The Do's and Don'ts of Styling Flat Lays (from a Stationer)

It all began in 2018 when I was new to the Kansas City area and I was seeking to connect with photographers to grow my portfolio. I was still new to the industry as well so in my mind, all I had to do was just find a photographer with a similar style, right? Unfortunately, it's not that easy.

Let's pause a moment and think back to all the beautiful inspiration photos you see on Pinterest, or better yet, on Style Me Pretty. The images are flourishing with small detailed shots of ring boxes, the grooms shoes, that cute velvet chair in the corner of the bridal suite, the beautiful pompous grass leading up to the venue, and of course, the wedding invitations. The little details are what adds the authenticity and uniqueness to a couple and THAT'S what makes your day special and memorable within the photos.

Now, there is a right way and wrong way to photograph details, but I'm not here to tell you exactly how to style and photograph all the details. Instead, this is meant to provide a general list of do's and don'ts when photographing stationery. How you style, photograph and edit, should enhance the suite. At the end of the day, everyone has their own unique style and aesthetic.

1. DO Photograph the Suite without Embellishments

Depending on the suite, there can be a lot going on to make that suite stand out like ribbon, vellum, etc. some of which can cover the main verbiage. All of these elements are what tell the story and make it unique to the couple. However, you should always get a shot of the entire suite so you can see the calligraphy, verbiage and/or the venue illustration without the ribbon or vellum covering it up. Something I like to do depending on the bulkiness of a suite, is add in two of the main cards in the shot. One with the embellishments and one without so it can fill up the space a bit better and showcase the main invitation and embellishments on the main card at the same time.

2. DON'T Forget to Photograph With Embellishments

If you decided to remove the envelope with the custom envelope liner, ribbon, vellum, etc. out of the shot to really get to the meat and potatoes of the suite, don't forget to add them back in! Embellishments are what tell a story about the couple and really makes their suite unique to them. Forgetting embellishments is like missing a piece to a puzzle.

When assembling invitations suite for photographers, I like to add in extras. One with the suite all together with embellishents and a suite that is completed separtate so they can style as the wish. This can be helpful so photographers don't have to remove any embellishments they can just simply switch them in and out of a shot.

3. DON'T Photograph Stationery at an Angle or Landscape

Now, this is probably personal preference, but what I've learned is if you want that luxury, romantic look that is featured on Style Me Pretty and every other fancy blog, you need to photograph stationery looking straight down over the invitations as a Portrait. Don't forget to make sure the lines are straight! This is something that can easily be overlooked but when achieved, your eyes only look at the beautifully photographed stationery and not how wonky the cards look. Photographing it Portrait instead of Landscape can also help keep you from overcrowding the flat lay. This is also a good tip to use in general just because Portrait shots tend to fill the page better resulting in easier to see images.

To get other "angles" you can always move in closer to photograph close ups of the embellishments and main invitation cards or rotate your camera. If you do sneak in an angled shot, try to make sure your main focus is that of the styling props like ring boxes, wax seals, perfume bottles, etc. Keeping it simple with only the pieces that are being used in the wedding is a great way to get flat lays that are meaningful to your clients and not over crowded.

4. DO Know When to Switch It Up

That being said, it is really important to get photos of more than one composition. Variation makes a big difference in a gallery and in a vendors portfolio! Not only does it just look good, it really can show your skill as a photographer. Here are a few examples of different flat lay variations you can try out yourself!

5. DON'T Forget About the Background

The background can be just as vital as anything else when creating a flat lay. If you have a good foundation, you're more likely to have a successful flat lay. There are so many different styling mats on the market that can really elevate your photo and change up the style based on the stationery and wedding itself. However, you don't have to spend a ton of money on a background. You can always use what you have on the day or DIY a background. If this is what you're going for, I recommend a background that is very subtle in color and texture so it doesn't overpower or draw your eye away from the stationery. If you want to include color, I recommend something that is from the clients wedding colors or something that will bring out an element from the invitation suite.

6. DO Add Some Elevation or Layers

Adding acrylic blocks under the main invitation can really draw your eye in since it quite literally pops out from the rest of the flatly. This can be a good tool to create variation within the flat lay! If you are wanting to use this tool, I would definitely keep the blocks with the main invitation only since it is the focal point of a suite.

Don't have acrylic blocks? I recommend using anything that is small and white/clear so you can't see it in the final shot peeking through the card. Or, you can layer! Layering is a good alternative if you don't have anything to elevate your suite. Layering can help break up any negative space and give your flat lay some variance and interest.

I should say I don’t consider myself a professional but have learned what I like and how others have achieved successful flat lays. I believe that flat lays are what makes a suite come to life. Every time I design a new suite, I always have the flat lay in mind that I think will bring out its personality and style. When I first started as a stationer, it took me a long time to figure out how I wanted to showcase my work and to make my flat lays stand out! It was hard in the beginning because I didn't know how to achieve what I wanted so I unknowingly turned to photographers that unfortunately didn't know how to work with stationery. Over the years, I have been working to perfect my flat lay skills so I can help any photographers out there struggling with photographing stationery specifically! I hope these tips and tricks can help any photographer out there if they are struggling with flat lays because I know it can be hard! It's ok if you have a different style or you just don't like taking flat lay photos that much. In the end, you do you and have fun doing it!