Like many small business owners, I had absolutely no idea what to do with Instagram when I first started. The only thing I felt really good at was envying other businesses that seemed to have found the secret sauce. You know what I’m talking about. Those perfectly styled flat lays and lifestyle shots that somehow manage to both look thoughtful and effortless.
If I could just figure out how to take those pictures, I’d be all set.
While there’s a TON more to using Instagram to promote your business and build a community around your brand, my 2015 self was dead set on mastering those fun and colorful flat lays like some of my favorite Instagrammers made look so awesome, and boy did I stress about it.
When I say I stressed about it, I mean I stressed. I felt like I was standing on the wrong side of a door that I couldn’t figure out how to open, but if I could, my business would be infinitely better. I could connect with the people I wanted to connect with. I could showcase my products and capture what a fun, sassy, bold brand I built. I could totally rock Instagram.
It didn’t take long for me to realize no one was going to hand me the keys to the kingdom. There was no magic cheat sheet that could point me in the right direction, or at least not one I could find. And trust me, I looked.
But guess what? Styling those fun flat lays with creative props isn’t a big secret. And I’m here to help you bust that imaginary barrier wide open, because there’s really no secret sauce or locked door. It certainly seems that way, but I want to help you skip over all those so-so pictures and totally rock Instagram yourself.
I put together a super simple worksheet to help guide you through these tips and prop to it (with a few extras just for you!) Click the image below to download your copy now…
Got your free worksheet? Awesome! Now let’s get started with Question #1…
1. How do I figure out the right props for my brand?
Figuring out the right props to capture and compliment your brand seems pretty daunting when you’re first getting started, so here are my top tips:
- What adjectives describe your brand? If you haven’t already figured this out, now is the time! If you had to pick 5 words to describe your brand, what would they be? For Glitter and Bold, I’d say fun, colorful, bold, feminine, and inspiring. The props that I pick are therefore fun, colorful, bold, feminine, and inspiring. Disco balls and flamingo candles aren’t actually related to lettering, mugs, prints, or any of the other products and services I offer, but they go hand in hand with my brand.
- What are similar businesses using? By similar businesses I don’t mean people that sell the same things you do, but rather brands that have a similar vibe. For example, Dixie and Twine, Bando, and Violet Tinder were brands that I looked to when I first started hunting for props because they’re also fun, colorful, bold, feminine, and inspiring. We sold totally different things, but if you like one of those brands, you’d probably like me. Confetti, candy, disco balls, and flair were all things that I wouldn’t have thought to associate with my mug business, but capture the spirit of G&B perfectly.
2. Where do I actually find props?
This one is entirely dependent on your answers to the first question, but here are some general guidelines that will help no matter what style your brand is:
- Again, look to other businesses. If you see a brand using a prop you love, ask where they got it! In all the years I’ve been using Instagram, I’ve never had someone not tell me where something came from. There’s no secret, remember?!
- Amazon is prop central. For the longest time I only looked for props from similar small businesses and occasional forays into Target and Michael’s (ok, I basically live at Target). Then I read *this article* by *** and the potential of Amazon was blown wide open. She mentions a few super fun props specifically, but I found that I was able to use those as a good starting point for delving even deeper and finding props more tailored to my business (mint alarm clock, anyone?!).
- That dollar section at Target though… Did I mention I live at Target? It’s no surprise, then, that a ton of my props come from Target, and more specifically, that sweet, sweet dollar section. From cute office supplies to flamingo bottle openers and fancy straws, Target is where it’s at. Next time you find yourself wandering the aisles, think back to those adjectives you picked in Question #1 and keep an eye out for props that might fit.
- Same goes for the craft store. I don’t often go to the craft store unless I’m looking for faux flowers or seasonal décor, but many times I find some unexpected extras that make for great props. Again, keep your eyes open with those adjectives in mind and you’d be surprised at how much loot you can find!
- Similarly branded businesses. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve purchased from Bando over the past two years, but I can tell you that only 3 of those things are actually for me to use everyday (a sweatshirt, mug, and agenda if you were wondering). All the flair, tote bags, coolers, koozies, tumblers, and notebooks are fun to use but ultimately bought for one purpose: props. That’s because Bando doesn’t just have cute stuff – it’s cute stuff that totally compliments my own brand. Now, that’s not to say you should immediately run out and purchase a million things from Bando (unless you also have a similar brand, in which case, rock on). Rather, find businesses that are have a similar brand/vibe to your own business.
3. How do I actually style props?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to styling, and really just comes down to developing a good eye over time. Remember those first pictures I showed you? They’re a hot mess compared to the content I currently create, but that’s only because they were taken two years ago. That being said, there are a few things I’ve figured out over the years that can help you jumpstart the process:
- Less is usually more. My mom taught me many things about home décor and styling, but the one I remember most is the rule of three and odd numbers. Just like when you’re arranging objects on your nightstand, an odd number of objects in a flay lay looks the most appealing. While this isn’t always the case, I have found that it does often add the right balance when I’m styling a product on an angle.
- Stay within the box. I shoot 99.9% of my photos on my Iphone, and it’s not just for ease of use and editing. I love, love, love that it lets me take the photo directly in a square shape. This isn’t the best course of action of action for product photos for things like your website or Etsy shop, but for Instagram it definitely does the trick. Take the guesswork out of placement by staying within the lines of that handy little square.
- Don’t forget about negative space. When I first started, I had literally no concept of negative space. I filled up as much of that little square as I could. Negative space is the empty space in your photo, and something that I since learned is a huge boost in making your photos and overall feed look more appealing. You don’t need to use negative space in every single photo, but by including it sporadically you help break up the busyness of your feed as a whole.
- It’s ok to fake it. From tape and kneaded rubber to washi tape rolls, there’s a whole heck of a lot going on behind the scenes in my styled Instagram photos. Very few of the props I use actually stay in place on their own, so sometimes I have to get a little creative (including that one time I actually taped over 30 gumballs down with individual pieces of masking tape on the backs).
4. Do I need to tag props?
You’ve found the perfect props for your biz and styled them beautifully. But do you need to actually tag each source for each prop? My answer:
- If you’re using a prop as a significant portion of your photo or think that it is a photo that fits with that brand’s aesthetic and could be potentially “regrammed,” then I say heck to the yes.
- If you’re using a prop as just that – a prop – to compliment your products or services, then I say ain’t nobody got time for that.
- Use your discretion. Really, it’s just a matter of using your discretion and deciding what works best for you. I will say that, in my experience, you cannot promote a post that has other company’s tagged in it, so if you plan on using that feature, stick to your own stuff.
There you have it – a look at the not so secret-secret world of props in Instagram photos! I hope this answers your questions and gives you the confidence to prop to it.
I’ve also put together a super simple worksheet to help you jot down your thoughts and take the stress out of finding props for Instagram (plus a few extra tips just for you!). Click the image below to download your copy now…