How To Get The Perfect Flatlays


Over the past few years running this blog, one of the biggest learning curves and the areas I've improved most with has been my blog photography. If you've been reading hiyaitsashley for years, or you go back and look at some of my early posts, you'll see the drastic improvements that came over time. I thought today I would share with you how I take my flatlays, and give you some tips that can help anyone who is starting out, or who wants to up their photography game.

I'm not a photographer by any means, so I'm not claiming to have the most flawless and perfect photography out there, but lately I've been getting some very sweet comments on my flatlays on here and on my Instagram, so that is what inspired this post. I also wanted people to know that you don't have to have an expensive DSLR or the latest high tech editing software to product high quality photos. I use my iPhone 6s+ to take my photos, and apps to edit them, and they seem to be doing okay.

When I started hiyaitsashley I had no idea what made good blog photography, and what didn't. I knew the photos had to be good, but at the time the big trend for blog photos was the way they were edited. Most blog photos where product shots that where then put into photoshop and had the title of the post edited onto them with graphics or colours, whereas nowadays it's more about the photos being aesthetically pleasing and bringing a bit of colour to your posts. For me, I much, much prefer flatlays or cleanly edited shots. I'm more drawn to them, and find they look better on anyone's blog regardless of genre.

Flatlays take a few key factors to get right, and I like to think that my photos have improved a lot over the years, so  I've put together some tips and hacks that I use for my photos, that will hopefully help some of you out and give you some ideas.

Flatlay Boards

The first thing you need for a flatlay is obviously a flat, sturdy surface to lay out your items on. You can buy photoboards with pretty designs on them for this, but really, who has £30 to spend one them? A photoboard, flatlay board, background, whatever you want to call it, is just a sheet of PVC plastic with your chosen design printed on it. There are much cheaper and easier ways to get get a good flatlay surface, and still be able to change your background. I have used a few methods in the past, but I like my current method the best.

One way is to simple use a white, wooden piece of furniture, for a simple, plain white background. To get a more textured look for some variety in the past I have simple, used a white, fleecy blanket laid out on the floor. My current method, and my favourite, is the one I am going to be sticking with. I got my hands on a sheet of marble effect PVC plastic. Where? It is literally a leftover piece of cladding from when my grandparents had their bathroom redone. Literally, it was that simple. The plastic is white marble effect, and is literally what I would have had to pay £30 for from a store, and its only designed on one side and plain white one the other, which means not only is it sturdy, but it gives me two background options, and that's before I even get into my backgrounds. This tip works for wood too, if you can get your hands on a large piece of wood, you can use that.

Top Tips: Make the best of what you have, use white or textured surfaces. Ask around, try and get your hands on some plastic or wood, its not conventional but its cheap and it works. Use anything that's large and accessible enough, you can cover anything with a backgdrop.

Backgrounds

Backgrounds are a big part of flatlays for me, they can add a lot of variety to your photos and a splash of colour or design to more simplistic layouts. You can buy simple backgrounds online, starting at very simplistic, common designs for around £10, ranging up to over £30 for some others. There are much cheaper ways to get backgrounds than this.

One way to get a different background is easy, use a fluffy or patterned blanket or some other nicely designed item you have at home, and drape it over your surface, this is the best way to have a little variety, without spending any money at all. If you want to go down the simplistic route and spend a little money but not break the bank, get some cheap wallpaper, you can get these in a lot of simplistic but beautiful designs, such as marble, wooden and brick wall. You can cut them to the size you need, and bluetack them to the surface you're using, then remove them when you are done. If you are decorating already or know someone who is, then it won't cost you a thing. If not, you can definitely find paper like this in stores and online for a lot cheaper than a £30 sheet from a backdrop site.

My personal favourite kind of background to use, and the one I currently use, is so simple, and it won't break the bank. Use fabric. This is a method I stumbled on last year by sheer chance, an now I swear by it. The best place to go for this, is John Lewis. They have a hugely extensive range of different fabrics on hand, as they are there for fashion and art purposes. The best part is, you can get tour fabric cut to measure, and pay very little for a huge range of colours, styles, designs, and finishes. I get half a meter, as that's the best size for my flatlay surface, and it only costs me usually between £3 at the least, and around £7 at the most for the ones I like, and the size I need. If you need a smaller size, it will definitely be cheaper, and the price varies on the type of fabric you pick so you can definitely get them cheaply, or splurge on something fancy if you want to. You can even get seasonal and holiday designs. The fabrics are machine washable and you can iron them so if they get dirty or creased that's no problem either. All you do is drape them over your surface and voila, you're done!

Top tips: Save money, use what you have. Ask around for leftover paper you like, just be sure to store it safely where it won't get ripped. Take a look around John Lewis or local art stores, fabric can be inexpensive, and give you a lot of changable background options.


Props & Extras

Props and little extras are a great asset to any flatlay, they fill in any pesky blank space, and give a little something extra without taking focus from the actual product or item being showcased. Whatever you are showcasing, have it positioned how you want so it is the focus, and see how that looks in your camera. Once you have it set up how you like, now its time to fill in those pesky blank spaces with some props and extras.

Props don't have to be expensive by any means. I find the most simple and inexpensive, yet beautiful props have been fake flowers. You can pick these up anywhere and usually only cost a couple of pounds. I also recommend picking up some larger props, ones that you can showcase your items on and catch people's eye. I have a large, round, rose gold wide cooling rack (yes, the kind usually uses for cakes), that I use in my photos. I do this because it is really beautiful for displaying beauty products on, and it takes up some of that blanks space. It's also perfect for balancing round products, as the little grooves mean they can't roll away like they could on the flat surface. Along those same lines, little plates and small trays are the perfect prop for displaying jewelry and smaller items. The best place to look for these types or props, and any props in general, is TK Maxx. They have beautiful and unique items for really good prices. Homeware stores are also great places to look.

In terms of extras, this literally just means finding some little extra things to slide into your photos to full up space that fit the theme. If it's a beauty post, maybe scatter in a lipstick or two, or position a few make up brushes at the side. For lifestyle posts, add in the side of a magazine or book you have on hand, or lay out a perfume bottle or some pens. Writing about movies or TV? Throw in some small chocolates or some pieces of popcorn. Little things like this make all the difference, just be careful to find the balance between too much blank space, and being overcrowded.

Top tips: Style for the genre, don't have random items in there just to fill space. Get creative with what you use. Don't leave huge gaps of blank space, but also don't fill your photos with masses of stuff. Keep going back and seeing how your photo looks in the camera, try moving things while looking in it, it will help you visualise how the image is looking after its taken on a smaller scale.

Lighting

Setting up your flatlays to look absolutely stunning is one things, but even the most stunning flatlays is going to look less than ideal if the lighting isn't there. The absolute number one tip I can give you is this: Always, always, always, use natural lighting, and as much of is as you possible can.

Natural lighting can be a bit of a nightmare sometimes, especially in the winter months when it is determined to be dark and gloomy, but to get the best possible photos you need to use as much bright, natural lighting as you can. This is something you should always consider before setting up your photos. Think about when you are taking your photos as well, in the mornings/early afternoon is always going to be the best time. To make the most of the natural lighting you do have, you should always take your flatlays as close to a window as possible. I sometimes have my flatlay board balancing on chairs or being held up so it is leaning on the windowsill, just for the best lighting. Open your blinds and curtains as wide as possible too, trust me, you have no idea how much extra lighting this will give you.

Top tips: If you get good lighting, take your blog photos in bulk for upcoming posts. Stay as close to a window as you can. Try not to stand in front of the light source when you're taking the photos. Avoid using the flash or overhead lighting.

Editing

How you edit your photos after you've taken them can have a big impact on the way your photos turn out. You can edit your photos on your computer with software like Photoshop, but that can be expensive to buy and you definitely do not need software like that edit your photos well,

I use apps to edit and resize my photos for my blog, and they work amazingly for me. I currently use Afterlight for editing my photos, because it lets me do everything I need in one. The key tools I use and recommend are clarify, brightness, contrast, saturation, exposure, highlights and shades. The key thing to remember about editing is you just want to simply enhance the photo, make it a little brighter or amplify the colours, so play around until you fin the right balance. Sizing is also key, to get the best resolution and quality for your photos on your blog, check the sizing of your post, particularly the width, and resize your images to those dimensions. That way it wont appear either squashed or stretched.

Top tips: Don't over-edit you photos. Keep the changes simple. Resize your photos. Make sure when you add the images to your post, you choose 'original size' (in blogger), to get the best quality.


Some final, key tips to remember:
  • You don't need to break the bank to have good photos
  • You can take perfectly good photos without a DSLR
  • Always use natural lighting
  • Check in the camera how your layout looks and edit accordinly
  • If you get good lighting and layout, take photos in bulk
  • Editing can fix a lot


What are your best tips for taking amazing flatlays and photos? Do you think that your photographs have improved since you started blogging?

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