Beginners Guide to Using Flat Lays

Mastering the flat lay is the goal of almost every eCommerce business. Designed to showcase a particular product, flat lays are incredibly effective visual marketing tools. In this beginners guide to using flat lays, we explain what a flat lay is, the props you'll need to collect and how to set up your flat lay. We'll also share some flat lay inspirations from members in our Business Networking NZ Facebook Group, and local businesses who can help create flat lays for your products.

What is a Flat Lay?

A flat lay is a styled birds eye view photo of carefully chosen items to showcase a specific product, and provide an over arching mood. This flat lay, composed and taken by the team at Shout and Co, is an example of what can be achieved.

Items for the flat lay are placed on a flat surface, which could be a tabletop, floor or specific board background with vinyl upon it. The flat surface itself is best a plain or neutral colour to not detract from the mood of the flat lay. It can also be used multiple times if it is neutral in colour and design too!

Flay lays can be shared on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. They can also be added to a website to show examples of how the product can be used or placed after purchasing.

What Should a Flat Lay Contain?

A flat lay can contain almost any smallish type object which can be photographed from above. There is an art to this though, and objects need to be chosen carefully to compliment and showcase the hero. The hero product or hero of the flat lay is the product you want to showcase within it. The hero is the reason why you are creating the flat lay in the first place. 

There are plenty of different types of props that you can include within your flat lay. As a general rule, the types of props you will choose to include will depend upon the type of products you sell. However, there are some generic props which are worth collecting (in your preferred colours and styles):

  • background - a background should be neutral, but add some interest to the photo. Options include vinyl, wall paper, art canvas, wooden tabletop, wrapping paper and fabric.
  • trays and dishes - grouping items together in trays helps to make things more interesting. Serving trays and little dishes work well.
  • stationery - handmade paper cards and envelopes, books, pens, notepads, diaries, scissors, stamps and paperclips are handy to have on hand.
  • cups and mugs - filled with a steaming cup of tea or a latte, a mug or cup are highly photograph-able items. Including coasters and placemats can add to the interest levels.
  • jewellery - rings, beads, necklaces, bracelets and brooches work well. Old costume jewellery is ideal too.
  • greenery and flowers - unless you are a florist, purchasing fresh flowers every time you want to do a flat lay is rather expensive. Check out what is in your garden for other ideas. Artificial flowers and greenery are a great alternative, as many look incredibly realistic. 
  • makeup and beauty products - packaged makeup, brushes and other accessories.
  • tech items - phone, laptop, keyboard, mouse, headphones and cameras are good props to use for an office styled flat lay.
  • home decor - blankets, candles, plants and other nic naks work well here.
  • food - rather than packaged items, look for fresh food where you can, along with loose ingredients.
  • fabric - think textured or patterned fabric, different colours and sizes. Great for layering and adding depth. Cheesecloth, chiffon, silk, linen and cotton are good, plus ribbons.

When building up your flat lay kit, choose neutral colours or ones which fit with you brand, as these can be used again and again. 

Tips On Creating Flat Lays for Social Media

Like with anything, practice makes perfect when it comes to creating and photographing product flat lays. However, it can be hard to take the first step, which is why we've listed our top tips on creating flat lays to help you get started:

  • think about the mood or theme - what do you want people to feel when they look at your flat lay? Are there colours or shapes which would help them feel this? What objects would work well together? What is the story you are wanting to tell? What objects will help you get this across?
  • lighting - many professionals say that natural lighting works well when taking product photos. This means positioning your objects near a window in the early morning or late afternoon. Avoid direct sunlight though, as there will be too many shadows within your image.
  • make sure you leave spaces - placing objects together leads to a cramped feeling and makes things look chaotic and cluttered. There doesn't need to be a lot of space, but enough so that things are balanced in the photo you will take.
  • choose a neutral and uncluttered background. White is popular and so are marble and wood backgrounds.
  • place your hero product in prime position - this doesn't have to be in the centre of the image, just somewhere it will be the dominant focus.
  • plan your accessory props - choose props that will compliment your mood and hero product. These props will help tell the story about your product add interest and different layers.
  • use a tripod - this lets you keep your hands free and the camera steady for a better photo.

New Zealand Business Flat Lay Examples

We asked members in our Business Networking NZ Facebook group to share some of their flat lay examples with us.

Creation Station and Shout & Co Digital Content Marketing were happy to share some with us.

We also asked for businesses who can help create flat lay photo shoots for NZ business owners to share their details.

Pippa at Shout & Co offer product photography and styled product shoots. 

Mary at Its Mary Taylor also offers product photography and styled product shoots.

If you offer flay lays as a service, please list your business in our free NZ business directory and join our free networking group!

All other businesses are also welcome to list and join too!

Finally, if you are looking for a great resource on taking the ultimate Instagram photos (including flat lay), we suggest downloading Shout & Co's free handbook Instagram for Business which is available on their website.

Posted: Friday 15 May 2020


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