HOW TO SHOOT THE BEST FLAT LAYS WITH MARIE-LOUISE COLLINS, PHOTOGRAPHER
As a blogger, photography is a very important part of my day-to-day. That’s a good thing, because I love it. I love being in front of the camera, but also behind, creating beautiful photos. When photographing products, flat lays are a great way to feature a few elements that create a visually appealing image, and they are very popular amongst bloggers and Instagram aficionados alike.
One person that does them extremely well is photographer Marie-Louise Collins, that I connected with after finding her on Instagram and falling in love with the stories she tells through her pictures. She also does portraits and various product shots, but I really fell in love with her flat lays, because they stand out from everything else out there.
Naturally, I wanted to know more on how she create such amazingly beautiful, ethereal photos and I thought why not share her knowledge and insight with you guys. I love providing value to all of you with THB, and I felt like this was a really useful way to do it, because photography is now such an important part of our lives, with social media and personal brands blooming everywhere.
Without further due, I’ll leave you guys with the interview I did with Marie-Louise and I hope her brilliant answers will help you shoot the most beautiful flat lays.
First, tell me a bit about yourself: How long have you been doing photography, what got you interested, when did you get your first camera?
My name is Marie-Louise Collins, and I am a fashion, lifestyle, product photography and content creator. I've been a creative from a young age and started with drawing and painting. When I was a teenager Tim Walker was an inspiration that ignited my desire to start in photography and I haven't stopped since. I first purchased a used Olympus camera when I was 16.
What camera do you use now?
Canon 5D MK VI
What camera would you recommend for a blogger looking to shoot portraits, but also flatlays, and isn’t looking to spend too much?
If you are starting out and have a limited budget, there are many reasons a simple compact/mirrorless camera can be quite useful. Nowadays compacts have manual adjustment settings built in so that you can become accustomed to white balance (WB), shutter speed and aperture settings. A camera that has a flip screen is very beneficial for taking self portraits, outfit shots, and allows you to view the exposure/composition when using the timer option.
These cameras also tend to have a broad focal range from wide angle to macro; allowing for different angles and depths of field for flatly & product shots. A DSLR is the next step up; these cameras don't have a lens built in and allow you to be selective in the type of lens you use. Lenses will have a varying focal length and aperture settings; a "24-105mm" F/4 lens for example, give you a very broad range at 24mm and a zoomed in alternative at 105mm, while maintaining an aperture of F/4 consistently throughout. A "50mm" F/1.8 (Nifty Fifty) lens is the most common lens purchased with a DSLR; it has a fixed focal range of 50mm, making it excellent for portraits and flatlay photos. The aperture of F/1.8 will allow you to let in a large amount of light (beneficial in low light situations) and gives you a beautiful blurred out background (booked) for those desirable, romantic product shots.
When it comes down to the brand, I recommend going to an electronics store and trying out the different cameras on display. Find one what fits comfortable in your hand and one where you find the interface is easy to use for yourself.
Your flat lays and product shots are amazing - How do you come up with the composition of these shots? Do you start with a vibe or a specific product?
You're so kind, thank you! I first decide if the piece will be busy, or minimalistic. The second decision is based on if I am trying to showcase the brand in a commercial style manor or if I'm going to try and tell a story. Next is the form of light; will it be harsh light creating drama and shadows? Or softened light, for clean, airy photos?
When I try to tell a story with my pieces, I start with the product and build upon it with pieces/props that give the story a direction. For example, if you want to showcase a particular fragrance and it has certain notes in the scent; you'll want to try to include that in the piece. If it's a strong feminine scent scent; play off that by adding a some flowers, a purse, her lipstick, sunglasses, cell phone, etc. suggesting this woman is ready for business!
When you shoot flat lays, do you usually stick to one colour scheme? What’s the maximum number of colours or elements one should include in a flat lay?
I do tend to stick to a colour scheme of between 2-3 tones; it can make even chaotic flat lays cohesive. If it's done tastefully and with intention, I don't believe there is a limit on the number of colours or elements; but it's important to continuously take a step back from the flat lay and evaluate if each piece is necessary/makes sense as a part of the image.
Do you have a go-to checklist for shooting flatlays - i.e. certain elements you always try to include?
Not always, sometimes it's just a burst of creativity and the environment that I'm in will guide me. Other times it's with complete intention and with a purposeful look that I'm trying to achieve. However, I am drawn to the romantic addition of flowers, tule/chiffon fabric, or reflective pieces such as glass or mirrors.
Is there a magic trick to make sure your flat lays are appealing and interesting to look at?
Lighting. Lighting is your greatest asset; it allows you to play around with contrast, shadows, reflectivity, and exposure to name a few.
What about lighting - can you still shoot a great flat lay without natural light and studio equipment? Any affordable tips there?
I started out with the space I had available to me. It's a great way to test yourself in various environments and allow you to feel comfortable working with less than ideal situations. Try to find a window that lets in a good source of light; if it's too harsh and you want to soften it, put up a sheer fabric between your project and the window.
Remember those poster boards we used to use for science or history projects? From the dollar store? Those make for great reflectors and are easy to use to bounce light or lighten dark shadows. They are super cheap and very versatile. You can even paint them and use them in the background to give the impression of a wall.
Sometimes it's a little late in the date and the sun has set (the night owl hustlers), so I will pop out my studio light. For soft lit images, you'll place the light on an angle, above your project. To replicate harsh light and have dramatic contrast, I put the light much closer to the flatlay and have it off to the side instead of above.
Amazon has very reasonable price continuous lighting set ups under $100. They come with florescent lights which will give you a clean white light, over the yellow hue of tungsten. The soft box versions come with a white velcro sheet that you place over the light. If you don't use it, you have the bulb at it's harshest of light and are able to use it to obtain the contrast images with deep shadows.
That’s it, guys! Hope you got some great tips from Marie-Louise that you can implement yourself to create the most beautiful pictures. I know I'll be getting myself some bristol boards this weekend! I’d love to know what you thought of it, what tips you plan on using... You can either leave me a comment below or hit me up on Instagram.
Have a great weekend!
Love, Jenny xx
All pictures taken and owned by Marie-Louise Collins.