Flat lay photos are quickly taking over Instagram as one of the platform’s favorite photography styles. Once used mainly for product advertising, influencers of all niches now use flat lays with everyday objects to tell stories that invoke specific feelings or moods. There are some accounts on Instagram solely dedicated to flat lay photography! For the average Instagram user though, flat lays are great for sprinkling through your feed to add visual interest.
Flat lay photos are taken from a bird’s eye view and, if done correctly, can create beautiful, aesthetically pleasing images that your Instagram viewers will love. Don’t be fooled by their straightforward appearance—flat lay photos are deceptively difficult to take. Never fear, keep reading to learn how to style flat lay photos for Instagram that will look great.
Challenge: Take a flat lay photo right now
Let’s check your current flay lay game. Grab a few objects around you, lay them out, and snap a flat lay photo. You can place your objects on the floor and take a photo while standing or set them on a table or bed and stand on a chair to get the right angle (just be careful!). Don’t spend more than a few minutes setting things up: this is just an experimental photo to measure the improvement of your flat lays “before” and “after” you apply the tips we’ll outline for you today.
How did your photo turn out? Does it feel underwhelming compared to some of the flat lay photos that garner thousands of likes on Instagram? If so, don’t worry. You’ll be able to significantly improve your Instagram photos by the time you’ve finished reading.
Tips for Taking Great Flat Lays
Tell a Story
Whether you want to capture the tranquility of tea time with your favorite book or showcase an outfit, your flat lay should have a cohesive theme that tells a story. Unless you’re gathering random objects of the same color to make more of an artsy photo, the items in your flat lay should all relate to each other somehow. In other words, don’t add decorations for the sake of decorations, especially if they don’t make any sense. Check out our images below to see the “dos” and “don’ts” of storytelling with your flat lays.
While this image isn’t exactly “bad,” the decorative elements don’t make a lot of sense. Though the donut looks delicious and provides great contrast against the purple background, it seems out of place. By looking at this image, one could imagine someone getting ready in the morning—eating a donut while applying make-up and catching up on YouTube videos. But if that were the case, how does the leaf in the middle relate? Hint: It doesn’t.
The story this flat lay is telling is incredibly obvious. The snacks, tv remote, football accessories, and even the green background all scream “football!” It’s easy to imagine a group of friends gathered around the TV watching the big game. Though you don’t have to be quite so obvious with your flat lay decor, it’s better to place items that clearly illustrate your story than those that don’t (how weird would this flat lay look if there were dried flowers or lace doilies?).
Choose Your Color Palette
Color theory can be tricky to master, but it’s essential for capturing those drool-worthy photos that get lots of attention on Instagram. If you’re just starting out, stick to two colors: a main color and an accent. In the photo above, pink is the main color and gold is the accent. Though not totally opposite on the color wheel, these two colors provide good contrast..
Contrast is key when it comes to eye-catching photography. You can even achieve good contrast with one color—your objects just need to have different saturation levels (muted vs. bright) and/or values (light vs. dark). This is known as a monochromatic color scheme. You can see it in action in the flat lay photo below.
Though we recommend starting with the simple, two-color scheme we mentioned earlier, you can experiment with different color palettes. Here are some ideas:
- Monochromatic (one color with different saturation levels or values)
- Analogous (a main color with two accent colors directly next to it on color wheel - think yellow as the main with orange and green as the accent colors)
- Complementary (one main color with an accent color that is typically opposite on the color wheel)
- Split Complementary (three colors that are all opposite on the color wheel - think red, blue, and yellow or orange, green, and purple)
- Tetradic (all four colors are equidistant on the color wheel)
Common Mistakes to Avoid with Color Schemes
- Choosing too many saturated colors: don’t just choose all bright colors for your image. Add muted colors to ensure your photo isn’t too “loud.”
- Choosing too many colors: stick with two if you’re a beginner. You can move up to three or four as you get more comfortable working with color.
- Incorrectly illustrating the focal point: use saturated colors for where you want to draw the eye.
Add Interest with Layers
If your flat lays feel uninspired, chances are you aren’t utilizing layers. The photo above does a good job of utilizing layers: the camera and glasses on top of the notebook, the stamps on top of the papers, and even the container under the succulent adds depth. Bringing in a variety of shapes, textures, and object heights will make your flat lays really pop.
Try hunting around your house or a local thrift store for pieces you can layer with. Here are some ideas:
- Tea towels or napkins
- Decorative plates
- Blankets or quilts
- Table runners or placemats
- Books and magazines (open or closed)
- Scraps of fabric or lace
- Origami paper, stationery, or scrapbook paper
- Vintage packaging like record sleeves
- Wrapping paper
Create Your Composition
Once you have gathered the items you want to include in your flat lay, you need to arrange them in a pleasing way. Rather than stick everything in the middle of your photo and call it a day, try placing things in a more interesting manner. It can be easy to get hung up on composition, so just experiment with what you think looks best and have fun. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Go Off the Page
Don’t try to capture everything. Instead, let some of your items spill “off the page.” In this photo, the photographer cut off the laptop, succulent, and bottom notebook, making the image even more appealing than if everything was included.
Embrace the Negative Space
Photographers love playing with negative spaces in their images. In the photo above, our eyes are curiously drawn to the center of the image even though there is nothing there. This style works especially well if you want to highlight your color palette rather than the items themselves.
Clean Lines and Spaces
While most flat lays are arranged in a more natural fashion, there’s something very satisfying about having everything lined up perfectly. In the image above, all of the objects are placed roughly the same distance apart, giving a look of uniformity. Notice how, when viewed from afar, the items form an oval shape. Try your hand at lining things up in a simple shape like a square or triangle while placing objects opposite each other for balance (like how the packages of medicine are scattered throughout the flat lay).
Though the image above is just a simple ball of yarn and knitting needles, the way the connecting yarn is wound adds a lot of playful movement. The effect not only allows your eye to travel from the knitting needles to the yarn ball, the entire mood of the image is changed by just those two loops. Try playing with movement in your own flat lays, from loopy and fun to sleek and crisp.
Challenge: Retake your flat lay utilizing the tips we covered
Decide what story you want to tell or mood you want to invoke, choose your color palette, add some layers, and prepare your composition. Retake your flat lay and compare it to your first photo. We’re willing to bet that it looks a heck of a lot better. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
Now that you know how to take flat lay photos, go forth and experiment. The more you style different flat lays, the quicker you’ll be able to take better Instagram photos. Flat lay photography is a great way to improve your Instagram feed and challenge yourself creatively. You can take everyday items from around your house and turn them into art or use them to tell a story. Have fun with your flat lays!