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Composing a flat lay is not just about an item in particular you want to highlight (though that is a big part of it). A flat lay is about conveying the message of a certain lifestyle that should be associated with the product.
Or a flat lay is just a compilation of a bunch of pretty things that go well together.
Either way you flat lay it, here is a comprehensive list of props that I use in photos, many of which are surprisingly cheap or you may already own. Plus, I’m linking tons of amazing blogs for inspiration for how to use these props!
The key to a flat lay is the background. A crisp, white background is always nice to let the products do the talking. Many people use white, but I was particularly inspired by Dom (Cali Beaute) way back in the day.
For the white background, any poster board will do, but I have a particular board that I love from Home Depot. It is made of plastic, so it is fairly sturdy and can be cleaned easily. I used to constantly buy new poster boards because they get so dirty so quickly. I’ve been using these same plastic boards for months now, which saves money and reduces waste. I’ve purchased this board in both black and white. Unfortunately, I can’t find this online.
Another popular background is marble. Stephanie (Collection of Vials) slays the minimal flat lay with a lightly marbled background.
I do have an extensive marble collection, but the marble I use most frequently is actually the pastry marble that we already had! Honestly, working with real marble can be a pain though. It is hard to edit, and the reflective quality of some can make photography tricky. If you do want the look of real marble, I suggest discount kitchen stores, like Kitchen Collection. Otherwise, purchasing a matte or satin marble contact paper will do the trick just fine.
Now for the fun part: all of the little trinkets you can throw in a photo to make it pretty!
Candles – I have become quite the candle addict. Diptyque candles are some of my favorites because they’re high-quality and, well, have you seen the packaging? I’ve also fallen for candles from Commodity and Byredo. They are quite expensive though. For a cheaper option, you can pick up some tea lights or simple candles from Target or a dollar store. They’ll still look beautiful in a photo, and you can decide to never, ever burn them guilt-free. Or just light them! When Cindy (Cindyhyue) uses lit candles in photos, I suddenly feel so cozy and at peace.
Jewelry – Jewelry is great to fill in little gaps in a photo. A few small rings or earrings look beautiful scattered about. These pieces don’t need to be ornate, or specially purchased. Whatever you already have will probably work! Okay, real talk: I once purchased a set of rings specifically with flat lays in mind (I was low-key inspired by Amelia Says). BUT I love them and actually do wear them.
Small dishes – Plates and dishes are a great addition to a flat lay to add depth. I like to throw a few lipsticks in a small dessert plate, or place jewelry in a trinket dish. Most of mine come from donation stores, such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. I generally pay about 50 cents to $1!
Notebooks – Perhaps one of my favorite photo props. I loooove little notebooks, especially black or grey ones. But you can choose any that fit your color scheme. Most of mine are notebooks I actually use, including my bullet journal. You can also find notebooks at dollar stores that look surprisingly chic in photos.
Pens – You need something to write with for your notebook! Adding that extra layer over a notebook really gives a flat lay some life. Choose a plain looking pen so as not to steal the show from your primary focus. But maybe we’ll all get a laugh out of your My Little Pony pencil!
Marble – Yes, I mentioned marble as a potential background, but you can also find pieces simply for props. I am obsessed with this marble tray and keep my perfumes on it. It’s the perfect prop too! Beauty by Kelsey and Makeup Sessions use marble frequently, and make it interesting every. single. time.
Magazines – Most bloggers end up using magazines as props from time to time. If you already have them lying around, it’s worth a shot. I like to just use pages with white and black text only. Again, they add levels to the shot, but also remain inconspicuous.
Fabric – I love fabric in photos because it adds a lot of texture. You probably already have all of the fabric you could want in a photo. A sweater or throw blanket give off cozy vibes for fall/winter themed pics. I’ve also used scarves, sheets, and camis to avoid too much white background in a photo. If you don’t have fabric to use or want different textures, go to a fabric store and ask for remnants. They’ll either give you the remnants, or they’ll be super cheap. Lyna (Beauty by Lynmed) and Swathi (The Bling Factor) use a variety of fabrics and textures in their photos to make them multi-dimensional.
Cups – You can throw tons of different things in a cup to add dimension to a photo. Coffee in your go-to mug is a great addition to your photo. You were going to drink that anyway! I actually don’t drink coffee, so I put Diet Coke into a plain mug, and it looks like the real deal. Our secret!
Food – I love seeing food in pics, though it can be hard to photograph. Fellow Jennifer (Barely There Beauty) makes everything look amazing in photographs, but her food shots lately are drool-worthy. Colorful fruits really pop in a lively pic, or plain bread products can sneak into the background. Sometimes scattering jelly beans about is fun too 🙂
Ribbons – This isn’t really my personal go-to, but there are tons of others (like An, TheBeauParlour) who get ribbon to do magical things. You can save ribbon from gift boxes and use them to fill in white spaces.
Flowers/potted plants – I love flowers in photos for a feminine vibe (see Gemma Louise). I purchase fresh flowers every so often from the grocery store and take as many pics as I can with them. I personally haven’t gotten fake flowers to work, but you could possibly find a nice bunch that would last forever. A little potted plant is something you may already have that would work well too.
Computer/keyboard – I have an iMac, and I honestly think it’s one of the most beautiful things in the whole world. I love how the keyboard looks in my photos. It adds a bit of tech but is still fairly inconspicuous. Capture your Sunday plans: cozying up with the laptop to watch Netflix and chill.
Phone – Your cell phone is also a great prop. If you haven’t seen how Friday Faye has used her phone in photos, you’re missing out. It’s genius.
Camera – To end the tech run, you can use your camera or a lens in photos. Paula (Thirteen Thoughts) seamlessly adds lenses in her shots about makeup (because she’s magic).
Bag/wallet – My actual, overflowing, messy wallet would look terrible in a pic, but you know what I mean. I like to use my favorite clutch to show off my purse essentials. And your purse doesn’t have to be designer to give your photo a story.
Hands – I love seeing hands in a flat lay! It’s a great way to add a dynamic element to your pic, by reaching for a cup of coffee or typing. I usually need help to get my hands in the frame, so I have Luke take those photos for me (after I’ve set everything up). You can also take the shot yourself if you have a tripod and remote.
Glasses – Your glasses look super chic in photos. Sunglasses are the perfect addition to a flat lay, especially in the spring or summer.
Makeup – As a beauty blogger, makeup is the central theme to most of my photos. Still, makeup is a great prop. Especially if you have a super luxe makeup collection like Cat (Cat’s Daily Living)! If I want to talk about an eyeshadow palette, I can add more makeup around it, with the focus still on the palette. Even if you’re not a beauty blogger, you can throw a lipstick next to your croissant and cup of coffee to show your morning routine.
Makeup tools – Along the same lines, makeup brushes and lash curlers are great accessories to a photo. It gives makeup a context, which is something to think about for any field. For instance, a food blogger might want to show a dish of food next to a ladle or spatula that could have been used while making the recipe.
Shadows – Perhaps the most inexpensive prop of all: shadows. There are many times, especially when the lighting is kind, where shadows are the best accessory. Look at how Mili (Sharmtoaster) and Nida (Caked to the Nines) use light/shadows to their advantage. Very editorial (and worthy of all the heart-eye emojis).
Glass bottles – Especially with a colored liquid, glass bottles do all sorts of beautiful things in the sunlight. Try any perfume bottle, or product packaged in glass, and see what happens!
There are photo props everywhere! Just grab something around your home and try it out. Who knows, maybe a toothbrush will become the new candle.
What are your favorite photo props? ↓