A Guide To The Perfect Flat Lay

Posted on 6 min read
Yes, you read right. I’m sufficing to the millennial culture and getting down with the kids with the most cliche title of today’s society. Flat Lay is now just a regular word (or two words if you’re doing it properly) in my vocabulary, and I’m sure urban dictionary would agree to disagree – but it’s not because it’s the in thing, it’s because it’s a way of life.

Like for real.

My inner psyche is always (and I mean always) on alert mode. I can’t pass an aisle in the shops without scanning for potential subjects, having a visionary on what little bits and bobs would complete a photo display, and forming a prop filled image in my mind on what would look best in the enhancing department.

Buying an item purely because you know it will add idyllic structure to your set up opposed to the actual practicality it serves is standard behaviour for bloggers now and I’m well and truly sucked into this blog prop potential mentality. It means your rooms are filled with random furnishings but it also means you can experiment and change up until you’re happy with the final result, and that’s exactly what I’ve done over the years.

Flat lays are a big part of my Instagram agenda, especially when I can make money from the photos I produce when fabricating a flat lay is on the brief. I like to play around until I get it spot on to my aesthetic desires and I can’t deny there’s a sense of self satisfaction when I reach that objective of telling a story through the art of random objects.

Not to say there’s certain rules in how your flat lay should appear, because there absolutely isn’t. Everyone has different styles and tastes and the arrangement you curate might not work for others – but as a basic starter pack I thought I’d give my intuition on what I find is the secret tactic to getting that layout into the spotlight.

Choose your background | before you start constructing and dressingthe base layer of your photograph is going to be the cornerstone to the final masterpiece, so you need to choose your background wisely and according to the whole undertone you’re aiming for. For me, you can never go wrong with plain cotton bed sheets, fluffy rugs, wood flooring, or even the cheaters way to obtaining the classic vinyl look – self adhesive plastic planks, and that typical marble sticky back. Investing in some fabrics or surfaces is always a great place to start, as is stocking up on coloured card. I always like to stash a distinctive selection of cardboard materials to work with! The main thing to remember is that you want the background to complement the pieces and not distract you from what you are presenting; so the simpler, the better.

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Colour coordinate | it’s ideal to consider, to plan, and to prep what colour palette or theme you are going for before you proceed with the next steps. Not that you have to think too deeply to the point it becomes a debating matter, but a simple clear idea of what hues you have in mind will help you decide on what to surround your image with. My personal favourites are neutrals, minimalistic greys, and your go safe black and white but I also tend to think about the subject of the photo and the colours within that. A pink razor needs to be advertised? You bet I collate the same or similar coloured rosiest accessories I own to emphasise the colour pattern and really set the shades in stone!

Centre topic | when you’re scrolling your feed and spot a photo that catches your attention, take notice of where your subconscious darts to; it’s always the middle! You don’t want your featured product to be overshadowed by the neighbouring assemblage which is why you should ensure your centred topic is instantly and strikingly visible as the focal point. It doesn’t even have to be directly central, as long as it’s in pinpointing distance. No matter what the collection, whether it be food, fashion, makeup, and so on, the rule is to parade the essence by capturing it with the elevation of design, and not with an upstaged replacement.

Props | there is no such thing as too many props. You really could go on forever when it comes to decorating your photo with all sorts of pretty but the important thing is to use them to your advantage, to up your game with the help of a selection of diverse homely pieces that can make all the difference just by adding it to an empty space. Mixing your props up will always make a more visually stimulating photo as they contrast each other and add dimension. So by that I mean different sizes, textures, and height – those that can be seen easily from a birds eye view. My idea of prop heaven is anywhere between blanket throws, trays, trinkets, sprinkles, pins, candles, cups, jewellery, magazines, stationery, fake flowers and plants, and quote cards. I sometimes like to find a quote that links intrinsically to the theme, for e.g. I’ve ensured the words ‘in the framework’ from an old Vogue mag are shown in my original photo to boost this post. Then there’s those little bits and bobs that immediately bring charming clarity with inviting font and graphics, like the *C’est Bon Card, the *Hello Coaster, and the dinky *Pineapple Pin. Discovering one singular site that provides all is a useful tactic to buy those bulk props, and Old English Company have it all!

Don’t overcrowd | although an apt amount of props is useful to bring an image to life, it’s handy to keep in mind that the best flat lays are always the tidiest ones. You don’t want it to feel too heavy or look too busy so to place strategically and consistently space the props apart is the most convenient road to go down. I’d say a minimum of 3-5 props is an average number to warrant a neat and nifty format.

Spend time | unless you’ve set yourself a strict time limit because you’re a busy boss on the go, there’s absolutely no rush when it comes to perfecting your flat lay. Unless you’re an expert wizard, you’ll never get it right first try, and it’s worth moving, swapping, arranging, and playing around with your objects to see what you’re more drawn to, to see what physically looks symmetrically balanced, and to see the proficient highlighting of your hero piece. Whether you like to lay them logistically, or overlap your items, there’s an art to presentation and it’s all about individual organisation and styling. I find placing larger items in the corner of the frame paints a more subtle picture, as does leaving a small gap between each adjacent space. You’ll find yourself picking up your own tips the more you practice and play around!

Composition | it’s not just the snapshot position and precision of the photo that you need to bear in mind, it’s how you are going to keep it compact and in place. By this point you should have decided on whether you will be shooting in portrait or landscape  (I prefer portrait or square if it’s taken on a phone) so you’ll have an idea on how you are actuating the fit of the framework, but it’s good to mentally note the tips and tricks that may just save some stress whilst doing so. A couple of mine are making sure you leave room to crop once taken and edited, and aiming to hide the cornered edges of paper with your props to give a more natural feel.

Keep test shooting | along with the manoeuvring of the props, it’s also functional to repeatedly keep clicking that shutter button. Not just with the alterations of your camera settings, but with the alterations of your situation; how you are stood, where you are stood, and the distance from (I find the floor or bed is most appropriate as it’s just right – not too close and not too far). You’d be amazed how moving slightly to the left or standing on a box to lean over to shoot from above improves the photo! It may expedite some weird, messy encounters, aching arms and near falls but you’ve aced the flat lay so what’s a broken leg, right?!

(Just kidding, obviously. Safety always comes first.)

Have you got anymore guidance to add to the list? I hope I’ve lead you on the right track to gaining some first world advice and inspo, and to influence you to slay that flat lay, of course.


*Items marked with a * were sent to me for review purposes. Please read my disclaimer for more information.