Since the time Instagram, as a visual platform, came into my life, I remember clicking flatlays for my feed. Back then I had a personal, private account where I liked documenting everyday frames that caught my eye. I would click food pics on the tabletop or photos of my favorite books or jewellery in a flatlay format (even though I didn't even know the term then).
In 2015, I re-branded my fashion blog as Style Prism - since I was starting to use my blog to talk about various other things that interested me, apart from only fashion. My blog became a cauldron of passionate ideas/experiences on fashion, beauty, travel, food, art and lifestyle....and so, I simultaneously created my current Instagram account -@styleprism_anupriya - where I shared all this and more. That's when I started clicking more flatlays, for my product reviews, while on holidays, to click food pics when hanging out at cafes etc....and my love for this form of photography slowly grew more serious.
Recently, I've decided to make Flatlay Styling and Photography my niche on Instagram (there's an overflow of fashion content all around, and travel is a thing of dreams now, thanks to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic) and have been creating a feed with my flatlay and still life clicks.
I'm glad to see my flatlay photography and product photography getting so much love and encouragement from friends, followers and fellow Instagrammers, and I'm extremely excited to be a part of a talented community of like-minded content creators on the platform.
Needless to say, a lot of times, I get questions about how I create such aesthetic flatlays or tips on getting the hang of this art (yes, it is an art form and it is definitely not as easy or effortless as it might seem to some people). It led me to create a 5-day Flatlay Styling and Photography e-mail course for beginners where I share my knowledge about how to create the most appealing flatlays without the need for fancy equipment or expensive props. Till now, I have hosted 7 batches of the course (with a total participation of almost 50 people) and it has been a huge success, if I may say so myself!
But, over the months, I've also seen young students, novices who are just looking to explore the niche or some of my audience who might not be entirely comfortable paying a certain amount for an in-depth course or are not sure whether they want to invest their money into the craft since it's just a passing interest and not a passion.
So, I thought of creating this quick blog post that outlines some basic tips on getting aesthetic flatlay photographs....which might help all of you out there who have an interest in the subject, who might love seeing all the beautiful flatlays on Instagram/Pinterest & would like to make similar attempts or who want to learn the basics without having to enroll in a course.
#1 Pick A Theme
Every idea begins with a concept, so always start by deciding a theme on which you want to create your flatlay. If you are a beginner, you work around simple things like tea/coffee, jewellery, food, accessories etc. Slowly, you can try out different themes like travel, festive, fashion and more.
Once you decide on a theme, then start planning what props or elements you can use in your flatlay as per your chosen theme. You can even use few focal items according to your theme and fill the rest of the frame with other smaller props. Make sure the color story complements your theme and the overall vibe of the pictures conveys the feel that you want to put out - e.g.: have a laidback vibe for pictures depicting a weekend mood, or go for a festive feel for a Christmas-themed flatlay.
#2 Backdrops Can Make Or Break
The right backdrop can make a huge difference to your clicks. The foundation of a good flatlay is the backdrop on which you create your composition. There are lots of items of daily use all around you that can make for great backgrounds for your flatlays - from wooden table tops and marble counters to throws & blankets or solid colored bedsheets. Not to mention rolls of chart paper, handmade paper or even newspaper.
Wooden furniture/boards add a dose of rustic charm to any flaylay. White backdrops - be it paper, fabric , marble or anything else - can make any product/props come alive. Pretty solid-colored papers are great for backgrounds, specially for product photography. Chunky knits, cardigans, fuzzy blankets, crochet throws are great backdrop options too. Choose colors that juxtapose the product & make it stand out.
#3 Choose Props Wisely
What's a flatlay without the most appealing props??? Every flatlay will have the main products and a plethora of complementing props to create an aesthetic composition. From beauty products & jewellery to stationery & even food items, your own home is a treasure trove of pretty props if you know where to look! Try to have one main product as the focus and use other complementary props around it to create an aesthetic composition.
The easiest and prettiest props you can add to any flaylay are touches of green through plants & leaves or bursts of color with flowers. If you are looking for glamorous flatlay products, you don't need to look further than your jewellery box. Cosmetics, toiletries and make-up products are commonly found in all homes and make for great props. Bags, pouches, sunglass cases & similar items can add a stylish touch to your flatlay compositions. Food items are aesthetic products as flatlay subjects - be it fresh fruits & veggies or nuts, cookies & chocolates or everyone's favorite tea or coffee! Also, all the gadgets you use in your daily life can double up as flatlay props.
#4 Give Importance To Styling
The aesthetics of a pretty flatlay depends highly on the composition and styling of the shot. The arrangement of the elements used is what makes the flatlay visually appealing. The ideal way to create the composition is to decide the primary product and then add the complementing props. Playing around with the position of props can give you variety in the composition. Even though there are no hard & fast rules, there are some techniques & arrangements like the Rule of Thirds & the Golden Ratio that ensure a balanced composition for photography.
While clicking flatlays, you also need to give importance to the basic elements of photography like shapes, form, textures, colors and space. Harmony and balance play a big role in the aesthetic composition of your flatlays. While composing any flatlay, first try out various arrangements and see which one looks best to your eye. If needed, look at the frame through your lens - be it a phone or a camera - to understand how your final picture will look, and create the composition accordingly. The way you align the products, the amount of negative space you leave, the juxtaposition of colors - all contribute in the aesthetic allure of the final composition.
#5 Right Lighting & Good Editing
The right lighting makes a lot of difference to any flatlay shot. Most alluring flatlay pictures have soft & broad lighting which creates an overall brightness without casting very strong & sharp shadows. Natural light is one of the best ways of making sure your flatlays look bright & pretty. While clicking flatlays with artificial light, one needs to take care that the light source isn't too harsh or too close to the setup.
If you don't edit your photos right, then you are not taking them to their full potential. From cropping your frames to get the right composition, to working on the brightness & white balance, proper editing is just what you need to give that perfect finishing touch to your aesthetic flatlay clicks. There are a whole host of editing softwares like Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom which you can use on your laptop of desktop to professionally edit your photos. Some of the most popular free editing apps are VSCO, Lightroom & Snapseed.
If you follow these tips, you can definitely get started on the Flatlay & Product Photography journey without the need for fancy props or equipments. Practice, practice and practice some more - practice definitely makes perfect when it comes to this form of photography.
Try out different compositions, use various props, check which angles, lighting & edits work for you more and slowly develop your own style!
Disclaimer: this blog post just talks about the basic things to keep in mind while creating flatlays, and you would need a detailed knowledge of each topic to achieve a professional level of work. But, it is a good starting point for sure!
Hope you all found this blog post interesting & useful!
Do drop in a comment, e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a DM on Instagram - @styleprism - if you have any queries, feedback, ideas or if you want to know anything else regarding flatlay photography.