One of the things I consistently get the most feedback on are my flatlay photographs of wedding details. For those who don't know, flatlays are photographs of various styled details- in wedding photography, it's elements like the rings, invitation suites, jewelry, shoes, etc- which are laid flat (usually) in a composition and photographed. While flatlays are not new by any stretch, they have certainly evolved over the years and are now an art unto themselves.
The thing I find funny about this feedback that I get is that while I always loved seeing a beautiful photograph of a flatlay, honestly? It is NOT something that came naturally to me. It's a skill I needed to hone. So I'm going to dedicate this blog to offering tips to other photographers (or anyone who fancies giving it a try) for how to up your own flatlay game. Let's go!
If you want to up your flatlay game, the first step is looking at more flatlays! Go to your favorite wedding blogs and magazines and look through their features. Look at all the detail photographs, and really dissect them. Figure out what you like and really consider WHY you like it. There are so many different ways to approach a flatlay, so think about what it is that you are responding to. Do you like organic movement? Clean lines? Mixed textures? Or something simple and more uniform? Do you like compositions with a lot of elements working together harmoniously, or do you like a minimal look with a lot of negative space? Figuring out these elements and what you like and why are crucial to perfecting your own flatlays, because you will start being more intentional and considerate as you put together your own compositions.
I can't emphasize this enough. As with everything in life, you will get better through practice. And practice doesn't have to be anything fancy! You can use something you already have- jewelry you have hanging around? A pair of shoes? Holiday cards? Birthday cards? Printed snapshot photos you haven't found a home for? Play with them and arrange them in a flat lay! Or, if you want to practice with elements more specific to a wedding and you don't have any invites on hand, order some individual invitations from Shutterfly or Minted or Etsy. You can also look up vendors in your area and ask if you can trade samples for photos, if you want to network while you're practicing. I have spent whole afternoons just messing around with invitation samples and leftover ribbons and jewelry I had on hand. Practicing during times when you are not busy on a job will help you not only get better at crafting a composition, it will also make you quicker, which is helpful on a job where time is more limited.
3. Cultivate a Styling Kit.
Once you have started figuring out the styles of flatlays and types of compositional elements that you respond to most, start putting together a kit that you can draw from when creating your flatlays. Ribbons, postage stamps, wax stamps, textural elements, a styling board, assorted plates and platters- these are all handy elements to have available. Again, this doesn't have to be fancy. You can get a nice styling board from La Rousse, for example, or you can make your own (poster board and fabric, wrapping paper, or paint can do wonders!), or go to a place like Target or Staples and find some cool folders, etc. Think creatively, and look around for cool options. There's so many things that can become a background worth photographing!
4. Look Around You and Use What You've Got.
This applies both to your styling kit as well as to when you are putting together a flatlay on a job. You don't have to buy things to create a styling kit- take stock of what you've already got and see what can make a cool visual element in a potential flatlay. My great grandmother's heirloom silver has gotten a new lease on life- I pulled it out of the attic and selected a few pieces that make for good styling elements.
I went on a job recently knowing that the couple's style is more gold and modern, so I grabbed my more modern sleek oval soap dish in matte gold (that I got from Bed Bath and Beyond for $6, by the way) and I brought it along with me. Likewise, don't be afraid to use elements from nature you find around you, or cool elements of a venue. These make your flatlays fresh and different and more custom to that particular event and location.
Likewise, if you accidentally forget some or all of your styling kit elements, you can make it work. Look around and think outside the box. Look at floor patterns, fabric option on beds or clothes, materials that make up nightstand tables or other surfaces. I once forgot my styling kit, but photographed a really neat detail shot because the night stand surface was a polished black granite that had a reflective quality to it. Putting the jewelry on it was incredibly dramatic! There's always a way to make an impactful and unique flatlay as long as you're looking at everything around you with that in mind.
5. Utilize the Unique Thematic Elements of the Wedding or Shoot
Are you photographing a an event or doing a shoot with a cool thematic element? USE IT! You can be subtle about it, or you can be more bold, but tie the flatlay in to the overall aesthetic and thematic overtones. In the paint palette image above, we were doing an editorial at the mansion of the famous painter, Winslow Homer's, uncle. Winslow Homer painted many of his famous works in that mansion, so we utilized those images as escort cards. So I pulled out an old oil paint palette I have and decided to use it for the escort card flatlay. To this day, it's one of my absolute favorites.
But, it doesn't need to be as involved as that to be effective. If it's an industrial vibe, utilize the metal or exposed concrete. If it's a rustic barn wedding, tie in some wood or lace. Are you photographing a wedding in the fall and you know that the autumn leaves are important to the couple? If it's the foliage season, go hunt around on the ground for some vibrant fallen leaves. Just think about what makes this event in this location at this moment unique or special or meaningful to the couple, and try to integrate something that communicates that.
6. Don't Be Afraid to Keep It Simple
Maybe you're heading to a destination wedding and you're concerned about bringing too many items or can't fit much in your luggage. Maybe you're photographing a city hall elopement which is light on details to photograph. That's okay. Sometimes, even if you're the master of complex flatlay compositions, simplicity is the way to go.
7. Try multiple compositions and don't feel beholden to any one style.
Sometimes you'll nail it on the first try. Everything will fall into place and you'll feel like you've created a gorgeous composition and bam, you're done. Other times, you'll struggle. And that's okay. Sometimes the struggle is one of just feeling a bit "meh" about your composition. Play with it, document it, then scrap it and start over. Sometimes I don't know what I like best until I'm looking at the photos later when I am editing. So always take the photo, then don't be afraid to try something else.
Hope that was helpful! Do you have any particular tips or tricks when you're creating a flatlay? If so, please drop a line in the comments- I would love to hear! Now, everyone, myself included: go forth and practice!