Until recently, I had no idea what a flat-lay was and how to create one effectively. Since making my own and upping my photography and editing game, my blog posts and Instagram photos have looked so my nicer and I found my engagement with my photos and posts has gone up slightly!
The idea of staging photos and making a huge fuss over photos for the internet is a laughable idea for most and I used to laugh at my friends for the length they’d go to in order to get that ‘perfect’ shot.
Exhibit A. I live near a quarry and up above that quarry is a small ledge that is the only thing between you and a 200ft drop onto the rocks below. Me and friend used to frequently walk up there and he used to do all sorts for the perfect Instagram-worthy photo. Here, you can see him sat on the edge of this ledge in probably the most unstable position, trying to take a photo of his shoe.
But in all fairness, I’ve done my share of stupid things for photos. Including sitting with my feet dangling over that same ledge, leaning out of windows and even walking down to the banks of a fast flowing river and sitting on on a rock in the actual river just for that ‘aesthetic feet’ photo that everyone seems to take.
But when it came it taking photos of food, makeup and other items, I would laugh at my friends moaning because I was in the background of their photo of their Starbucks drink but now, you can frequently hear me moaning about how there’s no light in my house to take a decent photo of a Kit-Kat.
Ah, how times change.
But until you start taking blogging and social media semi-seriously, you don’t realise how important these shots are and how much they add to your written content. Since creating my flatlays, I’ve been a lot happier with my blog posts and Instagram content so I’ve decided to write this posts for new bloggers who may be struggling to create flatlays.
I plan to ask some questions that I had and questions that other bloggers came up with that we would want answered in order to take the best flatlay photos. As with everything, I am no expert and these tips are things I find helpful but that’s not saying that you will utilise them or find them helpful. Your blog is your blog and how you do things is up to you but this is a rough guide on how to create flatlay photos.
What Is A Flatlay?
A flatlay is basically the environment in which you place a product or item to photograph it. It’s like a 3D background on which you place the product to make the photo look less bland. For example, instead of taking a photo of a lipstick on a plain white desk, you may add flowers or brushes or fairy lights in order to spruce up the photo but ultimately, the subject of the photo (In this case the lipstick) should still stay the main focus of the photo. You don’t want to be making the scene too busy.
What Kind Of Background Should I Use?
Within your flatlay, you’ll have space for a background. So beneath all the props, you’ll need a background. What you use is entirely up to you and can depend on your blog theme and colour scheme, the season or even just something you like.
I use a sheet of wallpaper with wooden floor boards on! (More on that in a minute) But you can use a wide array of items and surfaces for your background. One option is just the top of a desk or kitchen counter. You could also use grass or stone outside or even your duvet cover. These are options for people who don’t want to go and buy things. For people who don’t mind buying things, different fabrics can work well and so can wallpaper samples.
The basic thing is that if you like it, go for it. Try not to make the background too busy so a highly patterned piece of fabric may not be the best option but woods and stones and grass are good, bland-ish options.
Where Do You Buy The Board For Backgrounds?
This does link into the question previous. As I mentioned, you don’t necessarily have to buy things- you can utilise things you have in your home or garden. You can also get free samples of wallpaper from hardware stores which is what I did. My home doesn’t have a surface with white wooden boards but until I told you that, you probably didn’t know that! Fabric pieces can be bought for a couple of pounds or dollars from eBay and even local fabric stores. These samples and fabrics can then just be laid out on a flat surface and away you go!
The key to this is knowing that you don’t have to buy anything to make a flatlay. What a prospect, huh?! Wallpaper samples are free and within reasonable limits, you can make it whatever size you want and surfaces at home are already there!
How Much Paint Is Needed?
Absolutely none! None is needed. Sure, you can go all out and paint boards and boxes to create walls around your flatlay but that’s not essential. You can use a wall at home or a piece of coloured card but so far, I’ve use no paint at all.
Should I Have A Consistent Theme?
I personally think this is down to personal preference. I wouldn’t say I had a theme that I stick to. Sure, I keep the same background and swap props in and out but the only theme I would say I have is autumnal colours and items so leaves etc. If you want a theme, some goods ones may be a colour scheme or material scheme or cater to the season/festive period. This whole concept is totally reliant on YOU and what YOU want for your blog and social media.
How Do You Decide What Props To Use?
The way I decide is to look at what I’m photographing and work from there. Anything can be used as props. You probably have a whole host of props just lying around your house!
If I’m doing makeup, I will have the main product/s and then either complementary items such as a lip liner with a lipstick or a eyeshadow with an eyeliner. I also may include brushes so a big fluffy brush for powders or blushes and small fluffy brushes for eyeshadow.
If I’m photographing food for a recipe or tutorial, I will include the finished product with the ingredients (if possible) or arrange some of the ingredients around a plate/glass or with cutlery. For my Pepperoni Pizza Cheese Toastie flatlay, I have the box of ingredients along with a knife and fork and some herbs and tomato puree.
I try to have a few items that go with the main focus of the image and then some little extras.
Little extras could include:
- Fairy lights
- Fake snow
I like to sprinkle tiny crystals over all of my flatlays to fill any blank spaces and not have huge empty patches.
You could also have books or eyeshadow palettes in the scene. I would use cookbooks in food flatlays and novels with makeup but it’s up to you.
How Do I Set It Out So It’s Not A Mess?
Don’t clutter the scene! You will be able to tell when it’s become too busy with other items because you will lose the main focus in among the other items.
I try to put the main focus in the middle and build around that. I usually add up to 3 bigger items either completely or half in the scene and then add up to 6 little things depending on how I’m feeling.
In my opinion, the amount of things you add to your flatlay goes hand in hand with how much attention you want on the main item. More focus means less items and less of a focus would allow for a few more items.
How Do You Afford All The Props?
I don’t think I’ve bought one thing that is specifically for flatlays! I’ve either taken free samples or used nature or used things that I already have.
You don’t need to go out and buy a load of items for your flatlay at all. You’ll find that the more you look around, the more you’ll find things to stick in the photos. Head outside for leaves and flowers and twigs, go to the kitchen for herbs and spices. Find a book… find some jewelry… add a scarf for a half background.
Your flatlay is already probably in your house!
Is There Too Much Mable?
You’re a blogger, there’s no such thing as too much marble.
How Do You Make Yours Stand Out?
This is a difficult question because making my flatlays stand out has never been a priority. You flatlays should complement your writing or look nice so really, standing out isn’t a huge issue.
But if we want to twist the question slightly as ask what makes some of the most liked and best flatlays, I guess good lighting, good photography and good placement of items would be the key things. These three things will be what makes your flatlay become an excellent flatlay rather than a decent flatlay. There’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ flatlay, in my opinion.
How Do You Get The Best Lighting?
There’s many ways you can get good lighting but I personally use these 3 tricks.
- Use as much natural light as possible. If you can take photos outside, make use of natural light and the sun. It’s harder in winter but if you can use natural lighting, I will always say use it over artificial lighting.
- Invest in a ring light. These can be bought for £5 from Amazon and I get the rechargeable ones. Most have different brightness settings and using a ring light can help eliminate your shadow from the photo. The downside is that you will see a reflection in shiny objects.
- Use fairy lights! I drape fairy lights around my flatlay when I need some extra light and not only does it act as a prop, it creates atmospheric lighting. The glow of fairy lights can be hard to recreate with a filter so I say go invest in some! I use a 5m set with copper wire so they look more arty.
What Height/Angle Is Best To Take The Photo?
It’s going to depend how you want the flatlay.
If you’re taking a birds eye view shot, stand with your camera directly above it or slightly to the side so you’re looking down over the shot. If you’re taking the shot in line with the product, try and take it at surface height or slightly above.
The way I decide the angle is what looks best for me and how I can avoid my shadow being in the photo. I will take photos at all different angles and decide later which one I like best. I also base my angle on where I’ve taken the photo and what’s around me. For example, if I’ve laid the flatlay out on my bed, those shots will likely be birds eye view to avoid getting pillows and my actual bed in shot but if I’m taking them on my desk, I have two walls either side so I can take my photos from different angles.
In terms of height, again I just take a few shots to see what I like best. It all depends how close you want to be to the item and how much of the props you want in the shot.
Do I Need A Fancy Camera Or Can I Use My Phone?
Most phones these days have good cameras on anyway so if you can take a clear shot with your phone use that. If you have a digital camera, you can use that too but bear in mind that if you have a limited storage plan on your blog, bigger photos from cameras will take up your space quicker. Phones take photos of smaller file sizes.
How Much Is Too Much Editing?
This, again, is down to personal preference. I don’t like heavily filtered images so I prefer to use softer filters and just change the lighting levels a little bit and warm the photo up. If you really like heavily filtered images, you do what you like.
As long as the image is still good quality post editing, you’re probably alright.
I like using editing tools to change lighting when I look back at photos and realise I wasn’t happy with how light or dark they were and don’t have time to retake all the photos.
And that’s it! It’s pretty easy once you start and yes, it can be time consuming if you’re taking just one photo but if you have lots of things you need to photograph, get them all done at once and just switch up the flatlay a little with each different post.
I see it as a necessary evil sometimes because it can be so time consuming and frustrating but once you’ve done it a few time and start to see the quality of your post photography improving, you’ll feel less reluctant to get everything out.
This post was a collaboration of many bloggers so I would like to thank the following bloggers for their help and questions:
Thank you to you all, this post wasn’t possible without your help!
For my tips on how I grew my blog, check out my post HERE.
So I hope this helps some new bloggers or even older bloggers struggling with flatlays. Let me know in the comments if this helps you!