You see them on IG. You love them. But you've been scared to try. Here are the things you need to get started...and the motivation to push publish!
Design & Tech

How to Shoot Instagram Flat Lays for Beginners

You’ve all seen them.

Flat lays.

You might NOT have known they were called flat lays, but they are.

And they look like this:

It’s basically where everything is…well…flat!

They are beautiful. They display products well. They show fun quotes. They are part of why people LOVE Instagram.

As a blogger, you need to harness the power of a flat lay to display your products, books, printables or just inspiration for your audience.

And it’s a nice little break from actually blogging…or pinning…or being on a Facebook group talking about blogging.

A fan (and fellow entrepreneur) sent me some products after I complained about my daughter’s eczema on a Facebook LIVE, so I decided to do an impromptu photoshoot of these GORGEOUS soaps and lotions.

I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER. Other than being “artsy” I have no other qualifications!

SO…YOU DO NOT have to be a professional photographer to do these either! AND…You DO NOT have to spend a fortune finding flat lay props either!

In fact, to prove that it can be done by A-N-Y-O-N-E…I decided to try it. I have a shop on my main blog. On this blog, I’m working on a shop series that will show how I build a Shopify shop for THIS website in full.

You can sign up for the THREE VIDEO SERIES for FREE Below!

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Anyhow, I need pretty photos for all my stuff, so this is a win/win project for me.

And I got to spend money at the Dollar Tree…so that’s always fun (see What to Buy at The Dollar Tree for Instagram Flat Lays).

Let me repeat. I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER…I am a professional editor in Photoshop, but I didn’t use PS for this…I used Lightroom (free app) so I had to learn it like new…just like you will!

And I DO NOT have a professional camera…okay, we do…but I can’t find it

I have an iPhone…actually…I lie…my daughter has an iPhone…my phone…well, sucks.

Here is an example of my before shot…just to PROVE how much I suck at photography. I’m pretty sure this photo was taken with my LG Stylo 3, which despite my extensive research proves that I shoulda gone with Apple.

The after photo is merely editing things in Lightroom.

I’m NOT a details gal. I’m a get-in-and-get-out type of girl. With 7 kids, I kinda have to be.

So, throwing things down and snapping a picture before a child yanks something off the desk is a HUGE win for me!

Even though I’m not a details gal…I know you probably would like the details…so here you go.

I’m going to try my best to explain it all.

The Space

Here’s the area I’m working with…just so you know, I’m in a walk-in closet about the size of a prison cell…No, smaller. About 6×6 ft.

You can do a flatlay anywhere.

Many bloggers do flatlays on beds, floors, or tables. You just need an uninterrupted space to move stuff around.

And I don’t know what it is about iPhones, but their cameras ROCK. Even the iPhone 4 has a better camera than my phone. What even!

So, basically all you need is:

If you are wondering what that mini-halo-diva light is…it was a present from my sister. It’s like the expensive Diva Ring Light that all the YouTubers use…only WAY CHEAPER on Amazon and MUCH smaller (and more portable). It’s nice, but not necessary for this type of shoot. More for videos/selfies.


Like legit. You can do this.

The one thing that makes everything better is a foam board. The science project kind. It’s got a sort of soft matte feeling to it…and it’s white…most flay lays are on backgrounds that are:

  • white
  • wood
  • black(ish)

All colors/textures are placed on top of these bases.

Here’s my foam board.

You can also use:

  • Poster board
  • Wrapping paper
  • Your bedspread
  • Scrapbooking paper
  • Burlap
  • A furry pillow

But a foam board is nice for that stark white flatlay that’s so popular.

STOP! And Do Your Research!

The first (and most important) thing people forget is to STOP and studying the competition before you just jump in.

I know, you already have seen a zillion flat lays…but did you actually look at the composition of the photos?

When you do, you’ll find that that they use layering. Lots of layers.

And they utilize a general color scheme. Like peach or gray.

Find a few of your favorite flatlays and try to recreate it exactly so you learn by copying first. Which is really how everyone learns…mimicking isn’t just flattery…it’s the basis of learning.

Need inspo: check out Pexels.

Arrange Your Stuff

Now that you’ve researched and practiced by copying, now it’s “go” time.

Lay down your background and start arranging.

Look back at those other flatlays. Think about YOUR specific focus and goal.

Are you trying to sell a product, like this one? (This is kinda a semi-flatlay)

Whatever your goal…make sure that comes across in the photo.

I sell these necklaces for $10 plus shipping, BTW. Click the photo to see all the styles.

Shoot from the Top

Remember this is a a flat lay…so the angle is from above. (Or mostly above).

All things must be laying somewhat flat-ish or be understood from the top angle (like candles or coffee cups).

So, you just stand on your chair (don’t fall), point down and shoot.

Sometimes you have to hassle with the light getting in the way. That’s cool. I have to fling my lights around too. Each product is different.

Shoot MANY Angles

It’s a new world out there.

A kind of anything goes world.

If you are a professional photog…this is annoying, but it’s true. In 2019, if it looks cool…it’s cool.

So, shoot a lot of angels. Leave no angle un-turned!

Or…if you are like me, forget this and shoot it quickly before someone interrupts you and messes up the entire photoshooting vibe and just move on to the next shot…but beware that you might regret not having enough photos!

(And please note, that my lack of general proofreading and use of ellipsis is dully noted. If you hate my writing style…sorry. #SorryNotSorry – When my 7 kids are grown, I’ll care more…Or when I have more money, I pay someone.)

Get to Know Lightroom (FREE APP)

I’m using the desktop version here. But the app on iOS or android is completely free (and honestly WAY easier to use as a beginner) IMHO.

I might be a Photoshop Master since 2005, but I am a Lightroom 2019 newbie for sure. These are just after a few minutes of messing around with some settings in the “Basics” panel.

Like, we’ve owned it all this time, but I just love Photoshop so much…I’ve never played around with it until this year! Why? I have no clue! Lightroom might turn into my new favorite.

There are some advantages I might have being a pro at Photoshop, mostly just knowing shortcuts and basic “Adobe-ese.” Nothing I can’t explain to someone with no experience.

When you open up the desktop version of LR (Lightroom), you need to know there are a two really important tabs at the top right of the screen. Library (where you see everything) and Develop (where you DO everything).

Under Develop, you want to focus on the BASIC panel, specifically on the four settings of:

  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Blacks
  • Whites

It looks a little different on the phone version (I’ll include a pic below), but it’s basically the same setup…only vertical.

Here’s the phone version:

To get to these settings, focus on the bottom slider. Scroll a bit until you see the “sun” icon.

Don’t Over Edit

You know the saying: “Less is More.”

This is true when editing photos.

Start with small adjustments.

Delete the shadows.

Keep it simple and clean.

And when it doubt…ask for a friend/husband/child’s second eye on the project. Walk away for a second. Relook at those other flatlays (but don’t compare too much, or your rob your joy…see next section).

Don’t Over Think Yourself

I don’t know about you, but I OVERTHINK everything.

To the point that I’ll give up mid-project because I’m convinced I’m not good enough.

STOP IT, Christian blogger!

Jesus needs to you keep pushing on, baby!

I got an email once from a VERY angry lady who had signed up for my marriage email list once. She called me out for not proofreading (among other things).

And I was like, “yeah, I know…wanna work for me?” — No, I didn’t say that. But seriously. I know. But if I don’t push send like RIGHT NOW…it’s not getting done. One day, I’ll grow up and care, but not today, mama…not today.

I’m in the “kids have clothes on, I don’t care if it’s a bathing suit, but we are going to Wal-Mart like NOW…let’s go! No, you don’t have to wear shoes!” moment of my life.

I’m going own it, ‘kay.

You can take your grammar-nazi self to one of those other blogs if it irritates you.

I say all this to say, you might not take my crazy-way of not caring anymore…but you can take a little of it and realize that nothings ever going to be perfect this side of heaven. It’s cool. Just keep trying.

Publish Baby!

Don’t be scared.

Remember Instagram has an archive button if you decide you hate the creation later.

If you never publish, you’ll stay stuck.

Don’t fear failure. Fear not trying.

God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7 

And beside, everyone has to start somewhere.

I can’t tell you HOW many amazing projects I’ve pulled out of the drawer YEARS LATER and wondered “Why didn’t I follow through with this again?” Only to answer, “Oh…right…I was scared.”

Don’t be me. Just push publish baby.

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