How to Style Flat Lay Photos that Show Off Your Brand
The phrase "a picture's worth a thousand words" has never been truer in today's Instagram-able world.
Whether you're selling a product or a service, you must have quality photos for yourself.
If you follow any brands/bloggers on Instagram with beautiful feeds, you've probably noticed those really pretty 'flat lay' photos. A flat lay is just what it sounds like — a photo of a group of elements laid flat on a background — which is typically bright white, so the elements pop.
These types of photos are a great way to convey a lot of messaging and brand style in an image.
Kristin, a friend and client of Ma'am Marketing, recently set out to take her own flat lay photos to use for some of her social media graphics. Spoiler alert: They turned out amazing!
Check out her process notes below so you can learn how to DIY your own styled flat lay photos.
Step 1: Get 'Pretty Props'
The base of a great flat lay is the elements themselves. Popular items include: laptops/computers, coffee cups, succulent plants, pretty rose gold desk accessories, flowers, notebooks, etc.
The benefit of DIYing your photos is that they're 100% unique to you! No one will have the same items you have, arranged in the same way.
Start by scouring your home or office for personal items. Find pieces that convey your service, your unique personality and your brand's look and feel. Then, if you want to do some shopping, you can always purchase a few more items to fill in any gaps.
Kristin bought up a few items from Amazon, many of which she would want to keep anyway, but now they can do double duty and work for promoting her business too.
Step 2: Set Up the Shot
Once you have your items, the next step is to arrange the items and start shooting.
Grab the best camera you have, whether it's your iPhone or a DSLR camera, and get started. The key is not the camera. I repeat, the key is not the camera.
The elements of a successful flat lay are:
- The composition
- The background
- The lighting
Trust me on this one.
Arrange your items in different combinations and leave plenty of white space if you intend to add a text overlay later (regardless if you think you will or will not use text, it's a good practice to capture it anyway, just in case!).
"White space" doesn't mean literal white space, though it might if you have a white background, but it's referring to a space where there is minimal activity or distractions. The idea is that your items don't look cluttered over the whole image, but instead leave you space to add text or feature one item in a portion of the photo. If you clutter the image, you'll lose your viewer.
A good place to start is by placing one larger item to the side of the frame and then adding a few smaller items next to it or around it.
The main item may not even be the thing you are selling — and that's okay! Spotlighting the item you are selling within context in your photo is your ultimate goal. You want to show the viewer how the product will fit within their own lives.
In the example below, Kristin's product is the LipSense lip color, but the feature item in the photo is her planner and crown. The goal is to reveal to viewers that she is one of the top distributors in the company and that she is working hard to build her business.
Background and Lighting
The most inexpensive and easy way to create a background for your flat lay is to use a piece of white poster board (that's what Kristin used!).
You can also use any other flat surface such as a pretty tabletop, countertop or flooring, as long as there is decent light available.
Using poster board makes it easy to set up your shot next to an area that has amble natural lighting, since it's easy to move around. If you can get closer to great lighting, you'll get a nice, crisp photo, with proper contrast of both light and shadows.
Set up the poster board by a window or glass door at a time when there is ample lighting coming in. However, you don't want to wash out your photos with too much lighting — if you do that, no one will be able to see the actual items. Be sure your props and background aren't sitting in those too-bright sun streaks coming in through your window.
Once the lighting is squared away, start clicking away with your camera. Get as many shots as you can with similar lighting, because this will ensure your photos look consistent. Kristin said:
I went on the floor by a big window and used natural lighting. I did have to edit most of the shots to lighten them as there was some shadowing that happened. It was much easier than I thought it would be! The hardest part was getting the sizing/distance right so I could see the objects but the focus wasn't the objects so that I had white space left.
Step 3: Edit and Share It
Once you have your photos taken, edit them like you would other photos that you post online, whether using Photoshop, Canva or an app on your phone. Increase the brightness of the photos and apply any other edits, so the background is nice and bright and your items are easily to see.
Save the photos where you can easily access them later — perhaps in a folder on your phone — to add to your Instagram feed over time.
You can also use the image as a background in a graphic just as Kristin did in the photo below. Kristin simply used Canva as a tool to create an overlay, add her logo and easy-to-read text.
How might you use the flat lay style to promote your brand, products or services?
Let us know in the comments, or share some shots of your own work - we'd love to see!