The Only Flatlay Guide You Will Ever Need
(Free 175+ Flatlay Props List Download)
Do you ever look at those scrumptious flatlays on Instagram & go like, “I don’t know how she does it!”
Flatlays are all about styling what’s in your photo and are mostly clicked from bird’s eye view.
These pieces of art surely do look complex, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t easy to achieve it yourself. With the simplest of tips & tricks that I’ve listed below (along with my list of 175+ props across different categories), you can too, flatlay your way to great photographs.
BUT FIRST, WHY FLATLAYS?
Flatlays are all the rage on the internet, for good, and not to mention, here to stay.
Flatlays aren’t just about pretty visuals. From store owners to marketing agencies, it’s driving sales and attracting customers at all fronts. A great way to add personality to products or make your personal feed more “you” is with this effortless photography style.
Flatlays are for everybody. Literally. Everybody, ever. And if you ever thought you were to only double-tap the ones in the Discover feed on your Instagram, read on, and let me change that for you.
1. Choose your focus
A great way to start planning a flatlay is by choosing what to focus on. You can either make it about an object, create a mood or simply narrate a story with it. Take a decision and plan the objects around it.
Never make more than one item fight for attention, or any item for that matter. Try to create a seamless pattern that makes the viewer’s eyes flow soothingly. This can be achieved by balancing the various elements like shapes or colours in your arrangement and try to not group them together. Remember, styling a flatlay is akin to draping a scarf. Careless, and should never look like you tried too hard, even if you (uhm.) spent hours on it.
2. Get the light right
Lighting, or the lack thereof, can make or break a picture. Although I consider it best to use natural light, you can even make it work in studio lighting. What’s to avoid is using camera flash (like, ever) or shooting in low light. Setup your props against a window for the best light and try using a reflector if the day’s a little gloomy.
Tip: A lot of people emphasize on creating pictures where your props produce no shadows at all but I think you should let the shadows be, and make it work for you. It really adds to the depth of the image.
3. Choose your backgrounds wisely
Do not forget that the background is as much a part of your flatlay as the props are. Actually, even more. It is necessary that you choose something that adds value to your picture while also blending in. Whenever in doubt, it’s best to stick to a plain white background, something that works with almost anything. But if you’re not the one to play it safe, (and why should anyone!), you can refer to this guide here for some backdrop options.
STYLING + SHOOTING
4. Steal (but oh, please!) like an artist
We live in a time where/when there’s absolutely nothing that hasn’t been done before. Anything and everything is derived from something.
Look at other artists’ work that you like and take a mental note of the little details in their pictures- like the colours used, lighting preferred, ways of alignment etc. Do this not to replicate their work, but to educate yourself more on the subject and in no time, you’ll be a powerhouse of original ideas.
5. Rule of odds
In photography, this composition rule implies that when objects are grouped in odd numbers, it instantly makes the picture more attractive. By creating a sense of balance and visual harmony, this rule works like magic in styling flatlays too.
For example, if you’re using flowers, try three instead of two or four. Make this work and it could be your favourite styling hack ever!
6. Do not be afraid to layer-up
Like I said, you do not have to make any object fight for attention and definitely do not have to let each piece take its own due space in the frame. Flatlays look best when the objects blend with the environment and really go well with each other. Feel free to layer things, even strategically, to add depth and create dimension.
7. Refrain from parallel alignment
If you’re aiming for the freeform flatlay, where the arrangement looks more casual rather than curated, this tip is a life saver. Look out for objects placed together and skew them just a bit to make sure the lines don’t align with each other. This is crucial to add a sense of carelessness in your pictures and can be much more visually appealing.
8. Get on top
While shooting, the angles are most important.
To get the bird’s eye view shot, shoot from up high and make sure the camera is kept straight- absolutely parallel to the ground. You can stand on a chair/ stool (but, safety first) to get the best angle. Tilting your camera, even slightly can make the objects in the picture look distorted which isn’t very pleasant.
Also, when in doubt, shoot in a larger frame and you can always crop it to your liking. Get close for a zoomed in shot, but do not zoom-in the camera.
Tip: While laying your objects, just look through the camera to see what the arrangement looks like in the frame. This can give you more clarity of the final result and what’s working/what’s not as it blocks out any thing on the sidelines.
9. Break a few rules
Flatlay is a form of art and there are no rules here. Only guidelines. Try taking a diagonal shot or place things parallel to each other (more on this in the next section). Add a little surprise by including something totally unrelated to the other items in the frame. To stir things up, let me share an unpopular opinion I have of flatlays. It does not have to be flat at all. Yes! Try creating a vertical layout and you’d still have as much fun and can make it look as irresistible. In short, you can get as creative as you want to be.
WAYS TO STYLE
10. Try Knolling
Knolling is the flatlay technique where objects are placed in perfect alignment or at 90 degree angles from each other. The first person to ever do so was a janitor working at a furniture store, Andrew Kromelow, who also coined the term. The style dates back to 1987 (way cooler than us!) and has become a trend ever since. If you’ve got a nudge for clean organizing, nothing will satisfy you more than this.
11. Colour coordinate
Another very visually satisfying style is this arrangement where objects within the same tonal family are grouped together. An assemble will hardly go wrong with this one as it anyway sums up for clean, sleek and chic.
12. Go minimal
Who said you need a lot of props for a successful flatlay?! Make small number of things work for you with strategized styling. It is totally possible to create a strong frame with just two items (or even one!).
13. Get in the frame
Nothing adds more life to a picture than, duh, life! I’m not just writing this point because I’m hella obsessed with hands and feet in a frame (okay, maybe), but it’s actually a great way to add a little bit of you. It gives a sense of movement to an otherwise still image and intrigues the mind since there’s an action.
14. Play with shadows
Now that you’re almost a rookie with all the flatlay knowledge, let’s try an advanced technique of the same. It’s how you can add an element without the object actually being there.
Try things like leaves, a lace fabric or anything with holes in it and hold up in the direction of the light to make the shadow fall on your arrangement.
If you’re feeling playful, hold the object super close to the camera giving just a tease as it gets blurred out, while the focus is on the actual thing.
15. Space for text
You do not have to create a flatlay that is all-objects only. Decide if you’d want to add text later and leave some negative space while shooting the image. You can also get creative with text by using different fonts or by adding graphic elements to make it more playful & descriptive.
WHAT TO DO NOW?
16. Edit Mindfully
Post processing of a picture counts for half its success. If you’ve taken a good shot, the right edits can make it great. Try editing a picture to really align with the way you want the viewer to feel. You can use the tools to straighten the image if it was accidentally a little crooked, curves to brighten, or maybe crop out the edges to remove anything you didn’t want to include.
Everybody has a particular style that they develop overtime when it comes to editing, also the apps that they really like to go with.
For desktop editing, my go-to is Adobe Lightroom. You can get really beautiful and quick results by using presets easily available on the internet, and control how you want every aspect of the picture to look like. Coming to mobile, there are so many apps that offer good filters along with the plethora of tools that one can use to adjust the tones in an image. The best ones to try are VSCO, Snapseed, Lightroom CC and A Color Story.
17. Be happy with the results!
I’m so glad if you’ve read it this far, because this is the most crucial step to a successful flatlay. Whatever you create, if you’ve put your heart and soul to it, be happy with the results. It is possible to look at the all the beautiful pictures on the internet and feel like yours isn’t good enough, but the grass will always be greener on the other side.
Somedays you might click something and pack everything up, only to realize, “I could’ve done this better”. And on other days, you’d be more than elated with what you’ve created. But don’t just live for the ‘good days’. Also rejoice when the results aren’t as desired, for you tried. Practice is the only way forward and I promise, it is only going to be fun once you get a hang of it.