Flat Lays 101


Flat lays are a staple of today’s Instagram Feeds. They serve as a means to showcase a product, tell a story, or express a mood. At Imagine Media, our creative team carefully designs flat lays for our partners. With each photoshoot, we continue to learn new tricks to make our flat lays look awesome, as well as challenge ourselves to be creative for the next time around. This style of photography is a great way to highlight products, celebrate holidays, and communicate themes. Based on our learning experience, we’ve gathered the fundamental steps to creating a flat lay.

Start on Pinterest & Pick a Theme

The first part of planning our photoshoots is to intentionally dedicate some time to sourcing inspiration. It’s very easy to get in a pattern when creating flat lays, so we pick a theme or search for a keyword and simply browse through photos to see what others have created. Focusing on upcoming holidays, a specific color theme, or even a texture of a product can inspire your design. We then take this inspiration and make it our own by applying them to the products we are showcasing and the unique story we are telling. We’ve found that you have to consume content in order to be inspired to create it!

Create A Shot List

Based on this inspiration we source, we next create a shot list so that we have a point of reference when we are actually taking photos. This acts as a tool to spark our memory and keeps us on track for our shoot timeline. It’s important to note, however, that simply because the shot list exists does not mean that we have to follow it exactly. We are not afraid to stray from our original thought process if we are inspired to do so on the day of the shoot. Sometimes the most original ideas start with saying “what if we tried it this way…?”

Use a Clean & Simple Background with Good Lighting

When setting up your flat lay on shoot day, your backdrop is just as important as the subject. It’s important to keep it clean and simple. This does not mean that it always has to be white. At Imagine, we use a variety of mediums such as slabs of marble, wood planks, our office floor, desks, and assorted colored paper. The key is to remember that you can get creative with the background, but the main goal is to make sure that it doesn’t take away from the items you are showcasing. If the image looks too busy it won’t be visually appealing. Lighting is another factor to consider. If it's too dark or there's a noticeable glare, you'll want to make sure you choose a location that has even, soft lighting.

Assemble the Props

Once you’ve found your perfect backdrop, it’s time to organize your props to actually set up the flat lay. This step in the process can often take some time to really make sure that you’re styling to perfection. Every detail counts and your followers have trained eyes that will notice if something is out of place or looks awkward. This part is also the most fun! If you love to pay attention to detail like I do, you will definitely enjoy this step of the process. It’s gratifying to watch your vision come to life and know that you played a role in creating it.

Balance and Grids

When organizing the components you should keep in mind the rule of thirds and consider the grid that you’re working with. You do not want to fill the frame completely, just as you don’t want too much space. It’s all about balance and sometimes an asymmetrical composition can be the best style. We’ve found that when in doubt, it helps to step back and review the set up from a distance.

Consider the Camera’s Perspective

As you take the photo, be sure to review the image from the perspective of your lens. Sometimes a layout can look completely different from the angle of the camera when positioned in a bird’s eye view. Our photo stylist will work in tandem with the photographer to design a layout that looks good from both sides of the camera. It also helps to check for the square layout that you would later crop it from. This step is important because ultimately, what your camera sees is what will appear in your audience’s feed.

Edit & Share!

You did it! Now that you’ve taken your perfect photo, it’s time to edit and share. Crop the image and make adjustments so that it's visually in line with your brand. Once you've posted it, remember that your audience is going to be a great resource for feedback that will help you improve when creating your next flat lay. The more double taps the better!

Practice Makes Perfect

This old adage certainly rings true for flat lays. Practicing flat lays and reviewing your photos will help you improve from a creative standpoint. I have learned something on every shoot that I’ve been on so far and I take this knowledge with me to the next one. Flat lays aren't as easy as they look, and it takes time to create content that successfully tells the story.