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In restaurants, how often do you see people arrange their cutlery and meal, only to stand up (if not on their chair, salute!) taking a photo before they dig in?

Do you notice the popular angle people would go for?

They would often hold their phone up high, parallel to the table surface, to take a foodie photo from an aerial perspective.

Social media gurus nowadays would call this styling for photography – #flatlay. Flat lay images created quite a trend especially in food photography, fashion styling editorial and creative design industry.

What is a flat lay image?

To ‘flat lay’ an image is to lay out all items in a flat fashion for one captured photo. This top-down photography style is to present the composition from a bird’s-eye perspective.

When it comes to the way of laying out the elements in a flat lay image, we can observe a bit of retro ‘knolling’ touch to put things in perfect order, leading the way for people to present what they have got to show under a rather organized aesthetic.

MORE: Find flat lay inspiration

History matters

A bird’s-eye view is no new term in cinematography. This overhead angle is referred to Hitchcock’s classic ‘The Birds’, in which the high-angle shot is applied for providing an omnipresent God’s-eye-view to amplify the intensity of avian attacks upon a clear overview.

(still from ‘The Birds’)

This aerial Point-of-View (POV) is often used to focus viewers on a shot looking directly down on the elements included, so that whatever is displayed draws attention to a ‘whole picture.’

Knolling, on the other hand, is a term coined decades ago. It means organizing objects at right, precise angles to tidy things up. The name was firstly proposed by a janitor called Andrew Kromelow, who then worked for a furniture company Knoll. He would arrange messy articles on his desk carefully for a clean look.

(‘How to knoll’. Source: Tom Sachs’ Ten Bullets.)

A NYC based artist, Tom Sachs, picked the technique up and set this practice as one of his studio’s mantra to keep things tidied up.

(A shot of Tom Sachs studio. Source: The Selby)

Inherited the classic aerial angle and the clean style of knolling, a flat lay image is an absolute eye-pleaser. It has been further adopted in new media today (e.g. newsletter, social media) and has greatly evolved in creative presentation.

Online media embraces flat lay with love. From blogs to columns, from official website visuals to product sale promotion, fashion brands and creative individuals have been experimenting with flat lay photography to inspire more.

Top 3 flat lay features

We have our top 3 flat lay features to convince you it may be high time to adopt this style:

1. Neatly informative, great for showcase

To encompass things neatly is an art.

In an ideal flat lay image, viewers would be aptly presented the essential elements you want to show without being overwhelmed. This is particularly great for fashion brands to showcase their products in a subtle, pretty way to attract viewers.

(left: Ad from online shop East Dane; right: newsletter from clothes retailer Acne)

2. Visually appealing, attention drawing

Images are often applied to visualize user scenario, and flat lay images are no exception. With a good flat lay image, words are conveniently left unsaid.

Photographed from above, all items are nicely propped to imply viewers what exactly builds the scenario. To pop out the laid out objects, a rather neutral background is often used in a flat lay image.

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3. Easily stylish, verdict!

We have to admit one thing about this flat lay trend, or simply any trend for this matter: people like this style.

An aerial shot of aesthetically arranged things attracts people. It has become a safe option to sprinkle ideas for branding, especially when there’s loads to tell.

Which angle is the best to tell the whole branding story? Well, why not start from flat lay images?

Put #flatlay to use

Digital media talents, creatives like fashion and food photography bloggers are particularly well aware of, and keep investing more ideas in this flat lay photography trend.

Flat lay is essentially fashionable on social media channels, as it is a chic and clean style to ‘say a lot’ in a small frame – super ideal to pop out one’s aesthetics on messy social media feed.

Looking for inspiration? Start browsing flat lay stock photography.