How to style a vintage flat lay (5 steps) • Pretty Content • Vintage-inspired brand and web design

How to style a vintage flat lay (5 steps)

I use vintage flat lay photography a lot in my branding and across social media for a few reasons:

  • It’s fun to show off the vintage bits and pieces I have in my collection.
  • The images are super versatile, they can be used alone or as part of graphics.
  • It’s an easy way to batch-create a bunch of photos.

What is a vintage flat lay?

If you’re unsure what a flat lay is, it’s a photo taken from above, usually showing a selection of objects arranged in an artistic way. Flat lay photography is super popular on social media platforms like Instagram, especially for food and fashion photos. In this case, I take create vintage flat lays that look a bit like collages… or a “find the object” game!

A vintage flat lay with a background of old paper, and a foreground of vintage makeup, jewellery, a Make Do and Mend pamphlet and a Vera Lynn record.

Sourcing objects for your vintage flat lay

A basket full of vintage objects like books, ceramics, hair pins, makeup, jewellery and an old camera.

The key to a good vintage flat lay is a variety of textures and objects that you can layer. I like to have a lot of paper of different textures and sizes, as well as some objects that stand out, and some objects that are more subtle and decorative.

Most of my paper comes from eBay where I buy bundles of “vintage ephemera.” Ephemera are things, usually paper, that were designed to be used at the moment, but not necessarily preserved. A good example of this is a bus ticket. You might not think to save the receipt from your commute, but somewhere someone saved theirs from the 1940s and these can make really interesting details in your vintage flat lay!

For the rest of my objects, I have a collection of true vintage items that I have curated from eBay, Etsy and local antique stores. To keep costs down on “filler” objects, I usually head to my nearest charity shop or thrift store. Things I look for include costume jewellery, small bits of art, and knickknacks like souvenir spoons. Charity shops are also great places to find pieces of fabric to use as backgrounds.

Styling your vintage flat lay

Make sure that your surface is clear and clean. And dust off any objects you want to use that might have gathered any! I like to map out the area that I want to fill. I like the objects to spill over the edges and fill the entire frame.

First I start with whatever I intend to make up the majority of my background. This might be a piece of fabric. I like to use large bits of paper. I have a copy of Marie Clare magazine from 1938 that covers a large area when opened and laid flat. Plus it has a variety of spreads inside which makes it easy to switch around. I also have packs of paper from old books which help fill out the edges.

My next layer is usually smaller paper products. For example, I have a collection of Christmas cards sent and received throughout the 1940s. These slot in nicely with other paper bits, but usually have a bit more detail that can easily be focused on.

Next, I will place my most important showcase items. I have a few that I really love, like makeup from the ’40s and ’50s which usually makes an appearance. I have some ceramics that are crowd pleasers. I also have some more recognisable paper products and larger books.

Finally, it’s about the finishing touches. For me, this is usually small pieces of jewellery and little trinkets. I love to include a fake pearl necklace from a charity shop or an old pocket watch. I also have some old photographs that I like to slot in wherever there might be a bit of space.

Checking your vintage flat lay

You want to frequently take steps back and look at your image from above. Sometimes an object might look good from where you’re standing but have a weird perspective when viewed from above. I have this issue sometimes with bulkier objects. They will look fine in front of me, but from above they distract from other objects and make the photo appear unbalanced.

Taking your vintage flat lay photos

Honestly, I take most of my photos with my phone because it’s quick and easy! I have a mountable phone holder which attaches to my table so I can get the perfect photos from exactly above my vintage flat lay. I usually will take a few of these.

Then, I remove my phone from the holder and move around to grab shots from other angles. I will also move things around, swap some objects for others, open and close packaging, etc. Just to make sure I have a good variety.

A vintage flat lay with a makeup compact that is closed.
A vintage flat lay with a makeup compact that is open with a powder puff on top.
A vintage flat lay with a makeup compact that is open with no powder puff and visible pink powder.

Editing your vintage flat lay photos

While making sure you get the composition right when shooting is absolutely essential, editing can take a flat lay from okay to fantastic.

Again, I like a flat lay that fills the whole space and spills out of the frame, so a good crop is essential. It also helps me to be able to rotate the image ever so slightly to make sure the angle is perfect.

First I will take my large overhead shots and edit them. Then I will take those same large photos and crop areas of interest. This means one photo can become several photos once I’ve finished the editing process, which is what makes it such a great batch creation technique!

Watch a Reel about how I style vintage flat lays!

Here’s a little Reel I put together on Instagram to show how I style a vintage flat lay if you prefer a quick video format!