Flatlays, we’ve all seen them right? They’ve been around a little while now and we see them used everywhere. Next time you are flicking through a magazine notice just how many flatlays you see. Flatlays have their place in your visual content strategy especially if you have a product to sell or showcase. Are you wanting to up your flatlay game? Well, today I am going to share with you How to Create an Amazing Flatlay. Now, these steps are just a guideline, not hard and fast rules, so let your creative juices flow and most importantly have fun.

A blog post photo for this blog article on How to create an amazing flatlay by Michelle Buchanan Photography & Design, a styled stock photographer.

PLANNING YOUR FLATLAY

Determine the purpose of your flatlay. What is the message you want to convey? Your flatlay should tell a story. Also think about where and how the image is going to be used, is it for Instagram, a blog post or a website header, this will determine the dimension of your flatlay and how you lay out your props. Pull together inspiration and make a mood board or a quick sketch and some notes. You are gathering a feeling, a style, a visual vibe and a colour palette.

LIGHTING

Lighting your scene is THE most important element of creating a flatlay. You must get this right as the lighting can make or break your image. Light impacts the colour and the quality of your photo. Natural light and studio lighting can be used for photographing your flatlay. In the interest of simplicity, availability and affordability, we will discuss using natural light. 

Generally soft even lighting is best for flatlays. So what does that mean? Well, soft light is not strong or harsh, it comes from an indirect diffused light source such as a large window where there is no direct sunlight coming through. So look for an area in your home or office to set up your flatlay near a window or an open door on a bright day, or even outside in a shaded area such as under a covered patio. If needed you can place a sheer curtain or diffuser screen over the window to soften the light coming through. To even up the light coming across your scene, place a white board or reflector on the opposite side to the light source to bounce the light back across your scene. 

Having said that, there is a trend right now for flatlays to be lit with direct, bright light creating strong shadows. To create this look, place your flatlay scene in direct sunlight usually when the sun is a little lower in the sky, say early to mid morning to create long shadows.

Hot Tip – don’t use your camera’s flash when photographing your flatlay, so make sure to turn it off.

A photo diagram explaining the lighting of a flatlay set up.  It shows where to place the scene being photographed against a window with a diffuser and on the opposite side is white foam boards reflecting light back onto the flatlay scene being photographed.

FLATLAY BACKGROUNDS

There are so many choices for backgrounds for flatlays. Choose a simple background that is non-reflective, that adds to the story of your flatlay and doesn’t detract from the objects you are photographing. For a simple white background use white poster board or foam core board both available quite cheaply. Other items suitable would be a white bed sheet or linen quilt, marble or marble-look tiles, marble look contact paper adhered to a piece of foam board, coloured paper, neutral coloured linen, timber tabletops or a faux fur rug. There are also printed vinyl backdrops you can purchase that are specifically made for flatlay photography.

I have a Pinterest board dedicated to photography backgrounds, check it out here for some DIY and affordable background ideas.

Just a tip, a white background can be tricky to photograph so that the background comes out beautifully white and not grey in your photo, the trick is you need lots of beautiful light across your flatlay scene.

PROPS

There are three types of props or objects you will have in your flatlay. The hero object or prop, the supporting or complimentary props and fillers. For example our hero object might be a handbag, the supporting props could be some lipsticks, a pair of sunglasses and a scarf, with the filler props being some rings scattered here and there.

Choose props to help tell the story of your flatlay that work together in terms of size and colour. Add interest to your flatlay with textures, such as a knitted throw, linen napkins, scarves, ribbons or plants. Shop your home, you are sure to find props to use that you already own. 

FLATLAY COMPOSITION & STYLING

We want our flatlay to be interesting, tell a story and convey a feeling. Styled images attract the right followers or customers. Keep your styling simple and organised so as to not overshadow your hero object or product. Create depth or height with shadows by lifting some objects up off the background by placing something underneath. Layering props on each other adds interest to your flatlay. For example placing a coffee cup on an opened magazine.

Don’t forget, you don’t need to fill the whole scene with your props, negative space can be a good thing.

When laying out your flatlay, place your hero object first and then place the supporting props around it. Look for any gaps and place your filler props in those. Then check the composition and colours in your phone’s camera and if it’s not quite right adjust the positioning of your props or swap put props until you are happy. Did you know, you can change the photo ratio of your phone’s camera so you can see your flatlay in the dimensions of your desired photo size. This takes away the guesswork of where your props need to be placed. For example, if you are wanting to a square image for Instagram, change the ratio of your camera to 1:1.

TAKING THE PHOTO

Flatlay photos are typically taken from a birds eye view or “top-down”. You may need to get higher by carefully standing on a step stool or ladder.

Check the composition in your camera’s screen and move your camera around and try different angles until you are happy. Adjust the brightness while in camera mode, you don’t want a dark or underexposed photo. After you take the photo check it to make sure your main object is in focus. Blurry photos equal the perception of poor quality. Usually out of focus photos means you likely need more light on your flatlay. Because there isn’t enough light your camera will slow down the shutter speed making it hard to obtain focus if you don’t hold the camera completely still.

Hot tip – While you have your flatlay set up, create extra visual content by also taking photos from different angles.

An image of a photo being taken with a mobile phone of a flatlay scene. Check the composition of your flatlay using your phone's camera.

EDITING YOUR PHOTO

Digital images need at least basic editing, especially if using your phone to take your flatlay photo. The editing you are likely to need to do is to increase the brightness, adjust the colour balance (is the photo too warm or too cool?), slightly desaturate if colours are too intense, crop or straighten the image and sharpen slightly. Most photo editing apps or programs can perform the basic editing functions you will need.

FLATLAY MISTAKES TO AVOID

  • Under-exposed photos due to poor lighting
  • An overstyled or overcrowded flatlay
  • Poor image quality – blurry or out of focus photos
  • Over-edited photos or a photo with no editing at all.

So if you are thinking of creating your own amazing flatlays, I hope this guide has been helpful. Got questions? Drop them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to answer them.

If you are looking for ready-made flatlay photos, then look no further than the MBPD Stock Shop containing hundreds of styled stock photos that are ready for you to download and use instantly.

Michelle