The 5 secrets to style the Perfect Food Flat Lay

The 5 secrets to style the Perfect Food Flat Lay

What if you could tackle those flat lay you always wanted to create?

In this article, I give you some actionable ideas to help you style the perfect Food Flat Lays and help you unleash your creativity!

It is impossible to cram every single piece of technique in a blog post. I want to be super honest and clear about this.

However, I listed some fundamental, actionable strategies that can implement your food photography right now.

I love words like tangible, actionable and realistic. I don’t believe in magic sauces, and I firmly there are no expensive props needed for succeeding (though I sure love good props).

And remember, good food photography is achievable!

I believe photography is a skill, not a talent. Is not a gift you were born with. Photography is a set of learned abilities that you need only to develop with dedicated time, work and focus.

So the great news is, as writing reading photography is a language you only need to learn and apply.

And even if you don’t have the skill set quite yet, you are certainly capable of learning them.

Of course, there is the creativity that we all have we have in different degrees of it. Only some of us are superb artists but doesn’t mean everyone else can be an excellent photographer.

So, my intention today is to cover a few fundamentals that can inspire you to take new actions and explore new ways to approach your shootings when it comes to flat lays.

Let’s start with the 3 secrets, that if always applied make your flat lays bulletproof.

Some you might know already. But try always to think, what can I learn from this? How can this be beneficial for me? Sometimes we know stuff in our heads, but we never really practically apply them.


Flat lays need to be always perfectly straight.

Means the camera must be perfectly horizontal. For that, I use a double level on my camera.
Honestly is brainless, you fit it on the flash slide or place on the camera screen, and you’re good to go.

You can buy it on Amazon. Sorted. If you often need to bend forward or climb chairs, a 5£ camera level helps to get the job done.


Flat lays are the best shoot with lens aperture at 5.6F or above, so all the objects in the frame are sharp.

[What does this mean? The higher the F-number (5.6…7…22), the less light will come into your camera, but the more you’ll capture in focus (more depth of field).

Contrarily, the lower the number(4…3.2…2…1.8), the more light will come into your camera, but the less you will have sharp in focus (less depth of field)].

#extra tip: For flat lays I open my lens to 3.6 ONLY if I have some small flower vases or anything a bit taller than the rest, that is pretty but not relevant to the recipe, and I want it a little blurred.

With aperture at 3.6, I make it nicely off focus without creating an extreme effect. Have a look at the flowers in the flat lays below and the shots of this blog post, to see more examples.

Please note: These purple flowers were very short, cut into little juice bottles. If left with full stem length, they would have been too high and too blurred.

shot at lens aperture at f 7 - all is in focus

shot at lens aperture at f 7 - all is in focus

shot at lens aperture at f 3.6 - the purple flowers are blurred

shot at lens aperture at f 3.6 - the purple flowers are blurred


Create depth of colours and of textures.

Make a stack of plates, or top your dish with brittle, soft cream, chocolate bits, herbs.
Create layers with your cakes or plates to give dynamism.
And make your styling interesting to see, bringing the food to life with contrasts of colours or textures, or both.

The Rule of Third Grid

This grid is something so underestimated and little used by beginners, that if you position among the few that use it correctly, it will make a big difference to your photography right away!

The Rule of Third Grid, is a grid that divides up the frame using 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines that intersect creating 9 equal spaces and 4 intersection points. Yea I didn’t understand that too, lackly you have the visual below :D.

I use this grid for 2 styling fundamental porpuses:


Know where to put my MAIN SUBJECT.

My main subject is going to be either anchored to one or two of the 4 RED intersection dots.

This way I know my pictures are always balanced, and the eye will go by instinct right there on my subject.

Apart from a few exceptions, I try to never have my subject right in the center of the frame, for my flat lays at least.

To me, just feels a bit boring because once the pictures are all on your Instagram grid or your portfolio, it becomes repetitive and obvious.

So if you look in my picture below my subject is anchored to 2 RED dots, positioned in between them. And because it is so large, sits across the center of the frame but is not right in the middle.

How to style the Perfect Food Flat Lay


Know where to have my negative space.

Negative space is an area of your photo that you leave empty on purpose.

I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to have negative space in your flat lays! It’s so freaking important and will make your photography stand out so much more! Makes the picture breath and the eye of the audience can move in the frame and capture all the beautiful details of your shot. But it is often hard to know how much negative space leave, and where to leave it. Right?

Here is where The Rule of Third Grid comes in huge help.

vertical orientation 2/3 full and 1/3 empthy

vertical orientation 2/3 full and 1/3 empthy

orizontal orientation 1/3 full and 2/3 empthy

orizontal orientation 1/3 full and 2/3 empthy

Looking at the grid, you’ll see that the lines divide the image in 3/3 horizontally and 3/3 vertically.

So, you can either fill 2/3 of the grid with the food and ingredients and leave 1/3 empty (like I did right below). Or fill 1/3 of the grid only, and leave 2/3 empty like you can see below.

So effective!! Try to look around and see the difference between the pictures with the objects scattered around and a picture with the objects anchored to the grid and with defined spaces.

Done and DONE! (little dance!)

Again there are so many more techniques, to be entirely overwhelmed. But if you start applying these 5 secrets, your flat lays will start becoming more striking and dynamic!

But if you need more help and you are ready to make the leap and change your photography for good I have an Incredible workshop coming on the 30th of June with TheLittlePlantation in London.

Is going to be one day packed with creativity and notions. We will create an entire storytelling and tackle in depth Editing and Styling.
Click here for all the details!

Now my friend, comment below, and let me know what you can take away from this article? What techniques did you already use. And what are your struggles when making flat lays?

So excited for ya!!!


Silvia xx

silvia bifaro