The word photography is taken from Greek roots and literally means "drawing with light". Whether you're taking pictures of your flat lays with a phone or a camera, you need good light in the right spot to get a good photo. Keeping it simple with natural light either outside or inside is always ideal if you have access to the space for it, and that's what we'll show in this blog post.
Find a shady spot that has even light, so no dappled light coming through the trees or one side of the light being blocked by a building or something else. Cloudy light will work well too, but be careful not to overexpose your photo too much since cloudy light can be very strong and tend to "blow out" your highlights to a point where the details of what you're photographing won't be seen. Try to avoid the middle of the day and instead go outside during morning or evening light when the sun is lower in the sky and you won't be getting such strong light. The more diffused the light, the better which is why shade is your friend. This will give you a nice even light across your entire flat lay without much shadow.
NATURAL LIGHT INDOORS
A large window or door is ideal for indoor shooting, but keep in mind that you may need to bounce light onto the side of your flat lay that is away from the window unless it is surrounded by windows on every side or there is a lot of white/light colors in the room you're photographing. Strong side light from a window or door will give you shadow and depth, but it can also create too much shadow and even make the two sides of your mat look like totally different colors. In the case of not having enough light on the darker side of your mat, you'll need to bounce some of that window or door light onto that side by taking a large light colored surface such as a reflector, a sheet, a large white piece of paper, a wall, or anything else that is big enough to bounce light to the dark area of the mat. You'll actually see the light being thrown onto the flat lay with your eyes, so it's easy to find where to hold the material you are reflecting with.
Whether you like using strobes, continuous lights, or flash, you can easily light a flat lay indoors to make it look like you're using window light. All of the product photos on the Styling Mat website are photographed with a bounced flash indoors. If using a bare flash, set it on manual and start by pointing it sideways or at a 45 degree angle toward a light colored ceiling, wall, or other surface like a large reflector. You don't want to bounce it directly overhead because it will flatten the image and eliminate shadows, which will make it look unnatural. You may need to play with the direction of your flash to find the optimal power and spot to point it at. If using a diffuser over a flash or strobe like a soft box, use the Rembrant light method by putting your diffuser to one side of the flat lay and pointing it at the flat lay at 45 degrees. The bigger the diffuser and the closer it is to the flat lay, the softer the light will be.
These images were taken after dark with a bare flash pointed to the side at a wall. Had they been taken next to a large window, they would look exactly the same.