Photo by Amy Lockheart

Styled flat lay photography has grown in popularity over the last several years, especially as more people and businesses have adopted visual platforms for promotion and social sharing (hello, Instagram!). Flat lays are a great tool to enhance branding, showcase products, celebrate accomplishments, and reveal the belongings and activities you value. Now flat lays are everywhere! While they may look easy, they do require some thoughtfulness and preparation.

When I begin developing a concept for a flat lay photo, I first determine subject/story, mood, and color palette. My next step is to choose my background, and then I build my flat lay from the background up by layering objects and playing with the placement of different elements. Don’t just grab the first background you see. Think about how the color, texture, and style of a backdrop contribute to the story you are telling or the mood you are conveying. Be mindful of how your subjects and supporting elements work with the background you’ve selected. Placing the same objects on light or dark backgrounds can result in dramatically different looks. It’s paramount that your backdrop sets the tone for the mood and message you want to convey, so give it a bit of thought before you start styling and shooting.

Variety is key when incorporating flat lays into your portfolio and sharing on social media. While it’s fun to stick with favorite backgrounds and themes, it’s important to mix it up to create a better visual experience for your audience. Need some clever ideas for your next flat lay background? Here are 20 great ideas. And bonus — you may already have many of these items.

1. White poster board / foam core

Just trust me when I say you need several of these. Pick some up at a dollar store and thank me later. They make a perfect backdrop for products on white, excellent for a clean, high-key look. They also serve as simple reflectors that are super easy to prop up. Since these boards are stiff, you can stretch fabrics over them and secure the fabrics with binder clips or fabric glue for a permanent solution. You can also paint these white boards to get the exact color or texture you want. They are incredibly light so they work well when you need to carry backdrops to shoots.
flat lay backgrounds for photographers
Photo by Amy Lockheart

2. Fabric

Play with textiles like silk, linen, velvet, and burlap. At the fabric store, take fabrics next to window to see the true color in natural light. Fabrics with texture photograph beautifully. You’ll have to be careful for moire, which is an unpleasant effect that sometimes happens when photographing fabrics with fine detail using a digital camera. If you encounter this problem, shoot at a shallow aperture or with film.

3. Old boards from barn sales

I have a lot of barn wood in varying widths. You can keep the boards separate if they are heavy or cumbersome, or if you want flexibility to use them in different ways. You can also secure them together using two 1 x 2-inch boards and some screws. One of my favorite backdrops is an old black wooden crate top that was used to store fireworks.
Barn wood makes a great flat lay background
Photos by Amy Lockheart
Barn wood makes a great flat lay background.

4. Card board / poster paper

The options are limitless when it comes to papers. You can find huge, stiff pieces at Hobby Lobby or other craft stores. I really like paper with texture, so I often search for rough, handmade papers. Don’t go for anything shiny or metallic because the sheen will be difficult to work with.
Poster board makes a great flat lay background
Photo by Amy Lockheart

5. Chalkboard (or chalkboard poster board)

Chalkboard poster paper makes for a great, deep black background. It’s very matte, making it perfect for absorbing the light and allowing the backdrop to disappear. You can pick up a roll at craft stores.

6. Tiles

The downside of large tiles is that they can be quite heavy. But for smaller flat lays, one 18 x 18-inch tile could do the trick. The color and pattern options are endless.

7. Wrapping paper

Whenever I walk past wrapping paper in a store, I take a quick glance to see if there is anything promising. I tend to like neutral backgrounds, so I look for simple, matte papers. I love wrapping paper because it is affordable, light, and easy to reuse and store.
Wrapping paper flat lay image
Photo by Amy Lockheart

8. Tablecloths

Table linens make a great backdrop for a full tablescape, a place setting, or food. They are light, inexpensive, and easy to store.

8 Helpful tools for flat lay photography:

  1. Reflector
  2. Diffuser
  3. Flash (for darker days)
  4. White foam core boards
  5. Tripod with vertical arm (handy for those who shoot a lot but definitely not required)
  6. Risers (Anything will do. I frequently use small note pads, binder clips, and baby board books of varying sizes and heights.)
  7. Binder clips (for keeping fabric flat against foam core board)
  8. Ruler (for when you need precise lines)

For the crafty crowd, here are a few great DIY tutorials:

  1. Reversible Wood
  2. Textured Canvas
  3. Marble

9. Tabletops & countertops

Have gorgeous marble countertops or a handsome wood dining table? Lucky you! Use these surfaces for any kind of flat lay. Huge bonus if you have gorgeous light right where you need it to avoid moving any furniture.
Use a wood table as a flat lay backdrop
Photo by Kellie Bieser

10. Rugs

Colorful or patterned rugs can make for really fun backdrops. Great for lifestyle flat lays with home decor.

11. Blankets

Nothing says “warm and cozy” like a thick, knit blanket. Neutral colors make great backdrops.

12. Linens

I bet you already have beautiful linens around your home. Repurpose these linens for backdrops. If your bed doesn’t get great light, you can lay your comforter out on the floor next to a window to create a faux bed scene. Perfect for a cozy shot of breakfast in bed. Table linens are wonderful for layering and come in just about every size, color, and pattern you can imagine.
Linens are great flat lay backgrounds for photographers
Photo by Caroline Jensen

13. Trays

There are so many trays out there at just about every home store (or in your own cupboard). Look for interesting colors, materials, and shapes to bring variety to your flat lays.

14. Floors

Hardwood floors are a lovely option for a quick flat lay, especially when you need a larger space. And that new subway tile floor you just installed in your bathroom? Gorgeous flat lay backdrop.
Wood floors make great flat lay backdrops
Photo by Amy Lockheart

15. Maps

Nothing says “adventure” like a backpack, water bottle, and camera laid out on a map, right? The backdrop you choose can elevate the story you are aiming to convey with your image.
Maps make great flat lay backgrounds
Photo by Allison Jacobs

16. Old baking sheets

Old baking sheets make subtle backdrops for food photography. The dark tones and texture allow the main subjects to pop.
Use an old metal cookie sheet as a flat lay background for photography
Photo by Caroline Jensen

17. Beadboard panels

You can find panels of varying materials that are suitable for backgrounds at many home supply stores. Look for options that are light and thin, making them easier to move and store.
Beadboard panels make great flat lay backdrops
Photo by Amy Lockheart

18. Watercolor paper

Adept at abstract watercolor painting? Use large sheets of watercolor paper (available at art supply stores and most craft stores) to create subtle backgrounds in whatever colors you can dream up.

19. Adhesive paper

You can find marble, wood, or other surface papers at Amazon. Great search terms are “contact paper,” “marble adhesive paper,” or “self-adhesive film.” The marble option is quite popular for creating a faux countertop and can easily be attached to a foam board for a permanent background.

20. Cutting boards

Cutting boards are great for layering backgrounds and for adding depth. Consider different shapes and colors. Cutting boards can play a strong role in your compositions, so don’t overlook these valuable tools.
Use cutting boards as flat lay backgrounds.
Photo by Nadeen Flynn

What are your favorite flat lay backdrops? Share in the comments! And be sure to follow us on Pinterest where we are pinning gorgeous flat lay photographs.

Cool flat lay photo ideas

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