Creating Flat Lay Stock Photos That Sell

Adam Walsh
September 26, 2020

Flat lays have been dominating the photography industry for years. However, recently, we’ve seen an increase in flat lays on popular influencers’ accounts on social media, and it seems that everyone has a flat lay fever.


These images are usually simple, and they effectively send your message to the viewers. Additionally, they sell well because they can be used for banners, mockups, and a variety of other online marketing materials. 


Given that the market is very saturated on these types of stock images (there are close to two million flat lay images on Shutterstock only!), you must find a way to stay original when creating your own flat lays. And, we’ll show you how to do exactly that.


Don’t be Afraid of Colors

The easiest way to stand out among dozens of images which are shown on one search page is by adding an unexpected color. Shooting flatlays on plain white backgrounds is a thing of the past, and unless you have elements which pop - you should stay away from it.


If the objects in your image are more colorful, get a background which will make them stand out, instead of overpowering them. Also, follow the color trends, at some point everyone was going crazy over millennial pink and pastels, but those trends have passed.


Do Experiment with Backgrounds

Just because you thought that flat lay you were planning would look great on the marble background, it doesn’t mean it will. Or if it does, it doesn’t mean it will sell well. Always have different backgrounds on you, and try shooting with all of them until you figure out the best way. Additionally, you can select a few winners and upload them to stock agencies of your choice - you never know which one of them might be a better seller.


Lights are Your Friend

Depending on the type of your flat lay, you can use the natural light you have, or add some artificial ones. Reflectors can help you distribute the lights more evenly, but maybe it’s the shadows that will really make your flat lay stock photos stand out. As with everything else: experiment, experiment, experiment.


Minimalistic is Good

Flat lays usually look best with the minimal amount of props added to them. The background you’re using, and the whitespace it gives you should be treated as a part of the story. Also, leaving enough whitespace will give your buyers enough place to put in their written messages on your images.


Try testing out different minimalist composition techniques and design principles that would fit into the minimalist style, and look more appealing.


Keep up With the Trends

Look for inspiration on Pinterest, Instagram, or among your competitors. Select your main subject and look for what’s already out there. Follow the recent trend, but also keep your own recognizable style with it.


Think Outside of the Box

It might be a cliche, but it doesn’t make it bad advice. While following recent trends is handy, and you should definitely do it - it doesn’t mean that you should surrender to them completely. Try something new everytime you’re shooting flat lays. Take a risk you wouldn’t usually take. Spill some water on the backdrop, or spray it from the spray bottle. Draw some lines with the lipstick, or spill the nail polish.


Creating flat lays which stand out is about risking and experimenting - it’s the best way to create more marketable stock photos.


Capture the Process

Telling a story through your flat lays is way easier if you’re capturing the whole process. Let’s say you’re doing food flat lays, and you’re actually the one preparing the food. Take some photos of raw ingredients, then another series when you’ve chopped them up and finalized your cooking prep. You might be even able to get a few good ones while they’re on the stove. And then get back at the table. Do a series where the food still hasn’t moved from the pans to the plates, then do an arranged series with food on the plates.


This tip also works great for different manufacturing processes.


Keep an Inspiration Folder

Use Pinterest boards to organize other images that can be used as an inspiration for your own flat lays. Whenever you see something that catches your eye in any way - add it to your board. If you like to keep things organized - create separate boards for flat lays of food, clothes, flowers, cosmetics products, etc.


Also, you can keep a sketchbook with you. It’s a good way to plan the layout for your flat lays, but it’s also a form of a creative exercise which will help you style your flat lay stock photos better.


Try New Things in Post Production

Switch up the places of the elements, remove the shadows, increase the shadows, change the color of your background - anything goes in post. You can play around with different light and tint, but also with cropping and orientation. Something as simple as that can change the whole perspective of your image and make it more interesting and appealing to stock photo buyers.


Beauty is Everywhere

The secret to some of the best flat lays around is the fact that they’ve given a new life to completely ordinary objects. Your fruit should be ripe, not exotic, in order to sell. Don’t look just at the object you’re shooting. Think about the story it can tell. If you’re shooting food think about someone who would prepare it, if you’re shooting products think about who would use them, and so on, you get the gist.


Buyers usually use these images for advertising, and they’re looking for flat lay stock photos which can speak to their audience, and that are a part of a much larger narrative than just those objects in the image itself.


Final Thoughts

The fact that the flat lays market is oversaturated shouldn’t discourage you. Go to the stock agency of your choice, search for flat lays and check out the competition. Is there anything you could add to those images that already exist? How can you tell the story of these objects in a completely new way? That’s how you’ll create an image that sells.



Aleksej Vasic

Aleksej is the co-founder and General Manager of Lumina stock studio that has more than one million licences worldwide. With 10+ years in the stock industry, he knows its ins and outs, players and complexities as well as anyone.