First let’s address the bigger issue here… is it flat lay or flatlay? Upon extensive Google research, I have come to accept that it can be spelled both ways. At least that’s what the Cambridge Dictionary says.
For the sake of this post, I’m going to stick with “flat lay”.
What is a flat lay?
A flat lay is a style of picture that is captured from up above. Think, bird’s eye view. Flat lays were brought onto the scene by fashion bloggers and boutiques showcasing clothes and accessories. Essentially, a flat lay is a collection of strategic objects arranged on a flat surface. You’ll see this type of image with food photography. Even cooking videos have benefited from this style of shot.
Flat lays are popular on social media and usually get a lot of attention. Some would argue that the flat lay trend is dead, but they still perform well when done right, so here are…
5 Tips for Creating the Perfect Flat Lay
1. Find natural light.
Lighting will make or break your flat lay. You want a lot of light but want to avoid harsh direct light. Morning and afternoon light are great times to shoot flat lays and can be utilized by setting up next to large windows or door that let the light in.
If you have a crazy schedule and need to take your flat lay shots when lighting is less than ideal, a ring light could be a good alternative for you. Pay attention to shadows! Shadows have increased in popularity lately, however unless that’s something you have a lot of experience with, you probably want to just avoid shadows all together. It helps your image appear more flat and crisp.
2. Put some thought into your surface.
The surface you place your objects on acts as the background to your flat lay. Don’t pick just any background! Choose a simple background that will not distract from the objects placed on top of it. A solid color or texture usually does the trick. Make sure the color or texture is on-brand and is complimentary and consistent with the other images in your feed if you’re shooting the flat lay for Instagram.
I like to use a white poster board for my surface. You can also use fabric or I’ve even seen marble contact paper and patterned gift wrap used. Try a few until you reach the look or mood you’re going for.
When I shot the flat lay I’m using for this post, it was impromptu. I was at an event with a friend when we decided to utilize one of the tables that was dressed in a tablecloth and adorned a cute succulent. We originally placed our laptops on top of the tablecloth along with a notebook and pen. However, the tablecloth was winkled and that’s the last thing we wanted in our image so we removed the tablecloth. These are the types of details you should pay attention to in order to get the best results.
3. Tell a story with the objects you use.
The best flat lays tell a story. Whether it’s a compilation of an outfit and accessories or an assortment of office supplies, choose objects that are related in some way. The largest object is usually the focus so make sure it conveys the point you’re trying to get across. Then fill in the space with smaller, related images. When you tell a story with your image, people are more likely to connect with it. They’re also more likely to read your caption to learn more-increasing your engagement.
4. Keep your lens parallel to the flat lay.
You want your phone or camera to be as parallel as possible to the surface so that everything in the image appears flat. If your camera has even the slightest tilt, it can distort the image and lessen the quality of your flat lay. If you use a camera instead of your phone, a 90 degree arm can help you accomplish that without breaking your back trying to hunch over the objects to perfectly capture them.
If you do find that the image you took is a little distorted, you can try using a photo editor that allows you to “skew” it. (I like using VSCO for that. See below.)
5. Play with composition.
Vary the size, shape, and textures of the objects to add interest. It usually takes a few arrangements before you land on the perfect one, so take your time and try multiple arrangements. I like to layer a few of the objects to add extra dimension to the image.
Bonus Tip #1: Secure objects in place.
If you’re using a round object that keeps rolling before you can take the picture, try using a penny or a piece of sticky tack. If it’s a larger object like a can, you can balance it on top of a penny. (One of my favorite hacks!) If the object is smaller like a pencil, you can tear a small piece of sticky tack off and stick the pencil to your surface.
Bonus Tip #2: Give life to clothing.
If you’re shooting clothing, roll the hems under when folding to give it a little more shape. You can also stuff a little tissue paper inside the clothing to give it some movement.
Now you're ready to create!
Share your flat lays with me on Instagram, @erikaconleay!
Don’t have the time to devote to flat lays or have still stuck on what type to create? Our team can help. From guiding you through the process to doing it all for you, we have several services to save you time!