How to Style a Flat Lay | 5 Ways to Kill it on Instagram

One of the most popular types of Instagram photos, (aside from the selfie, of course), is the Flat Lay.  

Sometimes referred to as an outfit grid (when photographing clothing), the flat lay is iconic in the world of Instagram, + for good reason.  The art of arranging objects in a visually pleasing way + shooting from above is something everyone can do to showcase nearly anything they want.  From food to fashion to random objects found in the junk drawer, (hello #thingsorganizedneatly), the possibilities seem endless for styling images this way for your gram' or your blog.  

Styling a flat lay for your Instagram or blog | 5 ways to flat lay

To demonstrate this point, I have put together FIVE different ways to style a Flat Lay.  

I decided to use both office supplies + clothing to illustrate how the same styling idea can be achieved with completely different objects.  

PRO TIP:  I suggest photographing your items in a few different variations every time you shoot.  This way, you have more options for your grid when it's time to post.  Also, these were all shot in the square setting on my iPhone 6s.  Although I do use my DSLR to shoot some of my content for Instagram, I wanted to show you that you don't have to have any fancy equipment to get a great photo for your feed, your phone will work just fine! 


traditional grid

How to style a flat lay photo for your Instagram or blog | Five ways to style a flat lay!!

This flat lay is achieved by keeping all of your objects lined up in a "square format" when framing your photo.  Imagine there are grid lines on your flat surface.  You will want to keep your items straight + balanced in composition.  It helps to have a tripod to keep things from shaking, but no worries if you don't, you can always use the straightening tool on your phone to make sure you are perfectly square after the fact. 



How to style a flat lay photo for your Instagram or blog | Five ways to style a flat lay!!

I like to refer to this style as Controlled Chaos, or Elegantly Disheveled.  The trick with these flat lays is achieving the right framing + balance.  You want to choose an item to "highlight" + then use the other items to create movement around it.  These definitely look like everything just fell perfectly out onto the desk, but trust me, there is a lot of handiwork involved in creating these images.  It's all about practice, so keep moving your items around until you get the perfect snap.  


room for text

How to style a flat lay photo for your Instagram or blog | Five ways to style a flat lay!!

This is basically a hybrid of LIFESTYLE photo styling.  The difference here is that items have been removed or pushed away from the "highlighting" area. You can intentionally leave space open so that you can go back + add your own text in later with an app or in Photoshop. It's a nice way to get your message out while still keeping the focus of your Instagram grid on the beautiful images.  


negative space

How to style a flat lay photo for your Instagram or blog | Five ways to style a flat lay!!

Sometimes it's a good idea to give your grid some room to "breathe".  By shooting a flat lay with a lot of negative space, you can still highlight an object while keeping your grid clean.  You can shoot with a variety of textures, color pops, anything you want- but every once in a while, EMBRACE THE NEGATIVE SPACE!


Grid with Alternate Angle

How to style a flat lay photo for your Instagram or blog | Five ways to style a flat lay!!

Like I mentioned previously, you should always try to get a handful of options, (yes, more than you think you should), when you set out to shoot.  The last image is an example of that.  While I had my items in a traditional grid, I simply turned my camera on an angle.  This gives it a totally different look + composition.  When deciding which of these images to post, I may feel that I already have too many traditional or squared images in my feed, so to add variety, I could choose a similar photo but with a slightly different perspective.  


Well friends, I really hope this gives you some new ideas on ways to shoot your next flat lay photo.  

now onto Your homework:

1. Gather some items you want to showcase on your Instagram grid. 

2. Style + shoot the items in at least 2 of these 5 ways.

3. Share your favorite on Instagram by tagging me in your post ( @stephjgilbert ) + using the hashtag #smalltalkflatlay 


I will choose my favorites to re-gram!!  

I seriously can't wait to see your creativity...

So, what's your favorite flat lay style?  Are you all about negative space, or are you more of a traditionalist?  Weigh in by letting me know in the comments below...