Flat Lay Photos: Try Your Hand at the Hottest Trend On Instagram
by Thea Fiore-Bloom, Ph.D
Have you noticed flat lay photos are “Little Miss Popular” on Instagram these days?
A flat lay is just a photo of objects arranged on a flat surface, taken from above.
If you can allow yourself to play around with flat lay (aka knolling) you will:
- Sell more of your art prints, coaching services, or online classes.
- Juice-up your social media feed, ignite your creativity (and up your self-esteem.)
But how does a simple photo technique do all this cool stuff?
Well, three different ways.
1. Flat Lay Photos Contain Mini-Magic Magnets That Attract Attention
Let me give you an example of the magnetism of good flat lay.
I was parsing through Etsy this holiday, looking for the right art print to give to a friend.
Scrolling down the page I saw a bazillion options, but only one listing gave me that saucy, “come hither” look I had to click on.
It was a lovely flat lay photo of a print by the Nova Scotian watercolor artist, Katelyn Morse.
Morse is the modest artist behind the wildly-successful Etsy shop Birch Bliss. (At the time of this writing Birch Bliss has garnered over five thousand sales and 5-star reviews.)
I reached out to Morse to ask her why she includes a flat lay photo in almost every one of her print listings?
“Well, flat lays provide inspiration and information to a buyer on what sort of style the item would fit into and what kind of mood it would evoke,” said Morse.
“On the practical side flat lays are essential for providing scale for the item, as well as creating and exaggerating the style of the item.”
“On the impractical side, I’ve found flat lays just add a magical, unique touch that buyers love!”
What kinds of objects does Morse lay on top of her nature-themed prints to create her flat lay magic?
Katelyn’s go-to flat lay props are simple, natural, objects like quartz crystals, seashells, or flower petals.
Why Don’t You Try This at Home Too?
For instance, if you have a gorgeous print featuring a pine tree, why not consider artfully placing some pinecones, quartz crystals, or a pine sprig near the print and capturing it from above with your smartphone?
(Use the doohicky I suggest at the bottom of this post to make taking overhead shots super easy.)
And while you’re at it…do this:
Morse often plunks a paintbrush, her hand, or her hand with a paintbrush, into many of her flat lays and you might try this too.
Why does adding a paintbrush, a hand, or a jar of open paint glue viewers’ eyes to photos?
Well, art buyers are creative souls and see painting as a romantic, magical endeavor.
And I say these props remind viewers of the charmed way the finished product they’re looking at – came to life.
A real, cool, artist made it!
So now we know more about how flat lay magnetize eyeballs but how exactly do flat lays turn viewers into buyers?
British brand stylist and author of How To Style Your Brand, Fiona Humberstone had an answer for me.
Fiona’s answer is my second reason to give flat lay a whirl.
2. Flat Lays Spur Sales by Creating Desire
“For me, Humberstone said, “flat lays are about sparking ideas, giving context, and of course, creating desire.“
How the heck can we “create desire” in our flat lays?
Well, one way to create desire in a flat lay is by using the combination of your product (like a small painting or wood sculpture) along with your props (like woodworking tools or even exotic fruit) to tell a photographic story.
For example, the kumquat-laden photo below is for Humberstone’s photo styling seminar, “Compose and Captivate.”
Setting the Scene, Capture the Magic
As I see it, Fiona used her product, (an online workshop) represented in the photo by the handout and pen; in combination with her props (peach double roses, yards of white cotton, and fruit-infused drinking water) to create a desire in her students to take the course.
How do these objects create that desire?
They get a viewer to connect the notion of taking her course with a feeling or a story.
When I look at this photo I imagine myself in a Tuscan villa on a spring day by an open window, pen in hand, drinking citrus water, leisurely taking notes, and learning how to present my new, imaginary, prosperous brand.
Not bad for one photo, right? Fiona captured the magic and set the scene of an inspiring working desk.
Try this at home too.
Maybe photograph your ceramics on the wheel, with tools and other romantic artist-stuff laying about.
I bet you’ll prove to be way better at creating a mood and instilling desire than you think. Because there is something special your brain came pre-loaded with.
Which I talk about here in my final point.
3. All Artists Have “Junior Stylist Software” Pre-Loaded In Their Brains Already
Yes, styling a flat lay photo is an art – but fortunately, you’re an artist.
Luckily we artists are already pre-loaded with the “good with color, composition, and telling visual stories” software.
So, despite our introverted natures, we’re naturally born junior-mood creators and junior stylists.
You do need to maintain a sense of humor and adventure though. Keep playing and snapping and eventually, you’ll make something wonderful.
I believe in you!
Let’s end with some bonus help for you in the form of 3 short how-to videos.
How To Create Your First Flat Lay
This 5-minute video will help you see how to use props to tell stories with your art:
This 6-minute video has great examples of the art of leaving stuff out:
Whereas this kooky ten-minute video is about the fun of cramming more stuff in. Great for juicing up your Instagram feed.
Yaroooo! You’re Done
As a little reward for trying flat lay, I bought myself this Bendy, Cheap, Cute, Smartphone Clamper-Thing. for just $18, I love it!
I bet you will too.
It keeps my Smartphone steady and straight while shooting from above. And it frees up a hand to put in my flat lays.
Also great for DIY Videos for FaceBook or Instagram.
Over to you! What do you think? Will you try it?
Tell me the subject of some of your artwork?
What mood does your work convey?
Can you imagine any props that might enhance that mood?
Share your comment below. Let’s help each other.
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