Instagram: 5 Tips for Mastering the Flat Lay
Instagram: 5 Tips for Mastering the Flat Lay
Hello there! I’m Lilian from Lilian Mackenzie Photography, and I’m so excited that Dawn has invited me to share my top 5 Instagram flat lay styling and photography tips with you today!
I’m a product stylist and photographer based in London, England, and I describe my style as elegant, ethereal and graceful. I absolutely adore muted palettes, organic textures and romantic details, and I draw inspiration from nature (lots of flowers!), food and travels. Creating daily Instagram snaps has allowed me to really explore and appreciate that simple beauty that’s all around us, and I hope this post will inspire you to do the same!
1) Create a visual story
Start with one or two “hero piece(s)” and a story in mind, and gather props to help you tell that story. They can be of a certain colour palette, texture, or theme, etc. I find that creating a flat lay is a very organic process, and I’ll keep playing with the combination of props and placements until I find “the one”. So gather lots of props! You probably won’t end up using everything but it’s always good to have them handy.
I know a lot of Dawn’s loyal readers are calligraphers and illustrators, so here’s an example of how I styled a flat lay to share the story of designing my own logo for my new business. I included a calligraphy pen and a little pot of ink to show that this is done by hand, and the multiple rows and sheets of calligraphy give a sense of the process as well as progress!
2) Pick a (plain) background
Plain backgrounds are best when it comes to flat lay photos as they’re less likely to distract from your objects. Some of my favourite backgrounds are a plain white board, tile samples and coloured linen!
3) Natural light
For the best photos, you want a soft, natural light source, such as right next to a large window, but avoid harsh, direct sunlight. Observe how the light changes throughout the day in your home or studio so you can pick a time and spot that work best for you. For example, I like to shoot next to my north-facing garden bi-fold doors in the afternoon.
If the light is too harsh (which is almost never an issue in London, ha!), hang a piece of thin white cloth (e.g. muslin cloth or bed sheet) over the window to help diffuse the light. I personally don’t mind shadows too much, but if you prefer less shadows, you can place a reflector on the opposite side to the light source to bounce the light back onto your objects. You don’t need anything fancy for a reflector; it can be a large piece of white card or foam board, or even a silver cake board!
Oh, the magic of flat lays is that there are endless ways to compose one! Whether you’re photographing only one object or filling the frame with lots of elements, there are a couple of general rules that you can follow to make an interesting shot.
The first one is the **Rule of Thirds**.
If you divide your photo into nine equal parts, you get two vertical lines, two horizontal lines and four intersections. Rule of Thirds says that you should place your objects along these lines or at these intersections in order to add more interest and balance to your photo. If you’re an iPhone user, you can switch on the handy “grid” function under your camera settings!
The second one is **Rule of Odds**.
Photos with odd numbers of elements are more interesting and pleasing to the eye. I don’t quite know why that is but it’s true! One theory is that your brain tries to automatically pair things up, and when it can’t in the case of odd numbers, it’s forced to keep moving through the composition, hence making it more dynamic!
5) Framing your shot
Once I have a rough composition ready, I like to tweak it whilst looking through the screen of my iPhone. If I’m shooting a square image, I always use the square camera mode. Honestly, it makes things SO much easier!
This one may sound obvious but make sure you hold your phone/camera flat! Again, you can use the grids to help you get any lines right. Don’t worry though if you don’t get it quite right. You can use the built-in vertical and horizonal perspective Instagram functions to adjust the tilt slightly afterwards!
My last tip about framing is be intentional. Either leave a good amount of space between your elements or overlap them intentionally rather than having them sort of touching. Similarly, if you want all your elements to be inside the shot, make sure there is a good border around the objects. If you want to crop some elements, do it with intention. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing an image that looks like it’s been chopped off by mistake!
And that’s it! I hope you’ve found the tips useful! If you’d like to see more of my flat lays (and other images), you can find me on Instagram where I share a daily dose of pretty! You can also find me on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Etsy.
And just before I say goodbye, here’s a flat lay styled stock photo freebie for you! I would love to see what you do with it so please do tag me and use #LilianMPhoto so I can see it!
CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO DOWNLOAD A FREE HI-RES VERSION!
Thanks so much for reading Instagram: 5 Tips for Mastering the Flat Lay, and have a lovely day!
Lilian @ Lilian Mackenzie Photography
Lilian is a stylist and photographer, specialising in product styling and styled stock photography. She’s also known as ling yeung b in her other blogging life. She lives with her husband in London, England. She’s a foodie and traveller, and when she’s not photographing, you can find her trying her hands at watercolour painting, calligraphy, and various DIYs.