One year ago, I didn’t even know what a flatlay was or that it has its own hashtag.
What is the #flatlay? Essentially, it’s laying out your items and creating some semblance of order with many different pieces. Makes sense, right?
Fine, let’s not get into why everyone is suddenly interested in photographing their stuff—or why anyone wants to see it. Suffice it to say, it can be a fun way to highlight a product and show what items go with it.
For me, it has turned into a creative art form that can take more than a few set ups before getting it right. If I had to sum up what’s important in a flatlay it would be: focus, lighting, balance, synergy, and not giving up.
Let’s take this Instagram shot as an example. It took 23 shots to get it right. I’m going to talk you through my creative process.
First set up
These great looking products from Hush + Dotti inspired the flatlay. Instantly the colors of the lip glosses (in Morty & Lucille) caught my eye so I decided to pick up on the pink with the glimpse of pink in the flower. I also really liked the Hush + Dotti info card and brochure, so I placed the items on a grey linen place mat as the backdrop to see if it would showcase them well.
Ultimately it didn’t work. The photo came out unfocused (big no, no), the cards were cut off, and I didn’t like the layout.
Second set up
Still working with the same background, I decided to open the balm because it has an incredible golden yellow color that speaks volumes about the ingredients.
I removed some of the Sugah Sand exfoliating powder to show a variety of textures and colors, and I opened the lipstick (in Meggie) and chubby stick because the colors begged to be seen. Also, I switched out the flower and felt that this flower gave more of a cohesive look to the photo.
I definitely liked this setup more than the last one, but decided that the wrinkled place mat was a distraction and didn’t do anything to add to the overall picture.
Third set up
I took the elements that were working for me in photo #2, like the open covers showing the products, and added the matches for fun and surprising punch of color. I also swapped out the linen place mat with an inexpensive chalkboard that I picked up at Target on a sale rack. Props post to follow soon!
Once I switched to a smooth surface, I faced the inevitable dilemma: how to keep the objects from rolling around like mad? That’s where sticky tack comes in. If you don’t know what that is, your typical 7-year-old probably does. It’s like sticky Play-doh and works perfectly.
No sticky tack on hand? No worries! I’ve used bits and bobs of anything from tiny pebbles to leaves to herbs and spices tucked under the product ever so subtly like double-sided tape (works too!). No joke! Just don’t let these thingamabobs get in the photo.
Of course, this shot came out way too dark and wouldn’t lighten up with any adjustments so I had to retake. I don’t use any flashes or fancy lights in my photos. I rely entirely on natural lighting from my windows so I have to be really careful where shadows fall and that the sun doesn’t create a glare on the items.
Also note that I don’t worry about what gets into the photo that doesn’t belong. Editing happens later.
Fast forward: Instagram-ready photo!
It’s not perfect but it’s pretty darn close!
See where I cropped the photo and took out the chair? Don’t be afraid to create enough distance between you and your shot to get everything into your photo at the right angle. If you have to stand on chairs or hold out your elbows in awkward elbow pose (new yoga move, maybe?), then do it. You can always cut out what you don’t need later.
One point to pay attention to when cropping: I try to get the products to be somewhat equidistant from the edges. It’s not like I pull out a ruler or anything. I eyeball it. It’s rarely perfect, but having an almost even border creates a more cohesive look.
In the final shot, I happen to love the balance of colors with the pops of pink peeking out in a way that appears random, but now you know that it took lots of shots to get right.
I hope that this window into the world of flatlay photography has been helpful. Let me know in the comments what else you’d like to see!
Guess what? If you’d like to learn more, sign up for Mia Bell’s FREE video courses. The first one is live and called: “How to capture perfect product photos without expensive equipment” featuring more tips that you can put to use right away. So head on over and check it out.