10 Flatlay background ideas that cost next to nothing

It’s no secret that flat lays rule on Instagram and other social platforms- our feeds are full of them. And that’s for 2 simple reasons:

number one

They are amazing for visual storytelling. Pick a theme, fill it out with props that tell the story of that theme, arrange, shoot. Boom! You’ve got an instant story captured in a single image.

Some ideas for those themes: Travel, Meal time, working from home/ bed/ on the road, every day wellness, seasonal self-care. The list goes on and on.

number two

Smartphone camera’s are BRILLIANT at capturing overhead or flat lay images because they keep everything within the same focal length. Which means…anybody can take great overhead shots with some practice and the equipment they already have in their pocket!

Arguably, one of the trickiest- but also easiest to solve- problems with a flat lay is the background. A lot of times, people feel held back because they don’t have marble countertops or a white desk next to a window. Well, my friend, I don’t want these excuses to stop you anymore, so I’m sharing 10 different flat lay background ideas that will cost you next to nothing. Heck- some of them actually will cost you nothing, because they’re probably laying around your house right now.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

1 ,  2 ,  3 ,  4

1, 2, 3, 4

Here’s the thing about shots with bedspreads, quilts and blankets- our heads immediately jump to bed, sleeping, morning or nighttime scenes. And while those would certainly be appropriate, you don’t have to just stop there. Look at the scenes above- there’s food, coffee, tea, reading, and working. Throw down a blanket or quilt and create any kind of scene or collection you can think of: Work out clothes/gear, meditation or self-care routines, favorite books, handwritten inspiring quotes, or items you always travel with or have in your purse. And guess what? You don’t have to create this on your bed if that’s not the spot with the best light in your house. Drag those blankies over to a window or other nicely lit area and snap away.

Crumpled kraft paper or parchment is an instant way to add a little texture and character to images. If you have a roll or two on hand, bravo! Tear a piece off and crumple away. But you don’t even have to get that fancy. See that top image with the eggs? I tore open a paper grocery bag and used the inside for that shot.

1 ,  2 , 3, 4

1, 2, 3, 4

This is the easiest of all, and where I tell people to start. Go to the kraft store and buy yourself a pack of poster board sheets. They’re dirt cheap so you won’t care if something gets spilled on them or they get messed up; You can move them anywhere you want to find the best light; And regardless of what style your home or office is, you always have a nice, clean, neutral surface to use. If you want to take it up a notch, spend a couple of extra bucks, and get yourself foam board instead. Unlike poster board, it’s rigid so you can pop it up on a stool or ottoman as a makeshift desk surface. I always, always, always have white poster board and white and black foam board on hand. It’s my go-to surface when I want to put something together real quick.

1 , 2,  3 ,  4 ,  5

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

I think book pages, maps, newspaper are other ephemera like sheet music are super creative ways to think about backgrounds for flat lays. Instead of being a neutral base, they actually help tell the story you’re trying to create.

Think those old, beat up metal baking pans should be thrown in the trash? Think again. I LOVE using these as surfaces (I may have had a mini-meltdown once when my significant other pitched a pan he thought was old and disgusting, but I deemed to have the perfect amount of “patina". You can actually see it in the photo above with the radishes. I still mourn that pan…)

Using surfaces like this are actually an old trick in food photography, but why just use them for food? They’d make excellent backgrounds for all sorts of other scenes too!

1 ,  2 ,  3 ,  4

1, 2, 3, 4

Wrapping paper, patterned tissue paper and wallpaper all make great surfaces for setting a more colorful scene. I like looking through the scrapbooking section at the craft store to see what kind of interesting patterns and textures I can find.

1 ,  2,  3,  4

1, 2, 3, 4

Using colored paper is really the same concept as using white poster board, but color adds an obvious pop and changes the overall mood of the shot. I also think it’s fun seeing different colors of paper- either complementary colors or within the same color family- layered on top of each other to create interesting backgrounds.

Using fabric can certainly add to the storytelling element of your scene. It’s always interesting to see what you have on hand to add texture and variety. Tea towels, scarves (either flat, or piled together like above), burlap, and patterned remnants from the craft store all make for interesting surfaces.

I use contact paper and printed vinyl surfaces A LOT. They are my favorite because they’re easy to store, and easy to wipe up if they get wet or messy. I started with contact paper that I adheared to pieces of foam board. I also put the contact paper on both sides of the board. That way, I get 2 surfaces and only have to store one board. Both of the top images- the distressed wood, and the marble- are contact paper designs I found on amazon.

Lately, I’ve been purchasing vinyl photo backdrops that can be rolled up and stored. I love these, as you can get just about any surface imaginable, but they do not cost next to nothing. They’ll run you anywhere from about $25 to $65-70. So yeah, not cheap. If you’re intrigued by this idea though, stick to contact paper for now. It’s still a very affordable option.

Here are a couple of my favorites from Amazon:
rustic wood, Grey Marble

1 , 2,  3 ,  4

1, 2, 3, 4

This last idea is admittedly a little bit less of a background you can just throw down, but I do love the idea of taking natural elements to create more of a story with your background. Leaves, flower petals, even slices of citrus or fruit can make gorgeous backgrounds for other elements to sit on top of.

So there you have it- 10 flat lay background ideas that you can get for less than the cost of a latte. Let me know in the comments below if you’re excited to start experimenting with any of these ideas- OR if you have used some of these backgrounds, how’d it go?? I’d love to hear!