I am alllll about those fabulous Instagram flat lays! They’re a fantastic way to show your product or service in a unique way and, to be honest, they’re my favorite kind of photos to style! They instantly add professionalism to your feed or ads and are quite easy to learn. They’re also a great opportunity to tell your brand’s story to your audience in a gorgeous way.
I’ve seen lots of flat lays done well on Instagram, and I’ve also seen a lot of flat lays that are overdone and end up looking blasé. Talk about blaaaah!
I’m always challenging myself to style my photos with a fresh perspective, so I put together a list of my favorite flat lay tips I’ve learned along the way in my photo styling career! These aren’t all steadfast rules, but rather suggestions to help you think outside the Insta frame. 😉
Here’s 14 of my favorite flat lay tips to help yours stand out!
1. Find your theme and focal object
Pick a theme that will complement what you’re shooting. I always shoot with a uplifting and colorful theme, but maybe you’re trying to photograph some vintage kitchen utensils. In this case, your object may do best with a rustic theme. Think of the story you’d like to portray and build your flat lay around that main object.
2. Accent with props
Add some pizzazz and help define your story by adding props to your background. Some of my favorites include hands, plants, or silverware. Hands humanize a photo and help us relate to a scene. Click here to read more on humanizing your photos! Your props should accent your photo and not distract from the main focus.
3. Try something unexpected
I always love playing with textures! Maybe there’s a glass of spilled water, or a fuzzy pillow in your photo. I find it fun to experiment with typography and liquids. Now, you don’t have to get quite that elaborate, but it doesn’t hurt to keep your options open. 😉 Adding texture helps add excitement and interest, so don’t be afraid to play around with lots of different objects!
4. Watch your color harmonies
Pick 2–3 colors throughout your background and props that complement each other. Having a small mix of colors helps unify your flat lay, whereas having too many colors can make your photo too busy or distracting. Try warmer colors (anything from red to yellow) to create a sense of something comfortable, inspiring, and positive. For a more serene and soothing scene, stick to cooler colors. For all my color tips, check out this post!
5. Rearrange like crazy
I’m never one to settle for the first thing I like, which can be pretty helpful at times! Keep rearranging and taking pictures even if you are happy with what you have so far—you may be surprised at what you like later! I honestly end up taking around 30 different arrangements so I can find the best one later when I review them all. Taking time between choosing your favorite image helps your mind reset and make better choices down the road.
6. Try different backgrounds
Your background can say SO much about your flat lay. My favorite is shooting on seamless paper, but I also love to experiment with wood and fabric. Other great options include vinyl backgrounds (Etsy is a great source), grass, or blankets… try anything!
7. Add personality
Always reflect your brand’s personality! I love ice cream, breakfast, and flowers which is quite apparent if you look at my feed. Keeping within some of these themes and props will help make your flatlay YOU. It’ll also help build brand recognition, so keep repeating a few themes in order to establish your brand’s personality and drive it home.
8. Experiment with different arrangements
There’s so many ways you can style a flat lay that it might feel intimidating to find a starting point. You can try using a grid layout (similar to the image above), a more relaxed lifestyle shot, or a composition with extra whitespace with room for text. Use one of these as a starting point to help you get the ball rolling.
9. Shoot from up high
I always shoot slightly beyond the boundaries of what I envision will be in my photo. Think of an invisible border over your flat lay when you’re styling, and shoot past that frame. You can always you crop it later on your phone or computer. Giving yourself extra room can save you time if you later decide you want more within the composition. It will also help save your photo if you need to straighten it, since that can crop quite a bit off.
Whew. I know there’s a lot so far, but that’s why I created this list of summarized flat lay tips that you can reference during your shoots! Click on the image below to download so you can remember them. 😊
10. Use apps for editing
I always use Photoshop for my editing, but I realize not everyone uses Photoshop. I usually use apps on my phone to help brighten images for my stories. Some of my favorite include A Color Story and Snapseed. I like to go in and adjust the exposure (since photos on my phone always come out too dark) and adjusting the red channel with curves to warm up my photos as I would in Photoshop.
I’ll go more in depth later about my process in Photoshop in a future post, so stay tuned!
11. Layer items for dimension
Look at some items around you—are they all separated, or are some items covering others, or maybe even laying on each other? I’m sure it’s likely the latter, unless you’re in an empty room. We can see depth in our surroundings, but that’s often lost in a flat lay (I mean, it IS called a flat lay for a reason, right?) 😜
Your flat lay doesn’t have to look flat. Items can seem too disparate when they’re in their own space. Try layering objects on top of one another, or using differing object heights to add a sense of dimension.
12. Think square
When shooting for Instagram, try thinking in a square. You can upload photos that aren’t square nowadays, but I tend to prefer the square format so I can retain my whole image since all the grids in the profile, explore, and hashtags pages are also square.
Sketch out a rough idea on a sticky note (since they’re conveniently already square!) of what objects will be where before you photograph it. Styling my photos this way always helps me see the “big picture” beforehand and find the best composition when shooting.
13. Prop box
Have a go-to box of props that defines your brand. My prop closet is filled with all kinds of flowers, fake eggs, and pink silverware. Keep using these throughout your flat lays to reinforce your themes and build brand awareness.
14. Hold objects in place
Probably one of my favorite tips for flat lays is using modeling clay or sticky tack to hold everything in place. I use it for just about every shot! For most of my flower images, I put a little bit of clay on the bottom of the stem and stick it to my background so I can get a nice, front view of the flower. Clay is also great if you need to add a little support behind an object to avoid distracting reflections.
These are all tips I’ve learned throughout my experience and follow every time I shoot. Always keep challenging yourself to try something new in your flat lays! These tips will help your brand stand out and make sure you don’t fall into that blasé genre! Whether you’re shooting with your phone or DSLR, you can create fantastic flat lays. Remember to think outside the frame and tell a story and you’ll be well on your way to that fabulous flat lay! Oh, and here’s my sheet of summarized flat lay tips in case you need it! 🙂