Styling Flatlay Photos – A Step by Step Guide

Styling Flatlay Photos - A Step by Step Guide

If you’re a blogger or a photographer, then you’re probably familiar with the term ‘flatlay’. A flatlay is essentially a photography style that consists of you shooting your photos from above and the items you are taking photos of are usually laid out onto a flat surface. It sounds simple to do, right? And it can be, but there are some important things to consider when taking your flat lay photos. The styling is probably the more time consuming stage yet also the most fun and creative. But it can be hard to know where to start and how to get that perfect shot that will attract readers to your blog or get your Instagram followers to hit that like button.

Today’s post I want to show you exactly how you can style your flat lay photos in my step  by step guide. So get your photography thinking caps on and follow below to learn how you can style some amazing flatlay photos:

Decide on your theme

For every different photo you plan on shooting, you’re going to want to firstly decide on a theme. This theme will help you know exactly what you hope to achieve with your shots and also give you a good idea on how you intend on styling your flatlays. For example, if you plan on shooting a flatlay for a future blog post on quick and easy vegan snack ideas, then you’re going to want your theme to be based around this. To get started, it will be beneficial to gather some inspiration, especially if you’ve never shot a flatlay before. Heading over to Instagram or Pinterest is your best place to get inspired. You can make some quick notes on any  ideas you come up with.

Styling Flatlay Photos - A Step by Step Guide Inspiration Theme

When it comes to figuring out your theme, the main goal is to focus on telling a story within your flatlay. Sticking to my example, if I was to think of a flatlay based around some vegan snack ideas, I’d want my story to be focused around preparing and consuming food. This helps relate back to the theme of your photos. Another example could be if you were shooting photo of some skincare products you might opt to focus your story on where you apply your skincare in a bathroom or near a dressing room table. You want to make it look as realistic and real life as possible to give your audience the chance to relate to what you’re taking a photo of.

It’s also a good idea to think about the kind of props you want to use to add more life to your photos, the type of lighting you want to go for whether you want your shots to look cold and crisp, bright and airy or warm and cosy. There’s also things like the angles and the colour theme you need take into consideration too.

Styling Flatlay Photos - A Step by Step Guide Backgrounds

Things to consider when choosing a background

Now you’ve gathered some ideas and inspiration for what your theme is going to be for your photos, you’re going to want to choose a background to shoot your photos on. When choosing a background you need to pick one that compliments what you’re photographing well. A plain white background is a great go to option because it makes whatever you’re photographing stand out and in particular those makeup products. You want to pick something that isn’t too distracting or over the top as this can spoil your photos. Your background also needs to match the props and the theme you’re aiming for. 

If you’re really stuck on what background to go for then take a few photos with the background options you have and see which one you like the best. If you really cannot decide, show someone else and see what they think about each other. This feedback can really help you reach decisions. There’s no harm doing a little trial and error between each background shot. It will be worth it. 

Some quick and easy ideas aside from a plain white background could be marble (a beauty lovers go to), wooden floor boards (for  a rustic cosy vibe), a thick blanket (extra warmth and cosiness) or a desired coloured card (for a pop of colour). Be as experimental and creative as you want.

Styling Flatlay Photos - A Step by Step Guide Prop Ideas

The low down on props

Props are really what bring your photos to life and can really make your photos look amazing! There are so many different things you can use for props in your photos. It can be so much fun to experiment with props and build a collection of props you can use time and time again. Props help you to visually express and set the mood of your photos. You can get as creative as you like and really think outside of the box. Like the background, you need to relate your props to the theme and your chosen colour palette. 

Some good go to prop ideas include flowers as they add a freshness and natural feel to photos, books because they can work well in lifestyle themed photos, blankets if not used as the background add a cosy and warm vibe to your photos, drinks or food add a realness to your photos, ribbon can be good to cover up corners and confetti can be good to add a touch of something else to your pictures. Remember that it doesn’t have to just be objects that you can use as props. Your own hands are a great way to add a realistic relatable touch to your photos and also help showcase what it is your photographing.

Props are one of the main things you experiment with. This also means that you will be moving them around, swapping them in and out between different shots, as well as continuing to add to your collection over time if this is something you intend to do.

Styling Flatlay Photos - A Step by Step Guide Styling Texture Depth

Once your ready to shoot, gather everything together to start to style your photos:

Now your ready to start shooting through careful planning and bringing everything you need together,  this is the stage where you need to experiment and test a few things out. Put everything together starting with laying down your background near where you want to shoot in terms of lighting and space for you to do so. 

Next you want to move onto putting your props into place and moving them around accordingly until you settle on something you feel looks and feels good to you. You want to ensure you’re giving each prop space between each one. Some of course for photo effective might want to touch, such as a pile of books or a mug resting on top of a blanket. This will help to make your photos look clean and spacious. Remember you don’t want things to look over the top or distracting. It needs to look like it flows well. 

Next thing to think about is the way your props sit on the background. Are you they straight or are they all over the place? Well put together and effortless looking props are best when they have straight lines to them. This can also work well if your props are symmetrical with each other and follow the same lines down and across the photo. Again this creates a clean looking series of photos. 

There’s also this photography term called ‘rule of thirds’ that comes into play when styling your photos and wanting them to look clean. Rule of thirds basically involves you imagining your photos divided into three rows and three even columns making a grid of nine boxes in total. This grid helps you with positioning your products e.g your props or what you’re shooting. The idea is that you place these products along the lines and in particular on where the lines meet. Doing this can really attract your audience in. This grid can be found on your camera or phone. Have a look in settings. Here is an example of it on the Iphone camera:

Styling Flatlay Photos - A Step by Step Guide Rule Of Thirds

Now you’ve got your set up and finished styling, you can now start shooting your photos. The best position to get in to shoot your photos is from above. This is what the flatlay photo is all about. All your products should be laying flat and you need to get above your set up. You can get taller by standing on a stool or something that is taller than where your flatlay is set up. If it’s on the floor, then great your height will work fine. But if it’s on a surface, you need to add to your already height to get more above the shot.

It’s important to also note how you’re holding your camera above the shot from your birds eye view. If you end up holding the camera too far down or too far up then this can look uncomfortable to whoever is viewing the photo. You need to ideally hold it straight without titling it either up or down.

If the set up you have styled isn’t working for you after taking several photos, then this is where you can switch things up and style things in a different way. Sometimes I either switch props in or out or I just completely start again with how things are positioned if things really aren’t going to plan. This is where you can experiment and have fun by being creative. The more you test different things out, the more you begin to figure out what works best and how you could style photos in the future. Every minute of practice you do builds on your skills.

Everything will it take several attempts for you to achieve the perfect shot and ones that you can walk away from shooting happy with. It still takes me multiple times to get shots that I am a 100% happy with, so don’t beat yourself up too much if it takes you awhile to get what you want. When I’m shooting for Instagram, I can take up to a 100 shots but only use 5 of them. It sounds crazy I know, but the more photos you take and have to choose from, then the easier things will be come the editing stages.

What’s your favourite part of flatlay photography?

Lauren x

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