What a flat lay is
A flat lay image is one taken from a birds eye view; you stand above your target picture and shoot down. Flat lays are the best way to showcase products, tell a story through a picture and make for such pretty images! A flat lay image has much more work put into it than it appears (which means you're doing it right! ;) and is an image that's meant to tell a story to your readers and followers.
Tips to take the PERFECT flat lay
Always have good lighting. No matter what you do or how you style a flat lay image, ALWAYS make sure to have good lighting! Whether it's artificial lighting (I love this camera ring light and this soft box light kit!) or natural lighting, make sure it's good and that you have a LOT of it. There are great artificial lighting sources, but nothing can beat natural light.
I tend to take my flat lays either early in the morning or right before sunset; the sun isn't too harsh and there's minimal shadows. If you're shooting outside, try to find a spot that the sun indirectly hits - if it's a cloudy day find as much light as you can. If you live where winter is a factor (I speak from experience...) you can put your set up close to a window for almost the same effect, but bearing the cold is almost always worth it! Having good lighting also minimizes the editing you'll have to do later on, and keeps the pictures looking natural and effortless. These disk light reflectors are a great way to help reflect the sun if you're shooting indoors and they make a big difference in your lighting set up. Once you play around with different areas, you'll find that it's easy to tell what works best for you! My favorite outdoor spot to shoot flat lays is on my front porch, and my favorite indoor spot is next to the window on my window seat in my bedroom.
Use product placement to tell a story. All of your flat lays should have a clear and concise narrative and tell a story. You should be able to tell what your image is about before even reading the caption. This is something I sometimes struggle with and I know I can't be the only one! It's difficult to assure that what you're trying to convey is coming out how it is in your head. If you aren't sure, ask a friend or someone at home - I always show my sister the pictures I take and she always gives me her honest opinion (sometimes too honest LOL). For example, if you're posting an #OOTD picture, you'll include the clothes and accessories of your outfit. If you're posting a picture about traveling, your image should have things like a passport, sunglasses, bikini, beach bag, etc. Essentially your items should "go" together and it should be perfectly clear as to why said items are in said picture.
Find a set up that you like. Some people take their flat lays with the products fully in the image (see here), some take flat lays where only parts of the product(s) shows (see here). This is total personal preference and for me, it totally depends on the subject of the picture. As I scroll through my Instagram, I realize that most of my flat lays have cut off products - there's no right or wrong, but playing around with the set up of your products is super important for getting the perfect image.
Empty space can be a good thing. Don't feel like you have to fill up every space in your flat lays. Empty space is often a positive, especially when it comes to your Instagram feed. Blank spaces can make the flat lay look more cohesive and not so busy. Again, it completely depends on the subject and story you're trying to tell. For example, in this image of Christmas presents I left a lot of white (blank) space opened. On the other hand, I maximized my space in this photo. A photographer once told me that less is more and now I always try and remember that when I go to take a flat lay!
Take tons of test shots. When I'm taking pictures for the blog or just for pleasure, I can't even tell you how many I take! I fill up memory cards like it's my job. Especially since I've learned all about shutter speed, ha! But for real, the more shots you take the easier it'll be to pick the best out of the bunch. I always take a few, re-arrange a few things, add/remove things, and take even more. I'm super picky and doing this assures that I don't have to go and re-do my set up to take even more pictures.
Don't over do it. This goes hand in hand with utilizing empty space! Every flat lay should look clean, even if you have lots of items in the picture. I tend to space things out and don't overlap too much (again personal preference) but making sure things are placed perfectly is a must. This is where a tripod comes in handy BIG time! It can be hard not to move or shake while taking a picture at a certain angle. Having a tripod allows you to 1. keep the camera super still and 2. be able to move things around in your image without losing your positioning.
Choosing a background for a flat lay
Choosing a background for your flat lay can be just as important as what's IN the picture. For example, if I'm taking a picture of food, I'm not likely to use a white fluffy blanket as my background. You should always try to match your background to the subject of your image as best as possible. While white spaces are common and usually the best in most cases, they aren't the only option!
White spaces: using a white background helps to brighten your image before even worrying about the lighting. You can get poster board for as low as .50 cents (literally...) and this is THE easiest way to give yourself a crisp and clean white space to work with. You can also use things like a white carpet, throw blanket or even a shirt!
Marble/faux marble: while having a marble counter top is on nearly everyone's dream home wishlist, it isn't always possible. Luckily there's SO many options if you don't have those crisp white counter tops in your kitchen. Go to your local Home Depot and you can buy samples of marble squares (12x12 or 18x18 are most common) for as cheap as $3! You can pick between the different tile squares and pick which veining you like the best, etc. You can also get faux marble roll up paper for a much lighter/easier to store option. I use marble a LOT for my images because of how clean and pretty it looks!
Pretty little details ✨💕 I love this @iwantjessesgirl highlight/contour palette! I've been playing around with it and it makes contouring easy and keeps it looking natural (🙌🏼) I've always felt a little intimidated about contouring myself but this palettes different shades make it so easy! It's available at Rite-Aid, Amazon and jessesgirlcosmetics.com 🎀 #ad #iwantjessesgirl #myjessesgirlhaul #myjulieghaul
Pretty little details on a Monday ❤️ I'm so excited because today marks the start of my gift guide series! I rounded up a ton of awesome gift ideas that are ALL under $50 on the blog today. I'll be using #DDOG (daily dose of gifts) for this series so you can easily find any of my gift guides using that hashtag. I'm already excited for the next! Link in bio ✨👉🏼
Different textures and patterns: most especially if you have something plain for your image (or food photography!), using a texture as a background is extremely visually appealing. My favorite place for items like this is Home Goods and Target. You can even use a fun patterned carpet/blanket for added pops of color and fun! Here's some of my favorites:
Use a pop of color: poster board comes in colors too; my favorite is light pink! You can also use fun patterned wrapping paper (always check Home Goods for THE cutest wrapping paper!) and scrapbook paper that's $.50-1 in Michaels.
Fabrics: a shirt (I love using lace tops, and here is an example of a flat lay I took using a sweater as a background!), colorful tissue paper, fabric from stores like JoAnn Fabrics - there's SO many different fabrics you can use! I love going to a JoAnn store and getting some pieces of pretty fabrics. It's again super cheap and there's hundreds of options to choose from.
Promoting your flat lays
Instagram is filled with flat lay images - to get yours seen and to search through for lots of inspiration there's some hashtags you can use/search through; my favorites are: #flatlay - #flatlayqueen - #flatlaystyle - #flatlayfriday - #flatlaysquad - #flatlayoftheday.