What is a Flat Lay and How to Style One

What is a flat lay? I hear this all the time and up until a few months ago it was me asking the Internet. Here’s the quick answer: it’s a photograph shot from above, flat.

What is a flat lay and how to style one for Instagram

Although this term is kind of sort of new (the earliest reference I can find is 2015) the style is not. It just went by different names.

Other names for flat lay

  • Flatlay (OK, that’s just a different spelling)
  • Collage
  • Bird’s-eye view
  • Top shot
  • God’s-eye view
  • Knolling (from the 80s, and the original flat lay)

If you’re styling your photo using a light background, natural light, and shooting it from above…then you already know what a flay lay photo is. You just didn’t have the vocabulary.

So. That was easy. Now what?

What is a flat lay? It's when you take a photo from above, parallel to the styled objects you're shooting. It's a great way to do #bookstagrams and showcase your products in an interesting and engaging light. Try different props, backgrounds, and textures to tell a story and involve your audience.

Now you have to figure out what you’re going to take photos of. When figuring out what you want to showcase you also need to think about why. Why are you showing this to your audience? What makes it special? Why do you want them to see it? Whatever product or prop you land on, this becomes your “hero” or the focus of your composition.

But let’s break the flat lay down a bit using a personal example

I love taking flay lay photos of books and movies because it makes them so much more interesting. The book or movie is the hero—none of the props should take attention away from the hero!—and everything else adds to the story.

If you look at the above examples, you can see I’ve achieved the storytelling angle better in some than others using props, background, and composition. The more flat lays you do, the better you get at them (trust me). I shot these over a period of months using different techniques, camera angles, and lighting.

What is a flat lay? The simple answer is a photo taken from above. It used to be called knolling or bird's-eye view (borrowing from magazines and movies). Now it's used on Instagram and blgos to showcase products in an organized, clean, and engaging way. Showing knitting as a flat lay is a popular way to make your products stand out from the rest.

I also wanted to include my knitting flat lays so you can see a more minimalist approach. I shot these all on the same day using similar props and the same background. I did this because I wanted a consistent look on my Instagram feed while showcasing my hand knit products.

Here are a few tips for styling and shooting flat lays

Use a light background. In most cases, a piece of cardboard or a sheet will work great. A flat surface is ideal.

Try and style your flat lay. This can be difficult if you’re not artistic or confident with what looks good. Here are a few questions to ask as you style: Is my hero product the focus? Do I like this composition? What will make this more interesting? What will my audience like? Take a few shots and then re-style your flat lay and take a few more shots. The more you tweak the better you’ll get at it.

If possible, use natural lighting. After MUCH trial and error I found a window in my house that lets in a consistent amount of natural light from day to day. I created a nice little setup with a card table by the window so I can take advantage of the great light.

Try to be parallel to your flat lay when shooting. This is where things get interesting. You’ll need to be above the shot in order to get it right. Try a stool, chair, step ladder, or whatever you need to get in the correct position. I use a combination of a chair and a tripod but I’m always trying to get my shots more parallel.

Remember to take lots of photos and to move your flat lay composition around a bit so when you get to the photo editing you have a few options. This may take a while at first but you will get better, I promise! If I can figure it out…then you’ll be just fine.

What is a flat lay? It is when you take a photo from above, parallel to the styled objects you are shooting. It is a great way to showcase your products in an interesting and engaging light. Try different props, backgrounds, and textures to tell a story and involve your audience.

More social media tricks and tips

Check out these posts on the blogging prompt “light”

How a Marketing Tweak Re-launched JenniMarie’s Business

From quitting to becoming a successful wedding photographer, JenniMarie’s story will encourage you to keep going after your dreams, even if it seems like it will never work out. Today’s case study is how a marketing tweak re-launched JenniMarie’s business.

JenniMarie Case Study

Photos courtesy of JenniMarie Photography

Meet Jennifer

A recent-ish transplant to the Fraser Valley (British Columbia, Canada, where I live), Jennifer was stumped on how to find clients in her new city/country/life. For the better part of a decade she had worked as a successful wedding photographer and yet none of the client-finding tactics she had always used worked in this new land. What was going on?

Five months passed without booking a wedding. This was five months longer than she had ever gone between bookings. “I kept getting overlooked, I was feeling like a failure,” she said.

Feeling frustrated, insecure, and defeated, Jennifer began announcing to friends and family that she was quitting photography.

So how did we get here?

I asked Jennifer why she didn’t end up quitting. She said she realized she was at rock bottom and then thought…what can I do? It was here she began wondering about getting back on the horse; giving her business one last hail Mary.

Because she had this idea. It was an idea for a wedding-planning magazine. She hadn’t thought about it in any depth but it was something she had toyed with in her mind for a while. What if she put the remaining money in her business account towards the magazine? If it worked, wonderful! If not, then she would quit.

When Jennifer approached me about reframing her business I didn’t know any of her struggle

On the surface, Jennifer exuded confidence and direction. In fact, I was surprised she was asking for help as I never saw her as someone who needed anything. With my curiosity engaged (and my ego flattered beyond comprehension), we set up a coffee meeting and I gave her homework.

At our meeting I wanted to discuss these six points.

  1. Target audience/customer
  2. Budget (what do you need to make?)
  3. MVP—paid offer
  4. Content calendar (blog/email)
  5. Sales funnel
  6. Email blitz (freebie? Lead magnet? Coupon?)

Before our meeting she sent me a five-page brain dump. It. Was. Amazing. Sure, her ideas were scattered and pointing in 10 different directions, but I could see a thread and was excited to follow it and see where it led.

Over the next month or two we worked on building a marketing strategy. She had all the pieces for her business to thrive but it looked like what was missing was for all the pieces to point back at her as the Fraser Valley Wedding Photographer. In order to reframe her business for her new context we took a few pieces of her existing strategy and pointed them all in the same direction.


Mental Shift

I challenged Jennifer to make some important, yet difficult, changes.

  • First, I wanted her to not only brand herself as a wedding photographer (rather than a general photographer) but I wanted her to stop all non-wedding related posting, including on her website, blog, and public social channels
  • Second, I wanted her to create cornerstone content—this was a departure from her usual approach, which was more in the moment. These posts were meant to represent the core of who she is and what her business is about. Not easy!
  • Third, I wanted her to rewrite her about page. She wasn’t doing anything wrong, in fact her about page matched all the other photographer about pages I read while doing my market research. However, I noticed all these sites focused on the photographer rather than the client. What if, I challenged, we reverse the focus and see what happens?

Jennifer said these suggestions were a huge mental shift—the cornerstone content idea caused a light bulb moment for her. She found posting only about weddings was the hardest adjustment as she did so many other wonderful and interesting things, but once she began down the path she saw so much good come out of it she knew she had to keep going.

Other adjustments? She went back and stripped down her Instagram portfolio to wedding-only photos and tried to stop fixating on vanity metrics. “Instead, I focused on having the right followers and the right content,” she said.

This was a smart move because focusing on what you can control is the best way to move forward. Concentrating on how many followers you have or how many shares your content receives isn’t something you can control so it doesn’t help anything to focus on it.

Reworking the About Page

Like I said before, there was nothing “wrong” with Jennifer’s about page. But she let me rework it anyway. After I knew her ideal bride I took Jennifer’s brain dump, interviewed recently engaged women in my area, and gathered up a bunch of keywords to use. I love what we came up with.

Jennifer said she realized the things she’s proud of may not be what potential clients care about.

She saw results of this tweak right away. One of the main comments she gets from potential brides is how she knew Jennifer was the right photographer for her because she described her so perfectly on her about page.



What About the Magazine?

“It revolutionized my business.”

The big idea behind the magazine was creative collaborations. Jennifer wanted to work with local vendors and venues and produce beautiful wedding scenes brides could see themselves in.

Over the course of a few months she worked at shooting all the images for her magazine. It helped her in three main ways:

  1. Provided updated portfolio with Fraser Valley weddings on display
  2. Helped her create cornerstone content for her website (it also went in the magazine and her onboarding email series)
  3. Connected her with the wedding scene in the Fraser Valley

With the magazine now acting as an opt-in for potential clients, she is seeing the fruit of her labours. She also learned some important lessons along the way about weddings in the Fraser Valley and ways she can improve her magazine the next time around.

So What Happened?

Jennifer launched her magazine in December…to crickets. But she persevered. She kept working her launch and marketing strategy and kept her self-talk positive. January and February came and she experienced positive feedback to her magazine and inquiries coming in at record pace.

But no bookings.

Still, she kept working the plan.

March came, and summer bookings started. April came, and she started booking for 2018 weddings. June arrived now Jennifer actually believes she could go full time on wedding photography.

“I did the math and see that it’s possible,” she said.

Now that’s a transformation!

Most important takeaways

Jennifer said the biggest thing she’s learned is that everyone needs help along the way. She had wanted to do everything on her own, but was at rock bottom and so reached out to people she could trust.

She also had to embrace strategies that she figured she didn’t need, such as planning ahead, hashtag strategies, and content marketing.

Watching Jennifer’s business explode I’m overjoyed to have had the opportunity to help in this small way. I love when marketing theory becomes reality and you can see the power of a well-crafted idea take on a life of its own. I’m also thrilled to see such a talent be discovered by so many people who will benefit from working with her.

All the best Jennifer!

From quitting to becoming a successful wedding photographer. JenniMarie's story will encourage you to keep going after your dreams, even if it seems like it will never work out. Today's case study is how a marketing tweak re-launched JenniMarie's business.

Questions about your marketing strategy? Looking for a custom marketing plan? Fill in the form and let’s get a conversation started!

The Death of Christmas

Here is a project I created for a photography course a few years ago. It was stored on my mom’s hard drive, which crashed a year or so ago and we’ve only recently rescued the files on said hard drive.

Isn’t that nice.

The Death of Christmas

“Christmas is coming!”
It’s thick in the air.
Dancing snow, falling
And landing with care.

Lights put up with speed,
Thrown up in great haste.
It says “He is coming!
“No moment to waste!”

Downtown we all rush,
With lists in our hand
To try to buy presents
And not spend a grand

The parade met us there,
With elves and the like,
A zebra, a truck,
And a man on a bike.

Bewildered, confused,
I leave the parade,
My head is cast down,
My heart is dismayed.

“What happened to Christmas?”
I say with a sneer.
“What happened to ‘Peace,’
‘Glad Tidings,’ ‘Good Cheer?'”

A man heard my grown
And took up my hand,
Showed me a manger,
A Nativity stand.

“Here is the Answer,”
He said with a grin.
“This is true Christmas,
“Forgiveness of sin.”

With that he left me,
To ponder his words.
The feelings I had
Were sad and disturbed.

I looked up from the scene
And saw Santa’s Bed,
With him still in it,
Just resting his head.

All that had happened
Now made me confused,
If Santa is sleeping,
Who’ll bring the good news?

“Merry Christmas to all,
“To all a good night?”
Who’ll give out the gifts;
Make everything right?

“What is this Christmas?”
I ask with some fear.
“What is this Christmas,
“Without gifts and good cheer?”

The thing in my mind,
The thought in my head,
All I could think of:
Christmas was dead.

Christmas isn’t dead. I was just really cynical after seeing a weird parade. Merry Christmas.

Thank You Super Computer

This is my favourite shot from Kelly’s and Neal’s wedding. Unfortunately I spent my time photographing the following:

  1. wallpaper
  2. flowers and centrepieces
  3. mother-in-law’s hats

Instead of the actual wedding.

Sorry guys. But I think everyone else probably got the regular, standard wedding photos so you might be able to find them on Facebook by now.

Since it’s off-season on the mountains, it wasn’t difficult or terribly expensive to stay in a hotel actually near the wedding. This may have been a first for me. So, it was a beautiful, inexpensive, fun, overnight adventure. All in all, a good time.

Now for the big reveal: how long did it take my computer to upload this photo? Well, from start to finish, about five hours. If we’re counting exactly it was 7:05 p.m.-11:15 p.m. That’s long.

Now do you understand why I haven’t uploaded photos lately?

But before you judge too harshly, please note the old guy has some fight left in him—he didn’t time out or freeze once in those five hours. He just plugged along, uploading all the bits and bytes of one simple photograph in his sweet old time.

And really, that’s all I can ask. I mean, he has already seen me through university, living in England, and a mild addiction to the Sims 2. Can I really expect anything more?

Top Five Things I Haven’t Been Doing

This week at work I’ve had to generate a lot of content—radio scripts, magazine articles, blogs, update articles, and (of course) tweets.

As a result, my creative bursts are at an all-time low, my grammar fanaticism is in high gear (we just got the latest Canadian Press style guides and I’m practically glowing), and my personal blog is…pretty neglected. As is the rest of my life, really. Since most of my hobbies include being creative, I haven’t been up to much.

Top Five Things I Haven’t Been up to This Week:

  1. Knitting
  2. Blogging/Computers in general
  3. Taking photos
  4. Reading
  5. Filing my taxes

Top Five Six Things I Have Been up to This Week:

  1. Slo-pitch
  2. Trying to get curtains (why is it so much work?)
  3. Bottling wine
  4. Playing Skip-bo
  5. Watching Futurama
  6. Drinking tea

It’s a whole other side of me, really.