Photography doesn't have to be hard. Yes, it is an artform, No, you are not born being good at it. Like all things, photography takes lot of practice and education to get it down. People wonder how I can take such great photos and the truth is I spend hundreds of hours learning about light, gear and techniques and then I put these lessons into action until I create something that I like. It's an obsession really, or is that what they call passion? The truth is, the basics of photography are not that hard, and you too can take some great photos for your social media. The more effort and practice you put into it, the better your photos will continue to turn out, and if you have no desire to put that effort in, then you can outsource to people like me. I live for this stuff.
For those of you ready to put a little effort in and see what you can create. I've outlined a few basic starting points for creating a great flat lay for your social media. Of course, these are just ideas and thoughts that I have and that I use when creating my flat lays, but as with all art, there really are no rules. Create the things that fit with your brand and with your themes on Instagram. But maybe, start here and see where it takes you. First things, first, it's all about the light.
Photography Depends on Light
My number one secret to having the best photographs comes down to light. The greatest artists of our time, Monet, Van Gogh, Edward Hopper, Wes Anderson and Martin Scorses all figured out that the use of light tells the greatest story and has the most power. We see that light during the day is white, near sunset is orange and after sunset is blue. All of these colors evoke different emotions and bring us to a different place. While the study of light could take you your entire life to learn, as it has most artists, the basics of light are pretty easy to understand and will provide you with the tools you need to create great images.
For the most case, when you are taking photos for your business, social media or just for fun, you'll be taking them in the daylight. This is when you have the most light that's white and easy to work with. You'll want to find a space to photograph your flat lays that isn't in direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will cause harsh shadows and intense highlights. Unless this is an effect you are going for (which, for more intermediate photographers this could be the case) you should just avoid it. Take your flat lays next to a window or in the shade to get the indirect light that provides softer shadows. Like in the image above you'll want to have white pieces of poster-board or core-board on the surrounding sides of your subject to reflect light back. The reflecting white surface makes it so that the image is evenly lit and not slowly falling back into shadow and softens any shadows a little bit more.
Choose The Right Backdrop
Flat lays are meant to tell a story. The objects that are used should be the main focus and therefore the backdrop should be something simple and non-distracting. I've created my backdrops with core-board and vinyl prints of texture. Any print shop can create these for you with the exact textures or colors you want or you can find pre-printed vinyl online. Topo Designs, The Colorado bag company, has done an awesome job using solid bright colors as the backdrops for their flat lays.
You aren't limited to using pre-made backdrops. Using the wood floors of your home, the granite countertops in the kitchen, the turf in your backyard, the concrete sidewalk, the paved street, or anything else you can come up with are all great for backdrops. There is always the classic white background too. Whatever fits with the look and feel of your brand is what you should be thinking to use for your flat lays. When it comes to my brand and my Instagram theme, I have a much darker look. My colors are saturated, everything is sharp and the colors and editing are all darker. Using white backdrops doesn't fit the look and feel of my brand so I stick with industrial or natural textures. I love wood grains the most but have used this industrial steal texture a lot too.
Finding Objects For Your Flat Lay
There are no wrong or right objects when it comes to your flat lays. It really comes down to the stories you want to tell and the objects that make sense for your brand. In the flat lay I created for this blog post, I used a quote on the letter board I've been using in a lot of different photos. "It takes a village to raise a dream," it says, and then I surrounded it with the tools I've been using to create my dream of having a photography business.
There are a couple of things to consider when you are making your flat lay, but again there really is no wrong or right choices just personal preference. I try to choose 1 object that is the focus of the board. It's almost always the largest object on the board but often it can be the thing that stands out the most by color or texture. I then use other objects to frame it or that add to it.
The second thing to consider is how you want to lay out your images. The grid is a common preference where everything falls into line with each other. But a lot of flat lays have objects falling off the edges of the frame and are scattered throughout the image. Again, this really comes down to personal preference and how you want to showcase your objects and tell a story. You don't have to choose one or the other but can alternate between the two.
Flat lays are about practice. Finding the colors, objects, backgrounds and angles that work best for you and the story you're telling about your brand. My best advice is to play around and try different things to see what you like. You can also post different versions of things and see how your audience engages. This is your best way of finding the images that connect with your audience, who knows maybe the flat lay look isn't even the right one for you audience and lifestyle shots are what they prefer. You'll never know until you get out there and test the waters!