Flat Lay Tips and Tricks for PhotographersApril 27, 2017
Flat lays go hand-in-hand with popular social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest, but there are a number of reasons why a photographer might want to brush up on their flat lay-capturing ability!
Firstly, they’re a great way to showcase relevant products, such as what camera gear you use, your travel essentials, or even what garments and accessories you’ll be working with in your next photo shoot.
Another way that photographers can benefit from mastering the flat lay photo, is that it is a showcase of their creative ability, proving to potential clients that they have the ability to capture engaging, cohesive, and on-trend product photography.
If you’re keen to brush-up on these skills, then you’re certainly in the right place! Today we’ll be discussing our best flat lay tips and tricks for photographers.
Firstly, What is a Flat Lay?
Put simply, a flat lay is a collection of items artfully arranged on a flat surface. They are shot from above and are often arranged around a specific theme, color scheme, pattern etc.
The first tip to producing the most beautiful flat lay is to actually visually familiarize yourself with other flat lays that can serve to inspire you. One of the easiest ways to do this is to type ‘flat lay’ into Pinterest and see which images in particular catch your eye.
A great idea is to also save these images in a moodboard if you can, so that you can refer back to the flat lays you love the most. One recommendation is to simply create a secret board on Pinterest and ‘pin’ them there.
Instagram is another fantastic platform for inspiring your own flat lays. There are a number of accounts which are well-known and admired for their flat lay capturing skills, so we’ve rounded-up a few of these below for further inspiration.
Here’s one fellow photographer who has really mastered the flat lay trend – so much, in fact, that part of her photography work sees her creating gorgeous flat lays for well-known brands and companies.
For stunning flat lays celebrating all things floral and feminine, look no further than Instagram account @milkthistles. Her adorable cat, Kafka, also makes a regular appearance in her photos.
This colorful account proves that even males can get in on the flat lay action – it’s certainly not just a photography trend for the ladies! Walid describes his feed as “curated organized chaos”.
For more curated flat lay goodness, this account is certainly the one to follow! It rounds-up the best flat lays on Instagram and features them all within this one feed.
Choose Your Setting
One of the most important steps to setting up your flat lay image is to find the perfect spot to shoot it. You’ll need somewhere with plenty of natural light flowing in, as this allows you to capture a beautiful, light and bright image.
You’ll also want to shoot your flat lay on a flat surface to further avoid unsightly shadows, lumps, or bumps in your image. We recommend a tabletop, kitchen counter, or even the floor.
Pick a Backdrop
A clear and crisp white background was originally the most popular choice for a flat lay, but this has since evolved. Now, you can see stunning flat lay images featuring everything from colored backdrops to wood grain, marble, and faux fur. The familiar crumple of bed sheets has even become a celebrated choice!
While it’s a great idea to simply work with what you already have, there are some fun shortcuts and hacks you can utilize along the way to create the flat lay of your dreams.
One tip is to buy paper (such as wrapping paper or even small wallpaper samples) and use these as your flat lay backgrounds. You can find these in all sorts of on-trend patterns, including rustic wood, white marble, and every color that your heart desires. They’re easy to store (just curl them into a tube), plus they’re lightweight enough to set up anywhere.
Determine Your Theme
What do you want to celebrate or represent in your flat lay? Are you trying to convey a certain theme (i.e. travel) or are you wanting to highlight a particular product?
When a person rushes in to create a flat lay without first working out what their main theme will be, it can often appear as a chaotic and unrelated mess, leaving the viewer feeling confused.
Remember, sometimes a cohesive theme can be as simple as curating products or items of the same color. Other themes you might want to represent include: photography gear, meals (breakfast / lunch / dinner), books you’re reading, a scene from your weekend (i.e. coffee, a magazine, and your laptop), beauty products, garments / accessories for a photo shoot, your favorite tech, and so much more. Get creative!
Choosing Items to Feature
The items you feature in your flat lay will largely depend on the theme you’ve chosen, therefore, it’s important that this step always comes after that.
Another important tip to keep in mind when you’re selecting items to showcase in your image, is that you’ll want to choose some larger or more important items which are the focus of your shot. Then, you’ll need to combine these with decorative props which really make your image stand out!
Here’s an example: when we look at the image I captured above for Instagram (@whimmagazine), the main objects of the photo are the hat, book, and Polaroid camera. These three objects have a casual and relaxed vibe and they visually represent some of the activities I did on the weekend (so that’s the theme).
With just those three objects in the frame, however, the image would appear to be a little bland, so I’ve added in additional props such as flowers and Polaroid photos to serve as the decorative elements. The similar color scheme also keeps it all looking cohesive.
You might also notice the white and grey marble backdrop. This is a roll of contact used to cover things such as school books, however I like to use the lightweight material as a photo backdrop!
Arranging Your Items
This is probably the trickiest and most time-consuming aspect of creating a flat lay photo. It seems as though there are hundreds of possibilities when it comes to arranging your items, however not all of them will look great.
Now is a great time to look back to the flat lays you saved as inspiration and pay particularly close attention to how they are laid out. Are the items at different angles or are they all arranged to be facing the same way? Do they use a lot of objects or just a select few teamed with decorative elements? Are the items all different sizes or are they equally proportioned?
While the aim of creating the perfect flat lay is certainly to create your own work of art, examining other flat lays is a great way to see what works and what doesn’t.
Remember, there are no set rules when it comes to arranging your items, so set aside plenty of time to test different arrangements and see what you prefer the most. Be sure to capture heaps of different images and don’t be afraid to play around with composition and zoom.
Keep snapping away while you arrange your flat lay too! It’s one thing to examine your flat lay using your naked eye and quite another to look at it through the viewfinder and glance at it on your camera’s display screen.
Editing Your Flat Lay Image
Whether you snap your flat lay on your phone’s camera or using your DSLR, you’ll still want to tweak it here and there to create the best version of your photo as possible.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of choices when it comes to editing your images. If you captured your flat lay using your camera, feel free to use the photo editing software you’re most familiar with. Alternatively, if you captured the photo on your phone, you can use Instagram’s in-platform editing options. VSCO Cam is also another popular photo editing app.
One of the first things to look for is if you need to crop your image’s edges at all. While flat lays used to be square for Instagram, the platform now allows you to post images in rectangular format. Alternatively, Pinterest doesn’t restrict your image’s size or format.
Next, you’ll want to pay attention to elements such as brightness, saturation, contrast, highlights, shadows, and warmth.
Tweak these settings until you have an image that you are completely in love with. Now all that’s left to do is to share your creation with the world!
Sharing Your Flat Lay Photo via Instagram
Sharing your flat lay across your portfolio / website, Pinterest and Facebook is pretty straight-forward, so below we’ll be concentrating on what you should do when you share it via Instagram.
Instagram is the most popular platform for sharing the flat lay, but how do you make your own image stand out from among the crowd?
Firstly, ensure that you’re sharing your image at the optimal time. To see when the majority of your followers are online, click on the insights button which is located on your profile up the top (it looks like a bar graph).
Next, when sharing your photo, you’ll also want to include the best hashtags (#) that will increase your exposure. Hashtags are simply the search terms that users might use to view certain images. A good tip is to use between 5 – 8 of these and be sure to place them in a comment underneath your caption, rather than within the caption itself (as this can look messy).
Hashtags such as #flatlay are a must, and then it’s time to get creative! Think back to what theme you’re conveying, what colors you included, and even what objects are present. How can you include these in your #?
Lastly, it’s time to include a geotag (or location) on your flat lay so that you boost its potential reach even more! Where was the image taken? For example, what city? Or did you capture it in a public place such as a café or restaurant? When people search for these locations on Instagram, your beautiful flat lay will now come up in their results.
The key to perfecting the flat lay image is practice, practice, practice. Don’t expect your first-ever flat lay to still be your best within a few weeks’ time, but that’s the beauty of experience and experimentation. Test out different color schemes, themes, and compositions, and over time you’ll certainly be a flat lay pro!
Will you be trying out any of these steps? We hope these flat lay tips and tricks for photographers will help you to excel at this fun photography trend!