I just realized I would do anything to look for an excuse to play with colors. *Woops!*
I love story telling too. It’s probably the reason why I eventually took up photography, played with paints and now trying my hand at video making. I think a lot of us are excited by the possibilities by which storytelling can be done in many forms today: from words to hues to images and the list goes on. For some reason, people always manage to find more creative ways of doing so thus the birth of the flatlay.
I remember Things Organized Neatly as one of my favorite Tumblr blogs since 2010. Austin Radcliffe kept on showcasing these neatly arranged magazine type photos. Looking at them was oddly satisfying. . It took social media (ehem Instagram) and us by storm.
I can’t even remember how many faltlays we’ve already taken (and chocolates eaten after every shoot). Hihi. But you see, it doesn’t take a fancy studio or expensive equipment to enjoy this form of “art and storytelling”. You can even use your floor and your phone to create stunning results. (To those who have been asking via DM, we used an Oppo F3 Plus phone). 🙂 If you’ve been wondering why the change in photo quality of my Tweets & IG stories, you now have a sample of photos I can take with my phone. 😀
I may be no expert to the craft (and I wish my posts and art style were more consistent). But, over time, I’ve learned a thing or two and so today (as highly requested over Twittahh), we’re letting the paint out of their tubes. (Or was that the cat out of the bag? I think I mixed up my idioms!)
1. Choose a Surface
There are tons of backgrounds or surfaces to choose from. You’d be surprised how many there are lying around. For example, we’ve found brown grocery bags at home one time and we realized we could slightly crumple it and spread it flat for a very “organic” look. You can also make use of a wooden drawer or a chopping board. Check out your books too. Their inside & back covers (the paper at the beginning and end) are often heavier in weight and come in fancy patterns. Want more ideas? Try gift wrappers and fabric. At the Googly HQ, our favorites happen to be the floor and cheap cartolina from the bookstore. (Oh and sometimes we steal borrow Riley’s blanket. Shhh.)
For the photo below, I was in a hotel room and I had to continue shooting a video with a white background so…yes…I brought a white cartolina with me. Hehe.
One of the stills from a video I submitted this week. ☁️☁️☁️ Grateful to have been asked to capture the behind-the-scenes from this project as well. I was then able to relive the whole process. I’m usually caught up in getting things done. I always forget that the creating part is what I really signed up for! It’s pretty much like life (and I really end up having too many metaphors about art & life) 😂. Forgive me. If you’ve been one of the workshops I’ve held, you know I’m too guilty of doing this 🙈🙈 Happy Friday! ☁️✨
For the photo below, I used the back of my watercolor pad–the same one I used for painting the subjects. 🙂
2. Focal Point
When it comes to taking photos, choosing and knowing your subject is important. You need to establish the “protagonist” or “star” to your photo. It need not be a single item either. You can showcase more than one. Usually, it’s better to group items with the same palette.
3. Colors! Colors!
Now that you’ve got your subject/s, it’s time to pick a color palette (e.g. autumn colors, whites and brights, pastels, monochromatic, blacks and metallics). In order for the photo to look cohesive, opt for hues that are related to the chosen subject. It’s nice to use complementary colors too for that needed contrast and variety. Put them around your subject. For example, in the photo above, if Riley is holding a purple object, put something purple beside that photo. In the photo below, the paint tubes were arranged by putting related colors beside each other. If you can’t find a decent palette, the rainbow’s not bad as a reference. Haha.
4. Props Please
We’ve got a surface, a star and a palette. Now it’s time for the supporting cast! Props can be literally anything. They may or may not be related (incidentals) to the subject. Here are some examples to demonstrate: (a) artwork – pencils, paper and paint; (b) baby products – toys, books and wooden blocks; (c) novel – coffee, blanket and flowers; and (d) cake – party hats, confetti and candy. (Good luck with cleaning up your space after though!)
Here’s another tip: palettes make great props and paint in palettes are usually more photogenic when they’re still wet. 😀
5. Pick a Layout
How are we supposed to arrange and frame all that in a single shot? That’s what the layout is for. Choose one that suits your style and preference. There’s minimalist, parallel and “upright things organized neatly”-ish (Ah the blog that started all this craziness we all love!) Remember don’t be afraid of negative space. The entire shot need not be full and compact unless that’s what you’re aiming for. Also, note that some objects don’t have to appear entirely in a photo. Some elements can just stay in the margins.
6. Look for Lighting
Lighting makes all the difference in a flatlay. I’m such a fan of natural light. I have so much respect for those who use studio lighting, flash photography & such. Those are other things I have yet to learn. 😀 Meanwhile, if you love daytime too, a window is a good light source. With the window on your right, place your reflector (e.g. a legit one or anything white like a massive cloth, styrofoam or cartolina) on the left. This makeshift reflector reduces the shadows in your photo as you will see in the video. We usually use a reflector especially in our room where the shadows are strong because we have a small window. 🙂
I must admit: Riley was looking at a shiny reflector in this photo. That’s why he was laughing. Hahahaha. 😀 Hehehe.
7. Flatlay Hacks
Sometimes, a flatlay doesn’t look ready. It’s okay but it’s not interesting enough. What do we do? Here are some easy hacks.
(a) Make things pop. – Just because it’s a flatlay doesn’t mean that the elements should likewise look flat and dull. To create some depth and shadows, raise a few elements a few centimeters off the surface using small stable objects like coins and erasers. You can also roll a small piece of masking tape to elevate smaller and lighter items just like in the video. Just make sure that they don’t appear on frame.
It may not be noticeable but the tiny canvas here placed over a paint bottle while the brush has masking tape below so it doesn’t roll off.
(b) Make it behave. – Some props or even the subject may refuse to behave and stay put. These are often items that are cylindrical in nature like brushes, pencils, cups, lipstick tubes and the like. Fix it with some handy tape.
Don’t hesitate to experiment with your angles and perspectives. Sometimes even if the setup is a flatlay, you can take the shot from a different view not just above. Move the props around and try different styles or themes. At first it may seem such a tedious process but through time, you’ll have your go-to props and layouts. Eventually, you’ll train your eyes to look for surfaces and potential props. You’ll improve the more you do it. Practice makes progress.
Yep, the angle is flat but instead of putting everything on the floor, I played with depth. 🙂
9. Unbox Yourself
Recreate your space and take your audience to another place! Go beyond your area literally and figuratively. Don’t think of your room as just a room. Think of it as a versatile studio where you can change the wall colors (which can actually be just a piece of paper), surface and lighting. Even a desk can be transformed into something new every time. OMG! You’d be surprised how many of our shoots at the Googly HQ were taken in just one area. Think 3 by 3 feet and less. (Oooh sneaky sneaky!) It doesn’t hurt to take things outdoors too if you can.
Watch this video. That’s my actual work station but we just redecorated it for it to have a different feel. Hehehehe. *OMG. So many secrets being spilled in this post alone.*
When the lighting is perfect, there are occasions when we no longer post-process our flatlays. But sometimes you just have to (especially on gloomy days) or want to because you feel OC a.k.a. you have a feed to maintain. There are lots of software (e.g. Photoshop and Lightroom) and apps (e.g. VSCO, Afterlight, A Color Story) to help you on this. OMG. This can be another topic altogether and we can spend a whole blog post/afternoon on this! If you guys would like us to share more tips on this, just let us know in the comments!
Still here? If you’re reading this, congrats because we’ve officially surpassed the 1500 word mark. Haha. I initially thought of writing a 700 word post but I’m so talkative as usual. That’s all for our Instagram flatlay tips. Happy shooting! Well, to summarize everything, you can always check out the video on our Facebook page too!
The Googly Family
P.S. Special thanks to Anne for helping out with the post, flatlay & video! 🙂