graphic content

3 Ways to Improve Your Flat Lay Photos

It took me a long time to get good at flat lay photos. I have some doozies on my Instagram from back in the day. I've just recently started to get good at it... probably because I only just recently started really, you know, trying. Mainly, I started spending a lot of time looking at flat lay photos that I like (you can view a collection of them on my Pinterest) and really figuring out how to do it. 

A few notes: 

  • I really believe in having your own "style." A lot of flat lays seem to follow a similar formula: white or marble background, gold or rose gold accents, truly random props. I'm not into that. I use two plaid scarves as my backgrounds because that feels a little more "my style" for Fall and Winter. Come Spring, I'll figure something out. 
  • Don't feel the need to take flat lay photos if you just don't like them! I like them: they're simple, they're pretty, and the more you practice, the easier they are to take. 
  • It doesn't have to be perfect. You don't need a DSLR. I use my iPhone. 

Ok, let's talk tips now. 

1. Have the right apps 

I use my iPhone to take all my flat lay photos. Here's why: It's easier. I can take one really quickly while Forrest is halfway destroying my kitchen, then get back to business. I take photos with my iPhone camera. I have the grid option turned on--you can turn this on in settings--because it helps center things and make sure you're getting a good angle. Then, I edit using A Color Story from A Beautiful Mess. You can use a variety of filters (and buy some extras), but I use the same filters every time: Magic Hour (25%), Ginger Tea (25%), Disco Ball (50%), then either Everyday (50%), Lite Bright (50%), or Ruby Haze (50% or less). If you feel your photo wasn't taken in the best light and has that slightly "yellow" look, you can adjust the white balance in A Color Story as well. 

2. Take photos near a window. 

Point blank: the best light is indirect sunlight. I take photos in my bedroom, with the curtains open, on my bed. So set up your photo station near a window and snap away. If I miss daylight hours (which I often do), it's a bust: I'll never be able to edit photos taken at night, under artificial lights, to look as good as I want them to. Sometimes, I still post them anyway, but only when desperate. 

3. Crop accordingly. 

I think the number one mistake that I continue to make is feeling like I should't "crop" a photo. But sometimes photos look better when you crop out extra space. Prime example: When I post flat lays of books (like this one or this one), I end up cropping out a lot of "extra space" so you can focus on the cover. Don't be afraid to crop and that means, maybe cropping something partly out of the photo (like I cropped out my Kindle partially in this photo). 

Most importantly, don't be afraid of being perfectly imperfect. Like if your nail polish is looking rough. Or it's something you don't want to, um, put down on the ground. Or if you son decides he wants the book you're trying to take a photo of. It's ok. It doesn't have to be perfect. It's just Instagram! 

Using Canva as a Content Marketing Tool

This post was originally posted on Medium. If you'd like to read my work-related blog on Medium, you can click here. If you'd like to read the Medium blog associated with my personal Twitter account, you can click here

Content marketing can be overwhelming for entry-level employees. I say this from experience: learning the tools of the trade when I first started in digital and content marketing made me feel like I was trapped inside a tornado. I was inundated with information about writing, blogging, social media, video, and visual elements—as well as all the strategy that surrounds everything.

As I got a foothold in the content marketing world, I realized I needed to step up my game when it came to visual elements, especially as I worked for a rapidly growing brand like Waitrainer+. As I learned, I realized that the visual component is often the most important when it comes to social media.

Not every business, however, has the resources to produce great visual content. Producing photography assets can be expensive and not every business has the resources to afford software like Adobe Photoshop. As well, an entry-level employee in charge of these resources might feel a little, well, lost when it comes to producing graphics, social media and blog posts, and email assets.

Enter Canva. I discovered Canva almost a year ago and from that moment, my anxiety about producing beautiful visual content for Waitrainer+ was assuaged. Using a variety of stock photo resources (like UnsplashPicjumbo, and Death to Stock Photo), I could finally produce the graphics for blog posts, social media, and emails that I wanted. We started getting better results from my efforts and I felt like a success story —rather than a content marketing newbie trapped inside a tornado!

A solid year of using Canva has taught me a few things about using Canva as a tool. Here are my favorites.

Webinars have never been easier.

We hold monthly webinars at Waitrainer+. Before I started using Canva, we used basic PowerPoint presentations. It didn’t look good and it made branding across a variety of platforms difficult.

Canva offers great templates for presentations with multiple export options. It also makes branding incredibly easy, because we can use the same materials, photos, and fonts across all platforms.

As well, the presentations feature allows in-built links —which makes sharing our webinar slides to SlideShare even easier.

Templates helped me learn the basics.

I’m not a trained graphic designer, although I’ve always had an interest in graphic design. All I have is a desire to do my best and to learn as much as I can about content marketing. But when it came to design, I was clueless. I knew what looked good, but I had no idea how to actually get there. Thanks to Canva’s templates and their incredible design center, I’ve learned the basics of design and I’ve expanded on them—which means I don’t have to rely on pre-built templates unless I want to.

Infographics make everything better.

We have an on-going debate about the effectiveness of infographics in our office. Personally, I’m on the side of infographics: they make incredibly effective social media and email tools; they help make statistics interesting; and they are a valuable resource for clients and customers. Plus, they just look cool. Canva offers great tools for building beautiful infographics, which means you can make as many as you want or need.

Everything is simple.

I love the way Canva works: from how you upload your own photos (and how those photos are stored) to the way you build graphics (drag and drop!), it’s so simple. I’m great with technology (a benefit to growing up with access to computers), but even those who don’t have a tech background can learn to use Canva and use it well. That’s why it wins as a tool for all content marketers: no matter your level, you can find a way to use Canva.

the 5 Best Free Stock Photo Websites

Good stock photos are hard to find. A recent Clients from Hell post reminded me, suddenly, of how many times I've struggled to find stock photos that fit the bill and didn't veer too far into cheesiness. Sometimes it seems like clients expect a magical website with every photo ever taken, for free, that includes every element they need. Strangely, that's not how the real world works. 

I'm a big fan of using "pretty, emotion-inducing" photos for posts. I'm not big on a lot of text or of super obvious pictures that I haven't taken myself. I've really gotten into finding the best stock photos recently and I thought I'd share some of my favorite sites. 

1. Creative Market

Creative Market is a great place to find good stock photos, as well as other creative materials (including fonts and vector images), for sale. They offer weekly free deals, which usually include a stock photography package. The photo above is from the currently available Hipsta package. 

2. Death to Stock Photo

Death to Stock Photo is an incredibly popular site that offers free, monthly stock photo packages. You can also sign up for pro, which offers you even more photos and benefits. They have sent me easily some of my favorite stock photos; they are all beautiful, well-lit, and evocative. 

3. Life of Pix

Need nature photography? Life of Pix is one of the best sites for great nature and landscape photography, if you're looking for something basic and simple. Their website is simple and beautiful. 

4. Picjumbo

My favorite thing about Picjumbo is that many of their photos include people and technology -- two elements that I often look for in stock photogs. They have a variety of photographers as well, which means they offer a variety of styles and feels. Their site is easily divided into categories -- technology, people, bokeh (if you're looking for something abstract and colorful). As a warning, their website has a lot of ads, but don't let that stop you from appreciating the photography. 

5. Magdeleine

Magdeleine has some absolutely stunning still life and abstract photos, as well as a vast collection of nature and landscape photography. Their photos are definitely more atmospheric and moody, perfect for a deep or reflective post. I love their still life photos for DIY posts or newsletters.