If you frequent Instagram or Pinterest, then you know that flatlay photos is the trendy new way to take photos. You can capture almost anything in a flatlay. Makeup, outfits, your lunch or even your work space while at a coffee shop.
Whether you’re showcasing a specific product, or want to give your audience an alternate view of the outfit in your latest fashion post, flatlays are a great way
to add variety to your content on Instagram or your blog.
I don’t know what it is about laying everything down and snapping a photo of it, but the end result looks awesome. This way of capturing photos has become all the rage, and I want to share with you my tips on how to slay your flatlay photography.
Choose Your Hero Item
When building a flatlay photo, the first thing you’ll want to do before you get started is to choose your focus or your “hero item”. This will be the main item or product that your flatlay is about. Once your hero item is selected, decide on a color scheme. Build your color scheme around your hero piece.
Now that you have your hero piece picked out and a color scheme, you’ll want to find inspiration, and decide what type of flatlay you will build. I put my flatlays in three different categories: simple, regular, and busy. Throughout this post I will show example of each.
While searching for inspiration, you will decide which category you would like to put your flatlay in. Use inspiration photos for ideas on what filler items to use, background ideas, and positioning ideas. My favorite places to search for inspiration is Google images and Pinterest. Sometimes you can find nice images on instagram as well, just search by #flatlay. Never try to copy someone else’s work. Only use these images for inspiration.
Choose Your Background
The foundation of your flatlay is your background. This is what you will be displaying all of your items on. There are many things to choose from as far as your background goes. I find it best to stick with neutral colors and muted patterns that won’t clash with, or over shadow your flatlay. If in doubt, a plain white background will work with just about any flatlay. For my flatlay photos, I tend to use either a white foam board or the top of my desk, which is a light sand colored wood. Here are some ideas on items that can be used for backgrounds.
- Foam or poster board
- Wood floor
- Contact or wall paper
- Floor tile
- Fur rug
Now that you have your hero item and your back ground, it’s time to add your filler items. Filler items are all of the little things that will go around your main item to help tell the story of your flatlay photo.
Start out by searching your home for filler items. You can use Jewelry, nail polish, Sunglasses, and even small saucers from your kitchen. The choices for filler items are endless. When you are just beginning with flatlays, you may feel that you need to go out and purchase items. I would recommend using your imagination and working with what you already have on hand.
Once you have a couple of flatlay photos under your belt, feel free to venture out and purchase filler items for flatlays. When you are doing your ordinary shopping, keep an eye out for great finds that can be used in your flatlay photography. Here are a few ideas for filler items.
- Flowers/Plants (be picky with fake ones. Make sure they don’t look too plastic or fake)
- Magazines (Use the cover, or open to a page that goes with your theme)
- Makeup/nail polish
- Shoes/Small Handbags
- Office supplies/Paper Clips/Binders/Nice Pens
Assemble Your Flatlay
Assembling your flatlay is the fun part. This is where your creative juices will really start to flow. The way you lay your items out can make or break your flatlay. You want all of the items to flow cohesively. Avoid clustering several items to the left side of your flatlay, while there are barely any items on the right side.
Place small items next to bigger ones. This will help with adding dimension and balance to your flatlay.
Be mindful of product labels. Make sure they are facing upward (unless you purposely want to use a blank side of a product container).
Play around with the placement of the items. The very first way you position everything may not be what you end up with. This is perfectly ok. Once you have everything the way you want it, take a test snapshot of your flatlay and look at it on your camera. Don’t worry about lighting at this point. This is only a test shot to make sure your flat lay is positioned how your want it. If everything looks good, you can move on to taking the money shot. If not, rearrange items where you see fit. Maybe that nail polish bottle would look better if it were just a little to the left.
Repeat this until everything is they way you want it to look. You may find that you want to add one more item to the flatlay, or you may discover that it might look a little better if you were to remove a few things.
Limit Negative Space
Negative space is any portion of the flatlay where the background is exposed. Too much negative space can make your flatlay look empty. It can appear incomplete or look as if you just didn’t have enough items to place in your photo.
Taking Your Flatlay Photos
Now that you have placed everything the way you would like it, it’s time to take the photo. If you are using your cell phone to snap the photo, it’s best to put your camera in square mode. Especially if your flatlay photo will be used for posting to Instagram.
One of the main keys to taking a good flatlay photo is to get above the subject. In order to do this you may have to get on a step stool, or you can use your tripod. Either way, your camera lens need to be directly above, and parallel to your flatlay.
Snap a few test shots like we talked about previously, take a look at them on your camera, and make sure that everything is positioned exactly the way you want it.
Lighting in my opinion is the most important element to your flatlay. You could have the best looking flatlay ever, but if it’s poorly lit, your image will be ruined.
The most effective and cheapest lighting that you can get is natural daylight. Set your flatlay up in front of a window so that the natural light flows through. If the weather is nice, I take a small portable table onto my patio and build my flatlay outside in the natural light.
Your second option for lighting is artificial lighting. You can get pretty affordable softboxes or umbrella lights from Amazon. If this is still out or your price range, you can use an ordinary house lamp with daylight bulbs to illuminate your subject. When purchasing the light bulbs for the lamps make sure that the color temperature of the bulbs are at least 5000 Kelvin (the packaging will say 5000k). This is most like natural daylight.
Make sure that your lighting is positioned right above or on both sides or your subject. I like to place my ring light above my flatlay to flood the image with light. If you position your lighting to either the left or the right of the flatlay only, then one side will be lit, and one side will be dark. Make sure that you are lighting the entire flatlay.
Just like those selfies you take, your flatlays can use some fixing up too. Feel free to use editing Apps such as Facetune or Afterlight to brighten your flatlay photo or add any filters that you may want. I like using the VSCO App for my filters. Below is an example of a flatly before and after editing.
How to NOT Do A Flatlay
Technically, there is no wrong way to do a flatlay, but there are some faux pas that you will want to stay away from in order to have your best flatlay.
- Use Fresh items– refrain from using worn or dirty items in your flatlay. Beauty products can be used and still featured in your flatlay, but make sure they are wiped clean, and the labels are still clear.
- Stay away from busy backgrounds– patterned backgrounds can be tricky, and lead the eye away from the flatlay display. Stick with solid colored backgrounds, or a natural patterned backgrounds, such as wood or marble.
- Lighting is Key– make sure that all areas of your flatlay is well lit. Having a dark flatlay that poorly showcases your items will not look good at all, and it will diminish all of your hard work.
- Keep the clutter to a minimum– less really is more. Don’t overcrowd your flatlay with a bunch of filler items that will take away from the focus of your hero item. There is a fine line between a “busy flatlay” done correctly, and one that just looks cluttered. Stand back and take a look. If your flatlay seems too cluttered to you, it most likely will come across that way to others.
- Stick to your theme– when choosing your filler items, be sure to select items that correspond with your theme. A pair of shoes and a purse pairs perfectly in an outfit flatlay. You could also use a purse in a makeup flatlay, but these same items would be inappropriate in a flatlay based around skincare products.
Your first few flatlay photos may not look as good as you want them to but don’t give up. Each one gets better. As with any new endeavor, mastering flatlays will take practice, however, by implementing these tips, you will become a flatlay pro in no time.
If you found these tips helpful, or if you feel someone else can benefit from them, please feel free to share this post on social media.