Mastering Flat Lays Without a Studio

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


We live in a world of creatives with impressive studios, fancy lighting and expensive camera lenses. While this picture-perfect situation is fun to pin or spend time in a day dream, it often leaves us discouraged, making us wonder: Can we still create with quality without an abundance of resources? The answer: A sure and strong yes. We can and should create where we are & with what we have; it is in these limitations where true creativity takes place. And, you're in luck since flat lays, knolling and styled photos in general can be done well with very few materials.

This past year, I worked with my local Anthropologie to help develop creative content for social media. Specifically, I created artistic flat lays within different themes for the store's Instagram. Despite the advantage of having an abundance of beautiful items to style and curate together, it was a learning curve to master styling these products without a formal studio. However, through the process I discovered a few simple ways to work with whatcha got, as they say. 

What you need: An iPhone camera, natural light and some 
styling props you have on hand 
(This can look like tissue paper, beans, greenery, scrap fabric, washi tape, etc.)


01 | Creating the Right Backdrop 

One can never go wrong with a sleek, white backdrop. But, due to space or lack of access to an ideal situation, this is not always possible. A few solutions: 1) Want to fake it? Use a couple of white poster boards (one laid flat, the other standing up to create "L" shape) or a large piece of butcher paper (secure top of sheet about 3 feet up from bottom of a wall and let drape onto ground). 2) Or, keep an eye out for different spaces in your area that may have the ideal backdrop. Whether that be the wood table at your local coffee shop or a nice floor in a shop, use it! 3) Lastly, texture is key when creating a well-designed styled shot. Utilize materials you have on hand - whether that be a rug, blanket or table runner - to help add dimension to your shot. 

Lacking something? Ask a friend or neighbor! Sharing creates community, even in the simplest way of expressing and meeting a need. 


02 | Make it Individual to You

If you are styling for a brand or business, it is easy to just focus on the products chosen for the photo. Yet, creating your artistic style requires putting your own spin on the circumstance. Add personal details to the flay lay that would be relatable to your audience. Whether it be choosing to work in your favorite magazine or having your everyday sunnies stick out of a bag, these little details make the your work individual and unique to you. 


03 | Add Some Life!

Incorporate a small plant or greenery, include a cup of coffee or add in that last slice of cake on a plate. Overall, make the photo more than just lifeless objects. By adding a bit of soul to the shot, it allows the branded objects to take on more movement and personality than they could alone.

Tip: Grocery store flowers are usually no more than $10 -- not only do they look great within a styled shot, but add a little more joy to your home, too.


04 | Remember the Art of Play

Styling is an art. And, I think as we grow up and continue to create, we forget the carefree and playful aspect that art should obtain. Give yourself permission to mess up a shot. That idea that just popped in your head that could-or-could-not look really cool? Try it. Let's try not to get so caught up in the desire for efficiency and planning that we forget the wonder of creating.


05 | Don't Forget the Finishing Touches

For all of these shots, I just used my IPhone to both shoot and edit. As editing goes, I keep it simple and personal to my aesthetic. I use the app VSCO to crop & straighten, bump up the contrast, adjust exposure as needed and fix any temperature or coloration problem. Then, I will softly layer a couple of filters depending on the style of the image and how it will be used (favorites include: A6, J2, Q2, M5; available to purchase within app). These final touches make a world of difference by curating images that are both stylized and uniform.

Join the Conversation: What are your tips to style creative content in imperfect conditions? And, how can we use these limitations to boost and grow our creativity?

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