Flat Lay Style; how to choose a background
How to choose a flat lay background
When was the last time you went to a stage play and remembered the set design of the backdrop? Probably never! But every great story has a background to set the scene.
Like a mesmerising flat lay has you double tapping and following for more, flat lays are about visual storytelling and when the background has been chosen well, it sets the scene to complement, not compete with your visual story board, just like a stage play.
I have flat layed my way around a workshop following a call in 2014 from Apple who invited us to their Start Something New campaign to deliver a flat lay workshop in their Brisbane store. Since then, we’ve shared our workshops with southeast Queensland & NSW’s best small businesses and Brisbane’s biggest group of retail centre marketing managers. A monthly content shoot for a few major shopping centres always has me shooting a flat lay, hang lay, shelfie or stack lay; each one needs a great background.
Before I share what I have learnt along the way for a thumb-stopping flat lay, I often refer to flat lays or any photo taking as a “story” because that's why we take them right?
So, a white background is an obvious choice to keep your story simple. It's the best way to learn about styling a flat lay and a popular medium on Instagram, but don't let that get in the way of a good story!
As everyone’s style starts mirroring what’s popular, we're not living by the famous Oscar Wilde quote:
"Be yourself, everyone else is already taken".
Now is the time to stand out from the crowd by mixing it up and being brave with new background ideas for your flat lays.
white flat lay backgroundfoam board. Photo by Social Media Photographers
Use white cardboard from the newsagent, foam board, canvas, roll-up block-out blinds, bedding or faux fur rugs
We recommend learning the art of laying out your flat lays on a white background. It's neutral and won't compete with your story
Looks clean and fresh
Try a bed sheet/doona cover for a textured, relaxed feel
Always easy to find a white surface
Can look clinical, sterile and doesn't work if your story needs warmth or a specific emotion
Bed sheet creases, folds and wrinkles can create distraction
Image can be lost in the volume of social media visuals if we're looking for new inspriration; something different
marble flat lay backgroundself adhesive contact Photo by Social Media Photographers Marble
Use real marble bench tops or adhesive contact prints - see 'make your own' below
Flat Laid have an anti-reflective matte finish range of boards in black, white & grey marble
Neutral with a subtle texture introduction
Feels clean, fresh & softens the sterile feel
Can still feel 'cold' Add soft textures in your props
Pallet Shenanigans made me a white-washed board one side and natural on the back. The real deal will last a lifetime, although it's heavy to lug around.
I've tried adhesive contact prints, wrapping paper and scrapbooking paper
Flat Laid range of realistic wood grains have given me the best results, particularly because I often use them for food styling and I can wipe them clean
Texture brings a sense of nature and feels rustic, homely and organic
Sense of the great outdoors (where we would rather be!)
Neutral products contrast well to a textured background
Colour choices come into play, a darker wood grain can lose darker coloured hero's and props in your story
Be aware of your wood grain lines and if you prefer them in a linear or angled position. Slightly off centre can be distracting
Use real grass if you have lush, green lawn (sorry Brisbane, dry brown grass isn't a good look)
Faux grass mats mostly look....faux however I found Bunnings have the most realistic square mats of grass for about $19
Flat Laid has a sea grass weave that is my new favourite
Scenes of products and props that belong in the backyard or at a picnic, grass is the perfect choice
A great natural textured look
Green is a strong colour choice for a background, check to see if it enhances or detracts from your story
Use real tile, slate, concrete, laminate floor tiles, adhesive contact, scrapbooking paper
Flat Laid have a classic range of tile boards
Adds to story feels when you need a sense of 'cold' or 'winter'
In this sample image I chose the concrete background because my image was based on the story of a surburban Dad who works in the city pounding the pavement with a sense of eco-concsiousness
Hard surfaces can be softened with textiles or greenery
Real tile can be reflective & heavy to lug around
Tile prints can make your scene look 'busy' Try balancing the print with plain textiles
textile flat lay backgroundRugs and throws Photo by Social Media Photographers
Use throws, bedding, rugs, blankets, towels & fabric
Sets the scene for home, warmth & comfort
Can tell the story of a season (turkish beach towel versus a chunky knit blanket)
Softens the feel of a scene
Prints and heavy textures can add distraction
Make them seasonally appropriate Eg: a bikini on a white fluffy rug can tell a different story
self adhesive contact flat lay backgroundPhoto by Social Media Photographers
Make your own
Adhesive contacts can be found at Bunnings, Kmart & Big W
Print your own
Stick adhesive contacts to foam board to avoid crumpling & roll marks
Mix up your favourite paint colour and use matte enamel paint for longer wearing and less marking
Adhesive contact prints aren't quite 'right', not realistic and can be reflective. Flimsy foam board corners damage easily and they peel and bubble
Painting - well it seems a good idea at the time until you have to actually paint and clean up Gloss paints are too reflective
Printing your own backdrop challenge is all about scale. Oversized floor boards make your product and props look miniature...and weird. Paper can look flat, won't last and looks ratty very quick.
What does makes a great background board?
Sturdy - so you can move your layout without having to pack it all up and keep the bends at bay
Hardwearing - for anyone who moves around and transports their kit and general storage
Can be wiped clean – often food is involved and you’ll get great shots knowing you can drip ice-cream all over your board and still get a great life out of it by wiping it clean
Matte finish – any gloss finishes will shine that downlight from your ceiling like a torch off a mirror. Matte absorbs light to give a smooth, non-reflective finish
Scale - I follow a local fashion store who has printed their own wood panel backdrop, the board width is too large and out of scale which makes their clothing look miniature….and weird. Make sure your backdrop print is true to scale
Realistic - photography styling & faux backgrounds aren’t ‘new’ nor introduced by Instagram. Magazines have been styling inspirational images since the day print hit paper. So using a ‘faux’ background isn’t cheating anyone. The more realistic the print is, it will grab your viewer’s emotion without distraction. Our brains are pretty clued on to what is real and what isn’t; a poorly printed scene will draw the eye away from the hero of the shot.
Social Media Photographers wants people look their best on social media and take meaningful and beautiful photographs. There was always a need for quality backdrops to style products and create thumb-stopping flat lays. We were lucky to meet a Brisbane-based printer whose family has been in the business for over 30 years and I knew they could make my flat lay board dreams come true and they didn't disappoint by creating Flat Laid.
The boards are realistic, anti-reflective matte finish, food safe, eco-based inks, designed, made and printed right here in Brisbane and they're affordable! Much better value and quality than some tried and tested from overseas.
Follow me on Facebook & Instagram @socialmediaphotographers as I trial a few of the new Flat Laid photo boards and give me a shout out to show me your flat lays.
Want to learn more about Flat Lay Styling or social media photography? Check out our website
Or click here to learn more about Flat Laid
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