When it comes to being a master at flatlay photography, you’ll need to be considerate of how you make use of details. While your main products will be the start of the show and take centre stage, you do need the help of a supporting act. This lies in the props that you use.
Props are made to add to the story of your flatlay, but to essentially give content to what your image is about. Like how a movie takes the time to show shots of the city to provide a setting, props can do the same and will help tie your whole flatlay image together.
Is finding the right props a time consuming process? Yes. Can it get expensive? Yes. But in this post, I’ll share the 6 tips that you can use to help you when choosing and using the right props or your flatlay images.
1. Consider Variety
Like I mentioned, details matter when it comes to flatlays, and while they do the best job in adding to the overall story of your flatlay, you don’t want these detailed items to take away from the main product that you are highlighting in your flatlay. This is where you’ll need to consider the process in which to select your process. There are a variety of ways to do this but here are 3 that you can use as a guide:
I know enough about colour psychology to know that certain colours will evoke certain emotions out of us, and when it comes to flatlays, you need to think about the complimentary (or contrasting) colours that you want to use to help you evoke a feeling.
While neutral backgrounds work well as a base for the background, you need to consider what different coloured props will do to your flatlay. Bright, bold colours will stand out and could be too distracting if you overdo it, while cool colours will give you a more of a calming effect.
This is great for mixing up the appearance of your flatlays. Think about how food flatlays tend to have cloths or linen in their flatlay? Or how adding wool and thicker scarves are great for winter-inspired fashion flatlays? When it comes to texture, think about looking for the items that highlight your sense of touch – satin, lace, cotton sheets, frayed denim. These are just a few ideas to think about when considering texture as a prop
In a similar way to texture, think about how you could bring in different materials to use, for a background or a prop. From wooden chopping boards or mirrored tray to crinkled napkins or leather gloves. Again, think about the small details that these materials can bring to your flatlays, like the patterns or various colour shades.
2. Look To Mother Nature
Whether its a potted plant or herb, real or fake flowers, one can’t go wrong with using a little touch of magic from Mother Nature as props.
This is a personal favourite of mine and I use this about 80% of the time in my flatlays because of the natural touch they add, but also because of the greenery that works so well with neutral tones. Whilst buying fresh flowers can get expensive, perhaps buy fake ones like sunflowers or ferns (you want to avoid choosing flowers that have a plastic look to them as these will appear shiny in photos).
Another inexpensive option is to use the leaves and flowers growing around your home. In this regard, Mother Nature has provided a wide range for you to choose from – different coloured leaves, twigs for more of a rustic look, and nuts and fruits (if you’re so lucky to have these growing in your own backyard).
3. Accessorise to Personalise
In the same way that a fashion outfit needs accessories to complete the entire look, accessories have the same power when it comes to flatlays. It’s very likely that as you’re reading this, you have a personal collection of accessories that have the potential to act as props for your flatlay.
Especially if you are looking to create a fashion or beauty inspired flatlay, use the accessories that you already own – sunglasses, rings, necklaces, handbags or watches. These little items work well if you are looking to fill in some empty spaces in your flatlay, or to place on top of an open magazine or book.
Again, you’ll need to be smart about the kind of accessories you use, and how much you will use. More often than not, I usually use 3 rings to help me fill negative space. But these rings are of a similar colour and style – I personally refrain from using statement jewellery pieces because these can take away from the main product, which isn’t what we want. Just like how the fashion adage says “Less is more”, the simpler the accessories, the better.
4. Layer It Up
By taking into consideration the first 3 tips I’ve mentioned, you can now move on to creating layers with your props as a composition technique. If, for example, you’re creating a fashion flatlay, and you have some accessories, different textured clothing items, and trinket trays and bowls for added colour, how can you put these all together in a cohesive way that will make sense to the story you want to tell in your flatlay?
Think about layering your items, or stacking them on top of one another. Put some accessories in the trinket bowl, add your sunglasses on the trinket tray, that you place on top of a magazine. Place your shoes on top on your jeans. What helps make this composition technique successful is how limitless your creativity can get with this. Think about what you can place inside plates and bowls, how you can stack knives and forks on top of one another, what you can put inside vases of different shapes. As a rule of thumb, remember: what you can’t put in something, put it on something.
5. A Little Goes A Long Way
I always say this but what makes a flatlay look flat is a lack of detail, and you will notice is as soon as you begin to play around with creating your own flatlays.
Start with a basic background and 2 or 3 large products as your main feature items. Now place them however you’d like and take a photo. Doesn’t look as appealing as it can be, right? Now just add one prop to the flatlay. Are you noticing a difference?
Sometimes, it takes small steps with adding the props you want in a flatlay before it truly starts to come alive. I always work my way up when it comes to props, so take your time and start small before you proceed with adding more props. Play around with filling empty spaces or adding extra linen for some texture. Either way, start small and work from there.
6. Look Around You
Right now, wherever you are, take a look at your surroundings and make a list of all the possible things that you could use as a flatlay prop. Even at home, there’s a very good chance that you have items lying around that you can use as props. Think about the magazines on your coffee table. The salt and pepper in the kitchen cupboard to use as extra garnishing. The sticky notes and pens on your desk. The coffee or tea that you can make to add as a prop…
If you simply take the time to look at what you have in your immediate environment, you’ll notice that you actually do have a few props that you can play around with. And even if you don’t, there is nothing stopping you from getting creative. Whether you create your own handwritten notes to add as a prop, or get photos of yourself printed, don’t feel limited by external resources for props when you may have a few if you look around you.