s brief highlighted a more mature sophistication. It’s reflective of the brand and thus, should be reflected in your work.
Play with Light
I’m not really a photographer, but I would probably go out on a whim and say that most photographers would agree that lighting is everything. It changes the entire look of the photo. For all of my photos, I love to shoot in very bright environments (not too bright to where the photos are harsh). My office is perfect for this because it gets so much natural afternoon light! The windows do a lot of the harsh filtering for me since they’re narrow and up high. However, if you don’t have access to natural lighting, you can always head outside in the late afternoon (the lighting is less harsh, but it’s still bright) or grab yourself some light kits off of Amazon for some help. I promise you it’s a great investment — I’m not sure what I’d do without light. The rest of my apartment sits away from the light and doesn’t really have great windows to use, so all of my photos are taken in my office space. In addition, I will discourage you from using anything other than light filters or bright ring lights if you’re using artificial light; table lamps and normal house bulbs are diffused quite a bit and have a more yellow tone, which is difficult to work with. Natural light is always best.
Playing with the lighting is a clever and effective way to play with the mood of the photo as well. You can really use shadows as a cool tool to add depth and sophistication to your photography. I’ve yet to master it, but it’s something I’m working on for sure.
I definitely would recommend heading over to your local drugstore and just grabbing a piece of white poster board to use if you’re a beginner. Later on, they have fancier background and reflectivity kits, but for now (and for me), a poster board is juuuust fine. I love using this to create the perception of a white background. Because the poster board is smooth and a pure white, it beats the slightly eggshell tone of my real walls. My walls also have a popcorn-y texture that I don’t super love in the photos. You can simply use some tape to tape the poster board onto the wall to create a white background for your photos. This is really simple but yet really effective for getting those bright photos I want to go for.
You could also play with texture here, as well, if you wished — that might be pinning a curtain onto your wall, or a piece of fabric to add some texture behind your photo as well. If you’re okay with your walls, too, then don’t worry about this.
Similarly, you can create a “plane” for your items by using a desk and covering it with some type of texture or poster board to create a clean background for you to work on. I simply cut 1/4 of the poster board off, and placed the quarter onto the desk. I taped it down as well to avoid the lips from curling up. The great thing is — you can reuse this set up over and over again! It’s awesome. And really cost less than $3.
I always put this “plane” down even before adding textures over top just to give me a clean background. That is, instead of the dark walnut of my desk, which is not what I’m goin’ for.
I love playing with texture as well to create interesting depth in the photo. In this photo, I used an old Forever 21 dress in my closet that has this beautiful rust to white ombre down the skirt. I didn’t bother ironing it, as I liked the slightly creased design. You can really use anything, though, to create texture, whether it be textiles or placemats or blankets or clothing — anything goes. You have the freedom to manipulate the item to make it look different than what it really is by folding it, hiding buttons and seams, and strategically placing it. Don’t think “I need to go out and get a yard of fabric.” Look in your own closet or at Goodwill first to make sure there aren’t already used fabrics that have been pre-loved that can suffice! It’s awesome for sustainability.
I particularly love utilizing silk, raw linen, chiffon and lace to create overlays. You can choose printed textures if you wish — I find myself reaching for a rust-colored silk paisley scarf I have from Claire’s all the time. The best part about this is that you are able to use your imagination and creativity to give life to products you have around your house!
Props are different items you can add to the photo like rings, dried flowers or grasses, books, candles, mugs — anything, really — to the photo to add depth and color. They can help move your story forward as well, too. For example, I originally wanted to use an orange or grapefruit for the Dior shoot. However, the notes of citrus weren’t in the perfume itself, which has notes of sandalwood, bergamot and rose. So, I opted not to go for the fruit and instead went for this pink flower that grows on the trees outside my house. I would’ve gone for a rose had I swung by a grocery store, but these are free (lol). I think this is more suitable to the product itself.
Camera + Placement
I’ve gone into this before, but I should say again: having a “nice,” “professional” camera is not a requirement for getting some beautiful photos. It’s all about how you use lighting, to be honest! You don’t have as much freedom to manipulate the lighting with your phone. This, in my opinion, is the biggest difference. Strategically capturing beautiful natural light is all the difference.
I use my Canon Rebel T6 for most of my photos. I’ll occasionally use my Nikon that has an adjustable viewfinder. This gives me a more freedom with self portraits, but I don’t prefer the wider lens. I HIGHLY recommend purchasing an Amazon tripod, even if you’re just using your phone. You can purchase an attachment that makes your phone “tripod-able,” and it’s the most amazing thing. This allows for so much more than flat lays and product photography, but that’s for another blog post.
With these photos in particular, you want to get up high to take them from an aerial view. Grab a chair or set up your flat lay on the ground (you still may need a chair if you’re tragically 5’2′ like yours truly). This is sort of what transforms the photo into something a bit more professional and editorial.
Of course, a huge portion of the pizzaz is added afterwards in post. I always use Lightroom (with the same presets) to edit my photos. This makes sure they all have a cohesive color story and vibe. Apart from the lighting and creative style I go for, of course!
I hope these tips and tricks really help you execute your perfect flat lay photos and product photography! Share with me how they’ve turned out. I’d love to see the difference between your set up and the actual photo. Tag me in your product photography posts on IG @jadeoftrades_ 🙂