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6 minute read

How to Make a Perfect Flatlay

Frame subjects from a bird’s-eye view and make some beautiful still-life scenes – it’s easy with your X Series camera

Flatlay photography is a brilliant way to get creative at home and can produce wonderfully striking compositions from everyday objects. You’ll most likely have seen lots of flatlay pictures online and in magazines, and it’s a style mainly used in creative still-life, fashion, lifestyle, food, and product photography. Basically though, they’re just pictures that are made from directly above the subject – kind of like a bird’s-eye view.

There’s a huge variety of subjects you can choose from. Try small items like jewelry, tools, or pens and pencils. Really, anything that has a collective theme works well, even if that theme is color – you can group similarly colored items of very different types and still get a great image.

You might even try photographing flatlays of your desk, a playroom floor, or your dining table. Whatever you try, here are some tips to make a success of it.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, How to Make a Perfect Flatlay

Photo © Paul Von Rieter

Keep It Steady

Flatlays can be lit with either available light, artificial continuous light, or flash. It’s entirely up to you to choose. You can work handheld, but because of the intricate nature of the composition, it’s better to use a tripod. This will keep the camera perfectly still, so the composition won’t change between shots, and this really helps to perfect the placement of the objects in your flatlay, too. It also means that you won’t need to repetitively move between your flatlay and the camera, which can become quite tiring if you make lots of pictures – a bit like doing a workout!

Putting the camera on a tripod also means focusing is easier and you can use slower shutter speeds without camera shake affecting the image.

Set your camera on the tripod so that it’s pointing straight down at where you’ll be creating the flatlay. To do this, you may need to reverse the tripod’s center column or angle it horizontally. Make sure the camera is as close to 90º above the subject as possible, so that one part of the frame isn’t further away than the others.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, How to Make a Perfect Flatlay

Photo © Paul Von Rieter

Which Lens Should You Use?

Most flatlays are photographed three feet or less from the camera, but that doesn’t mean they are the sole preserve of macro lenses. Your camera’s kit lens, such as the XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS or the XC15-45mmF3.5-5.6 OIS PZ, will be perfectly adequate and can focus close enough for most flatlay scenarios.

But if you feel the flatlay bug starting the bite, then a dedicated macro lens could be the way to go. In this case, both the XF60mmF2.4 R Macro and the XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro will deliver great results.

Backgrounds

This is the foundation to your flatlay, so it needs to be right. Images can look completely different depending on the surface you photograph your subjects on. The most important thing is that it doesn’t interfere or distract from the composition.

Wooden floors, tiles and metal are good if you want a rustic look, but give them a good clean first. Depending on the size of your flatlay, you can even use outdoor surfaces like your decking, lawn, or patio. 

The simplest way to start is just to use a piece of paper or cardboard. This will give a clean and simple look to the composition. The paper can be any color, and it’s fun to match it to the subjects you’re using, either to complement or contrast with them.

Composing Your Flatlay

When you’ve laid out your background below the camera, it’s time to start composing. The first thing you want to do is compose so you can’t see the edges of the background as this will make your composition look untidy.

Also consider framing in a square or 1:1 format, which works well with flatlay-style images and makes them the perfect shape for sharing on social media platforms. You can do this by pressing MENU OK and, in the IMAGE QUALITY SETTING menu, changing IMAGE SIZE to L1:1.

Then it’s time to start laying out the objects that will make up your flatlay. Try to order them so they have some space around them and sit evenly together. This can take some time to perfect, but that’s part of the fun! If there’s a main or ‘hero’ subject in the composition, use the others to complement it and allow your eye to wander through the frame. It should feel comfortable to look at.

To help, try using your X Series camera’s rear LCD as a guide. On many X Series cameras, the screen flips out and angles so you can view it more easily.

Another great way to compose and capture flatlays is using the FUJIFILM Camera Remote app. This makes it easy to move items around without having to be behind the camera. As well as using the app to take the picture, you can also change settings like focus and exposure.

Get a Good Exposure

The type of lighting you use completely depends on the style of picture you want. If you’re photographing with just available light, consider using a reflector to balance the contrast. This can be as simple as angling a piece of white card to fill in the shadows. Simple lamps or LED lights can work wonders, too.

Set the ISO to a low level like 200 or 400, so you get the maximum amount of detail in the image, and try using a middle aperture setting like F8 or F11 to keep all of the subjects in focus. Smaller aperture settings will also help to keep everything in focus if the camera isn’t quite perpendicular to the background.

This may require a longer shutter speed, but because you’ll most likely be using a tripod, that’s not a problem. Again, using the FUJIFILM Camera Remote app is a good tip here, as it lets you release the shutter without touching the camera, just like a remote release would. Alternatively, set the self-timer to 2 secs so there’s no shake.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, How to Make a Perfect Flatlay

Photo © Nicole Young

When it comes to focusing, it should be easy. The subject isn’t moving, neither is the camera, and you’re using a middling aperture, so there should be plenty of depth-of-field. You can therefore use Single AF mode (S), and a Single Point or Zone area, placing it over any part of the scene except the background. 

Manual focus is also a great option for flatlay photography and, once it’s set, you won’t need to change it again, unless you move the camera or the subject. To manual focus, switch to M on the focusing selector, and then use the touchscreen or the viewfinder as a guide.

To help you focus manually, there are a few great options, including focus peaking, which adds a colored outline to the parts of the picture that are in focus, and a magnified view. To switch these features on, press MENU OK and navigate to the AF/MF SETTING menu. Scroll down to MF ASSIST and select FOCUS PEAK HIGHLIGHT. You can also change the color and intensity of the peaking; we’d recommend using the LOW options, but see which one suits your subject best.

In the same AF/MF SETTING menu, you’ll find a FOCUS CHECK option. Switch this on, and the camera will enlarge the scene when you begin to focus manually.

Try out these tips on your next flatlay – have fun, experiment, and see what you can create!