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So you’re not a fan of the selfie when it comes to sharing photos on Instagram or other social media or blog platforms?
I get that.
There is another way to otherwise tell a story or give people a visual insight into your daily life, your wardrobe, what you like to eat, what beauty products you use or how you like to celebrate certain days.
The flat lay.
If you’re scratching your head and wondering what kind of language I’m talking, take a little scroll through the Instagram hashtag feed #flatlay. There are more than 113,000 images tagged as flatlays. Yes, like all hashtag feeds, not all will be on topic but you will get a good indication of what I’m talking about.
In a nutshell, a flat lay photo is a photo of a single or group of items taken from above. By doing so, the visual effect is one of “flattening” the photo.
I may not shoot a flat lay photo every day but I do style and shoot them when I want to tell a visual story with an image.
Think about how quickly YOU scroll through your Instagram feed. What stops you in your tracks? To like and comment?
For me, it’s an image that immediately tells a story and/or has visual impact.
That’s why the flat lay style of photography has taken off. You get the visual impact and the story of that image in the flick of a scroll.
As a creative, shooting this style of photo gets me thinking outside the square. Or inside the square … as is the case for Instagram.
My own social media photos – including flat lay photos – have been a whole lot better since I started using the Olympus PEN E-PL7. You can catch up on all the features of this compact system camera here but, in a nutshell, this camera is a social photo-sharing dream. It’s compact enough to fit in my handbag and then connects via built-in wi-fi so I can upload photos immediately to my phone or tablet and share via social media. Yes, it’s one extra step but the big win has been a HUGE improvement in the quality of photos that I now share on social media.
I’m by no means an expert when it comes to shooting flatlays but I thought I’d share my 13 tips on how to take a flat lay photo from what I’ve learned so far – from playing around with different things myself and for studying the work of those who nail it every time.
1. Choose the visual story you’re going to tell with your photo. Are you showing what you plan to wear that day? The ingredients for a recipe you’re cooking? What’s on your desk? What beauty products you’ve used on your face today? Are you aiming to tell a story about a particular day – Australia Day? Valentine’s Day? Easter? Pretty much everything you do can be told in a flat lay visual story. Think about what elements could best tell that story.
2. Shoot your photos in an area that has great natural light. Indirect light shining through a window is ideal. Just don’t block the light source by standing in front of it to shoot your photo. I like to minimise the shadow but some Instagramers do it very well by harnessing shadow from natural light in flat lay.
3. A white background/surface is always a good idea but don’t be afraid to play around with different colours and textures. Some Instagramers stick to the one background – it’s become their brand – and that’s ok too. I use a mix of backgrounds – timber, coloured rugs or fabric, white paper, coloured paper – contrasting with the items that I’m photographing.
4. Placing items on the floor enables you to more easily get the height you need to shoot from directly above. If this is not enough height to be directly over your flat lay subjects, use a chair or stool. If at a restaurant, I am THAT person who will stand up and shoot the meal or group of meals from above. It’s important to be totally above the subject because if there is even the slightest angle it will distort the perspective.
5. Choose one hero item when styling your flat lay grouping. This anchors the photo and allows the eye to focus on the main thing first and then travel around to take in the whole image.
6. Choose item that work together in colour groupings. Think similar tones of the same colour or complementary colours. Or there could be one hero colour that you then bring in to the image with a couple of other pieces.
7. Include items of different size. Leading the eye around the image through different sized items adds to the visual story.
8. Get your head around the photography “rule of thirds”. Switch on the grid on the camera’s LCD screen – this divides the screen into nine squares. The idea is that you place anything of interest in the photo where those lines intersect or along the lines. I know it seems tricky but once you start playing with this you can see why it helps to create an image that attracts the viewer in.
9. Allow for space around the items in your photo. You need to play around with the space because what it looks like through the lens is slightly different from without. I will often take a dozen photos, moving the items around until I’m completely happy with the spacing and composition.
10. Shoot the image with a 1:1 aspect. This means that you can frame your image without having to guess how the crop is going to work.
11. Study and learn from the flat lay leaders. I’m sure there are so many fabulous flat lay photographers out there but for starters, check out fashion blogger @margaret__zhang for her food/restaurant flatlays and her ability to make a very busy flat lay extremely visually appealing; fashion blogger @oraclefoxblog for tonal flatlays that utilise texture for opulence; illustrator @kerriehessillustration for French-inspired flatlays that feature Kerrie’s illustrations and splashes of pastels and tonal goodness; recipe developer and stylist @84thand3rd for visually stunning food ingredients that you wish you could eat; and graphic designer @lauren.storey for beautiful minimalistic flatlays that “own” the rule of thirds.
12. Find your own flat lay heroes. The other way to find flatlay inspiration is to follow certain Instagram hashtags. Try the #7vignettes feed (started by The Interiors Addict); #fmsphotoaday (started by Fat Mum Slim); and #collectivehub (a great example of a business harnessing the power of social media and getting fans to share their product – because the magazine is already flat, many of the fan images are flat lays – the best ones get selected and published in the Collective magazine).
13. Experiment and have fun. That’s the beauty of photography for social media. It’s not serious but it is a fantastic way to explore your creative side through the power of an image.
The Styling You/Olympus Selfie lunch
I’m so excited to announce the 20 people who’ll be coming along to lunch in the private dining room at QT Sydney with me on March 11 between 12 and 3pm. There will be much talk, much selfie taking, you’ll get to play with the Olympus PEN E-PL7 and learn tips on how to get this most out of this camera from a professional photographer.
Drum roll please …
M. Van Tulder
For more information about the Olympus PEN E-PL7 camera, visit here.
Coordinated by The Remarkables Group