Are you making this flat lay mistake?

All design, from architecture to floral design, is pleasing to the eye when the principles of design are used. There’s a reason most people look at things and immediately have a reaction to whether they like it or not. Sometimes it’s difficult to articulate why we like or don’t like what we’re looking at, our eyes just know that something is off balance. Good flat lay design draws the eye to a clear subject first, then leads it through the frame to rest briefly on different objects in a relaxed way. When there is just a scattering of things on a flat surface with no framing, it can feel very chaotic and make us want to look away.

Below are two examples of flat lays that both have our cheesecloth running through them to pull everything together, but one looks chaotic and difficult to look at, the other looks cohesive with pleasing lines that pull your eye through the frame. The anchor of the fabric is an important component of the last photo, but doesn’t work at all in the first. Why?

The first photo has lines pointing all over the place. There are straight lines conflicting with round shapes and a smattering of objects and colors means that your eye doesn’t have anywhere to rest.

The second photo has clear distinctions that show your eye where to go. The lines are pointing in the same direction, there are two sides to look at and rest for a few seconds, and the colors are all in the same palette which makes it simpler for the eye to digest it all. How to do flat lays

Choose a subject, make that the focal point, and then remember to use symmetry and simplicity to complete the flat lay. If you keep adding objects and don’t know where to put them, take some of them away. Less is more in a flat lay, and many items can be very difficult to assemble in a pleasing way. As you progress with your flat lay skills, adding more layers of objects will become easier.

SaveSave

SaveSave

How to find the best light for flat lays

The word photography is taken from Greek roots and literally means “drawing with light”. Whether you’re taking pictures of your flat lays with a phone or a camera, you need good light in the right spot to get a good photo. Keeping it simple with natural light either outside or inside is always ideal if you have access to the space for it, and that’s what we’ll show in this blog post.

OUTDOORS

Find a shady spot that has even light, so no dappled light coming through the trees or one side of the light being blocked by a building or something else. Cloudy light will work well too, but be careful not to overexpose your photo too much since cloudy light can be very strong and tend to “blow out” your highlights to a point where the details of what you’re photographing won’t be seen. Try to avoid the middle of the day and instead go outside during morning or evening light when the sun is lower in the sky and you won’t be getting such strong light. The more diffused the light, the better which is why shade is your friend. This will give you a nice even light across your entire flat lay without much shadow.Photography styling board Photography styling board

INDOORS

A large window or door is ideal for indoor shooting, but keep in mind that you may need to bounce light onto the side of your flat lay that is away from the window unless it is surrounded by windows on every side or there is a lot of white/light colors in the room you’re photographing. Strong side light from a window or door will give you shadow and depth, but it can also create too much shadow and even make the two sides of your mat look like totally different colors. In the case of not having enough light on the darker side of your mat, you’ll need to bounce some of that window or door light onto that side by taking a large light colored surface such as a reflector, a sheet, a large white piece of paper, a wall, or anything else that is big enough to bounce light to the dark area of the mat. You’ll actually see the light being thrown onto the flat lay with your eyes, so it’s easy to find where to hold the material you are reflecting with.Photography styling boardPhotography styling board

Styling by Ramon Gomez, Blue Ladder Botany and Taken by Sarah Photography

Photos by Taken by Sarah Photography

How to use vessels in flat lays

Vessels are a wonderful tool that can be used to pull a flat lay together and add a sense of place and story to your flat lay. Vessels can be anything from a tiny pinch bowl to a large tray or bowl, plates, pieces of organic material like slate, etc. Gathering a diverse collection of styling vessels will allow you to include them in your flat lays over and over again in different ways, giving you endless options. Not all of your vessels need to be neutral colors. Having a few neutrals to use in any flat lay along with some unique and colorful options to create something different from time to time gives you a well-rounded styling kit.

3 ways to use vessels in your flat lays

ONE

The vessel as the center of the frame and the focal point. Silver trays make an excellent focal point and can be used as the second layer over your Styling Mat to add depth and framing to your flat lay. Arrange everything completely inside of the tray or have items coming out and around the tray, just remember to keep the rule of thirds and symmetry in mind. Less is more when you have a beautiful tray or vessel of any sort, don’t overdo the amount of items you use so that the tray can shine.

In this photo, the tray is the bold focal point and frame that pulls your eye to the center of the photo and allows you to comfortably rest your eyes on the intended subject of the photo, the stationery. 

This simple image showcases the subject, flowers, in a basket one might use for gathering flowers from their garden. There are only 3 elements to this flat lay, and the basket provides context and a story to the flowers, rather than simply laying them on the Styling Mat with a piece of cloth.

This is a product shot, the subject is the foot scrub and the plate allows the product to be clearly seen along with the main ingredients in the product and the product itself. It could be photographed tighter without the cheesecloth and other flowers around it as well for a very simple, but pulled together look. 

Another product shot where the vessels themselves are the focal point.

TWO

The vessel as a small part of the whole. The following photo has 4 vessels, all holding different elements that contribute to the overall story. When using several different vessels, they can be different materials like you see here, but make sure to pay attention to colors and make sure that no one vessel is calling the attention of the viewer too strongly away from the subject of the photo. For instance, if the vessel on the left with seals in it was a bright color, your eye would be drawn uncomfortably to that spot rather than going immediately to the middle of the photo, then traveling around to each interesting thing around the subject. Grouping small vessels with other objects or vessels is important. A lone small dish that isn’t in line with other objects in the flat lay can look out of place, again drawing the eye to an uncomfortable spot.

Flat Lay TipsHow to do flat lays

THREE

Stacking vessels and using them as the subject. Some of our favorite flat lays involve simply stacking bowls or plates. You generally want to go with a set or pieces that match well so that it doesn’t look messy and random. Stacking also gives wonderful shadow and depth to a flat lay, making it much more interesting. Keep your story in mind when stacking and remember to choose pieces that make sense to the viewer.

Styling by Ramon Gomez, Blue Ladder Botany and Taken by Sarah Photography

Photos by Taken by Sarah Photography and Ramon Gomez

How to make your flat lays look natural

The formula to a natural looking flat lay that makes sense and evokes curiosity to the viewer is exactly like forming a well written sentence. Think beyond what you see being used over and over again in flat lays (i.e. ribbons, ring boxes, invitations, coffee cups, flowers) and tell a story with your objects instead of simply adding elements that may or may not make sense for the sake of adding them.

1.       Choose your subject

2.       Complement your subject with “verbs” and “adjectives” that relate to the subject and define it, making sure to stay in the color scheme and overall look of the flat lay.

3.       Always ask if an object you’re putting into your flat lay makes logical sense to the viewer. It can be put there for the sake of pretty only, but it should still make sense and should not be completely out of place. For instance, ribbons are pretty and can frame a flat lay nicely, but simply using a ribbon because it’s the only thing you can think of may not make sense to the viewer and may look poorly thought out.

4. Always, always, always choose balance and symmetry over random placement of objects.

How to do flat lays How to do flat lays How to do flat lays

Photos by Ramon Gomez

SaveSave

How to style wedding invitation flat lays

Get the flat out of your flat lays!

Stacking, layering and varying height of items in your flat lay is one of the easiest ways to elevate the look of your flat lays (see what I did there?). Use your styling tiles or trays to elevate pieces, or use small makeup sponges for a cheap, lightweight and easily stackable solution. This is an especially important technique when styling paper goods since they can look too flat and uninteresting when laid out in a grid. Stacking and layering heights adds just the right amount of shadow to define your items and give them depth. Be careful not to overexpose your photo too much and blow out your shadows, you want them there to give the image life.

Below are two examples of invitation suites styled flat on The Styling Mat and then elevated and layered while being kept in the same basic layout. You can see that stacking and layering your flat lays will take them from amateur looking to professional immediately, and it’s so simple!How to style flat lays

How to style flat lays How to style flat lays How to style flat laysHow to style flat lays How to style flat lays

Photos by Taken by Sarah Photography

Go here to see the Styling Mats, Trays, Ribbons, and ring dishes featured in this post.

SaveSave

Minimalist Flat Lays

Elaborate flat lays with many objects are amazing to look at, but sometimes a simple flat lay with one to five items can tell a powerful visual story too, especially when using flat lays for product photos. A strong frame and symmetrical layout is key for minimalist flat lays. Below are 5 flat lays with 5 elements or less by Ramon Gomez on The Styling Mat

Flat Lay Inspiration Flat Lay Inspiration Flat Lay Inspiration Flat Lay Inspiration

How to Stack vessels in Flat Lays

Stacking vessels is a great way to add depth and interest to your flat lay, but before you go stacking everything you can find, here are 3 tips to stacking for maximum visual impact.

1. Stack vessels that are either a set or that match in color and texture. Stacking metal and wood together, for instance, can look messy and unappealing. Keep the colors of your vessels as similar as possible. You can see with the comparisons below that the first image looks cohesive and easy to look at, while the stacking in the second image is chaotic and difficult to look at. Flat Lay Tips Flat Lay Tips

 2. Nest your vessels rather than laying them out on top of each other. As you can see in the images below, nesting matching vessels as a focal point looks a whole lot more pleasing than simply laying out and layering a bunch of pieces, even if they match.How to do flat laysHow to do flat lays

3. Don’t feel the need to always make the stacked vessels the focal point of your flat lay. They can add beautiful little accents when used as a small part of the flat lay too. How to do flat lays How to do flat lays

Styling by Ramon Gomez, Photos by Taken by Sarah Photography

Find Styling Mats and Props used in these photos here

SaveSave

3 reasons flat lays are here to stay

Flat lays have exploded in popularity on social media channels and product photography recently, and they’re here to stay. Even the post office is using flat lays in their in store advertising! Here are 3 reasons flat lays are here to stay.White Styling Board

Photo by Taken by Sarah Photography

1. Photographing products in flat lay form opens up all kinds of creative possibilities. From cosmetics and food to clothes and outdoor items, brands everywhere are using flat lays to showcase their products in a clear and interesting way. Here are 3 companies that are showing beautiful flat lays to showcase products. At the end of this post there are links to a few companies who are using flat lays beautifully to showcase their products.

2. A bird’s eye view isn’t something we get to see in our everyday lives, which is one reason photos from the top down are so interesting to us landlocked humans. One of the most popular photos on Instagram recently was a top down photo of Harry and Megan at their wedding. Our interest is piqued when we see something from a perspective that isn’t the norm for us.

3. They make for great social media content. Let’s face it, Instagram is still a very powerful driving force behind any and all kinds of brands, and it isn’t going anywhere just yet. Flat lays done well are a great way to spice up your feed with eye catching colors and patterns that will stop your customers from scrolling long enough to see what you’re offering.

Check out these companies to see some gorgeous flat lays showcasing products:

Truvani

Origin Magazine

Acorn Toy Shop

SaveSave

Using shapes to organize your flat lays

Circles, squares, triangles and S curves are all pleasing ways to arrange the items on your flat lays. There can be more than one shape in a flat lay too. These shapes are seen repeated in nature over and over and are a part of all good, pleasing design. One great way to start practicing this is to use onion paper with the shapes drawn on it on your Styling Mat, then overlay your items on the onion paper to start getting a feel for how to make different shapes.

Below are several examples of circles, triangles and S curves being used in flat lays. Can you spot them?

Flat Lay Tips Flat Lay Tips Flat Lay Tips Flat Lay Tips Flat Lay Tips

Styling by Ramon Gomez and Blue Ladder Botany, Photography by Taken by Sarah Photography and Ramon Gomez

SaveSave

How to stand out on Instagram with your flat lays

Flat lays are a BIG deal on Instagram. There are entire accounts dedicated to flat lays and people are using them for everything from showing their outfit of the day to showing what they ate for breakfast. There are themed flat lay accounts, flat lay accounts dedicated to things like tea and coffee, you name it! As with anything that explodes on social media, it can be difficult to stand out once it starts getting popular.

It might just be easier to stand out than you think though.

If you take a look at any number of flat lay hashtags, you’ll notice that many people are doing the exact same flat lays with the exact same items over and over again, which means most people’s photos look nearly identical with the same backgrounds, same colors, and same items like ribbons and coffee cups. Want to get noticed on Instagram for your flat lays? Do something different! It’ll take some time and practice, but finding items and concepts that aren’t being done many times over already will give you an edge on the instagram flat lay game. A well thought out, unique looking flat lay is actually quite rare. Go above and beyond what everyone else is doing by resisting the temptation to use the same items over and over again and tell more of a story with your flat lays. Choose colors that stand out and make people stop in their scroll, choose items and themes that are not like everyone else’s.Flat Lay Tips

One major way to make your flat lays stand out is by choosing backgrounds that aren’t neutral or white. The Styling Mat has several different bold colors available alongside neutrals. Styling BoardGet your neutral Styling Mat to have for any situation, and then push yourself out of your comfort zone and choose some colors that will get your creative juices flowing and inspire you to do flat lays that are eye catching and different. Gather inspiration when you’re on a walk, watching a movie, having dinner out, or from the items in your home and write down your ideas for flat lays so you can gather things that make a story.  Styling Board

Photos by Taken by Sarah Photography

SaveSave

SaveSave