Back when I first started blogging, I used my iPhone camera, zero editing apps/skills and had no idea about how to throw a decent shot together. Over the past 4 years I’ve taught myself a few tricks to help improve that, along with tips from sites like Wonder Forest and very lovely people like Zoe (who once spent an entire train journey once with me asking questions about ISOs, focus points and all sorts of other stuff).
Personally, I love a good flat lay. I find them really therapeutic to set up and have a giant box of bits and pieces that I use to ‘set the scene’ so to speak. A few of you have left me comments or sent emails asking about photography tips, and while I’m no means an expert (every positive comment about my photos always gives me a MASSIVE smile) I thought I’d share a few things I’ve picked up for creating pretty product flat lays.
The Flat Lay
In its simplest form, it’s literally a photo that is taken from above. If you can stand several feet above the things your shooting, you’ll get a much better perspective.
I usually set my backgrounds up on the floor under the big windows in my bedroom – it lets in lots of natural light and allows me to stand up normally and shoot directly over the top of the products. You could also pop them on your bed/table/dressing table and stand on a chair or something, but please, please find something stable! You don’t want to slip off and break something (yourself or your prized new Charlotte Tilbury sculpting palette).
Most bloggers don’t have lovely wooden floors or marble work surfaces – instead it’s a handy library of wallpaper samples, floor tiles and sticky-back plastics that grace the photos on their blogs. I’ve got several different wallpapers that I tend to use; I pop a stiff backing board underneath them to give an even surface and just lay the paper on over the top.
Wall/floor tile samples are also a good option as you can buy them in big DIY shops for £1-£2 each – just buy a few more than you think you might need to allow you to spread out a little for certain shots if you like. White furniture can also work well if it has decent light thrown at it. I occasionally use a large chest of drawers that’s white, but more often than not, I save this up for more upright shots where I can add some flowers or one of my collection of pineapple things for contrast.
I find that props really help bring flat lay shots to life. They’re a great way of making your photos stand out from everyone else’s, and allow you to develop your own look and style that people recognise with your shots. I collect all kinds of things to use for mine – ribbons from my monthly Glossybox/subscription boxes; random little bits in product mail outs (the cardboard lips are a good example of this); feathers, glitter, the list can go on. You might not think you need it at the time, but shove it in the box and I reckon you’ll be pleased to have it at some point in the future!
Stores like Tiger, Wilko or H&M home are good for little trinket trays or affordable candles to help bring your photos to life. I also have a couple of cacti/succulents that I like to throw in from time to time and occasionally some fresh flowers if I’ve been food shopping and found a bargain (gotta love that Tesco reduced flower section).
Your jewellery drawer also works well – rings can be scattered around to add depth, broaches/pins add a bit of a statement and necklaces/earrings all help to make everything look pretty. Stationery is another cheap way of refreshing your flat lays –Sainsbury’s do some great Kate Spade-esque styles and Paperchase have a really good range of slogan postcards for about 60p each.
Avoid glitter/confetti if you can’t face the thought of spending 20 minutes picking it up. It looks absolutely stunning in photos but goes EVERYWHERE (trust me) and you’ll still find it stuck to makeup products 3 weeks later. And your carpet. And your face.
It’s entirely up to you how crowded/sparse you want to make your flat lays – I love Hayley’s style of lots of things all in one shot, whereas I tend to go for something a little more spread out. I think this is one of those things that really helps to define your own style. Play around with different ways and see what you prefer – it’s well worth investing some time upfront to develop a ‘look’.
And don’t forget the BlueTac. It’s basically the saving grace of every flat lay I’ve ever done. It took me about 18 months of swearing at round lipsticks for not staying in place until I bought a packet and made life about 100000 times easier, ha ha.
Generally speaking, the ‘best’ (and I use that word very lightly) shots are the ones that either use similar shades or one with those that contrast well together. For example, I occasionally use a blue toned wood-effect background to showcase lots of pink items. The pinks all hold together as one cohesive element but when put on a background with a heavy contrast it really makes them stand out. You could also play around with using a variety of different shades on a white background – the same principle should apply, with the colours of the products providing a contrast against a plainer background.
Colour Wheel theory can definitely help to get the mix of colours right – this link gives a good explanation and resource if you want to delve a bit deeper. If you set up your photo and something doesn’t feel quite right, it might be that a different background colour would work better or that one of the product shades just isn’t working well when shown with everything else.
Again, these are all just recommendations rather than hard and fast rules. Experiment what works for you and how you prefer things.
I’d love to hear your top tips for creating the perfect flat lay. And if there’s anything else you’d like me to cover in these sorts of posts, please let me know!