A Guide To Flatlays

Today I’m going to breakdown what I think makes up the perfect flatlay and share with you the tips and tricks I have learnt over the past few years. While there’s no official definition of the term, a “flatlay” is when you lay items down flat on a surface and take a photo of them for Instagram or your blog (or anywhere really!).

The style of photography became popular amongst beauty and fashion bloggers as it’s an easy and clean yet chic way of displaying items. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I can take pretty decent flatlays and want to share with you what aspects I think make up a great photo time and time again.

Here’s the first flatlay I ever posted on my Instagram which dates back 70 weeks now, and while my camera quality and editing skills have improved, I still find myself aiming to fill the same criteria a year and a half later.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 11.06.18 am.png

The Criteria 

Like I said before, I’ve always tried to fulfil certain areas to ensure my photos are looking their best, and those main areas are:

1. Lighting

Lighting is key for any photo, whether it’s a flatlay or not, so ensuring your photos are already nice and brightly lit will make them look even better in the editing stage. Natural light is your best friend, so move around your space and try to find where the best light is, which for me is usually near a window. I tend to avoid taking photos in the afternoon as the sun casts a really yellow glow, and I’ve never bothered taking a photo at night knowing it will look insanely grainy.

2. Background

A certain background can do wonders to your flatlay, and the most commonly used one (at least to me) is just a plain white background. Flatlays are all about your products or items, so whatever they’re laying on shouldn’t be busy or try to compete for attention. I use a small square table from IKEA that’s white, and I think it was $12, but you can even use a piece of paper! Other alternatives include marble backgrounds which are super trendy at the moment or a rippled white bed sheet. These options give texture to your photo but are still neutral and classy. Kmart has heaps of marble pieces in at the moment and I grabbed a marble cork placemat for $2 from there the other day to use for future flatlays, so check that out if that’s something you’re interested in.

Here are some examples of flatlays I’ve taken with different backgrounds, the Zoella Beauty one having a bath towel as it’s background and the other having a white sheet.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 11.09.20 am.pngScreen Shot 2017-08-06 at 11.09.06 am.png

3. Composition 

Composing the perfect flatlay and arranging your items to look their best can sometimes be frustrating, or it can be a breeze, depending on what’s in the photo. While I haven’t figured out the perfect formula for flatlay composition, I do have some points I run through when I’m feeling stuck.

First of all, it’s okay if all of your items don’t fit in the frame. If anything, having some peaking out from a corner while others are in full view will help the focus go onto those items, especially if you want to show off that specific product. Here’s a flatlay from last year that I was really happy with, and since I was working with small items like lipstick as well as a book and bag, I layered things on top of each other and played around with certain items not fully being in the shot.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 11.13.53 am.png

Playing with the “fonts” and texts on your items is a great way to make your flatlay interesting and attention grabbing but to also provide some balance. Another thing I like doing is laying a magazine article or a page of text underneath products to give the background some texture and dimension.

Here’s an example of me using a magazine to fill that background and to also help make the headphones and brush stand out as they would have gotten lost on their own against the white background. Magazines like Russh and Vogue have very chic pages, so if you have any of those around the place it could be fun to experiment – if you don’t I suggest you run out and get an issue because they’re full of fabulous things.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 11.15.03 am.png

If you’re struggling to find a composition you like, I recommend two things: either take heaps out or add heaps in. Sometimes I’ll have a million things in the shot and nothing will stand out, and sometimes I just don’t have enough and the photo looks pointless. Sometimes I’ll actually be aiming for a generic makeup photo though, one with no focus on any specific item. An example of this is the one below that I used for my “The Beauty Lover Tag” blog post. It was a question and answer blog post so I wanted a lot of products in the shot, but if it was review style blog posts I would just have the specific reviewed item in the photo.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 11.16.30 am.png

Here’s an example of a stripped back flatlay with minimum items in the shot, the focus being on the book as my caption was that I finally finished the novel (woo hoo!). Throwing an eyeshadow brush in there for the heck of it would have been pointless, so I kept it simple.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 11.17.50 am.png

Playing around with the beige tones of the coffee and novel pages compared to the silvers of the laptop and spoon made the flatlay look interesting and more together (this was posted before I started my blog to answer why it’s not beauty related). Again, the text on the page contrasts nicely with the blocky laptop keys, so books and magazines are always fun to play with.

4. Editing

I cannot stress this enough, every photo needs editing, whether you’re taking your photos on a DSLR or iPhone. Most photos are underexposed, so some touching up will always bring the best out of your flatlays. I only use my iPhone 6S camera (which isn’t a necessity when it comes to great photo quality, I used my 4 then 5 for ages) and I rarely use filters, but I always adjust the same three things with all my photos using only the Instagram settings. Those things are:

  1. Brightness – Like I said before, most photos are underexposed, so up the brightness on your photos and your background will really pop. Don’t go overboard though, keep it realistic.
  2. Contrast – Once you up the brightness your products are probably looking a tad washed out, so upping the contrast is a great tool to give your products that correct colour balance again and make them stand out. Again, don’t go overboard and oversaturate your photos, it will look obvious and unnatural.
  3. Sharpen – A tool that’s a little hidden away as it’s at the very end of the Instagram tools, but my favourite none the less, the sharpen tool is amazing to make your photos look that little extra crisp and sharp. It will help define your items and make texts stand out. Use this tool lightly though as it can make a photo look grainy very easily.

I said I rarely use filters for flatlays but I find the “Clarendon” filter on Instagram makes the colours in Zoella Beauty products look even more fantastic than they already are. I pull that filter down to about 25 though to make it look subtle.

So that’s it for now! That’s everything I can think of when picturing what goes into making the perfect flatlay. I’m always learning, so I can see myself revisiting this topic on my blog in the future with even more tips. I love flatlays and Instagram and started taking flatlays way before I ever considered making a blog or was super into makeup because I thought they were just super fun and interesting to create. I love how creative you can get with social media so hopefully this post inspired you or you learnt a thing or two! Please give this post a “like” if you enjoyed it and tag my Instagram in your next flatlay, it’s @jessica_riga, because I would love to see them!

All the love and thank you for reading,



5 thoughts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s