On Instagram Live [Year of Me Challenge Video 2], I mentioned I would do a post on where to find products to beautify your flatlay photos for Instagram, so here we are. My first post in months.
To simplify everything, I’ve created an Amazon store that you can access here [AMAZON STORE] or in my bio on Instagram [@michellekennethpw]. In the store, look under “As Seen on Instagram – Backgrounds.” I added everything I spoke about in the video from pretty giftwrap paper to the foam boards to the photography background paper.
For those who were not able to see the video, that’s what this post is for. I’m going to share my tips on how to create the beautiful flatlay photos you see of food, books and various other products. Believe me, those gorgeous flatlay photos against gorgeous wooden floors are not really wooden floors.
Flatlay Photos Tip One: Giftwrap Paper
When I first started out doing flatlays, I used a lot of gift wrap paper I picked up from places like Paper Source or Papyrus. They have an array of beautiful one sheet paper that ranges anywhere between $5-$12 per sheet. Since I’m a lover of paper products, I would sometimes go in and peruse their selection, looking for the perfect backgrounds to use. It was my treat to self because the paper was just so beautiful.
Even something as simple as paint splattered on craft paper created interesting backgrounds for photos. While you could probably make this yourself at home, I’m not that talented. I purchased this from one of the Makers on Amazon.
One of the benefits to double-sided paper is that sometimes when you need just a blank background, but with texture, it serves as a perfect backdrop so you can add your own extras in the photo.
Ever wonder how people got their floors so immaculately clean EVERY SINGLE TIME they took photos using their floors as a backdrop? Or did you ever think, wow, they have incredible marble countertops? I swear I did every single time. Imagine my surprise when I learned their secret.
They were using Photography Background Paper.
There are various different floor backdrops out there. Most sheets of photography background paper are double-sided with two different backgrounds on each side. Costs for these sheets can range between $11 for a single double-sided sheet to $20-$40 for 2-4 sheets.
You can even find backdrops that can serve as a wall for pictures where you need a wall background for book stacks or just a clean back drop for regular non-flatlay photos.
They even have concrete floors for a more intriguing contrast.
I mean, have you ever seen a concrete floor so clean that you could eat off of it???
My favorite backgrounds though are for those who post about food. Not everyone is blessed with marble countertops. Yet, there’s a way to fake it.
For those who like a more wintry or darker background, they do have black marble countertop paper to use. I am considering trying the darker side of food photography later this year, but it might also work for those Instagram feeds that are a bit on the darker side.
Tip Three: Scrapbook Paper
I am relatively new to this tip. @notinjersey (Dara) was using a background I absolutely loved, so I asked her where she got her photography backdrop paper. Imagine my surprise when she shared it was scrapbook paper.
Scrapbook paper comes in varying sizes. I recommend getting the 12×12 (or larger, if that exists) for your flatlay needs. Each package contains 2 sheets each of multiple backgrounds. This may be the most cost efficient method for those just starting out or those who want to not invest a lot of money into this. I bought two packages of scrapbook paper and it cost a little less than $6 each.
For this photo for The Photographer, I used two sheets from the package I purchased.
In this photo, I am using only one sheet of the scrapbook paper.
Tip Four: The Extras for Flatlay Photos
For this tip, I want to give a shoutout to @stephsbooktherapy for this little tip. Go to her Instagram for a tutorial on how to use foam boards with your photography background paper (Tip Two).
I purchased two of the largest foam boards I could find on Amazon, but it ended up being too small. Steph informed me she had to get hers custom cut to fit the actual size of the photography background paper.
So since I’m stuck with these two boards that don’t fit my paper, I started using them for something else. I use them as a flat surface for photos. I can still lay the paper down on top of it or binder clip one side and tuck the corners down underneath my couch cushions (or have Matthew sit on one side of it to keep the corners from curling).
Since these are white boards, they can also help serve as a way to soften the photo or refract the light to brighten the photo. Just position the white board outside of the frame. You’ll be able to see the difference. Find the right spot with the light and then take your photo.
In the photo above, Matthew is sitting on the white board. You see how it brightened up the photo and gave him a softer look? No filter or adjustment was needed.
Truthfully, yes you can live without these boards, but if you’re serious about this, I think it’s worth buying a couple, or even getting them custom cut to fit the photography backdrops. It will just make your life easier when you go to photograph your flatlays. For Steph, she uses one board to create the wall, and the other to create the floor.
Here’s the shop [AMAZON] where you can find everything I’ve referenced in this post, including the white boards. You will not be able to find the actual gift wrap paper I’ve used in Tip One. I’ve listed similar items in the shop. If you love paper as much as I do, I recommend Paper Source and Papyrus to view their handmade collection.
Last month, I turned 40. Like most major milestones in life, it gives you an opportunity to reflect on life thus far. What are the things you still want out of life? What dreams are yet to be realized? What parts of your life make you happy? Where do you want your focus on life to be? What things about yourself can you do better? What things about yourself do you want to change?
These are the questions I ask myself. The result is that I am going to mix life up a bit. I want to become someone different in my 40s. I want to achieve every dream and every goal I’ve ever set for myself. I want to become the person I’ve always wanted to be.
For years, I struggled with switching gears from being just a hockey columnist and a blogger to becoming a novelist. That’s what I always wanted to be…a novelist. I did not want to be known as a hockey writer or a blogger, but those are the roles I took on as I began my journey to becoming a novelist. I put in the time to make myself legit before approaching publishers.
When I first started blogging and writing for Inside Hockey, I did not want to be some nobody that publishers had never even heard of. I wanted to be someone they could easily Google and find many years worth of my writing. I got their attention last year when I introduced myself around. By year end, two publishers requested submissions. I didn’t have anything to give them but a few chapters here and there, so I didn’t submit anything.
But there’s more to it than just having a few chapters on hand…
Before I could make the leap to becoming a novelist, I had to first conquer my own self-doubt and fears. It is scary to make a leap like this…to realize a dream. It’s new territory. I was reading just yesterday how Ty Alexander (Gorgeous in Grey) finished her first book, and she was Scared AF!
All of her fears were the same fears I had: that fear that when you put yourself out there, the world thinks you’re just not good enough. Could I put my heart and soul into this and then have the world rip it apart saying it was a piece of crap? That is the fear I’m talking about, the true fear of being a complete failure and the entire world thinks that is what you are.
Reading Ty’s honest post about that fear made me realize it came at a good time. I began writing my novel a few weeks ago and then stopped. Elements like lack of sleep and an illness became reasons I put off going back to the book. I won’t even tell you how much money I spent to avoid doing what I really want to do which is MAKE THE DREAM COME TRUE.
Do not think just because I do not spend every morning writing that I’m not working on the book. I am still building the characters, researching different elements to add to the story to make each character better. I am always thinking about the story, adding new elements each day to make the story more complete. There is a lot that goes into a well thought out book beyond just sitting down and telling a story. That is the first draft. The next draft is where you fill in the gaps.
This book (as well as all of the future ones) are based on very prolific dreams from over the years which include a much deeper meaning. They are stories that are embedded in my soul that have caused me anguish, strife, love, forgiveness, sorrow, insanity, hope and understanding.
The scariest thing about writing is that when I write, my mind is living in that story at that very moment. There are tears shed, heartbreaks, angry moments, even a loss of understanding…all of those things are happening at once. If it was not for Matthew Lucifer getting in my face every hour to take a 5-minute break, I would have a hard time divorcing myself from reality and the story.
My goal is to stop writing at 6PM. This is a mandatory thing. It is my way of stepping away from the story to focus on reality, play with the little dude and take my mind off of the story. The mind always needs a mental break when you become so entranced in the story you are writing.
Changing Who I Am on the Inside
I don’t know what it was about turning 40 that made me look at life differently, but turning 40 made me think of all the things I wanted out of life as far as the woman I wanted to be.
I changed my diet completely. I decided to go Whole 30/paleo. It is so restrictive with eating only meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts (no peanuts…that got me a few times). Instead of drinking 3-4 cups of coffee a day, I’m down to one cup of black coffee before noon. No more soy milk for my coffee. [When I started writing this post, I was two weeks into Whole 30. I got sick on Saturday, so I had to get off the diet because my medication has sugar in it. I still try to focus on eating well, but because of the sugar, I’m off the diet until the illness is gone and I can take the sugar back out of my diet again. Cough drops and NyQuil have sugar in it!]
Because of that coffee rule, I’m drinking a whole lot more water than I ever had before (which is also good). I am sleeping through the night (with the exception of the fur monster waking me up at 3AM for breakfast).
Changing Who I Am On the Outside
In the evenings, I established a new nightly beauty routine doing what most women do: 1. Wash my face, 2. Brush/floss my teeth. 3. Put on night creams.
If you are a woman reading this, you probably already do that. I never did. This stuff was not drilled into my brain during my youth, because my mom, being a foreigner, did not know about these daily rituals until she became older and assimilated into the Western culture.
I changed my wardrobe and became more daring. My friends loved all the new looks. One told me that 99.9999% of the time, everything I wear is spot on (and she does not say that about anybody). I definitely upped my game.
I think the biggest surprise for everyone is that I’m wearing more than just powder, eye shadow and gloss now. I’m actually wearing eyeliner, mascara and lipstick. Talk about shocking everybody.
I bought all new makeup and beauty care products (I had a massive purge earlier this year when I KonMari’d the entire makeup collection and left basically nothing). I got an education on makeup beyond the everyday basics.
My friends are pleasantly surprised at how I upped my makeup game. Next up is getting my nails done (instead of cutting them down), going for waxings more often, hair coloring/styling…the WHOLE 40 MAKEOVER.
One of my friends was so impressed with everything so far, she told me this would be a perfect thing to share on the blog. I should give everyone a little peek inside my inner world and what I’m doing during the “This Is 40.”
Which brings me to the new photographs…
Getting Back In Front of the Camera
Turning 40 created a lot of positive changes in my life. 40 is beautiful. I kicked this new decade off by finally sitting in front of the camera for the first time in 5 years to photograph what I look like now at 40.
What happened after that? Well, the compliments came flooding in. I got more followers. A retailer whose clothes/accessories I was wearing asked for permission to post the photos on their website…all of the photos.
I showed the photos to my friend and she just looked at me in disbelief. She asked me, “What took you so long to photograph yourself?” She just could not believe it took me this long to get in front of the camera again.
Many photographers have a very difficult time getting back in front of the camera after spending so many years behind it. You are accustomed to being behind the lens, showing the world the beauty you see. It is very weird for us to want to get back in front of the camera after spending so many years behind it.
My friend told me I should approach getting in front of the camera in a different light. This is about letting people get a sneak peek into my world. It is not about showing you everything going on at every second of my life, it’s about letting you get a glimpse inside my world…the world that my friends see.
What is Changing?
What I do not share are the ball gowns, the couture handbags, the clothes and the jewelry. That is what is going to change. There is that side of me, but there is also the creative side with crafts, the books I am reading, the fun ‘paper products’ I buy (I love beautiful paper products), and the new outfits I come up with mixing up hi-lo ends.
Just yesterday, we were discussing a look I was going to try next: socks with sandals. As I was perusing Net-a-Porter, I came across a pair of Miu Mius I loved. It wasn’t just the Miu Mius. Net-a-Porter paired the Miu Mius with two outfits I loved. The whole look alone (each one) was about $10,000. In that moment, I was like…I bet I can find something very similar at ASOS.
I completed a similar look, plus purchased two pairs of socks and two pairs of the identical Miu Miu shoes for a total of $280. My friend got a good laugh out of that. She was absolutely impressed.
To define the way I dress, it’s not always designer labels from head to toe. I can go into any store and make something work with the collection I already have. I have the couture items that make up the hi-end, but I also have the everyday items that make up the lo-end.
My friend was so impressed with the look I created, she told me that’s what I should do next on the site. I should show people how I mix and match hi-lo end pieces or how I take a look that I really like and get the entire look for a much better price. Oftentimes, I can even find the same designer and the same item for a much cheaper price.
This is the side of me my friends see and believe I should share with the site. From the new handbag every week to the new looks I’ve put together, this is the glimpse they want me to share, especially the fun crafty stuff that they got me addicted to.
They also want me to start talking about life at 40 and the changes I made, including sharing my beauty and clothing finds, because that’s what girls like to read. I will be in front of the camera more often, not behind it all of the time. I will share the things I’m doing and working on more often, because simply put…it is kind of cool.
My summer is coming to an end and with that, the social calendar picks up. It is nice to take the summer off and just focus on me, thinking over what I want out of life and the positive changes I want to make for myself.
You will see a lot of changes coming up on the site and on social media as I share my 40s with all of you. To put it simply, I am being more daring.
Everyone has their own U2 story…that story when they first fell in love with the music.
For me, it was just one of those bucket list moments. I was living in Washington, DC, trying to find some direction in my 20-something life. Fresh out of college. Maybe I was working in politics or law during that time. I can’t remember. U2 came to town and I said to myself, “I have to see this band at least once in my lifetime.”
I wasn’t a huge die hard fan. I knew a few of their songs. I mean…who doesn’t? I still remember “Where the Streets Have No Name” being among the first music videos I had ever seen on MTV during those days when I would sneak out and go over to my neighbor’s house to watch the forbidden MTV with my friend.
When I went to see them play at MCI Center in DC, I had no idea what U2 would do to me that night. I went in expecting nothing, and U2 changed my entire existence.
It was like they were making love to their music. I could feel each note in every single cell of my body. The energy of each note vibrated within my very being. I became intoxicated with the rhythm and flow of the music. It was like I was riding the waves that they bring. [“Even Better Than The Real Thing” reference.] They literally blew my mind.
I walked away from that concert a changed person. It began a new adventure into discovering who I was.
From wanting to change the world, working with non-profit groups, to learning more about the issues around the world, I began to see who I was in the grander scheme of the universe. The music opened my mind to who I am and who I could be.
I was sitting in traffic on the way to work one day and “Stuck in a Moment (You Can’t Get Out of)” came on the radio. Bono was singing, “You’ve got to get yourself together, you got stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it.” I listened to that over and over again and then said, “NO. I’m not stuck. Not anymore.” And that’s when I decided to leave DC and pursue a different path in life.
I was young, not dumb
Just wishing to be blinded by you
We were pilgrims on our way
“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”
Behind the Lens
In due time, I would end up in New York City. I never understood why I ended up here, all I knew was that this is where my path led. It was while I was here that I discovered who I am and the person I will become. I’m a writer first and foremost. When I first started out writing for Orato.com back in 2007, they asked that I start submitting my own photos with my work.
My editor pushed me in that direction, because she was also a photographer herself. That push ended up opening me up to understanding how I see the world. Photography is one of the best ways for me to visually see how I am improving spiritually in life. It’s not the quality of the camera that determines if the picture is a better picture. It’s the person behind the camera.
I read this story the other day:
A photographer went to a socialite party in New York. As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’ He said nothing until dinner was finished, then: ‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific stove.’ – Sam Haskins
In other words, it’s the person using the device that creates wonder, not the device itself.
A friend once told me that I have the ability to capture the beauty in the moment. It’s how I look at the world. I look for the beauty in the moment. It’s in that moment that helps me to remember and connect to the things I’ve forgotten and will forget. To capture the beauty of that moment, I have a visual aid as I take the steps to remembering what happened in that exact moment.
I mention the importance of remembering things forgotten because after the last tumor, I lost a lot of my memories. I spent the next year trying to piece things back together again. I created a 4’x4′ collage of photos of the places I had been from all over the world. It was a collection of beautiful moments.
Each day, I would stand in front of that collage and focus on one photo trying to remember where I was, who was there with me, what I ate while I was there, the smells, and how I felt. Who was I in that moment? A simple photo is a beautiful memory to me and a key piece in remembering who I was. It became a training tool to help me focus. It was like playing a game of Memory, but matching the photo to the actual life event that had become lost in the river of forgetting.
Bono made a comment during the show about ‘photographs.’ He said we were missing the moment. We were missing the concert because we were glued to our devices. I beg to differ, Bono. The person behind the lens of my camera is documenting a moment that is going to be relived again and again and again. More importantly, any person who knows me can tell you, what you see in the final product is not just the subject. You’re seeing how I see you. I’m able to pull out the beauty of that moment so that I can share it with the world. Some people will see it, others won’t.
I can find a simple moment that may mean nothing at the moment to anyone and create a moment that means everything to everyone who sees the photo. It creates a symbolic gesture that will take your breath away every single time you see it. Yet, in that actual moment, it means nothing to the person being photographed.
The joy isn’t just in the music and seeing U2 on stage. For me, the joy is being able to finally photograph them and share just what I see. While some of these photos look distorted due to the lighting, etc., that’s not what I see. I see the energy. I see the soul. I see the life force. I see the beauty in the art. It’s how I see them.
U2 was formed the year I was born. It’s a bit synchronistic how their music would follow me throughout my journey in life. Joshua Tree. Achtung Baby. Rattle and Hum. Zooropa. All That You Can’t Leave Behind. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Invisible. Big Girls Are the Best. What’s Going On?
There was even a time a musician was trying to get me to forgive him and come back to him. When he saw me walk into the club one night, he stopped right in the middle of a song he was playing, pointed to me and said, “This one is for you,” and started strumming out the chords to the song. He knew how much I loved U2. When I realized what he was doing, I walked right out of the club. I wouldn’t let him bastardize U2 or equate some memory of him to a U2 song.
I won’t let anyone I have come across in this lifetime connect themselves to a U2 song. To me, “One” is not about two lovers fighting. To me, “One” is about my relationship with God when I’m mad at him for breaking my heart. Some rockstar wants to make it about us? No. I can’t ever let him do that, because then I’d never listen to the song again.
To me, “One” is God asking me: “Is it getting better? Or do you feel the same? Will it make it easier on you now? You got someone to blame.” When I was really mad, that song would come on and it would make me really reflect deep within my soul about the relationship I have with God, the father. I would probably not have forgiven God for breaking me if it weren’t for that song.
Since that concert in DC, U2’s music has become my spiritual soundtrack in life. It’s not always just the lyrics to the songs. A lot of times it’s just the music. Desire is one of my favorite songs. I have no idea what it’s about. It’s one of the first (and only) songs I learned to play on the guitar. Who knew that what The Edge makes sound so complicated is actually just a few chords mixed in with his genius?! That’s what I call art. Or how about Larry Mullen, Jr. on the drums in “Sunday Bloody Sunday?” Or Adam Clayton on the bass in “Bullet the Blue Sky?”
If there was any song that explained my entire spiritual existence, it is “Running to Stand Still.” What the song is really about is not what it means to me. The song is my spiritual journey in life. “She said, I’ve gotta do something about where we’re going…” “I see seven towers, but I only see one way out.” “You got to cry without weeping, Talk without speaking, Scream without raising your voice,” “She’s running to stand still.”
This song probably has some of the most powerful words in it. To the band, it’s a song about a heroin-addict couple in Dublin. To me, it represents the internal spiritual journey filled with conflicts and choices that come along when deciding what to do. The feeling that you’re running through life only to be able to stand still…that’s the power in words. It explains who I am.
Words mean something different to everyone when they relate to what is being said. What one person says can mean something powerful in different ways to those who hear it. The author of the words may mean one thing, but how the audience relates to the words is something incredible in and of itself. They are the words that provide spiritual growth in a multitude of ways. That is how God speaks. He says a million things all at once. Our simple minds can’t register it all in one swoop, but the masses together can understand every single word, because we each understand the message in our own way.
U2 is the soundtrack of my life. When I’m writing spiritually and want to get to the core of how I feel and the message I’m trying to relate, only U2 plays in my ears. They provide the music to every soulful piece I write. Their music has been so much a part of my journey in life.
When I was in Fes, Morocco, my guide asked me if I knew who U2 was. I laughed and said, “Of course. They’re my favorite band.” He then told me that they spent a lot of time here working on their music. Who knew that the days that followed, I would end up connecting to Morocco in Mysterious Ways. It’s a very spiritual place, and a country I hold very dear to my heart.
As I started writing about my journey after the riad doors closed and I was locked in at sunset, I turned on my computer, put my earphones on and listened to U2 as I went through my photos and wrote about my journey through this desert land that made me feel God everywhere. He was in the broken smiles of the nomads, the sands that blew in the wind, and the mountains that called out my name. God was everywhere. I could feel him everywhere. That is why Morocco is so important to me. It changed my soul. It is one of the most magical places on the planet.
If there’s any album I’m closest to, it’s “Achtung Baby.” The song “Mysterious Ways” makes my soul dance. “Love is Blindness” is the song that explains the love of my life. The dark, eerie emotion you truly feel when you are still in love with someone who is six feet under and your heart refuses to move on. Some say the song is about committing the violent act of suicide. The love of my life put a bullet in his heart. Loving him has been like my “Love is drowning in a deep well.” Part of me knows that is how he felt as well.
This album defined those teenage years of my life.
Seeing U2 in concert in 2015 comes at the right moment. Post-op, I have felt lost and empty. Who I was prior to that surgery has been gone for some time now. Trying to figure out who I am after the surgery…that is the journey I am on. Just who is that person looking back at me in the mirror? What is she supposed to do with the rest of her life?
Every dream I had before the surgery died that day. I don’t dream anymore about being anyone or having a certain life. The things I wanted more than anything, I look at with disgust now. The question these last two years have been, “Just who are you now?”
That’s where filling that empty cup comes in. Seeing U2 in concert is like refilling that cup that had long gone dry. They’re not reminding me of who I was. They’re reminding me of who I am and who I can be. I am not my past. I am only my present. Who I choose to be in this moment is a writer and a photographer sharing a part of my life with you and what U2 means to me.
Using Fame to Better Humanity
One of the greatest lessons I ever learned from watching Bono was how he was using his fame to better humanity. Using his work as a model, when I’ve interviewed hockey players over these last seven years, I am always curious to hear what they are doing to give back to the world. How are they using their fame to better humanity?
The people I am most disappointed with are the ones who embraced their fame and fortune and gave back so little. A visit to the hospital or showing up at a kid’s hockey practice is such a huge thing for them. But they could do so much more.
Then you look at Bono. This guy worked towards getting AIDS patients the drugs they needed to help them. He’s working on getting water into homes so kids don’t risk their lives walking miles away to get clean water to bring home. Those kids risk being killed, kidnapped or raped just to get clean drinking water. While those of us complain about getting no 4G on their phone, there are people that don’t even have running water in their homes. When we don’t finish our meals and just throw it out, I’m always reminded of how there are people that would kill to have the scraps from our tables. There are kids out there that go through the dump just to find rotten food to eat.
There is so much we take for granted. We don’t know how lucky we are. That luck all depends upon where we were born on this planet.
If anything, the work Bono does is meant to not only educate the masses, but it is also designed to help inspire each and every single one of us to our own greatness.
When God gives you fame, you have a choice. Use it for good or use it for evil. Those who use it for good aim to change and inspire humanity to help them evolve into their own greatness. Those who use it for evil use it for their own selfish needs and concerns and give little or nothing back.
When I changed this site around, I wanted to focus on the needs of the many. What could I create that could help benefit humanity? That’s when I came up with the angle that I would share the stories of people out there who are living their dreams in order to inspire others to live their own dreams.
Choosing that path has led to some very incredible things and incredible moments. I’ve met people along the way who are not only just like me, but we are also inspiring each other to our own greatness. There are people I’ve met over these past few months who not only inspire me to work harder and to be wiser with the words I choose, but I am also inspiring them to do the same in their own field. Those are the people you keep close. Those are the people you support. They are part of your journey just as much as you are a part of their journey.
You don’t have to be a mega-rockstar to change the world. You can change the world by starting in your own world wherever you live. You can inspire others to their own greatness. I can tell you right now, there is no better gift you can give to someone than to help them on their journey in life. I’ve never met U2, but they have helped me in this lifetime in ways I can’t even explain or thank them enough for. They set the example of what it means to inspire the masses to be greater human beings. It should also inspire each and every person to do the same. Go out and inspire the people around you to be amazing.
Change begins within you. If you want to make this world a better place, you have to be the change you seek. Do what is right in your heart and follow it at all costs. That’s the journey you were always supposed to be on from the get go.
The photos in this post were all taken by me during the July 31, 2015 U2 concert at Madison Square Garden. These pictures join the Rockstar Collection I’ve been building up for the last few years. That series also includes photos of Constantine Maroulis and Pete Yorn. U2 was the final piece that was needed for the collection.
The collection will be released in the upcoming months, as well as the never before seen photos from the Pete Yorn concert.
Certain photographs in the series will be available for sale. Details will follow.