How to up your flatlay game with Arvin

How to up your flatlay game with Arvin
Arvin flatlay

Arvin spoke at our very first Vamp Creative Studio event the other night with detailed step-by-step guides on how to create a beautiful flatlay, techniques to get around difficult lighting and an overview of the different styles of shot and how to succeed. Speaking at the Cooking School of Williams Sonoma Bondi Junction, alongside @thegirlswhoatetheworld, Arvin shared his valuable insights. Here are a few nuggets of his wisdom.

Tell us about yourself. 

I’m a 22 year old Malaysian, freshly graduated from UNSW. I presently live in gorgeous Sydney and work as a Content Creator at Max Media Lab. Aside from this, I love sharing my photos and videos on Instagram and work freelance when I can.

A fun fact?

I am a certified open water scuba diver. I have been lucky enough to do a night dive in this popular dive spot called Gotham City at Cairns. This fact always excites the DC fans!

How did you become a Content Creator?

I started Instagram in 2015 simply as ways to indulge in #foodporn. Being in Sydney allowed me to easily organise foodie adventures over the weekend with my friends. Finding my passion in food photography, I developed my own style and brand and became more familiar with the restaurant directory.  Gaining traction on Instagram, I was approached to do freelance work. Through freelance work, I learnt the workings of content creation and the creative industry and was introduced to products beyond food such as fashion and beauty.

In January, I had the invaluable opportunity to intern at Max Media Lab where I developed my videography skills. My time there has allowed me to work with luxury brands such as Marc Jacobs, Laura Mercier, Patron, and GHD. I still have not accepted that I get paid for doing what I really love.

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What are your 5 golden rules for creating a foodie flatlay?

1. Use natural lighting. Food always looks best under natural light. Ideally, you would want to pick a shaded spot where there is no harsh lighting. If you are indoors, fluorescent lighting is not your friend!

2. Shoot on a long rectangular table. I usually style with a number of dishes so the bigger the space, the more room you have to be creative with styling. You can even get off the table and style on the ground! Don’t be afraid to break style boundaries.

3. The Golden rule of odd numbers. I style with an odd number of dishes of different sizes to create my flatlays.

4. Use hand-in-frame approach for a more personal and intimate touch.

5. Do not take more than 15 minutes. At the end of the day, it’s still about enjoying the food while it’s hot.

What is behind your ethos of treating food like people in photography?

When styling flatlays, I tend to approach it in a stage manager fashion. I like to break it down into a number of categories:-

a) The main characters: The main course dishes such as a turkey roast, pasta, etc.

b) The supporting characters: The side dishes such as fries, poached salmon, drinks

c) Props: This adds a storyline element to your images and sets the tone of the flatlay. You can use anything from flowers, menus , decorative items, jewelry etc. I’ve even used a weed I plucked out from the street to style a flatlay once.

What is the difference between an asymmetrical and symmetrical flatlay?

When setting up a symmetrical flatlay, you lay your items in a grid-like fashion. The idea is to create a clean and balanced shot. I personally enjoy asymmetrical flatlays more because it allows for flexibility and breaking of insta boundaries.  

Symmetrical flatlay

Asymmetrical flatlay

How do you use IG stories to enhance your IG profile?

I love IG stories! It is such an amazing way to show my personal side and day to day activities to my followers. Sometimes, I like to show my BTS styling or just a day with my friends. I use IG stories to put images that don’t make it into my grid as well.

I’ve noticed that if I post IG stories that are similar based on my latest post, the overall post tends to do better. I do believe that a lot of big companies are investing into IG stories so it’s a great time to test out and see what your followers like.

Top 3 tips for ensuring best light for an image? 

1. Use natural lighting and be seated under a shaded spot.

2. Stay away from fluorescent lighting.

3. When shooting a flatlay , make sure the light source is coming from the top direction in which you are taking your image.

How do you create great content when shooting in difficult lighting/circumstances?

In very dark situations, I would bring a camera flash. Never underestimate the value of using your iPhone in difficult situations. I use its flash as a light source and a tissue paper as a diffuser. It really works!

What’s in your Content Creator toolbox?

I use my Canon 5D Mark III and my iPhone 7 Plus as my camera gear. I normally edit images using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Premiere Pro for video editing. I use a number of IOS apps as well such as VSCO , Snapseed, Lens Distortions, Facetune and Boomerang.

Why is Behind the Scenes (BTS) important for someone’s IG feed?

BTS shots are a great way to show more human sides of things.( keeping it REAL) Most people when they look for restaurants through Instagram they tend to look for just food pictures. BTS shots let me highlight other aspects of the restaurant such as the interior and the staff. I use it as a fun way show people that chefs deserve so credit as well.

BTS shots also helps be more creative when I shoot at a cafe and improve my portrait skills as well.

What do you prefer? Product based flatlay or human touch? Why?

It depends on the the end result of the shot. A product based flatlay can look like an ad which may make the post look inauthentic.

A human touch adds emotional depth to an image and is more relatable to the viewer.  I find a lot of my flatlays look so much better with #handsinframe.

I try not to use hands if I don’t want any distractions. I have styled food without hands and it lets the dish really stand out.

Symmetrical vs Asymmetrical flatlays

At our Vamp Creative Studio event Arvin challenged Ange to a 2 minute flatlay challenge where they had 2 minutes to style and shoot a flatlay. Arvin took the asymmetrical and Ange the symmetrical. Below are the two beautiful images which they captured in the challenge.

Human touch

Product based

What are the most common questions you get asked for advice on content creation/being an influencer?

Questions from followers have ranged from how I get some amazing collaborations at such an early stage to how did I switch from accounting to this role?

I usually get asked how being Malaysian has played a role in my flatlays? Being an international in the local sydney scene – no difference because i bring global acumen to the table.