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All Hail The UAE’s 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, Fatma longed to be a designer despite being dedicated to her college course – a career that, at the time, was one only the rare few got a 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 that proved not only brave, but also visionary. Graduating with honours, she opened her own photography studio, proving to herself and others that was she great at what she did and could make money off her talent, 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 on flatlays – something that was only seen on the pages of glossy magazines at the time – kicked off her journey to being crowned the Flatlay Queen of social media.

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

Q

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

A

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 minutes or an hour – I really utilise this time to organise and plan shoots before executing them.

Q

Why did you start your flatlay masterclass?

A

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 my use of flowers. I started by doing little interactive classes with friends and some followers in cafés that I loved shooting in (and 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 that I’m just so excited about.

Q

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

A

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

Q

What are some tricks of the trade you can share with readers of The Gaggler to help improve their flatlay photography?

A

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

  • I prefer to use an iPhone – I think they are best to capture the light and 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 favourite time of the day to shoot is 7am or between 4pm and 5pm. Put your flatlay next to a large window to utilise as much natural light as you can.
  • If you are shooting flowers and 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 them pop.
  • Once you have completed your flatlay, walk away for five 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 haven’t 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 you are capturing (a cup of coffee or pair of shoes, for example) in the middle of the flatlay. Use the grid option in images to place the main object in the middle of the picture.

Q

What are your personal favourite flatlays?

A

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 utilised different photography elements, included a model, and played around with different props and colours.

I was heavily pregnant with my second child at the time, and staying awake until the morning as a result, so I decided to utilise this time to create content.

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

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