Saturday, January 30, 2016

Photo A Day: Flat Lay

I bet you had the same reaction that I did to the subject of today’s photo: “Flat lay? What on earth is a flat lay? Do I lie on my back and take a picture? Do I lie flat and take a photo at floor level? Do I squash something flat on a surface and take a photo of it?” You might be surprised to know that the latter guess is actually pretty close to being right. A quick check of the FatMumSlim blog where this photo challenge originated revealed that I was not the only participant stymied by today’s topic. Her simple explanation is, “A flat is basically when you’re shooting items from directly above. Usually these items will be arranged or styled on a flat surface.” She then posted a number of examples. If you’ve ever looked at a clothing catalog which doesn’t photograph their merchandise on models or mannequins, you’ve seen examples of a flat lay. All those “how to” recipe videos that have been all over Facebook lately? Take a screenshot of any of those and you’ve got yourself a flat lay.  

Which means that this is the rare subject that I can’t really get a candid shot of. I’ll actually have to get some stuff, try and compose it artistically, and then take a photo of it.

I can already tell this isn’t going to go well.

I began by wandering around the house to see if any objects inspired me. I started off on my husband’s bedside table. He empties his pockets there every night, so there are usually some interesting objects strewn around. I found a small pile of change, a few folded dollar bills, and a set of keys. Since gravity and chance had already arrange the change more artistically than I could have, I simply slid the bills and the keys into the frame and snapped a few shots. 

I didn’t realize until afterwards that there was also some pocket lint and a hair or two. Realism is good, right?

As I continued my wanderings, I came across an outfit my daughter had shed on her way to the dress-up box. I channeled my inner Baby Gap stylist and laid it out as artistically as I could on my living room floor. I added a hair bow in an attempt to make the headlessness less creepy. 

It didn’t work. This still looks as creepy as the headless mannequins in the window of Baby Gap. At least I didn’t put a baseball cap in there.

While I was setting up that flat lay, however, I spied our canvas bag of library books. Hey, books would be a good flat lay project! They didn’t look quite right in a random pile, so I decided to arrange them in a circle, with one of the smaller books at the center. 

It’s kind of cute, and it’s definitely a good representation of what my kids enjoy reading and doing, but the layout just didn’t end up as artistic as I’d hoped. On to the next random household objects!

On the other side of the room, our piano has some interesting knick knacks on it, including a candy dish whose contents – over a month after Christmas – are finally starting to dwindle. I thought this one came out pretty cool. 

My difficulty here, however, was that the piano is so shiny it was like taking photographs of a mirror. Despite my close cropping, you can still see the reflection of my hands holding the camera at the bottom of the image. Rats. Next!

Wandering from my living room into my dining room, I noticed all my home school supplies, including a few sentences that my son had written after reading a book about China. I added a pair of scissors, a random assortment of dry erase markers, and a pencil and pencil sharpener, and snapped away. 

I love the shadows cast by the markers at the lower edge of the paper, and the crisp line of demarcation of light and shadow on the side of the pencil sharpener. This one is getting a little closer to what I have in mind. Besides, I find my son’s “essay” completely charming. But most people probably wouldn’t, so I’m going to keep trying.

At the bottom of the stairs, I found my daughter's dance bag. I pulled out her ballet and tap shoes and her favorite purple snood and arrayed them on top of the bag. Note the artsy angle of the bag against the tiles underneath. Yeah, I did that. Go, me. 

That’s pretty cute. But, wait! Her bag is a “Ballerina” bag, not a generic “Dance” bag. Maybe I should get rid of the tap shoes and try again. Put the snood where the invisible ballerina’s hair would be, put the ballet shoes next to…the ballet shoes already shown on the bag…

Nope, somehow the shoes look too crumpled and faded. Not working for me. On to the next room!

Heading into the kitchen, I scanned the kitchen table – which, as in many kitchens in homes with small children, tends to be a dumping ground for school papers and crafts, recipes, opened and unopened junk mail, and abandoned projects of every kind. For me “every kind” usually involves sewing, which is why my kitchen table had become the resting place for my little sewing scissors, my needle holder, and my giant bag of thread. I selected a few colors and sizes of spools, arranged them in a way that seemed vaguely artistic, and took a few shots.

The focus isn’t as crisp as I’d like, and the lighting is kind of uneven, but I like the look. I like the various kinds of spools and the various angles they’re at; I like the multicolored tangle of thread at the top of the needle tomato and the little emery bag peeking out at its side. I even like the trails of thread leading off to where they’re hopelessly tangled with the other spools of thread still in the bag. Yeah, this one is kind of fun. I wonder what else I could do with spool of thread?

I tried laying a bunch of them on their sides, but they kept rolling around. I grabbed a paper plate and arranged a bunch by color – I found myself singing the Cat in the Hat song that my kids often sing: “Red, orange and yellow, green followed by blue, indigo and violet, that’s a rainbow song for you!” I didn’t have any orange thread, although I was delighted to discover a spool as close to indigo as I was ever likely to find, and I set them up in a circle. The hollow center made it look too much like a donut, so I grabbed some “non-rainbow” colors (gray, black, and tan) and added them in the middle.

Once again, the unintentional shadows create some added visual interest. I particularly like the one at the bottom that shows the wedge-shaped dividers inside the blue spool. This one is kind of fun.

But then I decided I wanted to try an arrangement that was purely random, rather than something I’d carefully laid out. Wandering into my office, I found a bag of coffee stirrers I had bought in lieu of popsicle sticks for some project or other I had done with my kids. I grabbed a handful and dropped them on my desk from a height of a few inches, but they mostly fell into a neat line, looking rather like a tiny picket fence. So instead, I tried dropping them on the floor, end first, from a height of a foot or two. 

This I like! The random angles, the clump at the lower right and the single stick at the upper left, even the uneven lighting, all work for me. This might be my favorite photo of the day.

It’s a little embarrassing that my most artistic and interesting layout was the only one that was 100% out of my control. But here’s something that’s even more embarrassing: The final photograph I took for this assignment was of a tea party that my 4-year-old had set up for her dollies. 

What can I say, the kid’s got an artistic eye. Even when she doesn’t mean to, she designs one heck of a flat lay.

Flat lay. 

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