How to Capture the Beauty of Nature in Flatlay Photography

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By Ja Soon Kim

I was a graphic designer and an art director in advertising for many years.

I hold a BFA in fine art. Photography is my passion.

Photography is an art form in that you are able to create or captures images that are uniquely your own vision. But first, you have to have the right equipment that is perfect for what you envision.

I used to shoot with an iPhone camera until I saw the color quality in the images shot with Fujifilm cameras. I knew I had to switch in order to achieve the subtle tones, colors, textures and depth that would enrich my images.

I had been considering several cameras. When a friend showed me his Fujifilm XT100, I knew this was it.

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You don’t have to go somewhere special to find things to shoot. If you take a closer look, there are things you never noticed before that are beautiful. These are leaves I found while walking my dog.

I have been shooting with Fujifilm cameras for over a year. I started with a borrowed X100T and now I shoot with an X-T1. It is the perfect camera for me, just the right size and surface texture, not too heavy, great retro look, and it fits perfectly in my hands. It’s fun to shoot with. It didn’t take me long to learn the basics but there are endless possibilities with this camera. It has given me exactly what I was looking for in a camera.

One of the handy features I love about X-T1 is that I can transfer pictures directly, via WI-FI, from the camera to my iPhone. This is perfect for Instagram users.

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I found all this beautiful spring growth on a walk in the countryside. I arranged them with a sense of movement using a variety of plants. Against a black background, they look elegant with their vibrant green stems.

 

Flatlay, or tabletop photography, is different from landscapes or portraits in that you are creating your own subject to shoot rather than shooting what is already there. It provides a totally different experience, creative control and it shows in the resulting images. This process has been deeply meditative for me. I work alone, without a crew, as I used to as an art director.

Shooting flatlay gives us total control over the subject and allows us to be creative in our own unique way.  You can use any material you find interesting. I work mostly with found or foraged props from nature that we all see every day and are readily available all around us. I don’t purchase props for shooting.

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These fallen leaves were collected under an old cottonwood tree. I was fascinated with bug-eaten holes and the varying stages of fall colors. I used a simple arrangement for these. 

Light is everything in photography. I almost always set up my shots near a big window in my house. My typical background is a piece of plywood painted black on one side and white on the other or foam core boards in black or white. A very simple set up.  I use a tripod whenever necessary.

When I travel, I shoot on what is readily available: sandy beaches, beautiful rock, etc.

The lighting is the most important component of photography. I don’t use artificial lighting. I’ve tried them but it doesn’t have the depth and subtle variations that natural light offers. I love the shadows that appear with natural light. Shadows give depth and dimension to images.

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These wilting flowers were found in my neighborhood and in my garden. Some are wildflowers.

This is a simple grid with various stages of fresh to wilting late summer blooms. I frequently save and reuse props as they dry, mixing them with other things to make new and different images. Nothing is wasted and ultimately all goes to compost.

 

Often they are more beautiful when they dry, so be playful and experiment.

My subjects are almost always found or foraged. The process of collecting, imagining how they might look together in my mind is part of my creative process. Ultimately, they do need to be selected and arranged in your own creative way that makes the picture beautiful and compelling.

Cultivate Your Own Style

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These varieties of wild sunflowers bloom everywhere in the Southwest in late summer. All of them are collected from the sides of the road and arranged while still fresh in a very simple vertical design. I use reusable plastic containers to keep them fresh until I get home. Shot on silver PMS paper. 

Most of my pictures are shot with the XF35mmF1.4 R lens, a great everyday lens. I shoot with other lenses but I love the honesty and zero distortion of this lens.

I love shooting with wide angle lenses XF16mmF1.4 R WR or XF18mmF2 R when I am out shooting landscapes. I also shoot with the XF60mmF2.4 R Macro when I want to play with close ups or create different affects.

More recently, I’ve began shooting with the X-T2 and look forward to the types of images I can create with this beautiful camera.

Discover more of these images created with FUJIFILM X Series in my instagram feed!

 

Social documentary with the X100T

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By CAMILLE MCMILLAN

A little bit of background about me

I was lucky that I had a grant to go to art School with. Most of that money was spent on film, and by the time I was an undergraduate I was addicted to E6 ( Tranny, Slide )

My college was in central London and it was surrounded by labs that for £6 I could get a roll of E6 processed in an hour, this could be done 24hrs 7 days a week.

I loved the immediacy and the aesthetics of E6. I loved the challenge of the E6. There is a 3rd of a stop lattitude, not much… a hard school of exposure learning, I enjoyed the tight constraints of the transparency.

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As soon as I got my hands on the X100T I found my self thinking about the good old days of E6 film. The simplicty of it. I decided to put into practice what I have been thinking about for years now… abandon the RAW format go Jpeg all the way, get simple, get immediacy.

The preset Film Simulation jpeg profiles, classic chrome.. etc, are the same as choosing a film.

The Transcontinental Race

My most recent assignment was to follow an unusual bike race, the Transcontinental.
A race from Belgium to Istanbul, via Mt Ventoux, with some rather harsh roads over the Alps, the Black mountains and assorted craziness via Albania. Unlike the Tour de France, on the Transcontinental the clock never stops – this is Ultra Endurance racing!

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As the the ‘official’ photographer of the event, my first duty is to provide social media updates. Print is something that comes much later on. The Transconti is very much a social media phenomenon. The official website is almost a holding page, its vibrant life is on Facebook, Twitter (and now Instagram). All the riders carry trackers so people can watch the progress of the race on their computer. The Transcontinental is an ever moving entity

The X100T

The Fujifilm X100T Camera is just brilliant at ‘social media first’ and perfect for this event that in permanant flux.
The X100T shoots native 1:1 aspect ratio, natural for Instagram. and an aspect ratio I love from way back to my Hasselblad days.

Shooting with the X100T is familiar, simple, like a camera used to be, like my old Leica but smaller and more practical.

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After you have got your photograph with the X100T, its just a press of the button and the image is there on my smart phone, in a usable file size while maintaining the original image on the SD card in the camera. With this little camera there is no need for faffing around with cards –> laptop –> photoshop –> email etc…

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I have never been one to crop my images, selective sharp and all that buffing. I only ever used Capture One for exposure, contrast and maybe colour balance and processing. With this camera I have reached the point of ‘no laptop’.

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This is true liberation. Just using my smartphone was a little fussy, but workable… the next step is a medium-sized android tablet.

The X100T is such a brilliant tool. I will (once the lease agreement is paid off) be getting rid of my other brand bodies and lens and getting two X100T cameras.

Why two?

I’m that photographer that drops a camera on a job, so a back up would essential. A couple of times while shooting 1 : 1 ratio I wanted wider in the square, maybe I could not step back any more, the Wide Conversion Lens that makes it equivalent to 28mm would have been perfect. So two cameras on me, a 28mm one with the WCL and a 35mm one “au naturel”. Both set up the same, maybe one B & W.

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I also hate dust on sensors, now I have forgotten about dust on sensor The X100T’s Fixed lens is brilliant. I do hear photographers grumbling about converters, but why? Back to film again, Large format lens they unscrew or reverse etc … hey, this kit is brilliant.

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The future?

I see myself with a small camera bag.

  • 2x cameras
  • 28mm and 50mm converter
  • A clutch of SD cards
  • Android Tablet
  • 2 x spare camera batteries
  • Battery power pack
  • Portable Hard Disk Drive with SD slot
  • and one USB cable that can be used on all devices!!

That is the future and I love it.

Did I mention 16 : 9 ?

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See more of Camille’s work

Follow Camille McMillan on Twitter
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