Knolling with Scouts – behind the scenes on a ‘flat lay’ photoshoot

Rachael Stiles , , 16 May 2019

Even if you haven’t heard of knolling, you’ll know it when you see it: those overhead photos of objects neatly arranged and colour co-ordinated. Very visually pleasing and Instagrammable.

The term is credited to American artist Andrew Kromelow, who in 1987 was working as a janitor in a furniture-making studio. Each night, he collected up all the tools that had been left out, then arranged them at right angles to each other on a flat surface. He called it ‘knolling’ because it reminded him of the chairs they were producing at the time for the Knoll furniture company, renowned for its angular shapes.

Our client the Scouts briefed us to create a feature that used this approach to show some of the things Scouts take with them when they go camping. We immediately started thinking about the opportunities of combining colourful backgrounds and personal objects with just the right amount of space left for text.

Also known as ‘flat lay’ photography, knolling has become a popular trend in recent years thanks largely to Instagram and Pinterest. It’s particularly appealing to travel and lifestyle photographers, whose carefully curated collections of vintage cameras, rucksacks and sunglasses are all arranged just so.

We didn’t have the luxury of choosing all the items. Instead, a young person from each Scout section (Beavers, Cubs, Scouts and Explorers) as well as an adult Scout ambassador (adventurer Dwayne Fields) brought along their own personal items that they pack for camp. We chose different colours for each background that would sit happily together in the magazine, and colour-coordinated as much as possible, with a bit of creative licence and a big bag of props and snacks.

To achieve the effect, we needed a big studio space where we could get enough height from the floor, an overhead camera on a boom, and a lighting set-up that would give the items the right amount of shadow, creating an appearance that was both flat and 3D. There was also the challenge of scale – the pages of the feature would be arranged in age order, showing the young people taking up more space on the page as they grow, and reducing the amount of space we had available to arrange the items.

The shoot was a collaborative process, with creative direction from Scouts’ content producer Aimee-lee Abraham, styling by Lou Foley and photography by Andre Pattenden. We were also lucky to work with some super-professional and patient young models – who, between takes, enjoyed walking into the studio’s mind-bogglingly white ‘infinity curve’. The result was a highly satisfying feature that shows the fun of Scouts in a way that we think the inventor of knolling would appreciate.

This ‘What Scouts pack’ photoshoot was published in the Summer Term 2019 edition of Scouting magazine. Read the full issue here.

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