HOW TO: Nail the Instagram flatlay and make a career out of it

What on earth did we do before filters?

Forget Johnny Depp, if another remake were on the cards for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, we know, just know, that edible candy forest would be replaced with a land of IRL Instagram. Filters included. Who could dream a more magical dreamland than that with instant Valencia?

We at The Footnotes, are here to help make your dreams reality. While we can’t manufacture an otherworldly plane with in-built Lark or *Clarendon, we can do the next best thing; help you master the Instagram flatlay and turn those dreams into career reality.

*Fun fact: Clarendon is the world’s most popular filter. The more you know.

  1. Find your niche.
    We all look back and laugh but time was taking an aerial snapshot of your soggy toastie was The Business. While there certainly is a niche for unattractive dinners (@cookingforbae take the undercooked cake), it’s a tad exhausted.

NOTE: Cooking for BAE is a  sweet dedication to struggle plates. * it’s all jokes*

Bae was lazy tonight. I see sloppy black eyed peas & dressing #baeneedshelp #nameeverything #cookingforbae

A photo posted by Cooking for Bae (@cookingforbae) on

Once you find your niche, you’ll find your followers, so get brainstorming. Ask yourself, what do I like? What do I dislike? What am I good/bad at?

Perhaps you have a knack for finding strange notes like @foundbylaura? No idea is too big or too small.

We recommend starting with something like ‘outfit of the day’ to experiment with composition and lightning (see below). Once you’ve found your footing, the world is your oyster.

🌸☕️💕 by @phoebesoup

A photo posted by Flatlays (@flatlays) on

Outfit of the day by @phoebesoup

  1. Lighting, lighting, lighting.

Hands up if you’ve attempted to take a group shot in a dark setting only for a) you and your mates to be blinded by an unflattering flash or b) you can’t see jack all in the shot and might as well have been at home with Netflix. Irks felt at a malfunctioning group snap are amplified tenfold on Instagram, so it’s important to nail the lighting.

For best results, use soft, natural light, specifically that which shines in the morning or middle of the day (the afternoon sun can create a yellowish tinge). We advise using a bench or floor space near a source of natural light and angling your composition so the light approaches from the back.


  1. Baby got back(drop).

Say it with us now. A neutral backdrop is the key to Instagram happiness. Regardless of your chosen niche, there are some things that don’t change and backdrops are one of them. A neutral white works best for most compositions but marble benchtops and laminates can go down a treat too thanks to their inbuilt texture. Pick up supplies at your local craft shop or buy/request a sample of tiles from the hardware shop.

DJ Khaled once said: “A neutral backdrop is key”. Image: @chloehollywood


  1. Composition. 

Less is more here (same goes for eyeshadow FYI). Start with one or two hero pieces and slowly make changes. Try dropping additional items in/out and shifting angles, locations etc. until you find an arrangement you like.

There’s no paint by numbers guide here, experimentation is the only way. We can, however, say that you should ignore that little voice telling you to fill every inch of space. Let those empty spots work for you. We’re also advocates for research, so go check out what everyone else is doing. You may be inspired to do similar or the exact opposite. Big thumbs up regardless.


A set colour palette can help create a pop-out image (and help your flatlay stand out). Image: @milkthistles


  1. Tools of the trade.


If you thought the only creative bit of the flatlay was the ‘put this here, that there’ step, you’d be wrong. So wrong. Post-shoot creativity is alive and well. Apps like Afterlight and VSCO cam work a treat and have dedicated communities for tips and tricks. If you’re lucky enough to have a SLR digital camera or similar, you really can’t go past Photoshop and, if you’re fancy pants, a tripod – Manfrotto or similar – for hands-free images. Some ‘grammers swear off filters but our belief? Nothing is off limits. Get down with your bad self.


  1. ‘Grammin’.


Prime time is more than a TV ad slot my friends. Want to get the most views? Pop that freshly minted image up within a strategic time frame. According to Latergramme, this varies but you’re likely to garner the most likes outside of the hours of 9am – 5pm on a Wednesday, Thursday, Tuesday or Friday. (And of course: Sunday night)
It’s also important to nail the hashtag. You want to be content specific and strategic in number. Don’t go throwing #pizza on a flatlay of your stationary haul go try and gather attention. No one likes that guy. And as for number? Stick to 3 – 7 super relevant ones. Remember, #hashtags #are #yourfriends


#primetime Image: @meohmygirl


  1. Career.

Once you’ve nailed the above and are producing regular, high quality images in your niche, you can start to approach the idea of rocking the ‘gram full time.

Structure, discipline and consistency are key to getting advertisers – and money dollars – on board with you and your brand (Yes you! You and your Instagram are now a brand).

Need some inspo? We’re loving:

Want to get started? Check out our course finder.

HOW TO: Nail the Instagram flatlay and make a career out of it
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