How To Take The Perfect Flatlay for Business and Personal Shots

Monday, September 9, 2019

If you’ve ever struggled with taking the perfect flatlay, then this is the post for you! Flatlays are arguably an Instagram essential, and whether you’re trying to capture mouthwatering displays of food spread across a table or that gorgeously packaged new skincare product on an artfully arranged bed of flowers, a well taken flatlay can highlight a product, be a fun way to express your creativity and of course, become ultimate #instagramgoals.

This post is only possible thanks to The Butterfly Project, From The Top (flatlay experts – find them on Instagram) and Avant GardeBlooms. Towards the end of July, I had the privilege of attending an intimate 15-member workshop for taking flatlays, taught by Azrin who’s a lecturer by profession and a flatlay hobbyist. She has hosted workshops for creatives and professionals interested in using flatlays either in a personal capacity or for commercial use, and having attended this Flatlay Partea (it was a tea party and I loved the cheesy pun!) at Delectable by Su in Glasshouse Seputeh, I can tell you firsthand that food and flatlays go very well together.

Upon arrival, we were treated to a drink and goodie bag by Althea Korea with some of their signature products: their beauty blender (Meringue Puffs) and fruit sheet masks (with even more punny names). With the sweet treats from Delectable by Su laid out for us, fresh flowers by Avant Garde Blooms all over, and with the sunlight streaming in through the huge ground-to-ceiling windows, it was like stepping into a tea party wonderland – fortunately, no mad hatters in sight!

The workshop was interactive in the best possible way. Azrin would initially guide us through some key essentials for taking a flatlay, carry out a demonstration, then allow us to work with the props and goodies to trial test our own shots. She’d then come by and offer helpful suggestions on whether a set up was too cluttered, if another colour would enhance the ‘featured’ item better, on how to use flowers and petals and tealeaves for that ‘effortlessly’ busy effect. She guided us on how to take ‘clean’ flatlays, where items are neatly arranged in symmetry (think packing flatlays!) and even ‘messy’ ones, where things would look ‘sprawled out’ across a surface.

Over the break, we were given the chance to eat any of the food on display (but at the same time – were told that we might want to save some treats for the second flatlay activity later on!). I loved loved loved the lemon meringue tart, had numerous chocolate mousse pots which was rich and creamy and enjoyed many mini croissants and sandwiches before the break was up.

That’s when competitive mode kicked in, and we had the chance to group up into teams of 3 to take The Ultimate Flatlay. Our challenge? Feature Althea’s Meringue Puffs. Thankfully, these blenders are already so cute that it was easy to marry them with the tea party theme and props that we had at our disposal.

Pic by Eros

My group members were the dynamic duo of Ashley and Sylvia, both of which have an incredible eye for detail. After arranging and rearranging and rearranging again, this was the photo we came up with:

Which I think was pretty gorgeous, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, we did not win – but it was pretty tough to choose a winner because everyone’s shot was so good!

The other groups:

I learned so much from this workshop, and am happy to share some tips that I learned both at the workshop thanks to From The Top and also after trying it out a few more times at home. 

What is a Flatlay?

Before we dive into the details, we need to understand what a flatlay is. As you’d gather from its name, a flatlay is a photo taken from the top, where the viewpoint is 90 degrees from the flat surface. So that’s something that cannot be compromised – if you’re into taking creative angles, that no longer makes it a flatlay. Instead, your creativity is showcased through the layout of the items, rather than the angle of the photo.

Flatlay Top Tips

   1. Think of your ‘thing’

Have a focus. Find a pivotal object that you want to highlight or show as a centre of the photo. This helps you determine the colour scheme, theme and props that you’ll need before taking a photo. For instance, if you’re photographing a sandwich, it would look good on a picnic background or some sort of dainty tea party theme, but if you were photographing a burger, it might not be the most cohesive photo to pair that with a tea party setting.

2. The Backdrop

Choose your background wisely! One of the most useful things I learned at the workshop is that we can totally create our own backdrops. We don’t even need a marble table or a pink desk. Getting manila cards, old cloths or coloured paper to serve as the backdrop allows you to have a portable flatlay workstation that’s affordable and easy-to-work-with. From The Top’s workshop allowed us to work with samples of card in a variety of colours and textures (like marble!). Head to your local craft store to find a material that works for you!

3. Pop Your Props

From The Top’s strategy for ensuring that their props ‘pop’ in the photo is to arrange the photo by colour. This tip is super helpful for choosing which items should be in the photo. Personally, I’ve always had issues knowing what to feature. Sometimes in my head, I know that I have a few pretty items that would be nice to photograph, but because I didn’t plan the colours properly, the photo ends up looking ‘busy’ or disjointed, and it doesn’t make a good flatlay.

4. Right Ratio!

It’s also pivotal to have an idea of the ratio that you want to post. Some prefer a ‘portrait’ style photo with a 4:5 ratio for Instagram, whilst others are happy with the square. If you’re shooting a flatlay for a client, have in mind the kind of dimensions you want for the photo. The same shot for a square would look significantly different on a promotional banner. When in doubt, shoot as wide as possible, then crop it close.

5. Change and Arrange

From The Top taught us to take a look at the shots mid-shoot in order to see what they look like on screen. Sometimes, in person and on-screen have a different look and rather than take all the shots and edit later, you may need to take a breath, take a look at the photo, maybe play around with the ratios, and if you think it needs some adjustments, make some rearrangements and try shooting again.

6. Fresh flowers

As much as possible, if you’re using flowers in your shot, use fresh flowers! Fake flowers don’t look as good in a photo, and you have a lot more room to work with if you can scatter petals and leaves to fill up the blank spaces. At the workshop, Avant Garde Blooms supplied the flowers (where I learned that you can get some beautiful imported roses from Kenya) but even plucking leaves from the trees in your garden is an option!

And that’s some top tips I learned at the workshop! Hopefully I did justice to Azrin's instructions. 

I’ll wrap up this post with samples of flatlays taken by From The Top, which were huge inspirations to me.


If you would like tips from the flatlay guru herself or want some practical hands-on lessons, reach out to From The Top to join one of their workshops. Maybe even organise a flatlay party with your friends. I think it’ll be a fun bachelorette party or birthday party event to do if you and your friends enjoy Instagram, or just as a way to learn a new skill!

If you loved the flowers in this post as much as I did, Avant Garde Blooms have an amazing flower subscription service starting from only RM50 a month. I love having fresh flowers at home, and whether you’re subscribing to decorate your own home, or subscribing to treat your partner every month Avant Garde Blooms makes it easy:

Since the workshop, I’ve gotten comments that my flatlay pictures have greatly improved and I’m so grateful to The Butterfly Project for giving me the opportunity to equip myself with some handy-dandy blogger skills!

Till next time!

6 comments on "How To Take The Perfect Flatlay for Business and Personal Shots"
  1. Lovely flatlay shots there! So much effort put into for a picture. You can be my sifu and teach me dy! :D

    1. Hahaha all I know, I've already shared in this post! But c'mon, you can already take great pics! :)

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