I'm sure if you let us know how many drum pieces and what cymbals you have, members here would be happy to post pics of their kits to give you an idea of where to start.
I like to start with the kick drum and throne, next add the snare and adjust for height and angle, then I would position the hi-hats. From there add toms then ride cymbal and any crashes you may have from there.
I start with the kick pedal and throne, adjusting throne height and how far away the throne is from the pedal. Then I add the hi-hat stand and make sure the pedal is in a comfortable place. Next I add snare and floor tom, adjusting to my liking. Finally I put up my rack toms and put all the cymbal stands in place and then put cymbals on top. I usually still adjust after to make sure everything is the right height.
I use the "tripod" method that Matt Ritter outlines in his "Unburying the Beater" DVD, which is excellent.
Long story short - you're a tripod when sitting at your drums, between your butt (throne) and feet (hi-hats and bass drum).
Sit down and place your feet on the floor. For the most part, where your feet fall is where you place your kick and hi-hat stand. Next, place your snare between your legs (making sure there's about 6" between the throne and the snare).
Set the rest of your kit up around that basic setup, based on a tripod. Obviously, adjust heights and angles to whatever is most comfortable, and you're all set.
+1 for the "close your eyes..." method. It's important to feel comfortable behind your kit. Also, pay attention to the angle of your stick when you do this, and set your drum and cymbal angles accordingly.
You may want to find some photos of kits on this site that match the number of drums in your kit and get an idea of the different ways of setting up, 4, 5, or 6 piece sets what ever, then position your drums like those but in a way that is comfortable to you. Start with the bass drum and high hat and put them where they are comfortable sitting on your throne. Then add the other pieces and cymbals where they can be reached without being too close or making you stretch to reach them. Other than that there are no rules just personal preference and don't be afraid to make changes as you grow or learn other methods. Being comfortable is the number one goal here since setting at an uncomfortable set is tiring can cause muscle pain and stress and also inhibit a smooth flow around the kit which will affect your playing and learning ability. Hope this helps. The above suggestions about playing with your eyes closed are great ideas.
For me, it's kick, snare, hi-hat, ride. I put those in place. And get comfortable. If I'm gonna add a single tom, it's gonna be a floor. Set up on my right. If I'm running two toms, the next drum is probably gonna be a rack tom. Left of the kick. In between the hi-hat and kick, and somewhat above the snare. If I add another drum, it's probably gonna be another floor tom (1 up, 2 down). That goes right of the 1st floor. Any more drums than that, usually find their spot left of the hi-hat. Sprinkle with cymbals, to taste.
Sometimes what is most comfortable can help us learn bad habits.
I believe the way you set up your kit should reflect your style of playing. Tre Cool is fast, but his set is also set up for power. Benny Greb sets up completely different, but, it assists with his approach and style of playing.
The way you set up your drums should help you play better, not necessarily easier. Agreed, there is a line here and you need to figure out where it is.
I guess what I am saying is when you experiment do not dismiss a setup just because it isn't 100% comfortable at first.
Kit setup is an evolving thing, and usually its because our style and approach is evolving (hopefully.) Take a look at Steve Smith both now and when he was with Journey... WOW! Different styles.. Different Approaches.. Different set ups..
For kicks, (no pun,) look at drummers that have your similar body build. set up your kit like they do and play with it for a while. See what you can learn from the way they set up their kits. Notice advantages and disadvantages.
I've started a fairly busy programme of kit expansion recently, with a 2nd floor tom, a set of rototoms, a 2nd ride and a new crash. Have been playing around with new setups, basically starting totally from scratch (not just trying to squeeze it all in around what's already there).
I seem to have 2 problems:
1) Putting anything to the left of the hats seems really far away and separated from the rest of the kit. This is especially true of the rototoms, and when I roll from there to the rack toms I really struggle. Is this because Im just not used to having stuff over there? I play open handed so my hats are pretty low and slightly behind the snare, so don't know if this has an effect on being able to place everything where I would ideally like them?
2) Cymbals...Looking at pro setups like Dave Weckl etc, they have loads of cymbals all quite close to each other, often overlapping. At the moment I have a a couple of stands and a lot of multiclamps and boom arms coming off the stands. With my new additions, I am stuck for space. How do you guys fit all your cymbals in? Do I need to get more stands instead of using clamps so that I can get stuff exactly where it needs to be? When cymbals are overlapping how do you make sure they don't hit each other when you get 'excited'?
I'm sure it's all about either getting used to having things in different places and learning to play away from my centre, ie twisting my body slightly, and also just keep on experimenting with placement until I'm comfortable, but if anyone has some handy tips or has experienced this then I'd love to hear from you.
I completely agree with the "eyes closed" suggestion> I don't know about anyone else here, but when I'm really slamming out a fast and heavy lead riff on harmonica, my eyes automatically close, and the rest of the world (outside the band) completely disappears.
I do that during drum solos, too--it's a natural thing for me. I dunno why, but it is.
I might suggest that you have someone measure your reach (with sticks in hand, normal grip) and maybe use that as a meter for maximum spacing of your equipment from you--both forward and side-to-side. I know that if I have to lean forward, my bass foot on the 'leaning' side sometimes suffers.
I have always used the theory that playing correctly means a straight spine, which means less fatigue and better contact, not to mention balance.