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How (not) to Prepare for a Flat Lay Photo Shoot

Flat Lays are all the rage on Instagram, especially in the "gift & homewares" business. The retailers I supply day to day are all great at what they do. Styling their shelves and store windows into the most appealing and lovely displays. So when they go for a flat lay you can pretty much guarantee it's going to look gorgeous.

I have a bad habit of just flicking through Instagram until I find a lovely photo of our products taken by someone else and just re-gramming it with a reference to their store.

Here's a few I've pilfered earlier.

The Bay Tree Instagram Photo with Kimono Daisy Fabric Napkins
from The Bay Tree, Woollahra

Monsoon Homewares Instagram Photo
from Monsoon Homewares

Wildfire Organic Teas Instagram photo
from Wildfire Organic Teas

But I really should be trying to produce some original content, so it's been on my "list of things to do when I have a minute" for some time. Trouble is - styling is not one of my strong points, so it gets left at the bottom of the list a lot more often than it should.

Last weekend my daughter had a "gig" helping out at a circus stall at a local school fete. It was her job to ride around on her unicycle hi-fiving as many Primary School children as possible, and then help out at the mini tent teaching anyone willing to try hoola hooping, juggling and plate spinning. Apparently "pro" circus performers do not look cool if their Mum is hanging around. My job was to provide transport to the event and then disappear for a few hours until she was ready to leave. Taxi Mums - you know how I feel!

So after buying a bag full of second hand books for $5, I wandered past the cake stall. I stopped short in amazement. Their cupcakes were next level! Exquisite little decorated perfections. And I suddenly remembered my to-do-list and thought I could take some photos of my dishes, teapots and fabric napkins with cakes!

I spent a while picking out a selection of "ombre pink iced cupcakes", an Oreo cupcake, a caramel cupcake and some special little vanilla bean cupcakes topped with white icing and real violets. I also got a pack of caramel slice pieces because choosing cupcakes that you can't eat until after you get home and use them in a photo shoot is really hard work. Besides I don't think my husband and son would forgive me if I went to a school fete and didn't come back with something for them.

I'd been watching the cake stall ladies carefully picking mini cupcakes off the beautifully laid table with tongs and placing them into little cardboard boxes for taking away. Perfect! I wouldn't have to worry about them getting squished.

There was a crowd around the table and I waited patiently until it was finally my turn to choose my cupcakes. The nice lady carefully put my cupcakes into a cardboard box, and then instead of putting a cardboard lid on it like everyone before me, she shoved the whole thing in a paper bag like it was a meat pie at the bakery. I think I audibly gasped.

The perfectly balanced little violets were rudely knocked off into the box and some of the delicate icing swirls were dented. The horror! My Insta-perfect photo shoot was being crushed before my eyes. The lady handed me my box of cupcakes and gave me a look. I have the opposite of a poker face so I think she realised I was a little disappointed in the way my special cupcakes had been handled. Her look was clearly the kind of look you give someone who is being precious about something that will end up chewed and digested in short order.

So... I said nothing and handed over the cash for my now slightly less than photogenic cupcakes.


Even though after dropping my daughter at the front gate I'd had to drive around the neighbourhood for 20 minutes and parked about a kilometre away, I thought I'd use the time I had to kill to take my cupcakes back to the car. On second inspection not all of them were completely ruined, and I thought they'd have a better chance of survival if I didn't carry them around the fete in their flimsy paper bag for another few hours.

I set off towards the car and soon realised that I had parked at the top of a steep hill, and that the pleasantly sunny morning had turned into a blazing hot day. I was soon sweating and puffing my way up the hill with my increasingly heavy bag of books, two bottles of water and the caramel slice, but still being extra careful not to cause any additional damage to my delicate cupcakes.

What the hell was I thinking? Photo shoot prep was getting way harder than I expected. No wonder I keep putting it off.

Finally I was at the car and the morning shade it was under had completely disappeared. I opened the door to a blast of hot air like I was opening a fan forced oven. I sighed out loud to no-one but myself and put the cupcakes carefully into the glove box. Hopefully the insulation of the glove box would protect them? I knew by now I was grasping at straws, but I thought if I could just keep them intact they may hold their shape until I could get them into a fridge.

I picked out the slimmest book and drank half a bottle of water so it would weigh less, then put them in the bag with the caramel slice and headed back down the hill. The rest of the morning I spent in the shade of a tree reading my book and eating more than my share of the caramel slice. The sun was scorching, but under my tree it was quite pleasant. I hadn't had a chance to sit down and read a book in forever, so this gig wasn't turning out too badly after all.

At the end of the day we got home and the cupcakes weren't ALL bad. I did manage to use some for photos before the kids decided I'd played with them long enough and they needed eating. I still definitely have to work on my flat laying skills though. It was only after taking the photos and the cake all being consumed that my son pointed out that the camera tripod can extend much more than I thought.

Postscript: My neighbours just came over and asked if they could post a sign for their school fete on our fence (we face a busy corner). It's in 2 weeks. That should give me enough time to work out how to use the tripod properly before I go check out their cake stall.


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