Trends

Flat Lay, Go Away: An Analysis of a Popular Photo Trend

A love-hate relationship with flat lay designs (and a collection of our favorite flat lay photos)

All images: Envato Elements (1, 2, 3, 4)

What’s a ‘flat lay’?

Even if you’ve never heard the phrase ‘flat lay’, you’ve seen it before: a photo of meticulously arranged items, photographed from above.

It’s a style that’s particularly popular among food bloggers and #lifestyle bloggers, but you can find it everywhere – from big tech product launches to small business websites. Here’s a few examples of websites big and small using flat lays in their designs:

Apple

From apple.com/watch.

Square

From Square.

Kellysnapshappy

the weekend…

A post shared by K e l l y (@kellysnapshappy) on

From photographer @kellysnapshappy.

Etsy

Etsy home page, 2017.

We love flat lays. They’re visually appealing and easy to work with – a simple way to visualize a concept. Plus, there’s something satisfying about a perfectly lined up set of art supplies, or an imagined Instagram-perfect journaling session. It’s creative, unique, and easy to make your own – whether you use a stock photo, or grab your camera (okay, iPhone) and go the DIY route.

We hate flat lays. They can feel inauthentic and overused, especially when it’s applied to a tech product. If Facebook killed the gradient, then Apple will kill the flat lay.

Love it or hate it, the flat lay design style is one that’s made a big impact in graphic design, social media, and more. Check out the 3 million posts tagged #flatlay on Instagram for evidence. If done correctly, we think that flatlays can be a good choice for your site (even if you’re not a food blogger) (but especially if you are). Here are a few of our tips for utilizing flatlay design well:

The golden rules of flat lay design

1. Does your flat lay layout actually make sense?

Nothing distracts from a flat lay design quite like a weird combination of items. If it doesn’t look natural, then it’ll just be a distraction.

2. Is it original?

There’s over 10,000 ‘flat lay’ designs on Envato Elements and GraphicRiver, so it’s likely that you’ll be able to find one that matches the look you’re going for. If you’re looking for a design that definitely hasn’t been used elsewhere, you could also work with a customizable flat lay style scene generator. With these, you can move items around, add your own designs, or incorporate your logo into the scene.

Branding Mockup Essentials Vol. 4 by Genetic96.
Hand Lettering Logo Mockups by august10.

3. Is it a balanced composition?

Image: fresh blueberries on light green paper background by magone.

A flat lay is a photograph. That means it should adhere to be basic rules of photography – and composition is one of the most relevant for this style. Whether you choose a flat lay that aligns all the items towards one central item, or the items are scattered throughout the photo, make sure there’s a focal point for your design.

Some flat lay designs we’d actually use

For the foodies

Flatlay of pastel pink strawberry and coconut ice cream scoops

Disregarding the fact that no human person eats ice cream in this way, this is a pretty photo composition. And millennial pink is still on-trend, right?

Food background flatlay

Mushrooms or seashells?

Vegan tacos with pickled zucchini and chili pepper

These definitely don’t look like tacos in the traditional sense, but they’re nice to look at.

Ice cream cones and berries

A nice, balanced design (even if it is missing the actual ice cream).

Belgium waffles with raspberries and yogurt

For something a little brighter.

For the beauty blogger

Flat-lay of woman’s fall accessories and coffee

A vintage-style design.

Creative beauty feminine arrangement of flowers and cosmetics

Neon yellow eyeshadow might not be our shade, but this flat lay is well-balanced and uses the notebook as a focal point.

Flat lay men’s casual outfit

Casual shoes, check, car key, check.

Female outfit laid out on bed, morning light

The imperfections in this image – like the unmade bed – adds some authenticity to the photo.

Festive flat lays

Christmas homemade decoration flat lay

This author’s portfolio is full of gingerbread men and candy cane designs.

The ‘we’re a tech company’ flat lays

Desk with various gadgets and office supplies

Next trick: drinking coffee while wearing virtual reality goggles.

 

Miscellaneous

Gardening tools on wooden background flat lay

Autumn pattern

Subtle enough that it could be used as a website background or pattern.

Pine cones


Love it or hate it? Check out our collection on Envato Elements and GraphicRiver, and let us know how you feel about flat lays @envato.

Thanks to Jade Butler for creative collaboration, and to Chris Martin, who wrote a tweet that inspired this article.


Brittany Jezouit

About the Author Brittany Jezouit

Brittany is the editor of the Envato blog. You can follow her on Twitter @brittanyjezouit.