How To Master The Flatlay: Let's Start With The Basics

Thursday 7 March 2019

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You have all begged me for it, and my flatlay guide is finally here.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is 'how do you do your flatlays?' And honestly, I didn’t have an answer. What a great way to start an informational guide Aycan! But honestly, I didn't know how to tell somebody that I choose my props, arrange them on the ground, and take my photos, without sounding patronising. The more I got asked the same questions, the more I realised that there is more to creating a flatlay than how I was playing it to be. I had planned on sharing this guide around October time, but I wanted to make sure that I'd do this topic justice, which is why I've spent the last few months making conscious decisions and really thinking about what I'm doing during my entire photography process.

What I first have to say and iterate is that I'm not a professional photographer and have had zero training. I started photography back in school (we just made pinhole cameras), but I began concentrating on flatlays and product photography once I'd started my blog. First, it was outfit flatlays, and then moved onto styled products. As you can tell, those definitely are not my best work. Everything I know about flatlays, I have learnt by practising consistently. I have taken my time and learnt how styling best works for me.

These guides are here to help you learn the process and understand how to master the flatlay in your own way.

flatlay summer fashion camera

I have planned 4 guides in total, but before we start discussing how you're going to create the most beautiful flaylays, you're going to have to start from the very beginning. These are the best tips that have helped me, and all that you need to know before you even start planning to photograph.


Your most important tool. It doesn't matter if you use a mobile phone or an SLR, getting to know your camera is all it takes.


And I mean properly. Read the manual, but use your camera along with it. Set up a quick selection of props and take the same photo using a different ISO, f-stop, shutter speed, and learn what each of them means. I'm such a practical learner that I can read the context of things, but until I try them out myself and see how, for example, controlling the aperture affects my image - that's when I'd truly understand. If you're a visual learner, you may want to print the photos out, write notes and keep that with you while you photograph to help you remember what you've learnt. Do what is most helpful for you. If you're using a mobile phone, you may not have full control like you would with a digital camera, but still, do your research to find out how to take better photos.


Until recently, I had been using the same camera I had for the past 10 years, with the lens that came in the box that didn't manually focus (I broke that oops). I don't even own a tripod. The majority of my flatlays were taken using the same equipment, but the only difference is, I learnt how to use my camera, and how to set up my props to be taken. Don't think that you need to spend thousands on photography equipment to get the best images. If you're going to invest, do your research first to make sure you're paying for what you need.

before after flatlay edit


If you don’t shoot in raw, start now - it's an absolute game changer when it comes to editing your images. A RAW file is an uncompressed image file which will give you the best quality of an image. With file types such as JPEG, the image data is compressed down giving you very little control when editing your photo as it has all been lost. Editing with a RAW image lets you correct the exposure, adjust the white balance, and tune all those finer details.


The most important part of photography is to practise. Schedule some time to take photos you don’t have to use. There will be no pressure on getting the perfect shots, which I feel is the best way to improve your skills.


I get asked quite a bit about what lighting I use, and it's completely free; the sun. I'll show you exactly how, soon, but I place my flatlay on the ground in front of the window in the brightest room of the house. I leave the net curtain down as strong natural light creates terrible shadows which is something we don't want. It does mean I work to the schedule of nature, but a quick look on my weather app usually helps me plan the week ahead.

scrapbook love hearts pink flowers


How to styling and arrange your props and products are going to be covered in a majority of the guides, but here's the best advice you will always need to remember.


On the best day, I can choose my props, set up (with a few small changes), and take 4 differently styled arrangements in about 45 minutes. On the complete opposite end of the scale, I can arrange for over 2 hours and still not like anything. I’ll try again the very next day, with the same props and I will be finished within the hour. It can be so frustrating, but that’s just how the creative process can be sometimes. Don’t fight it, let it do what it needs to.


A prop box is a necessity to make flatlaying a breeze. It's my go-to place when I need an extra item or two to complete my photo. I'm sure you're all interested in knowing what's inside... but you're going to have to wait until the next guide which is focusing all on props.


I think I may have mentioned this before, but when I started shooting flatlays, I used to have a quick look on Instagram for inspiration. Now, the only place I look for inspiration is on my own feed. Does that sound big headed? Maybe, but I am happy with what I've taken. I love focusing on recreating moments in my photos that really stand out and experimenting with that idea a little more. While constantly trying to improve, of course. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for inspiration. Just make sure that they don’t become copies.


Have you ever scrolled through Instagram, seen an image and knew exactly who's it was without looking at their name? Your flatlays should become a representation of you and your brand. If clean white table tops and soft lighting aren't your things, it doesn't need to be. I had gone through a phase, (like I'm sure most bloggers have), where I'd thought things needed to be on white backgrounds, with products placed quite effortlessly. I then discovered bright coloured backgrounds and confetti, and I started to find my true passion for photography. There is no right or wrong way to flatlay, so you can't ever go wrong.

.@helloaycan is sharing her top tips on how to master the flatlay


Editing your photographs, if done in the right way, can really enhance the overall look. Whether you're using an app on your phone, Lightroom or Photoshop, always keep these points in mind.


Once upon a time, my memory card corrupted (a heartbreaking moment), and since then I have been really cautious on how I save and backup my images. This may sound extremely OTT, but I have to save them into two separate folders, one is to 'be edited' which is where I'll delete everything until I've found my final set of images. With the other folder, I will look through these later on and delete anything that is blurry, is too similar, or just not what I like. Those originals are then kept in case one day I want to re-edit. This wasn't something I had started since the beginning of my blog, so I have a lot of photos I wish I could fix and edit properly but can't.


The way I like to think about it is, the least amount of work that needs to be done on an editing tool the better. A few changes of levels to brighten, straightening, and cropping are what I usually aim for. Sometimes I'll also use the clone tool to clean up some areas. Over edited photos can be obvious, so try and get exactly what you want while using your camera. Make sure you upload your images onto your computer screen to make sure it's looking close enough to perfect before you decided to stop shooting.


I know that Lightroom presets have become really popular recently (I have never used these myself), and they can create a cohesive look throughout all your images, especially if you're concentrating on creating a theme on Instagram. I will do a little more research on this and include it in a future guide. Editing doesn't have to just involve changing what's originally there, you can also add to it with illustrations, sketches, text, and other creative hand-drawn ways. Just experiment!

simple styled flatlay pink shoes


This is the boring side, I know. I used to hate implementing these as it used to take up my time, but if you've taken beautiful photographs that you're excited to share, but they've become blurry, take far too long to load, and is unseen by search engines, it's an absolute shame. Practising these tips can really help the success of your images when sharing online.


When Google searches through images, I wonder how many they would find with the title 'IMG_6289.jpg' or 'flatlay1.jpg'? Be descriptive when saving your images. Titles such as 'summer-fruits-laptop-flatlay.jpg' or 'bomb-cosmetics-shea-bliss-hand-treatment.jpg' will point people to your images and then to your article. They don't need to be too long either, 5 or 6 keywords would be great. You must apply the same technique when using 'img alt' (alt="") in your HTML code. This not only helps create an image description for those who are visually impaired, but it's great for SEO too.


A huge pet peeve of mine is going to check out a blog, and it takes ages for the images to load. When saving your images, they only need to be the size that it's going to appear on your website - the width of the body of your text or smaller. Otherwise, your images are going to have to load to the original size and then reduced to the body width. It also makes for a clearer image, creates an enjoyable user experience, and saves computer space.


Even if your images are the size they should be, it may still take some time to load. Let's say your reader has a slower Internet connection that afternoon. Have you ever tried to read an article while the images are still loading and the content keeps moving down the page? Annoying right? Saving your images as 'progressive' will stop all of that. With progressive images, as your photos are rendering, it will show a very low quality, and load your image in time. There will be no scrolling back to try and find where you were. Happy readers all around.


This is something I've only recently started doing and it has made sharing my images on social media a breeze. Each platform has a set recommended size you should upload your images as, and it is advised that you stick to those to make sure you share crisp images in the right composition. Once I've finished editing an image, I'll save one for my blog, and then crop the original to fit Instagram, Instagram Stories, Facebook and Twitter. I save them in my Icloud too for easy access while I'm on the move. An easy way to separate between each image is to save it with -(platform name) at the end.

In the next guide, we will be talking props: what's in my prop box, where do I find my backgrounds, money-saving diys, and more!

Let me know in the comments below what photography tip has stuck with you. If there is anything else you'd love to know about mastering the flatlay, leave your ideas below and I'll be sure to add them in.