Meet The UAE Queen of Flatlay

The Gaggler meets Emirati artist, Fatma Hilal

Mother, artist, photographer, designer, and, in her teenage years, one of the first female web designers and self-taught coders,Emirati artist Fatma Hilal is something of a trailblazer.

A student of business administration back in the 90s, despite being dedicated to her college course, Fatma longed to be a designer – a career which, at the time, was one only the rare few got the chance to pursue. But after a stint in the corporate world, the opportunity of studying for a brand new graphic design degree at university prompted Fatma to take a leap of faith – one which proved to be not only brave, but visionary. Graduating with honours, she opened her own photography studio, proving to herself and others that not only was she great at what she did, she could make money from her abilities too. 

Following the birth of her first child, Fatma decided she needed to make another mark in the photography world – and capitalise on her love for a recently-discovered new app that everyone was talking about – Instagram. Focusing upon flatlays – something that was only really seen on the pages of glossy magazines at the time – it was here that her journey to being crowned the Flatlay Queen of social media began.

The Gaggler caught up with Fatma to find out everything there is to know about the art of the flatlay – with some top tips no Instagram aficionado should miss!


How do you juggle both your creativity and master class teaching with being a busy mum?


Being a mum, especially in these times I have to really find the time to be creative. Between virtual schooling and looking after the kids, every spare moment, be it 10 mins or an hour, I really utilize this time to organize and plan shoots, then execute them.


Why did you start your flatlay master class?


Since starting my Instagram, I would constantly get questions from my followers on how I created certain images, where I got my ideas from and questions about my use of flowers. I started by doing little interactive classes with friends and some followers in cafes that I loved shooting in (and that had the right amount of natural light). From here, I was contacted by some big international and local brands, and began to do workshops with them too. 

I started to do masterclass videos, and actually just got my first 100 subscribers to my classes. I also offer one-on-one Skype chats after they have completed the course. I’m working on my English classes next, so I have a lot in the pipeline which I’m just so excited about.


Do you find waking up early during Ramadan helps or hinders your creative process?


Ramadan is very special, it’s a time I can see family and I fast. During fasting my mind feels very clear. I design more, I find myself more creative which you can see in my content during Ramadan.


What are some tricks of the trade you can share with readers of The Gaggler to help improve their flat lay photography.


Watch The Video: How to take amazing pictures with iPhone and apps

  • I prefer to use an iPhone – I think they are the best to capture the light and the softness that I prefer for all my images.
  • The theme you see throughout my entire Instagram feed is a white backdrop. I recommend white, grey or neutral colours  to create a high end / luxe visual.
  • You should always take advantage of natural light – my favorite time of the day to shoot is 7am or 4pm – 5pm. Put your flatlay next to a large window to utilize as much natural light as you can.
  • If you are shooting flowers and you need to re-shoot or include them in another shoot, keep them in the fridge so they hold their shape – they will last much longer.
  • You don’t have to go out and buy a backdrop when you start – use what you have at home first. A clean white sheet or white board is perfect to use as a backdrop.
  • Avoid bright colours –  you need a studio light and professional camera to really make these colors pop.
  • Once you have completed your flatlay, walk away for 5 minutes and come back – you may see something out of place, or decide to move a prop to create the perfect picture.
  • Take photos from different angles, not just above – sometimes you will capture the perfect click from an angle you have never tried before.
  • ALWAYS flip your phone upside down, so the camera is at the bottom, this can capture some stunning images.
  • Always place the main object of image you are capturing (for example, coffee or shoes or plate) in the middle of the flatlay. Use the grid option in images to place the main object in the middle of the picture.


What are your own, personal favorite flatlays?


I have a few! All for different reasons:

On this shoot,  I got to work with one of my favorite shoe brands – Manolo Blahnik. I also utilized different photography elements, a model,  and I played around with different props and colours of the shoes.

I was heavily pregnant at the time with my second child,  and was staying awake until the morning due to the pregnancy – so I decided to utilize this time to create content.

We had a shoot with Bulgari in the Bulgari hotel, and this was where I got the chance to meet the ladies I had been getting to know on Instagram for the first time. It was like a dream to meet everyone in real life!

Lucy Wildman

Lucy Wildman

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