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3 Key Tips for Effective Flatlay Food Photography

3 Key Tips for Effective Flatlay Food Photography

November 14, 2019 / James Ambrose

If you’ve ever scrolled through Instagram, perused a cookbook or visited a restaurants website for a cheeky sneak peek into their offerings it’s likely that you’ve seen some flatlay food photography. But what exactly is a ‘flatlay’?

A flat lay is an image that has been taken looking directly down on its subject. In food photography, flatlays can be particularly effective in capturing food that is quite flat (think pizza… mmmm) or large tables of food where you want to capture a variety of dishes in the one photograph.

While it might seem pretty straight forward to just hold your iPhone or camera over the top of an insta-worthy spread, there can be limitations of having to look directly down on your subject. In order to get the most out of your own flatlay photography we’ve put together a few simple tips and tricks. 

Flatlay of pizza surrounded by side dishes, with hands reaching for a sliceSDS Photography for Albion Hotel



Photography is the art of capturing light, therefore it’s incredibly important that you pay close attention to how you are lighting your subject, especially with food. Greens need to look green, reds need to look red, you get the picture.

Food primarily looks best when it is shot in nice soft light. You want some shadow, but not too much. Whether you are using a smartphone or professional DSLR camera, the place where you are most likely to find this kind of light is next to a window. Take the time to move your table to a nearby window and use this as the location for your flatlay. This will help eliminate the often yellow tones of interior lights and help you achieve the nice soft light mentioned earlier. If you don’t have access to a window you can take your table outside and place under the shade of a balcony or under an awning to achieve a similar effect.

Now you’ve set up your table and it’s bathing in beautiful soft natural light. This leads you to your next consideration… what side of the table will you choose to stand on when taking your flatlay? The answer is anywhere, except for with your back to the window. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, if you’re standing with your back to the window it’s likely that you will be blocking the light that should be hitting your subject. Secondly, flat lays look best when the light direction is coming from the top half of the photo, so standing opposite or with your shoulders to the window will achieve this.



While it’s very important that you follow the above lighting steps, there is no right or wrong when it comes to composition, so the below points are considerations rather than rules.

The first step to composing your flatlay is obviously placing the plate of food which is going to be your primary subject. You might place it right in the middle of your frame, a little off centre or perhaps you will take a more abstract approach and cut off a portion of the plate from the photo all together.

When photographing intricately designed dishes this is where the styling of your shot may finish. Taking a minimalist approach can hero the dish and let it speak for itself. 

Avocado and soft boiled eggs on toast, surrouded with garnishesSDS Photography for Quick Brown Fox Eatery

If you’ve still got some more styling prowess in the tank, from here on in it is down to personal preference. If you are at a café you might choose to style your dish with a coffee, or if you’re at restaurant you may include a menu and cutlery to give your photo some more context. Below is a list of items that you might consider adding into your photo to add layers and depth.

  • Cutlery
  • Beverages
  • Menu
  • Napkins
  • Condiments
  • Side Plate
  • Another dish
  • Hands
  • Florals

Putting together your composition for a flatlay is like packing your suitcase for an overseas trip. It’s easy to over pack, so don’t be afraid of removing some items as over cluttering an image can often ruin it.

Flat lay of a cheeseboard, wine, cutlery, plates and prawnsSDS Photography for Opera Bar



Now that everything is perfectly lit and styled to your taste, it’s time to take the photo. Make sure your phone or camera is perpendicular to the table and snap away! Sometimes standing on a chair (safely) can help you get your angle spot on.


Bonus Tip: The best part about food photography is getting to taste, so pull up a chair and enjoy!


Need a hand with flatlay photography for your venue? Email us at hello@sydneydesignsocial.com today! 

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