How to make easy flat lay backdrops for social media posts

I’ve got a confession - I suck at flat lay photos.

You would think I would be great at them, because I’m an artist and all. But for some reason, I’ve never been able to nail the technique.

For one thing, no surfaces in my house are clear of paint splatters, scratches, or general debris. My tables and counter tops and floors are too dark or shiny to make good backdrops. It always seems too dark or too bright when I try to take photos. There’s weird shadows everywhere. Ugh.

I was curious about how other people were taking great, Pinterest-worthy flat lay photos for social media, so I did a little looking around to see if I could find some good tips and tricks.

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I'm not the only one who struggles with taking these flat lay photos, so there are plenty of tutorials and resources. I was looking for sources that showed easy, achievable tips - not fancy lighting setups and expensive equipment. I don't have the space or the patience to store any more specialized equipment in our house - it's already filled up with our furniture, kids, pets, drawing supplies, current lighting setups, tripods, yoga equipment... you get the picture. 

As usual, the internet delivered.

I found two sources that gave me some really great tips for taking better flay lay photos!

How to make easy flat lay backdrops for social media

The first is this post by Jenni of LyricalHost called How To Cheat Your Way to Pretty Flatlay Backgrounds.

Jenni has great hacks for DIY marble, wood, and patterned backgrounds! The secret isn’t to get marble countertops installed - it’s contact paper! It’s not that expensive, and it looks like the real thing. I went to my local hardware store to look for some, but they didn’t have any marble or wood grain contact paper - just lame cutesy prints and…. Formica countertop prints. Like the kind from the 60’s with colored speckles. Why would you make contact paper that looks like Formica??? Formica is already the cheap, low end option. The whole point of contact paper is to fake something more expensive! I don’t get it. Needless to say, I’m going to order some from Amazon like Jenni suggests.

The second one  is this webinar/podcast by Elle&Co called 3 Simple Ways to Improve Your Brand Photos - It’s an inteview with Brit Chandler of The Inspired Editorial.

Brit has a lot of great suggestions for taking better flat lay photos. My favorite takeaways were her lighting tips (North facing windows are the secret!) and her portable backdrop boards.

I was super intrigued by the DIY flat lay backdrop boards.

(There’s nothing I can do about North facing windows, the only one in my house is in the 17 year old’s room and I’m not going in there. I’ll fake it with soft box lighting.)

But I can TOTALLY paint some backdrop boards! That would solve my too dark/dirty/shiny surfaces problem!

Instead of just making white or black backdrops, I wanted to make some colorful ones that matched the colors I use for my brand… soft pink, coraly pink and shades of soft blue. I ran to Target and got some pretty colors of craft paint that were pretty similar to the colors I use here on Making Something Rad.

I also got this coffee cup at Target, I couldn't resist.

I also got this coffee cup at Target, I couldn't resist.

Now, before I show you the finished backdrop boards, I’m going to tell you what not to do.

My first idea for easy, portable boards was to use foam core board. They come in 24x36, which is a nice size. They are lightweight and portable, and they are cheap as well. Perfect, right?

No. I painted my foamcore boards with 2 layers of acrylic paint and left them to dry. As the paint dried, they curled a little! The moisture from the paint caused them to warp slightly. It wasn’t a lot, but even a little curve makes them useless as a flat lay board.

I also had the idea I wanted to make one gold. I’m glad I tried this experiment on my foam core boards, because it turns out that a gold backdrop is really hard to photograph.

After I threw away my useless foam core boards, I drove to the hardware store and got some pressed MDF board. It’s a nice, smooth wood board that’s really cheap. My local store had 2 foot by 2 foot panels for only a few dollars each. I’m not sure what your local store will have, but here’s a link to some on Dick Blick that are cheap.

painting flat lay photo boards

The MDF board worked a lot better! I gave them two coats of acrylic paint using these cheap foam brushes. It was a cinch to paint them and now I have some awesome flat lay backdrops to take social media pictures with.

easy DIY flat lay photo backdrops

I like them because I can store them up against my wall unless I need them. It’s really easy to lay them down on the ground in my living room (not North facing, but it’s pretty good light) and stand over them to take photos. I've found that if I only use light from one source, that I get harsh shadows at times. So I usually use one of my soft box lights as a side light to soften the shadows. It's also helpful to use a white bounce board (or any white thing like a sheet or pillow) to help diffuse the light. Sometimes I use our fancy camera, but most of the time I use my phone to take photos.

Here I'm using the light from my door to the left, and a soft box light to the right.

Here I'm using the light from my door to the left, and a soft box light to the right.

I often edit on my phone as well, instead of using Photoshop. My favorite editing app is Snapseed. After I edit the photos, I add them to a Dropbox folder straight from my phone. From there, I can download them to my computer.

Here’s some of my experiments!

I took some pictures of these adorable Finn & Remy Halloween cards that I’m sending to my family!

Finn & Remy Halloween cards
Aren't they adorable?

Aren't they adorable?

And here’s some photos of a little drawing I just finished. Perfect for sharing on social media, am I right?

Crystal Creatures WIP by Rachel Lang on MakingSomethingRad.com

I feel like with my new flat lay backdrops and lighting knowledge, I can take way better flat lay photos! No more wandering around my house with an armful of various items, trying to arrange them on my dark, shiny surfaces with no success.

What do you use for flat lay backdrops? How do you get good lighting? Let me know your tips and tricks!