Ok so I’m pretty sure that everyone knows what a flat lay is, even my Mum seems to think she is some kind of expert. While the flat lay is not a new concept, it has managed to stand the test of time and remains a popular way of showcasing products. A flat lay is a visual story of your product and helps people picture what your product might bring to their lives. So how do you get the most out of your flat lay? There are many different styles, so why not branch out and learn a new style that will help bring your product to life?
My flay lay style has changed a lot over time, at the beginning I was all about the well-aligned, very square look (I’m still a big fan) but now I probably lean towards something a little more organic, as do my clients. So, read, experiment, and find a style that works for you.
STRAIGHT UP AND DOWN
This style is for all those perfectionists out there who appreciate a good straight line and have an eye for detail. The Straight Up style comes a lot more naturally to me than the more casual styles, I love to see things lined up nicely. I line these up by sight, but if you’re new to this style then a ruler might help you get that precise look.
Gather the main items you want in the flat lay and mark out your square, place an object in each corner so you know where the outer line will be. Choose a hero item to go in the middle, this will be the thing you most want people to notice. Then build in other props and products around this layout, I generally start from the outside and work my way in. Choose props that complete the overall story of your product, for example if your product is a candle you might have some of the candle ingredients, matches, candle snuffer, and other items that paint a picture of relaxation.
These flat lays generally work better for flat objects, tall or wide items can throw off the perspective of the square. When I do combine these items with flat items I find the tall ones work best in the bottom corners. Use a range of object sizes and textures this makes it more interesting and intriguing to the eye.
TO THE POINT
This is fast becoming one of my favourite styles because it’s so versatile and works for many different products. It might seem a little easier to achieve than the straight option but it can be tricky to master that perfect effect. I always choose an object that I am going to use as the base of the image, this item is larger than the other items in the image and will be your starting point. Place a smaller item at the point where you want the arrangement to finish, this gives you a clear direction and you know how much space you have to fill. From there you need to fill the remaining space between these items. Start with the larger items at the base end and make your way up to the point, decreasing the size of the objects as you go. Once you have the main items in place fill any gaps with small objects, create layers and areas of interest.
The most important thing about this style is that is flows properly, a wrong-sized item in the wrong place may throw out the proportions and disrupt the flow. With this style it’s easy to step back and see which item is out of place so you can make the necessary adjustments. The starting point for this style can be any point around the edge of your frame, top right corner, left side, bottom right corner etc.
CENTRE OF ATTENTION
The name says it all really – this style is great when you want to focus on that one special item. It draws the eye in and gives you no option but to focus on the product. This style is also relatively easy to assemble, but there are some key points to note. Once you have chosen your hero item sometimes I choose a slightly larger item which will frame the hero. This frame could be a chopping board, book or linen, creating layers is key. Of course if your hero item is enough by itself that works too. Choose a small selection of props to place around the central item, generally smaller items that help to tell the story but don’t overpower the hero.
Layer up! You’ll typically have a smaller space to work with so creating layers is the key to making this a stand out style. Think something soft, hard, paper, wood, marble… choose props that are a different texture or material to the hero. The layers don’t even have to be fully visible – they are just there to create more of a story and give the image more depth.
MESSY BUT PRETTY
This style looks like it might be quite easy to achieve and I’m sure there are people out there that do find it easy, but I am not one of those people. I find it easiest to start with a hero item for this one, everything else is placed randomly so this at least gives you a starting point. Place your larger items in next, create layers and stack items on top of each other for detail. You will need to step back from this one quite often and check your placement and fill remaining gaps with the smallest items using interesting angles.
Have some of your items hanging outside of the frame so that when you do your final crop the item is cut off, I like the full frame option of this style as it creates the illusion that there are other things going on outside the frame. Really think about what this scene would look like in real life, turn your unsightly messy desk into a work of art by using your best stationery, flowers, coffee mug and pens. It creates a story that people want to be a part of. Make sure you choose the appropriate background for these settings as well, if you are shooting a food image then something that resembles a kitchen bench or table would work well.
I use this style a lot for food photography as you often want to capture all those juicy details. This style requires very little actual styling and is more about the hero of the image which typically already has a lot of its own colours or textures and looks amazing just as it is. An important part of these images is the background, make sure you choose something that has a colour and texture that complements your subject not over takes it. This looks like it might be a pretty easy style to achieve but it can be a little tricky to get the balance just right.
If your hero item has loads of its own layers of detail and texture then keep any props and backdrops that you use pretty simple to really make the hero details the stand out. Think about the details in your hero item just like you would a normal image composition, does it have colour, texture, layers etc Make it interesting and take the viewer on a journey through all those surprising little details that you may have otherwise missed from further away.
Even tho I love to experiment with lots of new styles I often find myself coming back to the flat lay as they are just so versatile. I hope this blog was helpful and has you feeling inspired to try your own versions of these flat lay styles. Happy creating!