I’m going to let you in on a little secret…a year ago, I didn’t even know what “flat lay” meant. It didn’t take me much time to learn all about flat lay photography. A quick Pinterest search and you’ll be eyeballs deep into a million blog posts that explain what it is and how to do it. But not a single one of those blog posts explained how to flat lay with scrapbook layouts.
I mean, I guess it’s not much of a stretch to replace what they were photographing with a scrapbook layout. But I felt like my photography subject of choice was really underrepresented on Pinterest.
So I learned what I could, and started applying it to my Instagram photos.
I’m going to let you in on another (albeit completely random) little secret…I hate taking pictures on a wood grain background. Not because I don’t like the look of it, because I LOVE the look of wood grain. But I was using it for awhile and I could never match up the color, so my feed looked like this:
What in the actual heck, guys. Not a single one of these photos matches!! Ooof. And I’m not saying my photos look horrible or anything. But it makes me cringe just a little.
After experimenting with this background for awhile, I switched to layout only. Which I think can look amazing on an Instagram feed. Paige Evans has a mix of layouts and other photos on her feed, but none of her layout photos are staged, and it’s gorgeous y’all. (Some other great “layout only” Instagram pages are Heather Shank, Rachel Lowe, and Anne Keller.) But I’m, sadly, not Paige, so my feed looked like this:
Not horrible, just not exciting either. Also, it read a little like an advertisement for all of my design teams, which wasn’t what I was going for either.
I started experimenting with flat lay in April 2018. It’s a learning process for sure. Here’s a peek at my first flat lay after all my Pinterest research:
My suggestions to past Kira would be:
#1: Tilt the layout less.
#2: Increase brightness and contrast.
#3: Add a larger element than the bowl OR add more smaller pieces around the shot.
So why in the world am I telling you all of this??? Recently, I have had a few people approach me asking for advice on staging photos. And while I am still learning myself, I am always happy to share any tips or tricks I have learned along the way.
For simplicity purposes, I am going to be talking about Instagram photos.
Tip #1: Decide the “theme” you are going for.
Do you want your Instagram page to read as bright and colorful? Or simple and clean? Perhaps you love the look of wood grain and feels it works well with the aesthetic you’re going for. Whatever it is, go for it! I’m not here to tell you, “I use a white background, so you should too!” Pick what works best for your “look”.
Tip #2: Choose your background.
This doesn’t mean if you’ve decided on white, you have to stick with white. Or choose a single color and stick with that. I actually love what Zinia does with her Instagram and how she switches between multiple poster board backgrounds.
Full disclosure: I went with white, because its easy to edit. White will always be white, if it looks grey, you brighten it to white. If it looks yellow, you decrease the warmth and make it look white. It’s just easy. And I am just lazy.
If you are still fine tuning your photography, I wouldn’t suggest a wood grain, or something that would be difficult to edit in different lighting. It was frustrating to me to try and match the color of my wood grain, and I spent more time than necessary editing when I could’ve easily cut that time in half by choosing a white background. But if you are set on woodgrain, by all means, CHOOSE THE WOOD GRAIN!
I do, however, use a wood grain background for my Jillibean Soup blog posts, and I think they end up looking great!
Tip #3: Props, props and more props
I didn’t start with a million little trinket trays around my craft room. I collected them over time because of my photography staging obsession. I even have two of the same wooden tray because I got sick of unloading it with practical tools, staging it with other items, and reloading it back up. So I have an empty one for staging and one that actually serves as a desk organizer. Seriously, it’s gotten out of hand.
I like to have “medium” sized props, “small” props and then the little bits and bobs that really set your staging apart.
Medium sized prop ideas: typewriter (as long as you are only adding in a small corner like I did with the above layout), desktop organizers like this, trays, cupcake tins and bowls (think cereal bowl sized, not trinket sized).
Here are a few of the medium props I use:
And some of my small props:
Most of my stuff was purchased at Tuesday Morning, Hobby Lobby, Target or IKEA.
Bits and bobs: buttons, sequins, paper clips, safety pins, clothespins, etc.
Tools: Sometimes its nice to add in some of the tools you used on your layout. I consistently add in my tiny attacher and date roller stamp because they add a pop of black to the layout. But I don’t usually add in my cutterbee scissors because they’re bright yellow. So if you are adding tools, choose some that look nice. Gold stapler=good. Dirty fineliner bottle=bad. You get the gist.
Tip #4: Your layout should be the star of the show!
This seems obvious, right?! But even just angling a prop at an awkward angle, or adding too much stuff to your “square” can quickly turn your layout from the star to a secondary component.
Tip #5: Start setting up the shot.
Since Instagram is set up in a square format, I like to keep my flat lay photos in a square. It’s just easier and looks nicer when you’re looking at your Instagram page as a whole. So when you are setting up your flat lay, you need to imagine that square when working on placement of layout and props.
I start with my layout, the star of my photo. When deciding which side and angle to place my layout, I look at the layout itself. If the layout is heavy on the left, I want the left side in my shot and have the right hanging off the side. You can always choose to have your layout fully in the shot too! No rule saying you need it peeking off like I do mine, I just prefer to give my followers a little sneak, then post another full shot so they can swipe to see the entire layout. (Did you know that the Instagram algorithm likes when you use that multi-photo feature? Yeah, that’s why I use it.)
Next, I start “building” my shot up. I have my layout placed, so next I choose a medium prop. I try to be conscious of what prop I use so I don’t have the same tray used twice in a row, or in the photo that will be below my new photo. I don’t go in a specific order or anything, I just want it to look a little staggered.
If I choose to go with a small prop as my 2nd piece, I may choose to use two to make it a “medium prop”. So instead of a desktop tray, I could use a trinket dish and a small bowl.
Finally, you will start adding those bits and bobs. For the most part, I like to stick with similar items that are on my layout. For example, if it is a layout using my August Citrus Twist kit, I will pull items from that kit. That way I know my colors will coordinate and it gives me an opportunity to show off more of the kit. But generic items like paperclips and sequins are great to “fill in” empty space.
If I am being honest with this photo…it’s looking a bit cluttered. I’d remove the ribbon, “you are loved” piece and tassel and just keep the sequins. But I’m lazy, remember? So I’m just going to say that and not re-shoot the photo.
Staging photos is a constant learning opportunity. I am always trying new things and experimenting with what I think looks good. And it’s not always easy either. I spend more time staging one photo than I do on taking and editing ten photographs. So take your time, find what works best for you, and try and have fun with it!
I hope all these little tips helped you! Feel free to comment any questions you might have about staging your photos!