How to create gorgeous Instagram flatlays

Ah, the flatlay. If there’s a style of shot that sums up Instagram (aside from heavily posed bikini shots and too-good-to-eat plates of food), it’s the flatlay. It’s one of the most-searched hashtags on the site. Why do I want to do what everyone else is doing, I hear you cry. Well, there’s a reason flatlays are everywhere: they sum up the kind of pretty, curated, visual content people are on Instagram for in the first place. And why not?

flatlays
Source: Instagram (obviously…)

Flatlays are also an amazing tool for creative entrepreneurs. If your business is product-based and aesthetic, throwing a couple of pretty flatlays into your Insta feed is a must. They’re shorthand for your style and a great way to showcase your products.

With such beautiful examples already out there (the ones above were the first when I searched just now) it can feel a bit intimidating, but taking a good flatlay doesn’t need to be a chore. Once you get into it, it’s actually quite fun! It can take quite a bit of prep, though, so I often end up doing mine in batches to use later (Blue Peter eat your heart out).

So, here are 3 easy tips to help you take gorgeous (and efficient) flatlays:

1) Background

Broadly speaking, the plainer the better.

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Lots of people favour plain white (I use standard printer paper for this, but fabric and blank walls/floors also work well), but subtle patterns can work too. Marble or small geometric patterns with lots of space between each element are both popular. If you don’t have a stunningly white background to use, don’t worry. Wood (real or fake) is always a good bet. In fact, most of my flatlays are taken on my wooden workbench. It’s not a completely plain background, but I think it adds a bit of character. It’s also already there, which cuts down set-up time!

2) Props, props, props

As I mentioned in my previous tips post about product photography, I like to keep a stock of photo props about, and this is even more important for flatlays. You might have a new book/lipstick/camera that you want to make the focus of your shot, but the props around it are what make the photo complete. They also don’t have to be expensive. I know a lot of flatlays feature Macbooks and iPhones, but they can also feature Poundland tat if you arrange it nicely. One of my absolute favourite props, a ceramic swan planter, was £3 from Tiger:

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Props can be anything you like, but some of my go-tos are: pretty notebooks and pens; coffee cups; tools of the trade (so, for me, a lot of pliers!); fake flowers and plants (see last week’s post for why they have to be fake); jewellery-making materials. Obviously some of mine are specific to my work, but that’s why flatlays are great. You’re an artist? Throw some paintbrushes and paint tubes in there. Flower arranger? Well, duh. General human just taking pretty pictures? Whatever you damn well please. And that’s the point of all this; your flatlays reflect your personal tastes and interests. That’s why people scrolling through Insta never get bored of flatlays, because there’s so much potential for variation.

Here are some of my favourite props:

3) Arrangement/set-up

Whatever background and props you settle on, the way the items are laid out is what will make or break the picture. The short answer to how you get a great shot is really to just play around and see how things look – helpful, I know…

There are a few things you can try, though, if nothing is jumping out at you:

  • Envision how the image will look as a square (I often take a deliberately wide rectangular shot so it’s easier to crop down into a square for my feed)
  • Line items up at right angles to each other and the sides of the box
  • Put like items together (pens in one place, notebooks in a pile, etc)
  • Try ‘The Scatter’ (paperclips, earrings, glitter – if it’s small, scatter it across the space for instant effect)
  • Try putting all the items on one side/one corner of the square, leaving lots of blank space
  • Arrange items across the borders of the image, so some of them are just peeking into view (this gives the image depth)
  • Draw some pretty calligraphy onto your background (as long as it’s paper!). If you can’t do real calligraphy, fake it like I do: write the phrase in nice handwriting, then draw a second line on all of the downstrokes and fill in the space between:

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Now go forth and lay things flat! Tag your flatlays with #tidingofmagpies – I’d love to see them.

 

 

Stoned by Aja Raden: a review

Anyone who follows me on Instagram might have noticed me posting a few pictures of Aja Raden’s ridiculously photogenic book, Stoned, over the past month. It’s taken me a bit longer and got me a few more weird looks on the train than I expected (without the dust jacket it just looks like a book about weed), but I loved it.

First things first, I really loved the format of the book; you can’t really go wrong with chapters focused on one object/story that fits into the wider theme. I just feel like it’s such a strong way to zoom in and out on a topic.

It’s hard to pick out one of the chapters as the best, but the one on emeralds was a winning combination of medieval exploration, science  and witty anecdotes. It was also probably the most interesting for me personally in terms of new knowledgefor example, did you know that emeralds are formed by the crashing together of continental plates?!

Another thing I seriously enjoyed was the amount of fun Raden had with the footnotes (special shout out to the giggly footnote on page 36 about ballsacks). It reminded me a bit of one of my all-time faves, The Princess Bride. Stoned was also scattered with puns, which I obviously adore. The only downside to the irreverent tone was that it sometimes strayed into sounding a little forced, but the multiple times I laughed aloud more than outweighed that.

Stoned was a really interesting blend of science, geopolitics, history and art, probably because Raden has a degree in Physics and Ancient History and is a jeweller herself. Obviously I read it because it was about jewellery, but I think it’s one of those books where you can pick out your interests and follow the threads throughout. I particularly enjoyed the historical commentary and healthy dose of gender politics (although I’d argue that the description of Catherine Howard as ‘empty-headed’, ‘moronic’ and a ‘young tart’ was a bit jarring and harsh, as well as an oversimplification of the historic context in which her marriage took place).

Overall, I thought Stoned was a fab balance of detail and broad pictures, and Raden had obviously done a ton of research. Her knowledge of jewellery design also made for some really fascinating descriptions and explanations of key pieces. I’d definitely recommend it, particularly to anyone who, like me, is busy and therefore has unpredictable amounts of time to read, because it’s pretty easy to dip in and out of without losing interest or focus.

Favourite quote: Hands down the point where Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain were described as ‘putting the ick in Catholic’ with their religious intolerance, although a close second was the description of ‘the United States spreading across the North American continent like a bloodstain’ during the 19th century.

Favourite new fact:  Engagement rings for both men and women were made mandatory for Catholics by Pope Innocent III in 1215 (mostly because of all the crusade-based shagging that was occurring), so fiancé and I aren’t being the hipster arseholes we thought we were, but are in fact being medievally Catholic…huh.