If you are following me over on Instagram you probably have an idea of how much I love creating and sharing beautiful flatlays! The flatlay has become iconic on Instagram in recent years and it’s almost impossible to scroll through your Instagram feed and not see a flatlay. At it’s very basics a flatlay is a style of photographing items arrange on a flat surface from a bird’s eye view. But what makes this style of photography so popular?
The obvious answer is that they look super pretty in grid form on Instagram! But flatlays are also a really creative and visually effective way of highlighting a product. If you are a business selling products online they are incredibly useful for promoting your products on Instagram and your online store. Flatlays are also a really powerful way of bringing objects together to create a mood or tell a story making them a really useful visual accompaniment to your blog post or social media update.
Whether you are a business, brand rep or influencer, being able to create beautiful flatlays is a really useful skill to have. Luckily, the real beauty of a flatlay is that they are so easy to create! Here’s 6 tips and tricks to get you started.
1. Be Creative
For me, adding your own style or personal touch to your flatlay is the secret to taking a good flatlay shot. There is so much content and so many flatlays out there that it is important to stand out. It doesn’t have to be anything major. It could just be a particular colour scheme, a common object or a particular angle that sets your flatlay apart from other flatlays and catches the viewers eye encouraging them to stop scrolling and take a closer look.
I’m very lucky to have two little Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and when they are being cooperative they make awesome little props for my photos and add something a bit different to my flatlays to help them stand out.
2. Get your lighting right
There aren’t really any strict rules when it comes to taking a flatlay but getting your lighting right really is a must. Not only does lighting make your flatlay more visually appealing, it also helps highlight the details in your photo which is particularly important if you are highlighting a product.
Lighting is one of the trickier things to master particularly if you don’t have a DSLR camera with manual settings or a professional lighting rig but there are a few tips to remember to help you get it right.
The most popular flatlays are usually light and bright and the best way to achieve this is by taking your flatlays in natural light. Artificial lighting will create harsh shadows and give your flatlays a yellowish tinge that can be hard to edit out even with the best editing apps so natural lighting is a must.
The perfect type of natural light for a beautiful flatlay shot is natural, but indirect lighting. If you shoot your flatlay in direct sunlight you will end up with very harsh shadows and a washed out photo. I’ve found that natural afternoon light flowing through a window is the best location for flatlay shots. If it’s particularly sunny, you may even close the curtains a bit so that it is less direct. It might take a bit of trial and error and moving your flatlay around the house to find the perfect spot but it’s definitely worth it!
You should also make sure that your lighting is even and your whole flatlay is lit up. Holding up and angling a white board can be useful for spreading light evenly over your photos or you could even make use of a white wall and set your flatlay up against it.
3. Pick a Neutral Background
What you are actually going to lay your items on is also important. When it comes to picking a background simple is always better. You should aim to pick a background that contrasts and complements your products and doesn’t detract from it. This means nothing too busy or detailed.
Simple objects like tabletops, cardboard sheets, marble, a textured shaggy rug or bed sheets make great backgrounds for flatlays. I’m a huge fan of using a white background just because it is neutral and you can really draw focus to the products in the photo. However, a darker background can be effective too, especially if you are a travel or food photographer.
When you are setting up your background make sure you pay attention to details and fix up any wrinkles or marks which can be a real pain to edit out later.
4. Create a theme or mood
A perfect flatlay will have a theme or a mood. You want to create some kind of harmony among the objects in your flatlay, something to draw them all together so they don’t just look like a random assortment of things. For example, if you wanted to create a flatlay with a relaxed mood you might use soft textures and add objects like a cup of tea or a book and maybe some fresh flowers.
If you have a hero product in your flatlay, the easiest way to pick a them or mood is to start with that particular product and choose embellishments and a colour scheme that complement that product and tell a story about it.
Sometimes coming up with a theme or a mood can be difficult but luckily there are some great sources of inspiration to help you. If I am struggling for an idea I like to scroll through the #flatlay on Instagram or on Pinterest. Saving photos to an inspiration collection on Instagram or a board on Pinterest can also be really useful for coming up with ideas. Another great idea is to flip to a page in your favourite magazine for colour inspiration.
5. Have a good selection of props
So now you have picked a theme, you need a way to visually express that theme in your flatlay. The best way to do that is with the use of props! It’s useful to have a variety of different props in different shapes, colours and textures on hand to arrange in your flatlay and complement your hero product.
You don’t necessarily have to go out and buy props for your flatlays. You can find a great selection of items around the house that you can use such as notebooks, rugs, pens, teapots, flowers from the garden, jewellery, food or even your morning cup of coffee. Some of my favourite props to use are fresh flowers, notebooks (try Kmart for a great range!) and my two little Cavalier King Charles Spaniels that just love to sit in the middle of my flatlays.
If you are looking to buy props for your flatlays stores like Kmart, Big W, IKEA and even your local two dollar store have some really great affordable items you can use as props.
Now that you have all of your props picked out and a theme selected you’ve arrived at the fun part – composing your flatlay! There are no strict rules for creating the perfect flatlay but there are a few things to keep in mind.
The first is your frame and how you are going to arrange the objects within your frame. If you are styling a flatlay for Instagram the typical flatlay involves arranging your objects so that they fit within a square shaped frame. The easiest way to arrange your objects so that they are within this frame is by viewing the objects through the square frame option on your phone or camera and to mark out the corners by placing your corner objects first. It is up to you whether you have all of your objects within your frame (called a grid shot) or if your objects overlap the edges of the frame to give a more still life effect e.g. a messy desk.
The second thing to consider is balance. What makes a really aesthetically pleasing flatlay is balance so that the flatlay flows nicely from one side to the other. When you are arranging your flatlay you should be mindful of balancing colours, shapes and also sizes.
If you are focusing on a particular colour make sure that the colour is spread out evenly throughout the flatlay and not just confined to one section.
You should also be mindful of balancing shapes. If you are working with a lot of square shaped objects, adding a circular shaped object can help to break up harsh lines. Coffee cups are great for this which is why you probably see so many flatlays that feature a cup of coffee!
Thirdly, if you have a hero product make sure it’s centre stage. This could be literal with your object placed right in the centre of the photo. It doesn’t have to be literal though as long as you make sure your viewers eye is drawn to that object. For example, you could make use of lines in your flatlay to direct your viewers eye to a particular corner, or you could use contrasting objects to have your hero product stand out.
Finally, when you are composing your flatlay make sure your objects are lined up, there are no dirty marks on your products and labels are showing if that is important. Blu tac can be really useful for holding objects in place. I would also recommend taking a few test shots on your camera and then spending a couple of minutes scanning over the photo to make sure everything is perfect before taking your final shots and packing away the flatlay.
Got a flatlay question? Leave me a comment below!