As you may have noticed I like popping the odd flat lay on to my Instagram feed. It mixes the grid up a bit and gets me thinking about how I represent Penny’s Lane using objects rather than my face (which does make the occasional appearance). Setting up a flat lay is relatively easy and they can be photographed quickly if you don’t have much time. I’m far from a pro when it comes to flat lay photographs but I’ve learnt some fool-proof tips along the way, and I’d thought I’d share them with you.
Everyone harks on about lighting and there’s a reason for that. Without decent lighting you’re going to end up with a miserable, dark photo that doesn’t showcase the lovely flat lay you’ve spent time curating. All my flat lay photographs (aside from the “from above” bedroom shots) are taken under a window. I know if I leave it too late my photos will look dull. I usually have to shoot around 10am and no later than 2pm. My bedroom is different. I have to shoot at midday or else it’s way too dark. Have a look around your house and work out where the good spots are. Observe where and when the light is at it’s best.
The Magic Number
De La Soul told us the magic number is 3, and they weren’t kidding. A bit like the light advice, lots of people rave about the rule of thirds. Imagine your photo is divided into 3s, horizontally and vertically. Where the points meet are the points of interest in a photo. This means you place items of interest on these points or along the lines. It certainly makes photos more interesting and I find photos with items placed off centre (in one third of the photo) work well. Despite wondering what all the fuss is about, the rule of thirds is a useful guide when thinking about composition.
If you have an iPhone you can activate the grid function by going to settings > camera > grid.
There’s plenty of advice and pointers out there regarding what props to use for a flatlay. You don’t have to buy anything new, but if you do, it’s worth having a rummage around some charity shops to see what you can find. Or do what I do and borrow some things from your mum!
When it comes to props, I would suggest thinking about what your brand/website/instagram stands for, and what you’re trying to represent. Penny’s Lane is a lifestyle brand that covers running, coast, Cornwall, musings and blogging and instagram advice. Therefore, I choose my flat lay props that are meaningful to my brand rather than randomly picking up things I’ve got lying around the house. Regular flat lay props for me are things like cameras, cups of tea or coffee, maps, notebooks for example. There’s no point in me having a flat lay with gardening tools or children’s clothes and toys as this isn’t what Penny’s Lane is about. Think about the textures and colours too as there should be some continuity. I would suggest writing a list of things that come to mind when you think about your blog, instagram, or brand. This will help you decide what to include.
Kayte from Simple and Season has an excellent post on branding and tropes, you can find it here.
I’m all for playing around with flat lay arrangements; there’s so much you can do. It can be hard to work out how much is too much when it comes to props and where to place things. I would suggest checking out different flat lay ideas on Pinterest for inspiration. You’ll find certain arrangements catch your eye. I think the main thing to do is just fiddle around with your flat lay and see what works. You may find you prefer a more minimal flat lay or one that’s quite scattered and busy. Try lots of combinations and see what feels right to you.
Much like I was saying about props, think about the background you want your flatlay to be on. I prefer something light and bright to make the items pop but have also used my wooden floor and dining table. For my white background, I get a sheet or use some other light coloured or patterned bedding. I once used a bright orange chevron pattern as my background, but it didn’t fit with my other photos and I didn’t use them. It’s all trial and error.
Flat lay Composition
This is the fun bit! Once you’ve gathered your props and decided what you want to include, you can get creative and try out different arrangements. One advantage to photographing flat lays is you can use the same props to create lots of different photos. You can style them in so many ways as well as crop and edit your photos.
If you have lots of flat items, like books, notebooks, postcards, you can layer them. Think about the textures you’re including too. You could balance items on a fluffy cushion or throw, for example will add a bit of interest. Another flat lay arrangement is to have items flowing from one edge to another, so items naturally fall into the frame. I think this is my favourite flat lay arrangement as it feels like I’m viewing a moment in time rather than an orchestrated photo. Don’t worry about getting all of each item in your picture. By draping your props into the frame, your photo will look more interesting, as if there’s more to come.
If you have a lot of props for your flat lay, you could consider a scattered design or arrangement. I think these look more interesting with a hand or legs in the picture so there’s something to anchor onto.
Flat lays don’t have to include all the props you have. I think there’s something very pretty and classy about minimal flat lays. When I first started posting flat lays, one of my most popular photos at the time had just 3 items. Simple and understated, and a case of less is more. Also, don’t be scared of having empty space (called Negative Space) as part of your flatlays, it can be really effective.
Where you stand to photograph your flat lay is just as important as where you place the props. I usually do one of 4 things. Hold my phone or camera up as high as I can above the flat lay and hope for the best You could stand on a chair, of course. Sometimes I set the timer on my phone, hold it in my mouth (!) lean forward, and wait. The only time I do this is when I want both hands in the shot. As expected, considerable editing is often needed afterwards. If I want to go really high, like for the breakfast in bed shots that are on my feed, I blu-tak my phone to the ceiling and set the timer (yes, really).
And that’s it!
Well, there’s the editing to do but that’s all part of the joy of curating a feed and getting creative with flat lays and photo taking. I think the key is not to try and create perfection. Sure, flat lays are placed and arranged, but there should be a realness and authenticity to them as well. What do you think, and are you a fan of a flat lay? What have you found helpful when it comes to creating beautiful flat lay images?