Let’s have a look now at some solutions for the set up for flat lay images.

At the beginning of my food photography, I didn’t use a tripod, but I was shooting with my hands, as I thought it’s more simple and easier to do. And that was a mistake.

There are a few reasons why it’s good to avoid this:

  • Hand-holding will create a noise in the images, and to avoid such noise, you will need to use high shutter speed. But, even though, you are not guaranteed your images will be sharp.
  • You will never level your camera perfectly to be parallel to your scene.
  • After some time, when you finally get the perfect composition, your hands will be so tired and will keep shaking, so you won’t be able to make your perfect shot sharp.
  • Your scene will be always different, as you never take the exact frame when shooting with hands.
  • You have to underexpose to be able to keep the shutter speed fast, or sacrifice your ISO.

I have changed my system after I was tired of taking 50 images of the same scene, spend hours on shooting and having pain in my arms and back too.

Tethering and using a tripod for flat lays was a total game changer for me. Shooting became so much easier and enjoyable, and instead of loosing time to climb on the chairs, looking for the perfect frame, I got all that time to play around with composition and get the perfect shot in much shorter time.

Yes, the correct sep up makes magic, therefore in this lesson, I want to give you some solutions you can use for shooting flat lays.

I also understand when it comes to a crop sensor camera, you will really need to go much higher to be able to capture a wider scene. And, I will show you the solutions for that too.

Let’s have a look what’s important for the flat lay set-ups:

  1. Use the tripod or C-stand to achieve the perfect focus

To achieve sharp images, you need to use a tripod. This will prevent any shake that you get when shooting with your hands. You can use a classic tripod with an extension arm, or you can use a C-stand

There are so many options to choose from, and which solution you go with, depends mainly on your budget.

No matter if you shoot flat lays or not, I recommend buying a tripod with the extension arm. Neewer is a great tripod when you are starting, it’s not very expensive and you get a good quality to that price. Manfrotto tripods are more expensive, but the quality is higher. These are great to invest in after you start earning money with your images and you will need to upgrade for more advanced gear.

On the other side, C-stand is amazing for flat lays, linked here. C-stand, comparing to the tripod with the extension arm, will give you more space (for your frame) to work with, as the arm is much longer, and you can get your camera higher as well.

However, C-stand is very heavy to move around your house, and it’s large as well. When buying a C-stand, the most comfortable is to keep it in a room where you shoot your images. You will also need to balance the arm and get some weights to put on the other side, so you achieve a perfect parallel level to the scene.

C-stand is originally not for holding your camera. For that, you will need extra tools to buy in order to attach your camera. This can be for example this adapter from Manfrotto. You attach it to the arm of the C-stand and you are good to go.

This is the difference in how large the C-stand is comparing to a tripod with the extension arm.

Here, you can see the difference of the length of the arm of the tripod and C-stand

The difference in the height of the tripod and the C-stand. C-stand here has 2,60 meters and the tripod is 1,50meters tall. C-stand allows you to bring your camera high enough, so you can use lens with higher focal length on a full-frame or crop sensor camera too.

2. Make sure your camera is at the right position – parallel to the scene

If your camera is not well balanced, your image will look a bit weird, as the props on the side are sliding down. Not having exact 90° camera angle, it will cause the distortion in your image. To find the perfect balance, you can use the bubble level you position on your camera.

Your camera should always be in the middle of the scene, in a 90° to the scene. To find the best balance, you can use a HOT SHOE BUBBLE LEVEL.

After that, you will need sandbags to make your C-stand stable. You can fill sandbags with rice, sand, stones, bottles… I use the mini weights for a gym. Placing sandbag on the other side of the arm will help you get the 90° camera angle too.

3. Shoot tethered to the PC or mobile

It can be tricky to compose your scene or shoot when your camera is high on the tripod. 

In this case, tethering is a life saver. It’s not only making your shooting process easier but saving you lots of time! 

By tethering to your PC, switching on the grids on your tethering software, you can see what’s happening in your scene through the eyes of your camera. You will be more effective in composing the scene.

Have a look at this Course in our Members’ Club – Tethering Workflow for Food Photographers.

Getting a necessary height for your camera

As we mentioned in the previous lessons, the more wide-angle lens you use, the more distortion you will notice in your images and vice-versa. The higher the focal length, the less distortion.

This is the same when it comes to distance. The higher you position the camera from the scene, the less distortion you will notice.

For these two reasons, I recommend:

  • using a higher focal lens
  • positioning from camera further from the scene

Getting the right distance from the scene can be tricky for some lenses such as 85mm, 100mm or more, and if you shoot with crop sensor camera too.

C-stand is necessary in such a case. If you still doubts, versatility of the C-stand for the angles other than flat lays, you can use C-stand to hold your diffuser, reflectors, black cards…

1. Diffuser – you can place the C-stand with the diffuser between your light source (window or artificial lighting) and the scene. 2. You can use it to hold your background in the images, or to place it as a negative fill – so the light won’t reflect back. 3 Use it with the reflector – to bring light back to your scene. Reflector is any kind of paper, board or foam card as you see in my image.

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