how to style a flat lay image

Series of Color Themed Flat Lays

Images bombard us. We flip through streams of photos without really thinking until something catches our eye. Within 50 milliseconds we assess visual appeal. But what makes an image compelling? What grabs someone’s attention and keeps it?

Recently I created a series of three flat lay images for an Instagram challenge. When creating a visual there are the six things I always do and today I'm sharing what they are!

Six Tips for Styling On Brand Flat Lay Images

Tell a story.

Flat lays are a snapshot in time. They should tell a story. They’re typically used to show a step—ingredients for a recipe or items in a purse.

Before you start shooting, you need to ask yourself:

  • What do you want your image to say?
  • Will it stand on its own or be part of a series?
  • Where will your image be used?

The story I wanted to tell with my series was about the books I was currently reading or referring to.

Collection of Red Items from Around Our House

Choose props that match or complement your brand colors.

The prompts I used to unify my flat lays were colors: Red, Green, and Yellow. With colors as prompts I immediately went to color theory for my starting point.

Red was “easy” as it’s one of my brand colors. Green was a little harder, but thankfully it’s a complementary color to red. It’s also one I use a lot in my content as I write about urban gardening and regularly feature my vegetable garden. Yellow was the hardest, but still doable with an analogous color scheme.

Select an odd number of props.

I started by laying out my props, and I looked for arrangements of five, seven, and nine items (formally called the rule of odds – uneven composition).

My intent with each image was represent the type of content I cover: food, family, and fashion So, I chose props from each area of the house, supplies from Gates’ craftspace, kitchen utensils, jewelry, and books.

A Collection of Yellow Objects from Around Our House

Arrange props along a grid.

I like drawing people into my images and giving them a line or two to search along. I laid items out in parallel and perpendicular lines—a variation of knolling to reduce clutter and keep my images simple.

Create tension.

Why would you purposefully create tension? Especially when you try to avoid it in interpersonal relationships? Because in still life images it adds interest.

Tension in images can be the result of off balanced whitespace, intersecting lines, or signs of life. An easy way to achieve this tension? A grid arrangement.

A grid arrangement lends itself well to the rule of thirds compositional technique. With this compositional technique you can add tension with an asymmetric layout or the addition of dynamic tension ( through intersecting lines.

Collection of Green Items from Around of Our House

Reduce clutter; choose a natural resting place for the eyes.

Before I pack up my gear, I take a last set of images that remove at least one accessory (two if I’ve grouped objects in an odd arrangement). Whether it’s fashion or photography, Coco Chanel’s advice rules.

Why do I do this? Because it’s easy as the creator of an image to become enamored with it. By simply removing a couple of items you can create more whitespace and tension and improve the image. Try it; I guarantee you’ll like the results.

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