Ah, the flat lay. If you’re all over Instagram then you’re probably all over the flat lay.
Bloggers love them and most fill their grid with them. However, Getting them right isn’t always that simple… Previously I’ve taken quite a few flat lays for my Instagram and went through a phase of churning them out Like they were going out of fashion but more recently I’m losing interest in them, again think my ever-evolving Instagram. The point is to engage with brands and showcase their product, but I don’t feel I need to go all out with props anymore. I’m still getting brand engagement and PR emails even though I’m keeping my images simpler. I’m not saying you need to do the same as of course our photography style is a very personal thing and reflects our personality in some way. If you love props… you go, girl!!
Occasionally, when I look back over my page I can’t help thinking what on earth?! I remember getting up early on a Saturday morning, faffing around with products/ notepads/ ribbons beads or any other appropriate prop I had in my box; setting them out, moving an item here there and everywhere to get the shot just right. My gosh, the time I wasted not to mention the money I would spend buying endless props.
Keep it simple, that’s my theory now. For example, I photographed a Clinique lippy with two or three buttercups sprinkled alongside, for me that’s enough clutter. I do still intend to dabble with flat lays but just not all the time.
Our taste changes and alters as we go through our blogging journey, mine certainly does. A couple of my favourite bloggers are liza Prideaux and Lydia Elise Millen. (Head in the clouds here) both very successful albeit very different. Like me, their niche isn’t just beauty so their grids reflect the different aspects of their blogging life, I don’t see their grids filled with just flat lays. Perhaps said photos aren’t actually the key to success.
I’ve taken a few screen grabs of my own Instagram page to show how it’s evolving. I used to choose pink (which I still adore) but I want to mix it up a bit these days and not be so restricted by my ‘theme’. hell, I want to post holiday snaps too! However, I must add, I’m very visual and so I do love to see a good flat lay even if I’m not so much in the market for creating them myself these days.
To flat lay like a #boss, there are some basic rules which really help
The Rule Of Thirds
The photo above was taken by Dan on our recent holiday. I’ve overlayed the grid and cropped the photo on the right to improve balance, lining up the top of the wall with a grid line and placing myself where the lines intersect. This improves the overall appearance of the photo. The same rule can be applied to the flat lay.
Getting your flat lay right is all about balance. You want to draw the eye to the composition as opposed to directly focusing on one particular object as I have shown above. off-set the key object rather than having it sitting in the middle for example. If you use an iPhone you can set it to have a grid overlay while taking photos which is really useful. To turn the grid on go to the main settings >camera and photo setting > find the grid toggle and toggle it on. Try it! You can always leave the grid on permanently or just for the shot.
The theory being, if you place your items where the grid lines intersect, or along the lines, by nature, your eyes will be drawn to those objects more readily. The shot will also look balanced and therefore more pleasing to the eye. Of course, this isn’t a hard and fast rule if you need to break it go ahead. Whichever way you feel the photo looks best will work for you. One other thing, flat lays are best taken from height so grab a chair or stool and take your shot from above.
Use The Square Setting
If you’re shooting with your iPhone for Instagram, use the square setting so you can see what the finished shot will look like and how it will fit into the square. This is really useful as it’s not always easy to fit the whole shot into those Instagram squares without half the photo being cropped off.
It’s best and avoids shadows. A great set up can be spoilt by shadowing around the products. I find if it’s a good white cloud day I’ll take my background board outside and take the shot there. Bear in mind, white can sometimes take on a blue cast particularly when shooting outside, so you might need to use an editing app such as colour story to adjust the curves. I usually adjust the middle curve button slightly back and upwards as I find this gives the best light appearance.
If there’s no sun about the light will be pretty even and therefore shadows should be little or none. I find this works best for me. Otherwise, morning is best in terms of light. Move around the house taking test shots to find a spot where shadowing is minimal. Yes, I sound slightly obsessed with shadows I know! Choose one or a couple of main items then build the other pieces in around them. I don’t like it looking too cluttered personally, although I did make that mistake early on. Sometimes a shot works well with a lot of items but set them out in a balanced manner. Basically, everyone has a different idea of what they find attractive so just do what makes you happy.
I tend to go for white or pale marble but the choice is endless. (I’m rapidly going off marble now though too, sorry)!! Also, I like to layer a complimentary colour into the background. Laying a pink board at an angle across one half adds a bit of interest, plus you can use white objects on the pink area so that they don’t get lost against the white. You can pick up coloured boards/contact paper quite readily. Find out more about these and other prop ideas in my blog photography post: How to up your game.
Choose A Theme Or Colour Palette
For example, one of my favourites is the desk situation flat lay. An array of items including a keyboard (mac is usually the most photogenic) plus with it being a wireless keyboard you won’t have wires poking out anywhere. Throw in a pair of specs, a few Rose Gold paper clips, notepad, pretty pen and away you go. Oh and don’t forget the half-drunk cup of tea!
It’s usually a good idea to stick with a certain colour palette or at least use colours which compliment each other. As I mentioned earlier, my colours of choice tend to be pinks, creams and with some green foliage. Everyone is different so just go with what feels right for you. Sticking with a theme or palette gives a more aesthetically pleasing image.
More recently I’ve been getting into ‘hand shots’ not exactly flat lay but since my hands form part of the photo I guess they can be included here. I see this more and more online and I just love it. Hands are a bit tricky though as they can look a bit rough sometimes. If I’ve got my hands in the shot I don’t want to see crinkly bits or dodgy nail polish. I mean that just won’t do. Especially now you can zoom in on Instagram. A little trick I use is to hold my hands up in the air for a minute before taking the shot. This allows the blood to drain away from the hands and makes skin appear smoother.
My hands are usually quite veiny, actually, I’m veiny everywhere, I’m very pale bordering on transparent and so I don’t want to see too much vein going on in my hand photos, so holding my arms up really helps get my skin looking great albeit short-lived. That said, hands still need to look human, so its okay to have a few imperfections, otherwise, we may be mistaken for a mannequin.
Obviously, if your hands are in the shot you’ll need a tripod for your camera, or get a family member/friend to take the shot. My daughter helps me sometimes but honestly, she just takes the shot quickly as possible she can so she can return to her book/phone/tv and so invariably it comes out blurred or I won’t be happy with the position of one of my fingers or thumbs. I’m very fussy about hands in photos so I’ll usually end up taking dozens before I’m happy with them. I often get asked, if your hands are in the photo, who actually took it. Well, simply I used my tripod.
Do you have any of your own tips to share?