1. DETERMINE YOUR SUBJECT IN RELATION TO YOUR BRAND
Your brand is more than just a logo, so it is really important to represent your brand image. Think about how the main focus or subject of the photograph will tie in with the rest of your content. Planning is key when photographing flatlays for your business, so start with creating a mood board. From there you’ll be able to start planning what you need to shoot, how you need to show it and what materials you need in order to create that cohesive look. In my next post I’ll touch more on brand photography as a whole, but for now we’ll focus on flatlays.
2. CHOOSING YOUR MAIN FOCUS / OBJECT / THEME
After you’ve determined your overall brand image it’s now time to dive into the main object or focus of your flatlay. It’s a good idea to do your flatlay shoots in bulk, so try planning out a few ideas. This will help in keeping your set up the same and images consistent. At this stage you need to know what item will be the main component to your story. For example, the products you sell, something that inspires you, the tools you use in your business, or some of your favourite notebooks etc. Think of items you can use that represent you, so that your clients have a chance to get to know you better. Once you have a clear theme or idea behind the flatlay then you can gather your props and accessories.
3. PROPS AND ACCESSORIES
Now we’re getting into the fun stuff! Props add visual interest and depth to your images. They also add to the story you are trying to create. Remember, you do not have to go crazy in this department – It can get expensive! It can be overwhelming when you have a huge selection props and accessories and you may end up with items that don’t really relate or go together. Again, planning out your shoots will help! Try to gather items that you’ll use over again, but can mix and match from image to image. This will relate your images and keep your brand cohesive. A good base for your prop collection may include some of the following,
Stationery, Books & Office Supplies: Notebooks, Magazines, Newspapers, envelopes, greeting cards, pens and pencils, and paperclip etc. Things that you might find around your office or work station.
Rugs, Fabrics, Ribbons: Faux fur rugs, knitted rugs, silk scarf, silk ribbons, pillow cases with texture, linen fabrics, and hand towels. These will add texture to your images which will add to your visual interest.
Plates, Trays, Dishware & Cups: Neutral dishes, small trays, marble trays/coasters, dessert plates, mugs and flatware. If you plan on photographing food in your flatlay it is a good idea to have a few small dishes, but you can use dishes to paperclips, ribbon too! You can add dishes that have patterns, but I tend to stick to neutral because most of the time these elements aren’t the main focus, and I don’t want the eye to be drawn to this. These are simply used to add another layer to the image, without taking it over.
Candles, Flowers, Vases: Fresh flowers, greens, tealight candles, medium sized candles, and vases of different heights. Add depth to your image by using these elements and try not to buy anything too large or overpowering. These again shouldn’t be the main focus (unless you own a candle or flower shop of course!). Use flowers and plants that complement your set up and theme. Having a small collection of faux greens and flowers can still work and will save you money, however when you can pick up a few fresh fresh stems that’s the way to go.
Where do I find these props? Homesense, Winners, Michaels, Amazon, Fabricland, Dollar store and Ikea. Thrift shops and markets are also great for finding items.
4. BACKGROUNDS AND COLOUR PALETTES
Your background choice and colour palette should be complementary to your brand image, so try to stick with a similar colour palettes for each shoot. Choose your main colour based on what you intend to photograph, and add 1-2 complementary colours to enhance the image.
Neutral backgrounds generally work the best, especially if you have pops of colour or other patterns incorporated. Stay away from backgrounds that have a shine to them as they create unwanted reflections and/or shadows. Using backgrounds with texture will add another layer of depth to your image and this is where you have the chance to get crafty. Having 3-4 background choices that you can rotate through is ideal, but try to keep them similar in your colour choice (shades of grey, cream, whites) to tie them all together.
A few backgrounds you may want to include are things such as marble boards, painted plastered canvas, linen covered canvas boards, oversized floor tiles, foam board, wainscotting, and pine planks (painted).
5. COMPOSITION, STYLING AND LAYERS
So you’ve prepped, shopped and have a vision. It’s now time to lay everything out, but you might be asking yourself – where do I start? Remember how we came up with our theme, or main object to capture? That is the hero of your image. Think about how you can use the props and accessories in a way that will compliment your main objective.
When you start to add your accessories into the frame, try to think in layers. You may want to start with a magazine, newspaper or tray. From there you could add in a plate with cookies, dishware and a coffee mug etc. Playing with layers creates depth and visual interest. Remember, you do not have to layer everything, but if you are going for a natural lifestyle vibe, then adding in some layers will often make the scene look lived in. Having some of your accessories leaving the frame is also okay!
Don’t be afraid to use white/negative space in your images – not every part of the frame needs to be filled and the negative space will be pleasing to the eye. Try to picture your layout space in a grid pattern and place your hero or main focus in one of the gridlines. Generally having the main focus of the image in the centre, or slightly off centred works well with this type of work. You may need to make minor adjustments to the placement of your props, so remember to leave space between items this creates breathing room within your image.
You’ve likely heard or read this before, but photography is all about beautiful light and for this purpose natural light is what you want. Find a place within your home that has soft natural even light (for me this is the kitchen floor by the sliding glass doors). Avoid direct sunlight as this creates harsh lighting conditions and dark shadows (unless this is the look your trying to achieve). Also pay attention to your highlights – if you find that the objects closest to your light source are too bright, you can use a diffuser like a white sheet, or even a white shower curtain. This will help even out the light, and it doesn’t have to be fancy!
Pay attention to the direction of your light, in most cases side lighting is what you want. If you find your shadows are too dark add in a reflector. You can even use a white foam board for this to bounce the light back into those shadows. Lastly, remember to turn off all lights in the area. Ambient lighting will create a shift in your colour temperature – you want to avoid the editing headache here!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through these tips to creating beautiful flatlays! Have questions? Find me on Instagram to see video set up. Thanks for following along!