Flatter your flat lays

Flatter your flat lays

With the rise of Instagram, taking photos of things from an overhead angle has developed into something of an art form. Professional stylist Donna Roper lays it out


Janice Rodrigues

Published: Fri 14 Jul 2017, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 14 Jul 2017, 2:00 AM

Over the last few years, Instagram has developed into something of an institution in this part of the world. In fact, a recent survey by the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority revealed that 78 per cent of UAE citizens enjoy using Instagram, making it the second most popular app, after WhatsApp. So, it's only natural that the rise of Instagram would give way to several types of photography. You have pictures taken from an influencer's point of view, or of scenery... or you have flat lays - basically overhead shots of products that are somehow very visually appealing. How do you take them professionally? Stylist Donna Roper of Donna Hearts Beauty lays it out.
How did you get into this unusual career option?  
I found myself looking for a way to work on my own hours, as I travel a lot due to family commitments. It's a cliché to say 'do what you love', but it was critical for me to explore my passion in fashion, beauty and lifestyle, without being pigeonholed into any one area. Throw in the fact that I'm a chic geek at heart and love to tinker with new technology - it all combined into social media becoming the perfect storm with which to express myself. This has all happened only over the last two years and it's so exciting to be involved in the early stages of an industry!  
Is learning the art of flat lay important for a stylist, today?
That depends on the stylist but it's certainly a powerful addition to traditional tools. It's very simple to learn but the style of the flat lay is what will set you apart. Brands are on the lookout for authenticity and originality. A couple of reposts can result in getting your name and style known very quickly.
 As with  many things in life, if you put in the hard work, keep learning, and treat people as you'd like to be treated, then your career, and however you choose to define success,  is very much in your own hands.  My key advice is to keep collaborating, sharing and treating everyone with respect and openness.

Why has the photography style become so popular of late?
Flat lays are so versatile. They can be used to share what's in your bag or on your desk, what your travel essentials are or what your beauty routine at night is. Mobile phone cameras, social apps and better data plans now mean everybody can create flat lays at any time, any place. This simplicity is the key to their popularity and I can only see it growing.
How do you know how to arrange products to make them visually appealing?
It's funny - I can arrange stuff for ages and not see what's pleasing to the eye but once I take a photo, I see what works and what doesn't. Something about needing that 'frame' to provide a guide I suppose.
What are the different aspects you have to look out for?
A good photo needs good lighting. For me, nothing is more authentic than nature itself, so natural sunlight is my first choice. Choosing props is very much an instinctive thing - I often pick up interesting items I find and they end up in compositions I would never have thought about when I bought them. Right now, I have a fondness for white marble, green plants or leaves, monochrome objects, and hearts of any shape and size.
Is it better if a picture is cluttered or empty?
I prefer not to have items touch each other. Leaving space around allows them to shine individually while the spaces themselves can form another pattern.

While shooting, ado you have to stand on a stool/ small ladder over the products?
I find a height of two-three feet gets the best results. So, if I'm using the floor, I use a chair to shoot, if on a table, I'll stand on a chair for the extra height.
Does a lot of editing go on behind the scene?
Oh, my goodness, yes! My husband thinks I'm a perfectionist and it is true that I often end up using the second photo I took out of 60!  At the same time, I believe it's that hard work and attention to detail that shines through.  As a tip, two favourite free editing apps I use are Snapseed and VSCOcam.
Is there a difference between working on food/ fashion/ beauty flat lays?
Yes and no. As mentioned, lighting is key, and often, restaurant lighting is more about the ambience than about being able to take a well-lit composition of your plate.
Any tips for budding photographers/ influencers you want to share?
Instagram is a a great place to see examples of flat lays while being part of a friendly community. We are always swapping tips about the things we love in all things lifestyle, health, beauty, travel or food and are very supportive of newcomers. You will receive a warm welcome! Happy flat-laying!

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