How to 
Shoot a flatlay on a budget and no props

February 9, 2023

First up for my “How To” series is obviously about food flat-lay shots! These have been the first and foremost shoots I started with on my food photography Instagram years ago. Ans I want to share how you can make a professional flat lay that works with minimal equipment.

I love a good prop, adore my makers and love collecting beautiful pottery, quirky cutlery and everything. Over the years, I gained quite a collection.

But when I started my photography journey, I didn’t have all those high-budget-sophistication. Most affordable props were not so cute, and I was left drooling over other photographers’ images on social media.

It took me a minute to realise I could still create beautiful images with less. And, more often than not, my clients didn’t need much fuss either.

Now, to be fair. A good prop is essential to styling; the wrong plate still kills the food and will forever do. 

And this’s valid for food pics and any composition; the wrong prop is a mood killer, now and always.

I believe that sometimes, the best image has very few extras; just one nice plate often will do. And so, if you have a low budget or feel overwhelmed by using props, know that you have options!

There are many ways to take thumb-stopping pictures without props or with minimal props. Also, having no extra objects in some pictures can be a breath of fresh air and help differentiate a portfolio.

So here are some tips I learned along the way to create a show-stopping flat lay without much:

  • Select very carefully an organic-looking background that has interesting but subtle details. You will work with minimal elements in this instance, which means everything will count at 150%.
    I love and use @capturebylucy backgrounds from the start of my career, and most recently, I also started using @blueberrybackdrops. I love both equally.
    Suppose you don’t have a good surface use a linen scrap or tea towel to cover most of it or to work as a tablecloth. Get creative with what you have!
  • Plan your colours ahead of time. The easier to start is with analogous (similar colours) and build depth by adding them together.
  • Use beautiful ingredients as props to fill the space and give dynamism to the image. Experiment with the textures of the ingredients. If it’s fruit, for example, cut them in different styles to see how they capture the light and add interest to the image.
  • Layer, layer, layer! It’s all in the food styling. Adding different textures together. Nut brittle onto fluffy cream, juicy orange slices on a crumbly pie crust, fresh herbs to revitalise a brown soup… Opposites attract!
  • Make sure you have contrasts of light and shadow. You must ensure your food has great side light that gives a 3D look.
  • Finally, play with angles and shoot different sections of the same styling. You might surprise yourself. The composition can often be approached more freely without the props, and you might end up with multiple contents!

The type of shots that can be done without props are endless, and one of the most fun is an allover pattern.

Allovers are made by covering the whole background with the same repetitive objects, and they work well with small items.

You can make a pattern with bagel sandwiches or doughnuts, meringues, pastries, fruits, and cake slices…

With bigger subjects like pies or repetitive subjects like cookies, you can give your flatlay a sharp edge by cropping your frame in unusual ways.
As I have done above, cropping part of the subjects or your hero subject makes the styling more natural and effortless. The whole image is immediately interesting, with very little added!

If you have some props, use them in different ways, you’ll be surprised how many images you can make with exactly the same freaking plates and forks!
Use plates around the subject to frame it, make a stack of plates under it to lift the main subject, or make plates and forks peak inside from a corner of the image to invite into the composition. Again endless possibilities!

There is much more to say about flatlays; these are my 2 cents about low-budget options.

Anything else You would like me to say? Drop a question in the comment section below!

I hope this article has inspired you, and I cannot wait for you to have fun with it, and if you do, please do tag your images @silvia_salvialimone

My dear friend, if you find my tips useful, share them with fellow photographers. We lift each other here, and sharing my blog helps me help more people that might need some starting point for their food photography!

Thank you for reading! See you next, and stay creative!

With Love

Silvia B. xx


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