The golden cut, a dislike for anything asymmetric and a preference for everything uniform – us humans, we love everything that looks harmonious and follows a recognizable pattern. No wonder flatlays are highly popular on visual platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram and receive lots of likes from followers. But what exactly are flatlays and how do you succeed in shooting them?
If you’re active on Instagram on a regular basis, you may have found yourself checking out flatlays quite often. They’re especially popular in the food, beauty and fashion branch. Flatlays are images that are shot from a bird’s eye perspective – basically from above the setting. They display an arrangement of products either from a uniform topic, the same color family or they can showcase a meal in its variety. Flatlays are often tagged with the hashtag #onmydesk and are supposed to show an everyday smorgasbord of products laying on the table, which have obviously been placed like that for the image.
Flatlays are extremely appealing to the viewer’s eye as they usually follow certain symmetric guidelines, making them very popular for users on the platform. On Instagram, there are tons of accounts (e.g. the official @flatlays account) that repost the most beautiful flatlays from all over the world – offering a great way for influencers to be discovered by potential new followers. But how exactly do you create a flatlay? Do you just randomly throw things on the floor and hope for the best? Or is there a trick on how to create the perfect flatlay? We asked around and collected the best tips and tricks for you.
No matter the topic, your flatlay should follow a specific color scheme. Commit to two to three colors or one color family. If you don’t want to use several nuances of the same color, you can work with complementary colors to create a contrast that is still harmonious. Too many colors are a disruption to the viewer’s eye while coordinating colors leads to calmness and uniformity.
At the same time, you should make sure that the style of the presented items goes together. You’re displaying a vintage camera? Maybe a pair of high heels is not the right match – rather, try a combination of everything with a vintage touch to it: polaroids, tanned leather and natural colors. If, on the other hand, you’re showing off your new pink lipstick, glossy high heels and everything that is more modern (such as an iPhone, a MacBook or a minimalistic notebook) is a great match. What’s important: try to take the pictures during daylight – it will make your images stand out even more.
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The Perfect Background
Before you start arranging your products, the background has to be prepared. A white or natural wooden table top is great to work with, but if you’re looking for more variety, you could use adhesive foils or textiles such as rugs or beddings as a backdrop. This year, marble structures were a trend used as background quite often; but you don’t necessarily have to invest in a marble panel right away. For little money, you can buy all sorts of foils at most hardware stores. That way, you can create a variety of backgrounds for flatlays without having to spend big.
Pros may combine different background and thus create a visual separation of the products in the image – or you can use the combination to emphasize a certain area of the picture. If you’re a newbie to flatlays, we suggest starting off with a simple white background and going from there. Once you’ve practiced the arrangement of products on an all-white backdrop and are happy with the results, you can start playing with backgrounds. An easy method that is often used is to simply flip open a trade magazine with a matching page – just make sure the page shown isn’t too colorful.
The Right Arrangement
If you want to shoot your flatlay, you have to decide on how you want to arrange your products: Do you want to create a perfectly symmetrical and straight flatlay or do you want it to look more random and spontaneous? Both versions are appealing to the viewer and are, at the same time, a challenge for the photographer. Most times, it is easier to arrange the products following a set pattern, e.g., a square. That sets the frame lines for the images and you just have to start filling the space with products.
If you want your products to look randomly put together, you’re up for a challenge: You want your picture to look aesthetical and not wildly thrown together. That is why it is often easier to set some boundaries, for example, the round edge of the table or another kind of visual dividing line. Then you start off with the largest product or the one you want to focus on. Start adding other products one by one and check each step by looking through your camera. It helps you to realize when you start going off track.
Oftentimes, you lay out your products and soon realize: even though the colors match and the topic is clear, you’re missing that certain something. If that is the case, you can try using different textures without going crazy with colors. For example, in fashion you could match a knitted sweater with fine lace, combined with a pair of denim. The contrast between lace and knit is interesting and breaks up the look of the picture. If you area of expertise is food, you could try combining a wooden cutting board with white bowls or add little branches of herbs next to your bowl of soup. It loosens up the image and is visually more appealing.
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Flatlays to Jump-Start Instagram
Flatlays usually have one thing in common: they display many different products from various brands. Arranged right, the products are an eye-catcher. And why shouldn’t the brands see your work? Make sure to always tag the brands you showcase in your flatlays on Instagram. You may end up getting a lot of attention from all the brands you love and, at the same time, PR agencies get a glimpse of how you could present their products. Maybe your flatlays could lead to some kind of brand cooperation?
Use Flatlays as a Teaser
If you’re a tried and tested flatlay photographer, you can use these kinds of images as a teaser for your blog posts or give your readers a glimpse of what they soon get to see in detail. When you’re in the fashion branch, you could start with a flatlay of an outfit you’re about to wear. If you’re showing a trendy make-up on your YouTube channel, you can arrange the products you have used for it in a flatlay. If you’re working on a travel post or you want to announce your next travel destination, try arranging a world map, a passport, your camera and a little notebook. Flatlays are a great way to show a different kind of picture to your followers without giving away too much of the original post to follow.
We think that flatlays are a great method to create a different perspective in your feeds, to showcase products and to delight the harmony-seeking eye of your fans and followers. In the beginning, you might have to practice a little until you’re familiar with the perfect arrangement and choosing the right background, but we highly recommend to give our tips a try and start working from bird’s eye perspective.