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Photographing Interiors and Products Part 7: Shooting Products and Flat Lays

This is part 7 of my Photographing Interiors and Products series. This series is designed to help you get your DSLR camera off automatic mode and start taking beautiful photos! Part 7 covers how to photograph products and flat lays, and it builds on everything we’ve learned so far. This post contains affiliate links, which helps me provide great free content for you all! You can read more about that here. Thank you!

Photographing Interiors and Products Part 7: Photographing Products and Flat Lays

graphic about photographing products and interiors part 7 tips for products and flat lays

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Last week we talked about the essential tips for shooting interiors. If you have an Etsy shop, this post is for you! If you don’t have an Etsy shop but you share your projects or step-by-step tutorials online, this post is also for you! Don’t do either? That’s cool, too. You’ll still learn something useful. (For example, I used bits and pieces of the tips to take all of my daughter’s monthly photos for the first year.) I’m also going to share some tips for shooting flat lays because everyone loves a good flat lay.

1. DECIDE ON SETUP AND LIGHTING

If you’re not taking a lifestyle approach (i.e., the backdrop is a home, outdoors, whatever—I’ll discuss this in number 4 later in the post) and prefer a solid or neutral background, there are four methods I’ll discuss: A, B, C, and D.

Method A: Neutral Backdrop

You can set up your object on a table in front of a neutral blank wall and next to a natural light source (a window). Then, position a reflector facing the window. The reflector will bounce the light from the window and even out shadows. (In the photo below, there’s a window opposite the reflector, you just can’t see it.)

I use this method a lot because I don’t have dedicated studio space and don’t want to be constantly taking up and pulling down a backdrop.

showing how to shoot a bright scene with a reflector

I shoot in front of this window and a plain black wall a lot using the same reflector setup:

bright yellow painted dresser
white dresser with drawers painted in an ombre pink pattern
white tiered crates with plants on them
faux succulents in pink painted pots
white painted side table with pink legs
pretty purple faux orchid against a black wall
small wreath with fresh rosemary on it
eucalyptus in a painted wine bottle

Method B: Paper backdrop

You can also set up a backdrop using rolled white paper. You can use any color, but white or another neutral color is best. You’ll need to tape the paper to something like a wall, table, or chair and roll the paper out so that it creates a seamless background look.

You’ll want a natural light source on one side and a reflector or piece of white foam board facing the light source. If you’re planning to shoot a lot, a long roll of paper is handy. You can reuse a section until it gets scuffed up and then just cut it off. However, if you’re shooting something really small, you can use a piece of printer paper instead of rolled white paper. That’s what I’m doing for this example.

how to set up an easy product shooting set
Here’s the setup with paper, tripod, reflector, and remote.
how to set up an easy product shooting set
Shot, before cropping.
how to set up an easy product shooting set
Cropped and ready to go!

Method C: DIY light box

A light box is commonly used to shoot products. You can create a DIY “light box” using a large clear plastic storage bin positioned on its side with its opening facing you. Set up the white paper on the inside of the bin like the previous method outlines. Put it on the sides as well. Then position a light at each side. If the light is too strong, you may need to filter it using more paper on the sides of the bin. (Don’t put paper on the lights. They get hot.)

You could also make a light box out of PVC pipe or cardboard as the main structure with white paper or white tissue paper. There are loads of videos out there for light box tutorials, so if you’re interested in taking that route, I’d suggest having some fun with them. I just don’t use the light box method often, but it’s certainly viable for a DIYer and produces great images.

Method D: Shoot overhead

Fourth, you can shoot overhead, which is the method used to shoot flat lays. A easiest DIY approach to evening out shadows when shooting overhead is to create a setup like the one below with a reflector facing a light source and two pieces of white foam board facing one another. I talked about using this method way back when I did a post on taking styled stock photos.

how to shoot overhead images with minimal shadows
overhead shot with beauty supplies
overhead shot with buttons and sewing materials

But, if I’m being honest, I usually don’t use the white foam board if I’m in a hurry or if I don’t have any on hand. The images still look great, but they do require a bit more work in post-processing to even out some shadows.

small fabric catnip toys
overhead shot of lack and white christmas ornaments
overhead shot of dried looseleaf tea
overhead shot of whipped body butter

This method is also fantastic for shooting step-by-step photos when doing DIY tutorials:

table full of christmas ornament crafts
overhead shot of paint and paint brush
fabric with pins in it
overhead shot of christmas ornament craft
overhead shot of painting a number 1

2. CREATE A BACKDROP

Once you’ve decided on your shooting method, you need to hammer down your backdrop.

If you’re shooting overhead—method D—your image is probably going to be cropped pretty tightly, so you have a lot of options. You can use scrapbook paper, which is cheap and easy to buy in bulk; a nice wood table; a piece of poster board; or a backdrop you make out of peel-and-stick floor tiles stuck to plywood (great for a more rustic wood look).

Here are a few examples that use scrapbook paper:

sage leaves
laptop sleeve made of skull fabric
glitter christmas ornaments
bowls of bath salts on colorful paper
wooden christmas ornaments on scrapbook paper

If you decided on methods B or C, you’ve probably already settled on white (or another neutral color) paper. If you’re using method A, just choose a plain table with a neutral empty wall behind it. This is the method I use most often since I have a few empty white, black, or gray walls that also have great lighting.

You can also try a cool and easy background effect like this one using aluminum foil. To get this effect, ball up a piece of aluminum foil, unfold it, and use the shinier side as the backdrop for your photo.

Use your tripod and remote to grab the shot while you shine your cell phone light on the foil. (You can use any light, I just used my cell phone light.) A brighter light will create more of those “bubbles.” Play around with the distances and your aperture to see what looks best. You can also shine your light source through sheer colored paper or colored saran wrap to give the foil a different color.

how to use aluminum foil for background shooting
how to use aluminum foil for background shooting

3. USE A TRIPOD

Using a tripod is critical for low-light situations as we discussed in part 2. But in this type of photography, it’s also critical for consistency. If you want to shoot your objects the same way each time, take note of all of your tripod and camera settings. Make marks on the floor with painter’s tape if you need to.

4. CONSIDER THE LIFESTYLE ROUTE

Some things look best when shot in a less sterile environment. For example, if you’re an Etsy seller and want to shoot a scarf you’re selling, shooting an actual human wearing it might be best. If you’re shooting a project, you might want to stage it to look more natural and appealing. For example, which do you think is more appealing? This snap I took of a coffee table I made…

coffee table

Or the table actually in a space? If I were shopping online, I’d probably like to see both.

pretty living room with a Christmas tree

Using a blurred background (wide open aperture) is also great for the lifestyle approach. That way you can make sure the product you’re selling is clear, but the other stuff in the photo isn’t.

potpourri in a bowl in front of a Christmas tree

5. Stage the item you’re shooting

Whether you’re shooting strictly product or a lifestyle vibe, it’s always a good idea to stage the item you’re shooting. It takes a bit of extra time, but it always pays dividends. Here are a few flat lays staged with complementary materials…

overhead shot of dried orange slice ornaments
DIY stovetop potpourri ornaments shot on scrapbook paper with plants, oranges, and twigs.
overhead shot of pinecone ornaments
DIY ornaments stages with pinecones and eucalyptus.

And a few things shot against neutral backgrounds.

flowers in a pink wrapper with fruits and nuts
Face oil staged with other items. A bottle alone would look weird.
dollhouse shelving with a baby playing
Dollhouse shelving DIY staged with toys and a baby.
succulents in small pots
Upcycled tea tin turned into a planter staged with complementary plants.
tree stump side table in a living room
Tree stump side table DIY staged in a room.

Next up…

Photographing Interiors and Products Part 8:

Processing & Editing

Next up is part 8—the last part of my photographing interiors and products series. I’m going to share how I process and edit photos before I share them online.

Check out the previous posts in this series:

1: Exposure Basics and Aperture

2: Shutter Speed and ISO

3: Essential Photography Tools

4: Focus, Composition, and Cropping

5: DSLR Shooting Modes

6: Essential Tips for Photographing Interiors


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