How to Create Fabulous Flat Instagram Photos

Instagram is my jam, if I could only have one social media account, including blogging, I’d probably choose Instagram. Photography is practically second nature for me, I started in photography my sophomore year of high school and have been behind a camera ever since. Whether it’s my big DSLR or my iPhone, the best camera is the one you have!

Flat images on Instagram are a popular trend right now and there are right ways to do them and not so right ways…I’m hesitant to say wrong because really there is no wrong way. But there are more aesthetically pleasing ways to create fabulous flat images that highlight products, ensembles, or an idea.

So, after much encouragement from my friends, here are my 7 tips to creating the best possible lay flat image for Instagram:

How to create fabulous flat lay images for Instagram from Shelby on ShelbyClarkeBlog.com
A pull back of a flat image you’ll see the finished image for in a bit.
  1. Ambient Light
    1. I get the best light in my dining room in the afternoons on sunny days, I also use the overhead light from my kitchen to supplement the light from the window so I don’t have any or many harsh shadows. Soft light is what I prefer for my images. The key here is to find that spot where you get AMAZING ambient light and when it’s there take advantage of it. I frequently take 3-4 lay flat set ups on the same afternoon simply because the lighting is the bomb and then I can tweak images and plan captions in Instagram or Later.
    2. Things to consider: light in the morning is cooler (blue) and light in the afternoon is warmer (orange/yellow)
  2. Background or base
    1. What is the base of your image going to be? I use our old coffee table, it’s not perfect but it has a rich dark tone and I love the feel it gives my images (earthy, natural, & casual). I also have a white desk in my office that I *sometimes* use for small flat lays when the lighting is JUST right.
    2. Something to consider, you’re going to want the camera to be almost perfectly parallel to the base as possible, this helps create that looking straight down effect. So consider doing these on gorgeous hardwood floors, or a piece of poster board or a piece of foam board that you can easily put down and snap a few photos on. I’m short so my coffee table is perfect, although I’m frequently pushing cats off and keeping the dog from sniffing or eating what I’m photographing. (The photos with the greenery in the collage below where tricky, my cats were determined to eat it. They didn’t but I couldn’t turn my back for a second!)
    3. If you go with foam board you can put contact paper on it for a marble, wood or simple geometric effect. I haven’t done this but have seen other ‘Gramers that have. It’s super cute!
  3. Take Square photos
    1. Adjust the viewpoint on your phone to taking square images, if you are using a DSLR camera then I suggest you create a square on a table or poster board, outline in tape and use as your base. DON’T cut a poster board to a square just measure out a perfect square, maybe a couple of sizes depending on what your photographing and use some colorful washi tape to know where to crop in PhotoShop when editing.
  4. Use the Rule of Thirds
    1. This simple trick is used to balance the image, and create an eye pleasing look. Now your style maybe more in the center with lots of negative space and thats fine but the key to the Rule of Thirds is to place objects on the corners. You’ll notice I have few items in the center and perfectly straight in my flat photos, this is because 1) I’m a perfectionist and I would go crazy trying to get it exactly right and 2) placing items on these corners helps to give the image a natural feel, effortless almost.
    2. Basically the Rule of Thirds is 3 equal rows across and from the top to the bottom of your image.
    3. Mine is always on, so if you have an iPhone it’s under settings then camera and turn on the ‘Grid’, I’ve attached a screenshot for you to better illustrate this idea.
    4. Rule of Thirds Instagram Photography | Adventurous Shlby
  5. Positive vs Negative Space
    1. The square space you are creating is essentially your canvas, you need to balance the image so the eye moves through it without it feeling cluttered or empty thus a balance of what you want to share (positive) and empty space (negative). When you’ve used the Rule of Thirds correctly, this simply falls into place without any extra work.
  6. Subject
    1. I have focal pieces in my images the ones I want you to see and the things that support & lift up those items to make them the focus. These are usually other supporting pieces that go with the main subject.
    2. How to create fabulous flat lay images for Instagram from Shelby on ShelbyClarkeBlog.com
    3. For Example: This image is perfect to talk about making a plan for the new year, I have a planner, pens, and a green succulent. The succulent is mostly there because it’s pretty, green, and it sits on the bottom right corner of the top left corner quadrant of the rule of thirds. Without the succulent this image is too empty and lacks that something you need but aren’t sure what it is. The pens are supportive as well, you can’t make a plan without writing things down and they provide a POP of color when this image needs it! This image has a strong use of line and the intersections along with the diagonal placement of the planner it’s self gently encourages the eye to move around the image taking everything in.
    4. Supplement items to include in your flat photos:
      1. Add colors with: pens, colorful candy, colored pencils, paints, fabric, wrapping paper, ribbon (curled for depth)
      2. Include something alive or natural: succulents, fruit, greenery from a tree, pumpkin, flowers (also good for color)
      3. Things that can build on your idea, take a flat image of coffee beans. On their own, kind of boring but add a dish towel with stripes for color & interest, and how about the bag they came in, a favorite mug and a kettle. It feels complete and whole. It maybe missing something sweet like honey or sugar but overall, it includes all the pieces for a cup of coffee!
  7. Take multiple photos
    1. This is not a one and done thing. Take a few, tweak this add that. Look at your photos, adjust the lighting and change them in a few ways, see what you like and don’t like. Create a style that works for you. Try on a table, or go outside. I love the idea of a flat photo on concrete but don’t have any with the right lighting.

Other things to know: I DO NOT use filters on any (unless black & white) of my pictures, instead I always adjust the brightness & contrast. Also, I never take photos IN instagram and always take them with my phone, and I take WAY too many…


Here are a few of my lay flat images from the last year, consistency is important when growing your following these all look like they belong together, they are cohesive and effectively communicate to my audience.


Are you going to try your hand at creating a flat photo? Share them on instagram with the #shelbyclarkeblog and visit me on Instagram @adventurous_shelby

Comment with any questions you have I’m happy to help!

This post contains affiliate links. By purchasing through the links on my blog I receive a small compensation at no additional cost to you. 


4 thoughts on “How to Create Fabulous Flat Instagram Photos

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