A flat lay is the official term for a picture of a single or group of objects on a flat surface, taken from above. Makes sense, right? Flat lays have been taking over Instagram feeds and are often used to showcase specific items, whether it’s a brand new product line from a beauty company or outfit inspiration from your favorite style blogger. Flat lays appear rather simple and straight forward, but most of the time that’s not the case. A lot of thought and practice goes behind these staged photos. Here are some things to be considered to master your next flat lay:
LIGHTING: In photography, light is ALWAYS the most important factor. Understanding light and how it affects your photos can be quite a challenge. I’m still trying to figure it all out if I’m being honest with you, but what I do know is natural light is your best friend. You want to avoid direct sunlight, otherwise you’ll have weird shadows in your picture and the coloring can be a bit harsh or overexposed. Try to find a well lit area by a large window. I’ve recently started taking flat lays on my backyard table! We have an awning that covers half of the backyard, so it’s the perfect shaded, yet well lit spot. [My family and neighbors may think I’m a bit wacky, but that’s besides the point!]
BACKROUND: I’ve experimented with different backgrounds. Area rugs, tile floors, faux fur throws, my bed, beach towels, bathroom mats, wooden tables and floors, wrapping paper, countertops. You name it; I’ve tried it! I truly think a white board or white and grey marble background looks best with my feed. It doesn’t compete with the products I’m wanting to display and it allows you to see the true colors of these objects. If you want to add texture to your photos to have more dimension without making it look too busy, use a white or off white faux fur blanket, rug, or towel. Aesthetically, we’re all going to have our own vision and opinion on what looks best, so just practice, practice, practice! Try different things and see what you like most. You certainly don’t need to stick to just one background, but when using these flat lays in your Instagram feed, I would recommend having each background coordinate with one another and your overall theme.
A ton of people use this Crate & Barrel marble slab, which is a bit of an upgrade from the marble adhesive paper I use. [When I purchased that paper, it was $5.31 on Amazon. It’s now $10.99 which is still a good deal. I’ve been using the same roll of paper for well over a year, and even though it has some crinkles and folds, it still photographs well.]
For a white background, I’d recommend getting a foam board that’s slightly thicker and more sturdy than construction paper. Large construction paper [in any color] can absolutely be a great background, but the foam boards are just a few dollars more and will last a lot longer. I believe the one I have was $5.99 from Hobby Lobby. Office Depot, Michaels, or a local office supplies/craft store should have it. And if you live in the middle of nowhere or you just don’t feel like putting on a bra and leaving your house, well, there’s always Amazon, and thank god for that!
BALANCE: Try to find balance with colors and product placement. Use small items such as accessories, lipstick, sunglasses, and flowers to fill large empty spaces. Use the square setting with the grid on your camera phone to help arrange the different items. It doesn’t need to be symmetrical, but play around with the white space until each item is placed exactly how you want it.
Trick: When laying certain round objects down on a hard, flat surface it may be difficult to have control over which side is facing out, so to solve that problem use modeling clay [found at your local craft store] or rolled masking tape [so it’s double sided] to help keep the item from rolling.
EDITING APPS: Hopefully with good lighting, your photos won’t need major editing, however, there is nothing wrong with a few enhancements…making things brighter, more cool, sharper, increasing the contrast, whatever! The first two years of blogging, my apartment was practically a dungeon, so I struggled with taking good flat lays and relied on editing apps in an attempt to make them appealing. Some people also have a very specific color story or theme with their Instagram feeds, so may use the same filter or couple of filters on every photo published [including their flat lays].
Here are 4 examples of women who do a really great job sticking to a specific color story:
Check out my list of favorite editing apps.
GET INSPIRATION: Following accounts like @flatlays or your favorite brands and bloggers can certainly help give you ideas, but PLEASE DON’T COPY! There is nothing wrong with getting a little inspiration from others, but do your best to stay true to who you are.
I am now going to show you the progression of a recent flat lay I posted on Instagram. It was taken indoors, on a sunny day, next to a large sliding glass door leading out to the backyard. I used a white foam board as my background and strategically placed each item. After seeing my initial “after picture” [number 2.], I decided that I wanted to add a few more things to spruce it up, so did just that and threw my sunnies and clutch into the mix. It was then edited [rotated, cropped, made brighter].
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Hope my tips help you take the best flat lay photos! Would love to hear your feedback in the comments below!