The Flat Lay: How To Master The Classic Instagram Shot

The Flat Lay: How To Master The Classic Instagram Shot

Chances are, you’re pretty well-versed in Instagram’s most famous tropes  — the selfie, the food shot, the “from where I stand” shoe overview. But how well do you know the flat lay? For those not familiar, a flat lay is a photo of someone’s new lipstick, shoes, or favorite piece of clothing from a birds-eye view, often photographed on a bed, the floor, or a desk. The shot takes some practice to master, but these types of Instagram pictures can be a great way to add variety to your feed, putting some space between back-to-back #OOTDs or vacation photos. Ready to start shooting? Here’s my checklist to nail the perfect ‘gram.

find the best lighting 

Natural light is always my top choice for flat lays. Try to set up your shot near a window during daylight. The right soft light will make your photos crisper and bring out the colors. It also helps avoid any harsh shadows that are hard to remove or brighten in an editing app.

choose a color palette

Gather items for your still life that consist of two or three key colors that work in tandem and complement each other. Bonus points if these hues correspond to your feed’s overarching aesthetic. I am a neutral-loving girl so I usually stick with black, white, and grays when composing my photos.

set a mood

This is probably my favorite part of taking flat lays—finding the perfect products to pair together. I usually try and find items that give off cozy “feels” or go for a more “fashion” flat lay by grabbing my favorite pair of jeans, white button-down top, and newest slides. Then, I typically add my analogue camera or other items I use everyday like my favorite lipstick to the photo. You could go for a more studious setup by incorporating a cup of coffee, a notebook or a magazine, a candle or other items you may find on your desk. Keeping the products in your Instagram pictures cohesive will help you set the vibe for the photo and communicate your current state of mind.

pick an interesting background

Just because your best light is by a window, doesn’t mean you have to use a bare windowsill as your background! Grab a blanket, a sweater or another oversized piece of fabric with an interesting color or texture to set up your items on for the shot. Also, try adding plates, trays or dishes into your composition to create interesting lines within your photo and bring smaller items that may get lost in the shot more into focus.

plan your composition

OK, so you have the perfect still life and your lighting is set. Now it’s time to take the shot! Experiment with how close or far you want to get to the products (stand on a chair or step stool if necessary), and test moving around your set up to try different angles and crops. Often times, not all of the products you want to photograph will fit in the frame, so play with showing only sections of larger items like clothing or shoes, while making sure smaller items like jewelry or makeup still are visible and that product names are legible. You may also want to move items around to fill in empty spaces or avoid overcrowding in certain corners of the square. And pro tip: beauty products that don’t have a flat bottom may roll around especially if positioned on a bed or pillow, so secure items like jars or lipstick with a piece of double-sided tape or putty.

finish with a quick edit

Now for the final touch. Focus on natural-looking editing, making sure the colors are rich, but not overly saturated, and that shadows are bold but not too dark. Review words on any products to see if they are legible without zooming. My favorite editing apps to use are VSCO, Facetune, and Snapseed and I typically edit for brightness, contrast, shadows, and highlights.

What are your tips for creating the perfect flat lay? Comment below with your advice!

Featured photo by Cassidy Clark.

4 Comments
  1. I personally LOVE everything about this article. I feel like flat lays are done a lot, but most of the time they aren’t done very well. All the tips on this article were very useful & I will be sure to use them for whenever I take a picture of a flat lay! My tip is to not just take one on the ground. Put something like a blanket or rug under it for a cute background!

  2. Very useful advice for the perfect shot…….
    If applied properly they fan give the best shot.

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