Instagram is always trending and providing us with the perfect platform to share and satisfy our love for food. If you have already mastered the art of the flat lay (see my previous flat lay post here) then then next step is mastering the food flat lay! These birds eye, food from above shots work very similar to a typical flat lay with the priority being organisation and placement. But there are endless possibilities and room for creativity when working with food. Using finished dishes, ingredients, progress cooking shots, restaurant/cafe and lifestyle perspectives - the options are unlimited. I have created this second flat lay series blog post to, hopefully, help you with some tips and tricks to have you mastering your next food flat lay.
Choose A Theme
A flat lay should ideally feature a composition of, one or more plates/bowls of food or a collection of ingredients. The options are endless when photographing food. You may choose to create your own ‘foodie spread’ based on desserts, fruit, breakfast, coffee or simply what your eating at that moment! Taken in a cafe or set up at home whatever you choose to do have an idea in mind - remember you are telling a story or a theme. Pick a hero piece, i.e. your breakfast smoothie bowl, make it the focus (but not necessarily the centre of your image) and surround it will relatable objects or food to compliment one another.
Whether you are “playing” with a selection of ingredients or collating a series of dishes you want to ‘fill the frame’. With your theme or hero piece in mind and the the type of flat lay you want to achieve, whether it be busy and filling the entire space, or simplistic with negative or white space, arrange the food in creative or ‘set up’ scenarios. Create a structured flat lay using repetition of a particular food (chocolate covered strawberries, open sandwiches, waffles etc), reenact breakfast in bed, a food spread of all your favourite foods at a picnic or even a platter fit for a dinner party. The way you arrange the food is endless and different scenarios can set the scene for your next food flat lay.
Colour is crucial when working with food. You want it to be bright and eye-catching. Choose foods that compliment as well as contrast one another when arranging your flat lay. If the food is difficult to photograph try different plating options that make the food stand out, arrange the food on a cheese board or platter, separate food into small bowls or else place the food directly on your chosen background. As a theme you may choose to base your flat lay on a particular colour or strategically place a pop of colour to create a main focus.
Much the same as creating a normal flat lay, natural lighting is always key. Ideally in the morning where softer light is present as to avoid any hash shadows. Avoid direct sunlight as this will create an over exposed photo and unwanted shadows. Find the best source of light, next to a window or even outdoors (away from direct sunlight) and if necessary use a reflector or piece of white board to bounce more light onto your flat lay. If using a DSLR, remember to play with your aperture and shutter speed settings to manually adjust the amount of light you allow into your shot. Ideally you want your shot as crisp and bright as possible so that you can show the true colours and vibrancy of the food you are shooting.
Food flat lays also give you the option to not only take birds eye/overhead shot but angled views. This is also are a way to get another perspective of your flat lay. Choosing a ‘corner’ of your shot and getting more ‘front on’ will enable you to show the viewer and photograph the height and arrangement of the food you are presenting i.e. a tiered cake, drinks, a picnic spread etc.
Food flat lays do not necessarily need to be placed on a white background, remember with food you want to set a scene, so be as realistic as possible (even if the food is specially placed!). Food will always look better on contrasting backgrounds, but various textures like marble bench tops, timber/wood grain, concrete or any coated surface will help set the mood and make the food look as appealing as possible.
Work food into your normal flat lays, this will add that little hint of colour or create another dimension within your image. Set the scene for a desk workspace, play with your weekend bed and breakfast, a quick coffee break, a picnic with friends. Incorporate your everyday items (wallet, sunglasses, magazines etc) or get everyone's hands in the shot for that added element within your birds eye shot.
Once you have your shot getting the best lighting as possible all that is left to do is do some minor editing. With lots of free photo-editing apps right at your finger tips that can enhance the brightness, contrast, colour and clarity of your shot. When playing with food you can tend to get a little messy to make sure to play with any retouching tools to remove those unwanted crumbs! For more on how become a 'Master Editor' check out my post here.
Remember there are no rules when it comes to playing with food. Whether you are simply photographing your daily coffee at your local cafe or creating a complex arrangement. Food appreciation is an ever growing trend on Instagram so be as creative as you want because good food will speak for itself!
Quick Tips for a Successful Flat Lay:
- Choose a theme (breakfast/lunch/dinner) or a selection of food
- Place the hero piece or larger items first
- Play with surrounding objects (or ingredients)
- Keep it simple or fill in the gaps with more food or smaller complimenting items
- Experiment with arranging your items
- Use different backgrounds to set the scene
- Natural light is key
- Change the angle of the shot
- Use repetition to create a pattern with your ingredients
- Use your hands in the shot, or use multiple people in the shot reaching in to create more interest
- Less is more for a simplistic flat lay
- For a more dramatic busy shot fill in all the gaps
- Have fun, remember you get the eat the food after you shoot it!