Instagram is a funny place, you know it, I know it, we all know it. Trends come and go, but one that has been around for a few years and is still developing fans as it moves into different niches is the #flatlay. I post a lot of #edcflatlay pictures and it is historically one of my more popular types of posts and usually always brings in the likes and follows. So I thought I would delve into exactly what a flat lay picture is.
Let’s start with what is a flat lay? By definition, a flat lay is an image or a style of photography in which a number of things are arranged on a surface and then photographed from above with a birds-eye view. So, if you have been trolling Instagram for any length of time, you have undoubtedly come across a flat lay picture. Usually, these are more popular in the blogging, design, and photography niches, but the trend is taking off in the outdoors, bushcraft and EDC communities.
What is an EDC flat lay you ask? EDC flat lays are a type of pictures where gear junkies far and wide layout there daily carry gear in neat rows or grids and some of them will be built around a theme, color or activity. You can even see some amazing flat lay pictures from HVAC companies and other trade professionals where they empty their van and lay everything out including the employees, these are just awesome.
There are many variations of flay lay styles and the picture doesn’t always have to be of smartly arranged gear or items. The broader definition of a flat lay is just taking the picture from above and capturing everything in an expansive photo. Some bloggers and Instagrammers who really specialize in taking awesome flat lay pictures will focus on one particular item and use everything else as a supporting cast. This type of flat lay is often called a hero flat lay.
I never really knew that a flat lay was a thing until I stumbled upon the hashtag on Instagram. I posted a picture back in April of 2018 with my Everyday Carry Gear arranged neatly on a picnic table, little did I know I would be addicted to flat lays after that post. That was also my very first Instagram post to ever break 1,000 likes. I was onto something with that picture. For all those creative types who want to rally against convention, there is something nice about order and being organized. I think that’s why so many other flat lay pics are so popular.
The #edcflaylay Hashtag
I think I was the first one to start using the #edcflatlay hashtag, it would be cool if that was the case. I’ve tried to reverse it back to see where it originated. Do you guys know when it first appeared? I don’t want to take the credit if someone thought it up before me. For now I will say I was at least an early adopter of the hashtag #edcflatlay.
Let’s look at some flat lay details and how to take a good EDC flat lay picture. First off, a common question is does a flat lay have to be taken from above? My answer to this is yes, a traditional flay lay in its purest sense is taken from above, but I think you can sometimes do it from a slight angle…but then doesn’t it just become a regular picture? I am not one to fight over the details.
How To Take An EDC Flat Lay
Pick A Good Background
First off, you need something flat to shoot a #flatlay pic. This is an important step because you want your background to compliment your gear and not distract from it. Pick something that is not too busy and has a little texture. There is virtually no limit to options, if you look at a lot of my flay lay pics, I like using different types of wooden boards. I have several sets I keep handy. A great Instagram account I follow is @watchyue and he has some really cool organized pics. I love his background, it looks like a dark slate.
Like any picture, lighting is key. In the case of a flat lay, lighting can be a little tricky, especially if you are shooting items that have a glare like the sapphire crystal of a watch. Natural lighting works best and I have found and shooting these on a cloudy day is even better. If you’re serious about raising the bar, you may want to invest in a light diffuser. These are so cheap on Amazon and come in various kits and sizes. Most of my flat lays I take are near a window that has adjustable blinds and I can fiddle with just the right amount of natural light.
If you ever scroll through Instagram and think that all these pictures look amazing by accident, think again. All of us spend a lot of time setting up these layouts. I’m not ashamed to say it either. I actually use and abuse my gear, I always have a pocket knife and when I do a review, I really put the items through their paces. I also like taking pictures, so you can see my draw not only to Instagram but to cool pictures of pocketknives and gear.
There is no rule on how many or how few items you have to have in your EDC flat lay. The goal is to make it interesting and this can be accomplished by having a theme such as color, activity or even focus on a brand. I have done flat lays of all my multitools or all the stuff I took on a camping trip, I even have done just a Spyderco flat lay. You can arrange everything neatly in a grid style, a soldier style, where everything is arranged left to right or just a basic gear dump, where you take the picture from above and it is just a simple layout.
There is a hashtag called #edctertis where folks try to arrange EDC gear as tight as possible in a jigsaw puzzle fashion. Many of my pictures focus on what I am carrying on me that particular day. I also just like taking gear pictures and will sometimes set up stuff just to do a flat lay. The goal here is to be original and find your own style.
Does Your Flat Lay Make Sense
This is a touchy subject for some, but let’s get to the point, does your picture actually make sense? Does it tell a story, does it represent you or your brand? Or, is it just a bunch of stuff thrown on a table? This also leads into the point of your Instagram account and why are you trying to grow followers, but again, that’;s another article.
Most of my flat lays are theme based, they focus on gear I use for camping, EDC or a project or adventure. I always get the wisecrack wanting to know if “all of that is in my pockets”, obviously it’s not but it’s still funny to think about. To me, a layout of random stuff that doesn’t match your account or have a theme is a waste of time. Did you know posting poor performing content on Instagram really hurts the next few posts you do? It’s true, and that’s something I will write about in the next few weeks…all those giveaways can actually be pretty detrimental to our Instagram account.
Is The Picture Balanced
You may want to be all artsy here, but again, let’s adhere to some basic photography skills. The composition of your picture is just as important as the lighting and theme. Is it balanced, is there a focal point, are you using negative space correctly, are the items too far apart or to close together?
These are all things you want to think about. Otherwise, when you go to edit the picture, you will see you wasted your time. One thing I learned is not to put everything away until you know you got a good picture to start from. There have been a few times where I went to edit a pic only to realize I was out of focus, the camera was tilted, or there was a glare, etc.
Flat Lay Tips
- Don’t rush, take the time to set up your shot. Think it through and try to make it your own style and original.
- Pay attention to the angle of your camera. Hold it parallel to the flat lay and keep it steady. Even holding it off just slightly can give your picture a canted look.
- It’s all in the edit. If you want to take your Instagram to the next level, then you need to learn how to edit your pics better. There is just too much competition out there to get noticed. I take all my pics with my phone and use SnapSeed to edit.
- Experiment with picture ratios. You will notice that many Instagram pictures seem taller than just the normal square. I crop many of my pics to a 5:4 ratio which is like a rectangle standing upright.
- Keep it simple. Sounds crazy coming from me when you see some of my pics, but your goal is not to have your stuff look like a jumbled mess. Practice your style.
Now you have a better understanding of what an EDC flat lay is, let’s see some of your pictures. Make sure to tag me on your Instagram posts with @tech_writer and use the hashtag #edcflatlay. This way I can leave a snarky comment and ask you if “that’s all in your pocket”…
Solider Style Flatlay
Are you wondering why I just wrote an article about taking pictures of EDC flat lay’s? Well, besides having an addiction to Spyderco and Alox, in the real world I spend my time doing all things digital for my clients from blogging, web design to search engine optimization.
Part of my inspiration to write this came after I saw all the EDC pics from my Instagram friends and myself being hijacked on Pinterest and others taking credit. I want to help other Instagram folks grow their accounts, not just on Instagram, but also off-site by using other digital tools we have.
I personally just went through a so-called shadow ban where none of my pics are shown anymore in the general feed. It’s crazy and disappointing all at the same time. Instagram isn’t my main focus but I was definitely proud of growing to 29K followers. I watched tons of videos and read several other blogs and guess what, nobody has the answers to how the algorithm actually works!
I will leave you with this thought. Always control and own your content. Having my reach on Instagram limited for several weeks only reinforced what I know, you can’t depend on other platforms for your business or livelihood. One day they can just change the rules and all your work is gone.
Blair Witkowski is an avid watch nut, loves pocket knives and flashlights and when he is not trying to be a good dad to his nine kids, you will find him running or posting pics on Instagram. Besides writing articles for Tech Writer EDC he is also the founder of Lowcountry Style & Living. In addition to writing, he is focused on improving his clients websites for his other passion, Search Engine Optimization. His wife Jennifer and he live in coastal South Carolina.