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?

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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.

 

 

Product Photography 101 (no experience needed)

Anyone who’s ever shopped online, let alone sold online, knows that having good photography can make or break a sale. You can make the most beautiful earrings imaginable, but if they’re presented in a poorly lit and uninspiring photo, they’re probably not going to get chosen out of the millions of pairs available online.

When you’re just starting out selling online, it can be difficult to know how to set up and execute good product photography, which is why I enlisted the help of my more camera-savvy friend, @imlfox, for my first round of pictures. (Her Instagram is great by the way, you should all go follow her now. I’ll wait here…)

Bella shoots with a Nikon D5000, which is excellent for making tiny adjustments, but my little Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot works great too. You don’t need fancy equipment unless you’re taking product photos every day, and chances are that at this stage you don’t have that many products to photograph! I would advise against using a phone camera, though, purely because I find the pictures don’t tend to blow up as well on different screen sizes.

So, to get to the point, I have 4 key tips for product photography: lighting, theming/composition, variety, and patience.

1) Lighting

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it makes all the difference in the world. Natural light is best, as much as you can get. I’m lucky my flat has tall windows, but I still need to shoot right next to them to get the best results.

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Exhibit A: Photoshoot on the windowsill with me on a stool to get the best light and angle. The glamour of a small business!

I’m including flash on/flash off in this category as well. If you’ve got shaky hands like me, the balance between the darkening effects of flash and the blurry-but-light results of no flash is pretty delicate. Macro mode and patience are really your only options, unfortunately. They’re worth it for images like this, though:

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2) Theming/composition

This is the fun bit. To start with, you’ll need a rough idea of the sort of aesthetic you’re going for. This will inform the sorts of props you might use and what composition might suit your pictures best. Going for a clean, modern, minimalist look? Think plain white walls, lots of greenery, and maybe a copper candle holder or two, all shot from above. Feeling a more hippy, gap-yah vibe? Break out whatever trinkets you’ve picked up on your travels, find some warm-coloured wood as a base/background, and you’re good to go.

I was going for a vintage-meets-modern sort of thing, since my pieces are generally a mix of old and new inspirations and techniques, so books, sheet music and house plants all worked for me. In fact, I may have got a bit carried away with the themed props…

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Having someone to bounce things off is also really helpful. Don’t be afraid to try things – if they look stupid, you don’t have to ever use the photos. My lovely hand model and bridesmaid, Beth, and I tried many Valentine’s-themed prosecco photos in last weekend’s session. They were all awful, but at least we got to drink the fizz afterwards…

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And this was right next to the window!

3) Variety

I don’t know about other platforms, but Etsy will let you have 5 photos of each item, so you really have to make sure you’re showing every angle/use of the product. This means taking a ton of different shots and whittling them down to the most attractive/useful ones. Of the 40-odd photos we took of Beth wearing my S-shaped hammered ring, these 5 made the cut for the following reasons:

  1. Romantic theming (Valentine’s Day approaching); fingers slightly bent
  2. Different background (tube lines echoing lines of the ring); hand flat
  3. Close up of the texture of the ring when worn
  4. Ring alone to show its shape
  5. Ring alone from a different angle

4) Patience

So, I sort of mentioned this above, but it bears repeating (a lot, like taking pictures. See what I did there?).

My mum likes to terrorise us on holiday and at home with endless snaps (she’s a scrapbooker, it’s an occupational hazard), and always assures us it’s for our own good. We’re always a bit dubious about this, but she explains it’s because the more pictures she takes, the more likely it is that there will be a few nice ones. Despite our family being composed entirely of stumpy little goblins, she does manage to get decent pictures of us all, so it seems she has a point.

It’s definitely the case with product photography, too. Even though trawling through hundreds of photos can seem like a chore, those few shots you (and your potential customers) love will be worth it. Besides, you can always sift while you’re watching TV, and I guarantee you a good proportion will be blurry instant deletions, which speeds things up…

After the 183 pictures I took last weekend (of 5 products!), I ended up with this gem. Love knot midi ring on a hand holding a flower, posed on top of the piano music for ‘Your Song’ – Valentine’s theming at its finest.

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Check it out here

If you’ve got any particularly good product pictures you want to share, hit me up on Twitter or Instagram and I’ll retweet/regram them!

Creative anxiety: some tips to get your small business moving despite yourself

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action.” – Carrie Fisher*

Starting an Etsy store has been on my goals list for a good two years now, so why did it take me until December 2016 to bite the bullet and actually open Tiding of Magpies? I mean, there are obviously a ton of different factors, but if I was going to boil it down into one reason, it would be this: anxiety.

Now, anyone who knows me IRL will know that my mental health isn’t the best, but I’m talking creative anxiety, not can’t-leave-the-house, medical anxiety. It’s something that affects even the most ambitious and confident creatives from time to time, and never more so than when we’re starting out. Because, let’s face it, starting something new is scary. Putting yourself and your work out there is no small ask, and it’s so tempting to immerse yourself in market research and procrastinate by tinkering with your products and your brand and a million and one other things. I feel you. But if, like me, you’re struggling to get started, here are a couple of things that might help.

Be prepared…

There are a few things you need to be ‘ready’ to start selling: a name, some products you’re proud of, a platform on which to sell them, a way of getting products to your customers, a working brand identity, realistic prices, an idea of the market you want to enter, and an online presence. Sound intimidating? That’s where preparation comes in. Being prepared is crucial for success, but it’s also crucial for actually starting something which could be a success in the first place. Feeling like you know something about your area and your business is an essential part of overcoming creative anxiety and putting yourself out there.

…but know when to stop preparing

That said, there’s no such thing as having every possible duck in a row with this sort of business. Honestly, you’ll never feel ready. The closest you can get is to have the key details in place and a decent idea of the market you’re about to enter. It’s mostly the practicalities which will trip you up in the early days, so once you have got the details sorted, you’re ready to go. You can tweak your brand and everything else once you know what works and what doesn’t, and the only way you can know that is to just take the leap. If you sit around forever trying to know ‘everything’ before you start, you risk never actually doing it. Plus, online platforms like Etsy make it so easy and so cheap to start selling your handmade goods that you basically get a free pass to try things out. Still need a push? Consider relinquishing a bit of that control (easier said than done when it’s your ‘business baby’, I know, but bear with me).

External factors

My dad, who is a wonderful human (but always right and, my God, he knows it) was actually the catalyst for the ‘grand launch’ of Tiding of Magpies. We were on the phone last November when he came straight out with it: ‘So, when are you opening your shop? It’s nearly Christmas, just pop some things online and see what happens. You might not sell anything but you’ll get your jewellery out there.’ In his annoyingly-right way, he had given me the shove I needed. I stopped fussing over every word on my Twitter bio and obsessively polishing the various pieces of jewellery that were mounting up on my workbench, and decided to open my shop by the start of December.

My dad had given me the encouragement, but it was setting the target and telling people about it that finally got my store open. I fixed Friday, 2nd December as my opening date and started telling everyone who’d listen what date my stuff would be on sale – partner, friends, family, Instagram followers, both of my parents’ dogs… Once the outside world was ‘holding me accountable’, I felt a real obligation to get my shit together. Of course, nobody would have been upset or angry with me if I hadn’t met my target, but I knew I would, and that everyone else would know I’d failed. That turned out to be enough.

Look for some inspiration

This helps before, during and after you start out, in my experience. These are a few podcasts, blogs and Instagram accounts that help me if I’m feeling negative about my business.

Being Boss – These ladies never fail to get me motivated to work hard and aim high, plus they do it all in a chatty, entertaining way.

Create and Cultivate – A ton of inspirational women doing feminist crafting and sharing ideas. Discourse + inspiration + creativity = my dream! Their Instagram is pretty fab, too.

Rachel Lucie – Yorkshire-based jewellery designer whose blog is full of lush photography and interesting behind-the-scenes posts.

Rising Tide Society – Gorgeous, motivational images and advice. Need something to kick off a business brainstorm? Look no further.

Silver Pebble – I booked onto one of Emma’s workshops for my Mum’s birthday present after seeing her in Mollie Makes Magazine, and it was a pretty key moment in figuring out my design process. Her Instagram feed is stunning (and makes me wish I could draw).

Quick disclaimer: Inspiration is great, but if, like me, you’re prone to perfectionism and self-criticism remember that your success and someone else’s success aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s easy to scroll through Instagram for a bit and become paralysed with the thought that you’ll ‘never be as successful as x, y or z, so why bother?’, but that’s bullshit. Inspiration, not comparison, is the way forward.

Look, I know ‘just do it’ is basically a crap piece of advice unless you’re selling sportswear, so…

…do your homework, make things you’re proud of, and then kick anxiety in the face and go out and start your business! It’s hard and it takes time but it’s so incredibly exciting to do something you really love and to discover that people outside of your immediate circle actually value your work (literally and figuratively). I know anxiety deals in ‘what ifs’, but what if you get an order, or two orders, or even just someone favouriting a product? The emotional boost that gives you will be worth it, and anxiety can do one.

Fiiiiinally, if anyone else has tips or opinions on starting a small creative business, let me know – I’m still figuring this stuff out myself…

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*Obviously I’m still gutted about Carrie’s passing and may or may not be quoting her at every opportunity, but it’s also solid advice.