I hope you all had a lovely weekend! If you follow me on Instagram, you probably have come to know my love for flatlays. Although, my style has developed over time with a lot practice, it also still remains the same in a way. People always tell me that they know it’s my photo just by looking at it (even without seeing my name) and one of the most asked questions I get is how to style flatlay photos. I did write a two part series on this about a year and a half ago that show my exact process and a tutorial, but since my style has evolved since then and I still get asked frequently, I thought it was time for a little update 😉
Most of my product flatlays consist of beauty products and this is because it’s great way to show off multiple products without having to create detail or portrait shots for each one. Plus I think they look much more organic as opposed to just holding the product. Creating flatlays is not something that I was taught, but rather something I’ve learned through experimentation over the past three years (if you need proof of where I started, check out my very first Instagram flatlay haha!). Let’s begin!
I alwayssss use natural light! And almost every flatlay I take is in my office space…on the floor. Our windows are north facing so I usually shoot in the late morning/early evening for spring and summer and early afternoon for fall and winter. I crack the blinds enough to diffuse the light in a natural and flattering way and situate my poster board about four feet from my window so the light hits it diagonally. There really is no right or wrong way to set up. This is the best way I’ve found to use my the resources and the space available to me specifically, but there is no right or wrong way to set up as everyone’s circumstances are different. You’ll definitely want to use a nearby window for lighting purposes, but everything else will likely be something you’ll have to experiment with. You can use the floor or a raised surface such as a table or couch and you can even reflect light off of another white poster board if you need to.
You may notice that my background is generally pretty plain…and this is definitely strategic on my part – I keep it relatively simple to put more emphasis on the product themselves. You may be surprised to know this but my white background is actually… a poster board! My apartment actually has beautiful hardwood floors and granite countertops and you think it would be a blogger’s dream BUT the lighting is absolutely horrible so I stick with my poster board 😉 In my more recent flatlays, I’ve added marble contact paper to the mix haha. A background can be anything really…a wood floor, marble counter top, colorful tile, a comforter or blanket, any type of adhesive paper or just a solid color poster board in any hue. Once you have the “flat” portion down, you can begin to layer. I almost always add faux fur of some type to give the space more texture, but feel free to experiment with clothing, towels, blankets, multiple colored sheets of paper, tissue paper, or beautiful lace or embellished fabrics.
When I shoot flatlays, I always have a hero item. The hero is one product in particular that I try to highlight. I use various items as “props” to create interest and give the hero item a believable environment to live in making the finished product look more natural. I usually place the hero item in the center of the photo or in a place where the eye would naturally go and I never cut it off when I crop.
The props are just as important as the hero item (maybe even more!). I think it’s important to use item that make sense in the environment and with the hero item. For example, if my hero item is a skincare product such as a face cream, I might style it with a tray, towel, and eye mask to imply that I’m showing you a glimpse of my nightly skincare routine. If it’s a lipstick, I might style it with a handbag, jewelry and other beauty products to give you the impression that I’m getting ready for the day. I always like to inject a bit of my personality into each photo and tell a story. For skincare and beauty products, I like to show them open for more contrast, texture and color (example: showing all the beautiful colors of an eyeshadow palette, the creaminess of a lipstick, the texture of a face cream). Other props I use are vanity trays, shoes, handbags, jewelry, sunglasses, nail polish, perfume, flowers and anything else that makes sense. Also, I should mention that all of my props are things that I actually use in my everyday life so don’t feel like you need to go out and buy specific things to shoot flatlays.
Balance is key when styling your flatlay photo. I like to show off the product(s) in a more organic way rather than being super orderly to show off a more realistic capture of what could have been a glimpse into my life, BUT they are not so sprawled out that it looks messy. It’s pretty and pristine, but it’s also inviting and approachable. I want the photo to look like a snapshot of my day – putting on my make up, getting ready for bed, or laying out my outfit for the day. I usually arrange the items in a few different ways before I finally settle on something I like. I try to use up most (but not all) of the negative space with interesting elements to keep the eye constantly moving. I also usually angle my props or frame them around the hero item to bring more emphasis to it. Color also plays an important part. I like to balance out the photo with items in a similar color family or in hues that play well off of each other so the image looks cohesive. For example, if I am using pink and blue tones, I won’t keep all the blues in one spot and all the pinks in another…I’ll distribute them evenly among the square space I’ve created. I also tend to use a lot of the same metallics together, usually rose gold or gold, but if there are pastels or cooler tones color-wise then I might mix in some silver with the gold. When I shoot, I try to get a mix of “far” shots that encompass the whole spread as well as details that only show portions.
For outfit flaylays, I follow the same set of “rules” except this time I use the outfit pieces as my layering items on my backdrop! I’ll first construct the outfit and then I’ll begin to build on it. I’ll actually create a whole outfit and accessorize with items that look good styled with it (shoes, handbag, jewelry). After I’ve created the entire outfit, I’ll begin to add smaller accessories such as lipstick, nail polish, perfume, or hair accessories. Not only is composition important for flatlays, but also colors and the sizing of the objects. I find that smaller handbags tend to work better than full size totes and that more dainty shoes work better than over the knee boots. To keep it balanced, I like to think of it as putting together three different size items (kind of like when you mix patterns): large (the outfit itself – top and skirt/jeans/shorts, dresses and any layering items such as blazers or cardigans), medium (shoes, handbags and undergarments) and small (beauty items and jewelry).
Aside from the basics of shooting flatlays, I also have received specific questions!
How many items should you style in a flatlay?
This one is totally up to you. I used to style up to four items (only hero and props – not including florals or background layers), but as I’ve developed my style, I like to add in more (and more and more) just to keep it interesting. I usually start with 6-7 items and go up to 15 depending on the size, type of item and well they work compositionally. Instead of having a set formula, I think it’s probably easier to just eyeball it and stop when it looks “complete.”
Are your flowers real? If so, do you buy them for each photo?
I think that my flatlays are so recognizable not only because I style them in a similar way, but also because I always add one element into all of them….flowers! Lately, it’s pink roses and A LOT of people ask about them. They are definitely real. I like to keep fresh flowers around the apartment so it’s double win for me 😉 And I also have a secret… contrary to what most people think, I do not buy a dozen roses for every single flatlay I produce. I buy them as needed and shoot a series of flatlays in the same day to have on hand for future posts. Depending on how much product I have, I’ll usually shoot 2-4 weeks worth of flatlays in one sitting. Roses can be expensive so doing it all at once saves money and keeps me organized.
What do you shoot with?
I know a lot of people shoot flatlays with their phones, but since I still have an iPhone 6s (old school haha!) and the camera quality isn’t that sharp, I prefer using my DSLR. I currently have two camera’s, but I typically use this one with the stock lens. I also usually shoot them in jPeg rather than RAW because the editing process is much simpler and less time consuming. Flatlays are the only images I shoot in jPeg though!
How do you get the perfect shot from above?
For product only photos, I style everything on the floor and stand over it to shoot. For the outfit flatlays, I shoot from above by using a step ladder so I can get more of the bigger outfit details in.
Flatlay Dos and Don’ts
*Do be intentional with your flatlay compositions and arrangements (and make sure that the items make sense together!)
*Don’t just throw random things on the floor and take a photo (be concise and make it flow nicely)
*Do make sure that your “hero” item stands out (and only pick ONE item to start)
*Don’t put random things together that don’t make sense.
*Do choose a place near a well-lit window with natural light to take your photos
*Don’t take photos in a room lit with lightbulbs (it will create a yellow tint on your beautiful photos)
*Do take multiple shots with different angles
*Don’t post just any shot to your account (as with any photo you post to Instagram, be sure that it is intentional, is something you are proud of and is true to your brand)
*Do be sure that your photo is clear and in focus (especially when working with brands)
*Don’t post a photo that is super blurry (trust me, people will notice)
*Do experiment with everything: composition, background, items, colors, etc.
*Don’t post something that you do not truly love
*Do be patient and know that practice makes perfect.
*Don’t forget to have fun!! 🙂
I hope you guys enjoyed this post! Aside from flatlays, I’ve recently gotten into product photography so be on a look out for a post in the near future 🙂 I’m also thinking about posting a tutorial video on Instagram that walks through my exact steps for styling a flatlay.
Would any of you be interested in that?