My Tips for a Killer Flatlay
The flatlay. For us bloggers this is definitely the most popular style of photography. Even businesses have grasped onto the trend and from fashion and beauty bloggers, to food enthusiasts and DIY crafters, there’s just something captivating about that birds-eye view of your favourite products. Behind the scenes, however, creating that perfect flatlay takes thought, patience and technique. Done right, and they can create the illusion of perfection, recreating any scene you desire.
Of course what constitutes a perfect flatlay is ultimately subjective and it comes down to your style and what you want to portray. That said, whilst I don’t consider myself the bees knees when it comes to photography, I have accumulated some tips and techniques along the way that I want to share with you.
In the past year, I’ve started to become more creative with my photography and the backgrounds I choose are key to recreating a scene and adding more depth, texture and interest to my photos. I have a particular weakness for Photoboards.org. With a variety of textures, colours and designs available from rustic woods, brick effects to the blogger favourite, marble, these faux tabletop backdrops are so real-looking and extremely fun to play with.
Capture By Lucy is another great source for photography backdrops and her vinyl options again come in a variety of styles, textures and colours. My personal favourites are her pastel and watercolor options. But you can just as easily use coloured cards and decorative paper for which Hobbycraft is always my go to. Equally, when you want that clean, crisp look, nothing does it better than white board which you can buy from any craft store.
Of course it doesn’t just have to stop at recreated backdrops. When choosing your backgrounds you can just as easily use what you have – your bed, scarfs, table tops, bathroom tiles and your desk are examples of real-life backdrops that you can use again and again.
The Theme & Story Telling
Picking your theme and telling a story is important when trying to style your flatlay. The easiest place to start is to ensure it correlates to what your actual post is about. For example, in my Spring Home Decor post, my theme was obviously spring. This automatically helps to dictate the types of props I need and the story I wanted to portray was a beautifully styled bed for which I used my bed as my backdrop with a magazine, cushions and throws.
In this flatlay, not everything is fully visible but the illusion is there. I’ve also used some complimentary lifestyle and beauty props to bring it back to my own personal style.
You don’t have to be mega detailed about your theme or story. It could just be about a specific colour scheme or centred around a specific prop and I always find it easier to visualise how I want things to look first.
As mentioned above, once you have an idea of what you want to portray, it makes it easier to decide on the props that you need.
I do like to go to town when it comes to props. Whilst they should make sense and correlate to your theme, I also think blog and insta-photography is largely forgiving: often props are used purely because they look aesthetically pleasing rather than having a direct correlation to what the actual post is about. In this picture for example, I don’t actually have flowers on my bed, but they look nice in the photo and they fit the pastel colour palette!
Start with your key props (i.e. the focal point or key feature of the flatlay) and then work your way from there. Make sure to choose props that compliment the tones of your key features as well as your background as you need to view each element as a whole and not just in isolation. I nearly always start with more than what I end up with in the finished result but see below for some of my favourite props which I’ve split into three categories.
Books & Magazines
Flowers (fresh & faux)
Teacups / mugs
Cutlery & Trays
Marble Boards & Coasters
Keyboard / desktop props
Beauty & Fashion
Bags / Wallets
Glasses / Sunglasses
Gems & Confetti
Pens / Pencils
Coloured / patterned straws
Placement & Composition
I’m not one of those people that gets it right the first time. Often it takes several shots, moving things around, taking things away or sometimes even just starting all over again before I nail that flatlay. Luckily, the latter doesn’t happen so often now but there are times when the ideas that worked in my head, just aren’t right in practice. Nor do I follow any specific rules when it comes to composition. Instead I tend to go with what looks pleasing to the eye – my eye that is. However, here are some tips and ideas that work for me:
Keep your Focal Props at the Centre, or at least close to the centre
Not every single prop has to be fully visible, it looks less contrived that way (unless that’s the style you are going for)
If you have larger secondary props, place them in the corners and if you can at an angle – they look less overbearing and help balance out your flatlay
Create layers and height with books, bowls and fabrics – i.e. props on top of props
If your props are getting lost in the background, use a piece of complimentary card or fabric underneath to help lift the product
Not all of your props have to be laying flat in a flatlay, having some positioned upright adds depth
Play around with the position and styling of your props such as different angles, lids open etc, but if you are going for that straight line approach, use a ruler for alignment if you have to
Mastering the technical side of things doesn’t have to be overly complicated. The truth is, if it’s a good flatlay, what you use to take it shouldn’t matter. Many a good flatlay is taken with i-phones, but since I am still coveting a very old model, I have always relied on my DSLR for all of my blog photography and I have a Canon 6D for reference.
The main thing with a flatlay is that you need to stand high. I always use a stool but you just need to make sure that you are not too high that your flatlay lacks focus. If you do suffer from shaky hands, a tripod with an extended arm would be ideal. I don’t actually use a tripod for flatlays though – I much prefer the painful arching of my back to ensure my camera lens is flat! Humour aside, I do intend to invest in the extendable arm for my tripod at some point but so far I think I am doing ok without it.
A Couple of Tips:
- To get your pictures nice and bright when shooting, increase the exposure on your camera. I normally increase this to no higher than 1 on the setting.
- A higher f/stop will allow for more of your scene to be in focus and appear crisp, but the higher you go, the more light you need for this to work. A happy medium is 5.6 but you could probably go higher if your natural light source is plentiful or you have studio lights. See below for my tips on lighting.
So it goes without saying that good lighting is key. A room where there is plenty of natural light is really all you need. I tend to place my backdrops on a table facing the window. Good and even distribution of light across your scene is what you are after. If there are harsh shadows, use a white board or reflector at an opposite angle to your light source to bounce the light back onto your scene. Don’t be afraid of shadows and natural sunlight creeping through though – this can help create a mood and look quite artistic.
Since optimal shooting conditions are hard to come by in the UK, I decided to invest in some studio lights. I use these to compliment natural light, not replace it. The colour of your props and backdrops can also affect how little or how much lighting you need so do bear this in mind. For instance, I often find my darker backdrops shoot better in cloudier conditions and without the use of studio lights.
Ultimately, taking test shots and practice, practice and practice are key to perfecting your skills. Don’t be afraid to break the rules either, that’s what helps to dictate your own style – I often contradict my own advice and stumble upon a new technique! I’ll definitely be sharing more posts like this in the future but as a starting point I hope you found this useful. Also, if you’ve got any other tips to share let me know in the comments below. x