The Perfect Flatlay: How to Perfect Your Props + Styling to Elevate Your Business

Jun 27

The topic we get asked about more than anything else, is how we shoot perfect flatlay style branding images for Instagram.  They’ve kind of become our signature, and they are definitely our most regrammed images. Some of our favorites include: this one, this one, and this one. Companies like AnthropologieDarling Magazine, and Target have shared our flatlay images and they’ve definitely been a large contributor to our growth.

So here is the big secret – perfect flatlay images aren’t as challenging or as scary as they feel when you begin. You can shoot dozens of images from a single shoot setup that will last you a couple months worth of content. Whether you’re a travel blogger or a PR team, an interior designer or a beauty brand – the perfect flatlay can be a strong representation of your brand and an Instagram hit.

Below, we’ve compiled a detailed list of steps to perfect your props and styling, to elevate your brand photography and master the perfect flatlay. (Shoutout to Madeline Harper for the photos, because it’s hard to shoot a flaylat on your phone while getting yourself in the shot.) 

Before you begin -plan what you’re hoping to accomplish by following these steps to prepare for your brand photoshoot. 

PHASE I: PROP SHOPPING

Start by prop shopping around your house. Look in rooms beyond your office for items that represent the feel of your brand. If you’re a more feminine brand, think about cosmetics or jewelry;. If your brand has a more boho vibe, bring in leather accessories and natural elements. If you’re a real estate broker, think about household and decór items that complement your brand.


What is key here? Keep your palette to neutral with pops of your brand colors. This is key to keep a cohesive look long term, AND to help ensure regramability. Why? Because your brand colors are probably not Anthropologie’s colors. Or West Elm’s colors. So if you want those large accounts to share your content,​ make sure to keep your palette neutral enough that they will. 

How many items will you need? Twice as many as you think. You’ll want to make the most out of the time you spend shooting, so by switching out your props and rearranging them, you’ll have many different images to chose from.

This is where I go to my favorite stores to fill in with additional items. For instance, we don’t actually have much pink in our house (or my wardrobe), so we select a few key items to add a little color pop. I focus on adding texture, a little depth (so some taller objects, some shorter objects), some sheen, and size variation. 

behind the scenes of flatlay photography

(you can see above the HUGE mess we make while shooting, but you can also see the variety of items we collect for the shoot.) 

My go-to stops for prop shopping:
  • Madewell for jewels, bandanas, keychains and sunnies

  • Anthro for candles, all beauty products, dishes and office supplies

  • Etsy for one-of-a-kind elements like small prints or ceramics

  • Target for everything, because, Target

  • Container Store for office supplies

  • Central Market for sweets in pretty packaging, flowers and perishables like citrus

  • West Elm for serve ware

  • CB2 for sculptural pieces and decór 

  • Lack of Colour for hats

PHASE II: THE SETUP

Scoot a table up to the brightest window in your house. For us- that’s actually my desk in our office (but we shot these at Erin’s house because we needed more space to fit all three of us in. And she’s the nicest.) Generally, your windows that face South or East will be your brightest options. Make sure there is nothing causing shadows on  your workspace (unless you’re going to a cool shadowy look). Branches, shutters, or window screens can work against you, so walk around to the outside of your window to make sure nothing is hindering your light. 

Then, invest in a really expensive photo prop called a “Foam Board”. You can get them at Walgreens for $2.50. You can get them in a variety of colors at your local craft store, but the drug store has them in black and white year round. We usually grab 2 white in case one gets smudged.

Grab your camera (or your iPhone) and take a couple test shots on the white foam board to ensure you’re happy with the amount of light and that your background is turning out as white as you’d like it.

Anastasia of the Identité Collective explains how to perfect a flatlay

PHASE III: THE LAYOUT

We always start by gathering all of our objects in one place, and then clustering them into groups we know we want to shoot. It’s helpful to see all of your options, and how different colors play with each other.
When you’re beginning, the easiest way to create a layout you’re happy with is to organi
ze the objects on a vertical grid. Lay them in columns and rows, forming an obvious pattern. Remember if you’re shooting for Instagram, to be laying your grid out with the foam board in a portrait position, so you can utilize all the Instagram real estate possible.
Consider were you are placing your pops of color, so they are scattered throughout the shot instead of clumped together. Add pieces one by one so you can focus on the whole image.
Remember that white space is your friend! Leave some breathing room around each item as you’re starting, to ensure that grid is very evident. As you become more confident in your layouts, you can start overlapping items to create some texture.
Below, we’ve collected some examples of different layouts and how we add or subtract from them. Sometimes things feel too cluttered, and by removing an item or two, we suddenly have much more clarity and focus in the image.

how to set up the perfect flatlay

PHASE IV: THE SHOT

Because you shot in natural light against a window, make sure your flash isn’t on. It washes out the image and turns your bright whites yellow. In fact, avoid using your flash, like, ever. If you’re getting too many shadows, try shooting again later with the sun a little lower.
When shooting with your iPhone, keep your hand steady, and perfectly parallel to the table. The mistake we see most often made is a lazy shot, where objects look distorted because the camera was at an angle. On your iPhone, tap the darker parts of your shot to adjust the white balance. If it makes your image look overexposed, just tap a bright part of the picture and it will adjust back. Make sure your shot is squared off evenly, without any edges of the table showing. This will save you a couple steps in editing.
As you start shooting, move objects around, lower your camera closer to the table for a zoomed in shot (don’t just zoom in, which will cause a lower quality image, physically move the camera closer to the subject). You can play around with laying things in a diagonal grid as well. There is no wrong way to do it, and it will take us 15 shots before we find our favorite. Have fun with it! It really is one of our favorite parts of the job.

PHASE V: CROPPING + EDITING

We highly recommend A Color Story for editing photos like this. You can crop out and edges you weren’t able to avoid in the original shot, you can straighten the photo if it was accidentally a little crooked. But most importantly, you can use the Curves Tool to brighten your image and bring out it’s whitest whites.
Open the Curves Tool and drag your finger from the dead center toward the upper left hand corner, slowly. You’ll see it brighten immediately, completely transforming the image. It is literally like magic. You may drag it too far, and have to bring your finger back toward the middle of the image. It takes some practice, but you’ll quickly decide on your signature editing techniques.
Do not take or edit your photos in Instagram. Your camera is much more powerful outside of the app, and editing tools are more effective, too.
A final tip to get you the most out of your time spent shooting – crop in on your flatlays for additional shots! From a single photo, you can get three or four different angles and cropped versions. The biggest bang for your buck! Here are a few of my final favorites from the day. Which is your favorite? Leave your comments and questions in the comments below.

 

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  1. Adaobi

    February 21st, 2018 at 5:26 am

    Thanks a lot, you really broke it down. I kind of find it really hard to get a perfect but these tips just made it easier. Hopefully soon, my flatlay game will be up! Lovely post ❤️

  2. Victoria

    May 21st, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    This was so helpful!!! Will definitely start doing this ASAP to build my brand! Thank you!!!

  3. Menna Rachel

    May 29th, 2018 at 8:49 am

    So many amazing tips! Thank you, I will have to try and incorporate some of these when I take my own photos 🙂

  4. Lily

    September 11th, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Super helpful 💙

  5. Nathalie

    January 25th, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    My gosh this is so helpful! Thank you a million times over for your generous advice!
    I can’t wait to buy a foam board tomorrow and start shooting for Sloane Stationery – you will notice a radical change to our feed thanks to these brilliant tips!

  6. acasey

    February 4th, 2019 at 5:24 pm

    You’re so welcome! Can’t wait to follow along

  7. Ifunanya

    April 26th, 2019 at 4:42 am

    I truly enjoy reading. I still struggle with getting amazing pictures for my instagram. But this was helpful and I will be sure to incorporate. My favourite picture will be the first from the top and then the second from below. I love the whole colour mix.

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