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How To Take Flat Lay Photos Without Harsh Shadows

Shadows can be tricky, especially in overhead photography.

This post will make it easy for you to control your shadows, so your flat lays come out exactly as you want them to.

Follow the tips below and most of the harsh shadows can be avoided when you take flat lay photos from above:

  1. Use a diffuser on your light source.
  1. Use a white reflector or white foam core / bounce card.
  1. Position your tallest items furthest away from your light source.
  1. Make sure the camera is not in between the light source and the subject.
  1. Use a photo editing app

Prevent Shadows With A Diffuser On Your Light Source

Whether you use natural lighting or artificial lighting, you can soften your light by using a diffuser to reduce shadows in your overhead shots. 

If you are using natural light from a window you can use one of the following diffusion materials:

  • Foldable diffuser – portable and easy to take around with you and you can just rest it against the window.
  • Diffusion fabric you’ll need to find a way to hang it up either by draping it or clamping it.
  • 5 in 1 reflector – use the white diffusion surface in this reflector. It’s also useful for its other surfaces – you should probably have one of these in your kit already anyways since they can be so useful.

Choose the one that works best for your light source and what works best for your set-up.

The 5 in 1 reflector will be the most cost-effective as it’s also useful for other situations too.

If you are using artificial light then you can and should still be diffusing your light and you could use a softbox in addition to the options above. 

Reduce Shadows Using A White Reflector

Other than diffusing the light source you can prevent harsh shadows in your photography by using fill lighting with the use of a white reflector. 

The main difference between this and diffusion material is that reflectors will be opaque. So instead of light passing through it the light will just bounce off it instead.

On the other hand, a diffuser will be translucent so it lets the light through and disperses it. 

The white reflector bounces some light back into the shadows and “fills” them.

It’s as easy as placing the reflector on the opposite side of the subject as the light source. 

For example, if you are side-lighting your subject from the right side of the set, then you would place the reflector on the left side of the subject to bounce light back into the shadows. 

So the subject is in the middle. The lighting is on the right. The reflector is on the left.

Remember when I said that the 5 in 1 reflector is cost-effective?

Well not only does it have the white diffusion surface but it also has a white fill light surface that you can use as your reflector to fill in the shadows

You can also use a big piece of white foam core or card. 

Position Your Tallest Items Away From The Light

Even though flat lays might suggest everything is flat in the image, sometimes this is untrue.

For example, you might have a food flat lay where you have bowls, plates and different foods of varying heights. 

If this is the case then the taller items can end up casting shadows on the shorter objects. 

To avoid this being too drastic you can make sure that your tallest items are furthest away from the light source. 

For example, if your light source is on the right side of the set then you can try to place your taller items on the left-hand side of the set if they start to cast dark shadows on important aspects of the image.

Make Sure The Camera Is Not In Between The Light Source And The Subject

Some people might find this one obvious, but it’s an easy mistake to make when starting out. 

Shadows are cast when there is something opaque in the way of the light and yes that includes the camera, the tripod and of course let’s not forget the human taking the pictures. 

Arrange the lighting so that the camera set-up is not in between the light source and the subject. 

This can be difficult if you are using an overhead room light as your source of lighting when you are doing overhead photography. 

If possible you should try to use a window or your own artificial light in this case instead.

Try to use side lighting or backlighting instead of overhead lighting where you can.

If those are not an option then the best you can do is to diffuse the overhead lighting as much as possible as this reduces the harshness of the light which will prevent drastic shadows. 

An easy way to take yourself out of the equation is to use a remote shutter release as you don’t physically have to be next to the camera. 

Use a Photo Editing App

Sometimes it’s impossible to take a photo from above without any shadows. But at least there are ways you can reduce these shadows.

As well as using earlier tips like using diffusion and bouncing light for ‘fill lighting’, you can also use photo editing tools like Lightroom and Photoshop.

By using Adobe Lightroom you can manipulate the lighting in your photos to reduce shadows and make them less harsh.

The quickest way is to use the ‘shadows’ slider and move it to the right as this will ‘lift the shadows’ and make them lighter.

In Adobe Photoshop you can go even further and remove shadows completely if you’re skilled enough. You can find tutorials on YouTube if you want to learn more about Adobe Photoshop.

Tip** Don’t Kill All The Shadows

Remember not to go crazy and kill all the shadows in your flat lay!

If you do this then you risk having the image look too…flat.

At the end of the day, we like to see things in 3D and shadows help to give that 3D effect to images. 

In fact, sometimes you might even want to use harsher shadows for dramatic effect, but that’s a lesson for another time.

By now you should know how to take overhead photos without shadows. If you want to learn more about overhead photography check out the post below: