I have a lot of fun styling flat lays when I do brand photography. I wrote about traditional flat lays in this post and explained what a flat lay is. But I'll write it here again:
Flat lay is a form of photo styling in which the camera photographs objects from above. Usually, objects are laid on their sides so you can see the entire form, whether it is the label of a jar or the side of a toy.
While a traditional flat lay usually places objects in a grid format, a lifestyle flat lay is the complete opposite. (I bet you already figured that out huh? You are so smart!) A lifestyle flat lay is placing objects at random, as if you stumbled upon a scene that was being used or lived in.
There are pros and cons to each style of flat lay. I personally think that it's easier to style a traditional flat lay when you are working with a lot of square objects as they naturally want to be placed in a grid. But lining them up and making sure that everything looks rather perfect can be very tedious work.
A lifestyle flat is not so rigid and has very free form aspects which makes it less monotonous to style, but can be tricky to get balance and movement right. Needless to say, if you are working with a lot of organic shaped objects, a lifestyle flat lay will feel more natural to style.
To demonstrate the differences between a traditional flat lay and a lifestyle flat lay, I've used the same objects/props for both to create a desk scene.
- Start with a hero object, or an object that will be the main focus. This can also be the object that anchors the whole layout. The hero object in my example is the polka dot notebook.
- Then I pulled a few supporting props and just placed them on the background next to the notebook. At this point, nothing is being styled. I'm just gathering objects that coordinate with the notebook.
- After I've gathered all my props, I start to place them around the notebook. If it seems that all the props are just placed haphazardly, then I'm doing a good job with my styling. The truth is everything is placed intentionally.
To provide depth to the flat lay, I placed wood pencils on top of the notebook. I used this same trick in the traditional flat lay. The wood pencils were nice to use because they picked up the wood in the giant clothespin creating a balance to the scene.
- The beauty of the lifestyle flat lay is that it's supposed to look messy. Think of it as "organized chaos." Separate a few thumb tacks away from the dish as if you were pulling old ideas from your inspiration board; and these tacks hadn't quite made their way back to the dish yet because you're in thoughtful creative mode.
I also didn't like that everything was looking so brown and blue, so I added a plant in the corner to bring some life to the desk scene. A potted plant or a vase of flowers is always a good accent to any desk scene because it's very possible for us to keep living elements on or near our desk while we work.
- Then I moved objects around to give the desk scene more balance. For instance, I felt the round shapes of the thumb tacks and the polk dots in the notebook were fighting by being too close together. Moving the tacks far away from the notebook gave me the balance this flat lay needed.
- I added another plant in the lower left corner so the one in the upper right corner didn't take focus from the scene being a completely different color and all.
- I intentionally left an open space in the center of the desk scene with the thought that a title or quote could go there, if this image was being used for a blog post or social media.