How I learned to Style and Photograph My Own Stationery Flat Lays

Heather O'Brien Design | Styling and Photographing a Flat Lay | Jacksonville, Florida

With me majoring in Graphic Design, I’ve always had a love for photography. I even took 3 or 4 classes in college as electives. I leaned more towards the digital aspect of design, but I still have a love and appreciation for good photography. I feel like photography can really make (or break) a product or website. I see so many beautifully designed websites or products that have dimly lit, haphazard photos and it is just such a disservice all around. It doesn’t help the owner/designer showcase their work in it’s best light and it doesn’t allow the client to truly see it as it should be.

Heather O'Brien Design | Styling and Photographing a Flat Lay | Jacksonville, Florida(Final result of my own flat lay!)

I’m a huge advocate of leaving things up to professionals, and I truly feel like photography is the number one investment you need to have in your business. I have had the privilege to work with both Shay Cochrane and Amalie Orrange on my branding and styling photography. They both just have such an amazing eye for details and how to get the perfect shot to portray my products in the best light.

Heather O'Brien Design | Styling and Photographing a Flat Lay | Jacksonville, Florida

(I had so much fun helping Amalie style images for my brand photoshoot)

With all of this said, I know that professional photography is an investment. You may not yet be in a position to afford a professional, or you may have some items in between shoots that you need to have photographed. I’ve been there for both of those cases. So over the years, I have learned how to improvise when I can’t get to a professional right away. I figured I would share some of secrets of how to get a pretty decent flat lay.

Heather O'Brien Design | Styling and Photographing a Flat Lay | Amalie Orrange Photography(Professional flat lay by Amalie!)

What You Need:

Depending on your style, you’ll want to choose a decent sized background to use to lay your product on. I love clean and white, so most of my flay lays are done on white poster boards! Sometimes I tape two together to get a larger work area. I’ve also painted poster boards to match a perfect shade, and I’ve also cover poster boards with fabrics to match. There really are so many options.

The possibilities really are endless here. It’s nice to have a few staple pieces that go with your brand that you can mix and match throughout each piece, but then you can also mix it up based on what exactly you’re photographing to match it. With me mainly doing wedding invitations, I love to have different types of silk or satin ribbons, vintage stamps, different colored scissors, paper clips, wax stampers or other trinkets. My style is very minimalistic, so I can usually get away with just mixing these up. Other fun things to bring in is fresh florals or greenery, you can just go buy some at your local markets and trim pieces off to lay throughout. I have found that Target, Hobby Lobby and Home Goods are great places to scout out props!

Find a spot in your house with good, natural lighting. You want to make sure that it’s not direct light or reflecting shadows off of anything. You also want to make sure any overhead lighting is off, you want to rely on your camera and equipment for that.

This might be the biggest investment if you don’t already have these items, I was lucky enough to have already purchased a semi-decent DSLR camera when we had our first daughter. I have a Nikon D3100. I think most people have these laying around and just don’t know how to properly use them and just shoot on manual still. I also invested in a Soft Box Lighting Kit. Mine are similar to this set and were only about $75-$100 on Amazon and REALLY make a huge impact on my pictures. The other item I would recommend, but I haven’t broke down and bought it yet is a lateral side arm extender for a tripod to help with overhead shots. I currently just climb up on a step stool and shoot! I did also recently purchase a new lens for my camera, mainly to take better family pictures, but it does really help with my flat lays too! It’s a AF-S 50MM f/1.8 lens (I was able to get mine about $75 cheaper by buying a refurbished one). It helps to let more light into the camera.

I would really recommend doing some research on how to operate your DSLR in manual mode. This is really the key to making your flat lay look good. Learn what F stops, ISO and shutter speeds mean. It won’t do me any good to try and explain, because I just barely understand it sometimes. But with lots of research and trial and error, I’ve found a good “recipe” for my flat lays, it usually consists of shutter speed of 1/200, a 3.5 f stop and 400 ISO.

I usually bring the images I want to keep into Photoshop or Lightroom and do a small amount of editing. Usually lightening the image, cropping, or erasing some background blemishes.

I hope this helps!


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I'm flattered that you've stopped by to see what I have to write about! I am definitely no blogger, by any means, but I love the idea of being open and transparent with my clients and followers. I’m a designer, wife, and mama to three beautiful little girls. Follow along to get a glimpse of my work, behind the scenes details and musings from my everyday life. Enjoy!