WHAT’S A FLAT LAY? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? & WHY, AS A CONTENT CREATOR, DO YOU NEED TO MASTER THIS SKILL?
If you’re anything like me & spend way too much time scrolling through Instagram, then you know that the ultimate #coolgirl way of displaying your newest purchases, recent favorites, or must-have items is to photograph it in a FLAT LAY. These types of posts use photography & the competition of items to craft an original, unique, & eye-catching display of a collection of products, or to highlight a single product, that deviates from the conventional white background. A flat lay, truly, can be your way of selling, promoting, & showcasing products in an eye-catching way that brings viewers into YOUR content.
Think of an outfit — there’s more than one aspect to it, right? The shirt by itself is just a shirt, same with the pants & shoes, but together they create an entire PACKAGE. While others may not want to purchase the outfit in its entirety, they may be attracted to the shirt because of the way you chose to style it, & in response, they go out & purchase the same shirt to style in their own way, thus continuing the cycle.
I like to think of flat lays as a sort of outfit for my products.
For the majority of this post, I’m going to be focusing on a pair of sunglasses that I recently purchased from ASOS, & used in a flat lay that has now become my MOST ENGAGED WITH picture on Instagram. I’ll be incorporating some of my favorite accessories (also known as PROPS) such as books, magazines, small pieces of jewelry, & other everyday items I have lying around in my room to create several different layouts.
Just to put it into perspective the importance of these types of photographs & the impact they can have on your brand — within 24 hours of posting this picture, I was contacted by THREE brands that saw my post & wanted to collaborate on future projects. ALL because of ONE flat lay photograph!
WHENEVER I’M PLANNING TO DO A FLAT LAY, I TAKE 5 MINUTES & LOOK AROUND MY ROOM FOR BASIC ITEMS THAT FIT THE DESIRED AESTHETIC.
So, before writing this post, I set myself a timer on my phone & began looking around my room for anything that I felt like could add a cool element to the photograph. I’ve got some automatic go-tos, which include my disco ball & a stack of Free People magazines, but I also picked up whatever jewelry I had around & a BOOK.
I cannot emphasize the IMPORTANCE of an amazing coffee table book (or a collection of them) enough! These have become an essential piece to any flat-lay that I’m styling, & it’s because there’s so many ways you can use them to set-up your visual collage. My current favorite is Nasty Galaxy by Sophia Amoruso because of the wide variety of images included.
I also decided to grab my letter board, a stack of books (which included the Little Book of Chanel, IT by Alexa Chung, & the Little Dictionary of Fashion because, y’know, why not?), a Fenty Beauty Killawatt Highlighter, my favorite pair of white snakeskin boots, a glass triangular shadow box thing, & a piece of rose quartz. Even if I make five flat lays using these products, the variety that each object adds to the overall aesthetic means that I can create five visually DIFFERENT flat lays from one group. I love doing this as I can batch all of my flat lay photos in one afternoon to use in the upcoming weeks.
ANOTHER GREAT TIP IS TO USE YOUR LOCATION’S NATURAL FLOORING. I’VE USED HARDWOOD, A COW SKIN RUG, & THE OUSHAK RUG IN MY ROOM.
For times when I don’t want to use one of my rugs or floors, I have purchased a small piece of white fur fabric to slide in & a piece of marble-styled paper that I got from my local craft store to add a little somethin’ extra. Sometimes, I’ll also just layer various magazine pages behind them — however, I will note that not everyone likes that style & prefer to keep their backgrounds a little more neutral with the white marble or fur, which is totally cool, too. These are a reflection of YOUR creative vision! It’s taken me MONTHS to figure out my style & what I like, & it’ll take you some practice time as well. Just stay true to yourself, your vision, & your target audience. I know the majority of my followers are young, twenty-somethings with an interest in a more bohemian, trendy approach to fashion + lifestyle; so I don’t throw together a flat lay of products that I don’t genuinely support or think my readers won’t like. Because, like I said before, a flat lay is like a product’s outfit — make the whole thing look good, because even if you’re focusing on the sunglasses, someone might be DYING over the boots. So, whether they end up buying the sunglasses or the boots, you’re still influencing your audience to do something.
A FLAT LAY IS LIKE A PUZZLE — SOME PIECES MAY FIT, OTHERS MAY NOT, & IT TAKES A BIT OF TIME TO MATCH EVERYTHING UP.
I love spending about half an hour playing around with my objects, trying out different placements & seeing what’s working for me & what isn’t. Sometimes this means running to go grab another necklace or a pair of earrings (which are my FAVORITE lil extras to add) or flipping through the magazine to find an image that fits the overall aesthetic better. Maybe, for you, it means taking out a few things for a more minimal look.
Once I get something that I like, I’ll grab my camera & take a few photos of it, maybe moving things a little here & there to make it look better on camera, but also to remember how I had things laid out before I go about adding & removing things to get it perfect.
So, in the above image, I liked what I was getting at, but I felt that it was lacking in something, so I grabbed my gold coin chain necklace & a few of my turquoise rings to place in the corner. That one little addition change the ENTIRE image & I knew I was good after that.
The above image uses every single item that I used in my Instagram post (with the addition of the boots & that it was taken on my rug, not hardwood flooring), but yet, it has a completely different vibe to it. I wanted this layout to be reminiscent of Los Angeles, maybe a little desert boho vibe, while my Instagram was more of a bright, pastel collection of my summer mood.
Personally, I like all of my flat lays to tell a story — even if it’s one I haven’t experienced yet. I believe this appeals to the Pathos, or the emotional appeal, of the products to your audience. Would you rather by a product that looks cool, but it’s just laid out on a white surface without much else? Or, would you rather buy those sunglasses, with an excerpt of a book detailing the enticing nature of Los Angeles, & outfit inspiration that are just BEGGING you to book that flight out west already? I don’t know about you, but I’m craving the west coast after that — & I wanna pack those sunglasses in my carry on.
TEXTURE ALSO DRAWS THE EYE IN.
I love the texture of the rug, of the boots, the gold detailing of the necklace in the corner; it’s those little things that make the overall image eye-catching & your viewers will spend more time hovering over the post as they look into those little aspects of detailing. Your goal is to create a captivating image that makes the viewer stop mindlessly scrolling, to zoom in & out, & click on the photo’s tags. That’s what made the addition of the necklace & rings in the corner make a complete photograph.
I always shoot my flat lays from above, preferably near a source of natural light — but, unlike some, I love to shoot from several angles & perspectives because I often enjoy a bit of a shadow coming off. To me, this seems more relatable & less manufactured, like I’m a real person, with real thoughts & likes, & not some automated company that is just pumping out the same image over & over again.
This is the same setup that I had in the previous picture showcasing the objects I picked out, except I switched the letter board’s placement, added the book in its previous place, & opted for a different angle. By doing this, I not only changed the overall focus of the picture, but I also added various levels of depth & texture. Did your eye catch anything you didn’t originally see in the previous photo?
While there are so many posts out there about the “7 STEPS TO THE PERFECT FLAT LAY,” I don’t believe that there’s one single “perfect” way to create a flat lay, as there’s no one single way to style an outfit. As long as you set out with an intention, a good source of natural light, & shoot from above, you are capable of creating MAGIC. Take those risks, experiment, switch up your background & products — HAVE FUN! Flat lays are one of my absolute favorite things to style & shoot because the possibilities are endless.
Now, go out, grab those sunglasses sitting on your kitchen counter, find a good source of natural light, & get to SNAPPIN’. I wanna see what you can do!