Anatomy of a flatlay photograph

During my five-or-so years using the photo sharing service Instagram – yeah, I jumped on the bandwagon pretty early – nothing has given me quite the irritating itch that the term ‘flatlay’ does.

Yes, Instagram has its fair share of different ‘types’ of photos, and what with the ability to now make your photos rectangles too – there are even more different ways of being creative. I used to be a huge fan of the ‘collages’, where you could arrange a number of photos into a series of frames, but now I prefer to have one photo that gets all the attention. I now find that it’s a bit hard to pay attention to all the different frames because there is a lot going on.

The one type of Instagram photo that seems to gain a lot of likes and ‘credibility’, so to speak, is the flatlay – a typically birds-eye view of an area of space that encompasses one’s belongings and gives an idea of what that person is interested in, loving at the moment, or doing right now.

Just ‘organised clutter’

I began to notice a lot of these flatlays and become enamoured in their prettiness, until I began to see it everywhere. Is it just me or does the photograph look like more of an organised clutter than a nice photograph?

Similar to the collages, there is a lot going on in everyone’s flatlays. Don’t get me wrong, they are beautiful, but are they really just a fixed-up mess? No one’s desk really has notebooks half-covering their laptop and all their jewellery laid out on the desk while they work – or do they? No one really organises all the food they’ve ordered in the most perfect lined-up fashion with their bracelet-adorned hands so perfectly in frame.

How to spot a flatlay

  • A birds-eye view of everything.
  • Gotta see jeans folded up and with that pocket detail visible.
  • Lots and lots and lots of ring stacks on outstretched hands.
  • Carefully arranged jewellery on a flat and clean surface.
  • Crisp, ironed shirts (or t-shirts!) laid out with the slogan or graphic art clearly visible.
  • Decorations are a must – flowers, accessories, stationery.
  • A stationery flatlay tends to have a lot, lot, lot of colour and open books.
  • Spilled nail polish and makeup powder is a must.
  • Magazines and doilies make nice ‘backgrounds’ for items on a table.
  • M&Ms, pieces of cereal, pieces of fruit – arranged meticulously.

I could really go on, but you get the idea.

But in the end, it’s effort, effort, effort.

Over time, these lovely flatlays have become less and less natural to me. The more I look at them, the more I think, ‘That is such a nice photo, but there is so much going on in it’. Soon, my attention doesn’t focus on any one part of the photo and I find myself scrolling down my feed to the next photo.

A lot of hard work goes into flatlays, but I’ve seen people scroll through their Instagram feeds faster than the time it takes for their thumbs to actually scroll the height of their phone.

I cleaned my kitchen counter yesterday. It really did take some time!

I wanted to take a photo of my orchids… just the damn orchids… but my dad’s garlic bread got in the way. And his knife just so happened to be in the middle of the plate not touching the bread or the edges of the plate. I thought it was like, such a good photo opportunity, but not before I moved all the newspaper I was using under my nail polish bottles and refilled my actually empty cup of tea and opened my laptop more so you can actually see what’s on my calendar. But no, you really can’t, because I strategically rotated my laptop into a more flattering position.

I swear I don’t put orchids that close to my laptop. Ever.
I swear I don’t put orchids that close to my laptop. Ever.

Disclaimer: This post was partially satirical.

Comments on this post

I hear ya, Georgie! I gotta be honest—I, too, have fallen into the ‘flatlay’ bandwagon when I did an Instagram purge a couple of months ago. I had to delete the not-so-flattering photos I had from awhile back (those I don’t regret getting rid of at all), and just became more ‘intentional’ with what I post. As you may have noticed, I don’t post on Instagram on a daily basis, so I don’t feel so bad about it. :D

About a year ago I decided to delete unflattering photos of mine as well, including way too many selfies! I have also become more intentional with what I post. Rather than call it ‘censoring’, I would say it’s more like curating! I know I couldn’t possibly do the same with my blog posts, though.

That photo does look beautiful though – the orchids are lovely.

I’m not really big on Instagram as my photo-taking skills aren’t up to scratch, but I do follow quite a few people. Never actually heard of a flatlay until now though. I might attempt one sometime.

Please do a collection of satirical flatlays where you put really random things next to each other. That would be hilarious.

I suddenly feel like making a blog purely for satirical flatlays. Holy shit. You may be onto something there.

Hahaha, I love you for writing this post.

Since rejuvenating my site, I’ve felt this pressure to have a clean, naturally lit space that was white or marble or a pop of colour to lay precious items down on in a flatlay order. Hey, guess what… I don’t buy that many items so often to actually offer variation! All I have to offer is the same plant, same laptop, same watch I’ve been wearing for almost two years and heavily used lipstick. I’m sick and tired of every blogger and Instagrammer NEEDING to be PERFECT. It’s so hard to maintain.

My disclaimer: I am guilty of doing flatlays, though. Hey, they get likes I’m afraid!

flatlays just look nice on the feed. I had to admit, I once had an addiction to those type of photos. But lately I’m okay with posting any photos as long as its in square :)

I used to like collages as my Instagram uploads too back then! But I agree, it’s a lot better to give one picture the most attention at a time… Which means, picking out the BEST best picture out of the group ;). I usually see it annoying when people post 934129419849 pictures on instagram a day @____@. But that’s their choice :6. But 5 in one day once in a while is fine to me XD.

The flatlay’s look so nice! It makes a mess look nice. The only problem I have with taking one is the shadow and lighting (never have enough of it). I do see that it’s easier to take pictures without having to move everything XD. Flatlay’s look nice and yesssss, it’s the new norm now…. Even though I haven’t exactly jumped on the bandwagon yet (not enough skillz).

I don’t think I’ve done this before in Instagram, but it looks interesting. The flatlay looks nice :D It looks calming and peaceful. I didn’t even know that it was a ‘thing’ or even anything. I don’t think I’ll change my style or anything. I enjoy taking pictures the way I do, which is simply, quite simple. <3

“Just organised clutter” haha true! It’s all about putting random things together that somehow makes the photo more complete