Tag Archives: How-To

10 Still Life and Flat Lay Tips

Nubby Twiglet | 10 Life and Flat Lay Tips

What’s one area you want to improve on this year? Mine is really simple and I talked about it last week: I want to get better at taking photos, especially still lifes and flat lays.

These compositions are a chance to tell a visual story. They’re an accessible way of sharing things I’m into while producing content for my blog and social accounts. Also, like many of you, I sit behind a computer all day so any chance I have to step away and get the creative juices flowing is an added bonus.

The thing is, my life is already packed with a lot of commitments and I am short on time for personal projects. But, instead of using that as an excuse, I started a project last year called Still Life Friday. Every Friday, I would set aside 15 minutes to share a new still life composition on Instagram, hashtagging it with #stilllifefriday.

Looking back, not every composition was amazing and I missed a week here and there. But overall, it accomplished the goal I had hoped for: to get better at working with what I already had around me, just for fun, without the pressure of client expectations.

What I’ve learned along the way is that when you keep goals bite-sized and focused, it’s more likely that you’ll follow through with them. There’s a reason why I set up Still Life Friday and not Still Life Daily: I wanted to give myself the highest possible chance for success.

Nubby Twiglet | 10 Life and Flat Lay Tips

Today, we’re going to focus on 10 tips you can use to step up your still life compositions:

1. Pinpoint Your Style

It’s always easier to create an amazing composition if you can focus in on what you’re naturally drawn to. What gets you excited? If you need some ideas, follow some new accounts. I personally like MaeMae & Co., ban.do, Charli Burrowes, flatlays and flatlayforever. I’ve been collecting screenshots of ideas and keep them in a folder for when I’m feeling uninspired.

2. Get Consistent with Lighting and Surfaces

I take most of my photos during the morning to afternoon in my office, when the light is the brightest and least shadowy. I never use a flash, instead choosing a natural light source next to a window. For surfaces, I use my white glossy desktop or black or white tagboard when I need a larger area. You can pick this up at art supply and dollar stores.

3. Tell a Story

It’s always better if your still life has a focal point to build off of. What do you really want to share? Are you reading a book or magazine that’s inspiring you? Maybe you can add in glasses, a journal and your favorite pen. Did you just buy a new shade of lipstick? Add in a mirror, your compact and a fashion editorial with a makeup look you love. Did you just buy a rad pair of shoes? Lay them out alongside your ideal outfit.

4. Include a Natural Element

Still lifes feel more alive when you follow this tip. I tend to add plants like succulents or fresh cut flowers to most of my compositions. Crystals, sand, stones and leaves also work.

5. Add Some Shine

A little bling catches the eye. I am really big on brass accents right now for a subtle shine. I often use a brass pen, vases, scissors or clips to add warmth to my cool toned compositions. Mirrors, glitter paper, shiny gemstones and jewelry also work.

6. Focus on Color and Texture

One of the easiest ways to give your compositions a consistent appearance is to use objects in the same colors and textures. I focus on mostly black and white with plenty of dashes of green on my personal account. For texture, I stick with marble and brass. These create an on-brand look.

7. Keep It Simple

Less objects can actually be more compelling. Always place your favorite object first and build around it. White space allows the objects to breathe. I think of this step like a gallery wall. If you walk into a gallery and the walls are painted a dark color and crammed with artwork placed too close together, it’s visually overwhelming. If you instead walk into a space with artwork placed with plenty of distance between each piece on clean, white walls, there’s a better chance of you being able to focus on the details.

Nubby Twiglet | 10 Life and Flat Lay Tips

8. Include Items You Love

I buy very little for my office space but what I do invest in has to be really special and work double duty. I have a wire inspiration board with copper clips I use to pin up new ideas that also doubles as a backdrop. I have a Moroccan pompom covered basket I use in a lot of Branch photos that also holds my extra chargers and cords. I have a collection of Chad Wys prints that cover my walls and often make their way into compositions. Surrounding yourself with items that you enjoy means that you’ll have more to pull from when putting together a photo.

9. Shoot In Bulk

If I create a composition I really like, I’ll shoot it, switch out a few key items, shoot again and get a few variations. These batched images are great to roll out when I’m having a slow content day or need something to stand in with a quote or story I want to share. They save time and since they were shot in the same lighting and style, they’ll be more consistent.

10. Set it Up

Have tools on-hand that can step in and give you the best results. Sometimes I use colorful washi tape to secure photos while also adding a pop of color. Sticky tack is great for holding round objects in place like pens and lipstick. Antibacterial wipes are perfect for quickly wiping down a surface so you can avoid bits of dirt and dust. Also, decide whether you’re going to use your phone or a camera — I personally use the Samsung NX500 for every photo I take because it’s higher quality. After I’ve taken a photo, I use the built-in wifi to email the photo to myself and edit with a combination of Color Story and VSCO.

I hope these tips help you take better still lifes and flat lays. Let me know if you have any questions or tips to add in the comments!

P.S. I try to post at least one new still life per week — if you’d like to follow along, my account is here.

D.I.Y. #3: Liven up Your Plain Accessories!

Kollabora D.I.Y. Wooden Bracelets

Today we’re going to add some life to some simple wooden bracelets! If you have some too-plain accessories lying around, this is a perfect and easy way to add a bit of pizzazz! I had these Kollabora bracelets on hand and decided that sharp lines were the way to go — I also wanted a mix of finishes so the base is matte black while the metallic gold has some shimmer.

Kollabora D.I.Y. Wooden Bracelets

Supplies needed:

1. Bracelets of your choice (we used wooden ones, â„… Kollabora)
2. Two colors of spray paint, one for the base and one for the accent
3. ScotchBlueâ„¢ Painter’s Tape
4. X-acto Knife

Kollabora D.I.Y. Wooden Bracelets

1. First, spray paint your bracelets a solid base color.
2. Once the surface is completely dry, cover your bracelets completely in ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape and trace on your design.
3. Finally, slice out your design and spray with an accent color of your choice.

Kollabora D.I.Y. Wooden Bracelets

All jazzed up and ready to wear!

It’s Time To Get Organized!

A new year means the chance for a fresh start for many of us.

Along with all the usual resolutions, a lot of us aim to get more organized (or, at least the OCD Virgo in me does!) I associate organization with feeling more calm, cool and collected. When I’m able to find what I need when I need it, life doesn’t feel so chaotic. These are a few fail-proof ways I employ to keep my home, belongings and business organized.

Possessions As Art

Nubby Twiglet Get Organized

When it comes to organization, It’s not just about making sure all your possessions are put away just so-so. I like the idea of treating some of my favorite belongings as art. I’ve always had a few pairs of shoes sitting out in my office (what can I say, I’m a shoe freak) but they’d get so dusty. When I saw this storage solution in Lucky Magazine, I jumped on it. These Z Gallerie glass bell jars add a nice, dramatic touch and are more affordable than they look. We also have another in our living room.


I am very particular about the way my invoices look even though I know that means way more work for me as a business owner. I encourage you to come up with a consistent set of naming conventions that work for you. I have a folder called INVOICES and for each job I start, I set up a new job folder labeled with NT000_CLIENT_NAME. Inside of that folder is an InDesign document of the client’s invoice and another of the work order / contract.

I am strongly considering switching over to Pancake, as it makes invoicing, sending and receiving payments a lot more seamless. And it tracks who has and hasn’t paid up! What makes Pancake even more unique is that there’s a one-time fee to buy it outright versus a lot of other services which charge you a monthly fee. For more invoicing insights, check out this post by Breanna Rose.

Sorting By Color

Nubby Twiglet Get Organized

One of my no-fail tricks for staying organized is to sort items by color including books, shoes, socks and clothing. I tend to never forget the color of an item and this solution has served me well for the last few years. And, it looks great. As in most old houses, closet space is very very limited where we live so I have two oversized freestanding IKEA closets pushed next to each other. One holds only coats, skirts and dresses, arranged by item and then by color. The other holds only shirts and sweaters (shown above). I like peeking into a rainbow every morning.

Blog Content (Offline)

Nubby Twiglet Get Organized

I keep my blog post content very organized since I sometimes have ideas that may not go live for a few weeks. There’s always a folder on my desktop called BLOG_UPCOMING and each potential post gets its own folder. When you click in, this is what it looks like: a text document of the post, the web-ready assets and a folder of the edited PSDs. Once a post goes live, I drag the final web-ready jpegs into another desktop folder called BLOG_2013 so I always have a clean backup of all my edited online content.

Business Record Keeping

I’m not great when it comes to numbers and keeping business paperwork organized. I’ll admit to being hit with “Did I remember to send that invoice out and did it get paid?” a little too often. For 2013, I’ve vowed to keep better track of my business income and all the fun details that go along with it and in the process, I discovered Zoe Rooney’s small business record keeping spreadsheet. Since I’m exclusively on Macs and already have Numbers software, it’s perfect. Easy enough for me to understand with all the basics ready to go.

Even though I’ll be using this spreadsheet, I still print out every single PayPal invoice and keep every single receipt in a zip pouch next to my desk. Better to be safe than sorry if your accountant or, god forbid, The IRS calls! Speaking of accountants, I only ever use a CPA to do my business taxes. It’s worth the extra money and remember, the fee you pay them is a business write-off.

Office Storage

Nubby Twiglet Get Organized

The best investment I’ve made in my office setup is picking up two flat files from IKEA. Having everything I could ever need from stationery to stamps to proofs to old notebooks in one place is such a time saver. And, when pushed together they make an awesome tabletop when I’m working on other projects.

Hopefully these organizational tip methods will inspire you, too.
Anything else I didn’t cover that you’re still curious about? Let me know in the comments!

Holiday DIY: Customize Your Ornaments!

3M ScotchBlue Painter's Tape Holiday DIY Customize Your Ornaments

With Christmas fast approaching, I decided it was well time for an ornament DIY project! This is our first year with a full-size tree and I wanted it to have some personal touches. Store-bought ornaments are perfectly fine but we all have unique tastes and my goal was to find a way to spice up our tree with a few of my favorite patterns and symbols.

Joey and I got to work with a handful of simple, graphic designs we are so happy with the way they turned out! Now it’s your turn — we promise that this is super easy and much more manageable than the shakeboard D.I.Y. he came up with last time!

3M Scotch Blue Painter's Tape Holiday DIY Customize Your Ornaments

Let’s get started! First, we found these oversized silver ball ornaments at Target. Have you seen their Christmas decor section this year?! It’s AWESOME. Since these were going to be the main accents for our tree, we wanted them to be larger than the rest of our ornaments.

Supplies needed:

• One roll of ScotchBlueâ„¢ Painter’s Tape

• Krylon X-Metals Spraypaint

• An X-Acto Knife

3M Scotch Blue Painter's Tape Holiday DIY Customize Your Ornaments

For designs, it’s best to stick with angular, bold shapes and patterns that can easily be masked off on spherical surfaces. Think along the lines of varying stripes, symbols, letterforms, chevron patterns. To customize your ornaments, first mask off the ornament surface completely. Secondly, trace on design. Next, cut design out of tape. Once that’s finished, spray in design in the color of your choice. And once it’s completely dry (we let ours sit overnight just to be sure), peel off tape. See, that was easy!

3M Scotch Blue Painter's Tape Holiday DIY Customize Your Ornaments

I am SO excited to finally have a cross ornament! And a Helvetica A! I’ve used both elements in my design projects for a long, long time and it’s nice to have those special additions to our tree. I’m sure we’ll come up with even more for next year.

3M Scotch Blue Tape Holiday DIY Customize Your Ornaments

This is the first year that we’re all ready for Christmas early enough to actually sit back and enjoy the decorations!! How about you? Have you decorated yet?

3M Scotch Blue Tape Holiday DIY Customize Your Ornaments

scotchblue, scotchblue painter's tape, painter's tape, tape

A huge thank you to ScotchBlue™ Painter’s Tape for collaborating with us on this post! All thoughts and ideas are our own. To join the creative community, visit Facebook.

Advice #48: What’s Your Secret to Shooting Photos?

Photoshop Actions

First off, this is just a quick note that I’ve changed my long-running advice column from Ask Nubby to simply Advice. I felt it needed some clarity and the “+” comes into play since my goal has always been to give positive yet relatable advice. If you have a question of your own, contact information can be found in the sidebar.


I’m wondering if you could do a post on your photography for blogging. Your images are always consistent in style and very punchy with colours. I’m a junior-intermediate user of a high end DSLR camera, but can’t seem to get the most out of it in a blogging capacity – your journalistic style photographs and pics of your work always look lush!

Photoshop Actions

Shooting away at The Viceroy, Santa Monica! Photo by Gala Darling.

One of the key components that you’ll notice across the board for established bloggers is that they have a fairly consistent style to their photos. This is one of those more ownable elements that you can use to differentiate your content. Shooting almost all of my own photos has allowed me to add my unique take to blogging over the last ten years. I bought my first Nikon digital camera in 2002 and it opened up a whole new world to me.

I’ve been carrying a camera in my bag since the sixth grade and am constantly shooting. But the straight-up truth is that I’d never call myself a photographer. I’m first and foremost focused on being a designer — I just know how to manipulate my photos to look the way I want. I am not very technically savvy in the photography department — I have a very point-and-shoot method to what I do. I keep my settings on auto and shoot in natural light 90% of the time. If I need something above and beyond the basics, I call on one of my professional friends or my brother to make it happen. I’ve been around enough pros and have also been on enough sets to realize that photography is an art all it’s own and I have major respect for that.

This is the exact setup that I use.

Here’s the exact setup I’ve been using for the last 2+ years: A Nikon D40 paired with a Nikon 35mm f/1.8G Lens. I particularly like the D40 because it’s on the small size as far as DSLRs go and super tough. I just throw it in my handbag and go! I’ve tested a few of the new micro-sized DSLR cameras but too many of them feel cheap and breakable. The Nikon 35mm f/1.8G lens is great for detailed, close-up shots which I do a ton of. I still need to do some more research about what lens to invest in next! That’s it, though. I like to keep things as simple as possible and shoot almost everything on the blog with with this combo.

I use Actions to edit all my photos.

Between the camera and lens, I can get a good base image to work with but beyond that, it’s all about using Photoshop Actions to implement a consistent look. Actions are a series of recorded steps that help you edit your image without having to do each step manually — they are essentially a one click editing process! Can you say time saver?

If you’re wondering how to load an action in Photoshop, it’s easy! In your menu bar, simply go to Window > Actions. Once your Actions palette is up, click in the top right corner on Load Actions and you’re set!

Over the last three years I have pulled from a number of other actions and tweaked my process until I was happy with the style. Some actions are too soft for my taste while some are too harsh so I never use them straight out of the box. I personally have three of the below sets of actions and after much research, I really want to try out the fourth as well!

1. Making Nice In The Midwest Photoshop Actions are great if you’re going for a soft, vintage effect.

2. Devlin Photos has an awesome variety of Photoshop Actions that are geared towards weddings and beyond. As a sidenote, Lisa Devlin will be at our Blogcademy New York launch teaching you about Photoshop shortcuts as well!

3. Elsie and Emma of A Beautiful Mess shared examples of the actions they use and now I really want to try out Totally Rad Actions!

4. As a sidenote, I know not everyone can afford a set of actions right away so I also included a link to my favorite free action: Vintage Film Effect by Fallout 75. I modified this one a lot when I used it but there’s some good layers in there to tweak and learn from.

Here are some real life examples of befores and afters of images I’ve featured on my blog. All of these were edited with actions:

Photoshop Actions

Photoshop Actions

Photoshop Actions

While I wish I could give you the exact formula of actions I used on these, I’ve built my own mix over time with many elements from the above sets of actions. I tend to like my images to be bright, vibrant but not too saturated and to have an overall cool tone. I’m constantly adding and subtracting to get what feels right to me but always depend on actions to get me off to a solid start when editing.

Readers: Let me know if you have any more specific questions about my photography setup or editing in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!