We’ve all seen them on our Instagram feeds — the pretty overhead photos of tables or arranged objects known as “flat-lays.” They seem simple enough to snap, but in reality, they can be pretty tricky to get right.

Luckily, Davina Tan (@heydavina) has the flat-lay game figured out, and she shared some of her secrets with us. Check these out before you try to take one more shot of your coffee or brunch!

THE THREE ELEMENTS OF GREAT FLAT-LAY PHOTOS

About a year ago, flat-lay photography was growing in popularity and Davina was looking for new content for her Instagram account. So she challenged herself to figure out how to take the perfect flat-lays.

Now, she always looks for these three important elements before she takes a flat-lay photo:

  1. Good, natural lighting
  2. A flat background (preferably a clean one)
  3. Fun and interesting content

A NOTE ON LIGHTING

“Lack of natural lighting or artificial overhead lighting can make photographing flat-lays very difficult,” Davina says.

One will make your photos too dark and the other will cast shadows from your hands as you hold your phone or camera over the flat-lay, as well as add an unwanted yellow tint to your photos.

Instead, rely on natural light.

However, Davina warns against shooting in direct sunlight, as the harshness of this type of light can overexpose your photos and wash away the details of your subject matter.

EXPRESS YOURSELF

“We’re sharing a bit of ourselves through the content we photograph in our flat-lays,” Davina says. “You get to see what we like to eat, drink, wear, buy, read, use, and so on.”

When choosing what to photograph in your flat-lay, try to choose items that express something about yourself or your passions, and compose your flat-lay accordingly. If you’re looking to focus on a specific thing, try a tighter crop; if you’re looking to create more of a thematic flat-lay, take a wider shot. Always experiment with how you’re arranging and taking your photos — and never be afraid to stand on a chair to get enough height.

TO INCLUDE FOOD … OR NOT TO INCLUDE FOOD

Davina’s hard and fast rule for whether or not to feature food in your flat-lay photo? It must look appetizing.

Vibrant colors, rich textures, unique presentation — all will make your cuisine stand out in your photo. But above all else, make sure it looks like something you’d actually want to eat.

“There’s nothing worse than people photographing food and leaving you with no idea of what it is,” Davina says. “I mean, how enticing is that?”

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Like anything else, Davina’s advice for getting better at flat-lay photography is just to do it more often. Make sure there’s a good amount of natural lighting, take test photos, move the objects around, and check to make sure your feet aren’t in the photo (unless you want them to be, of course!).

See more of Davina’s flat-lay photos on Instagram.

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