Be a Blessing: Fall 2017 CAUSEBOX

Flat lay image by Kimberly Murray of Fall CAUSEBOX featuring socially conscious companies.

With everything going on in the world (between natural disasters, mass murders, and...well...justeveryday challenges), I've been thinking about the ways in which people have been a blessing to me and how I can be a blessing to others. Sometimes being a blessing involves making a financial donation or physically stepping in to do some heavy lifting. Other times, it may be as simple and powerful as offering a genuine smile and encouraging words. I was excited that the fall CAUSEBOX challenged me to think of what bold statement I wanted to make. I decided to keep it simple: "Be a Blessing." What I love about CAUSEBOX is that it introduces me to a host of companies that do social good. "The Good News" is that you can read about all of the companies in the box and the ways that they give back.  All of the socially conscious companies included in this edition are listed below.  Which are you most excited to learn more about?  When was the last time you blessed someone or someone blessed you?

  1. BADALA (Hand-painted serving spoons)
  2. MELA ARTISANS (picture frame)
  3. JIMANI COLLECTION (bone necklace)
  4. NISOLO (leather luggage tag)
  5. MR. B'S NECESSITIES (essential oil set)
  6. CATERINA BIANCHINI ("BOLD" art print)
  7. CAUSEBOX (artistic magnet set)

Laying Low: 7 Black and White Rugs for a Modern Office

Black and White Striped Rug from CB2

As the summer came to a close and fall crept in..literally (it still feels like summer in Atlanta), I decided to lay low for a bit.  I spent less time on social media and more time with my family.  Those two actions alone helped me to feel a bit more centered and content with focusing on what really matters.  I also decided to finally tackle one part of my office makeover that I had been putting off -- selecting a rug.  I've rounded up some of my favorites in hopes that you can help me out.  The Black and White Striped Rug pictured above from CB2 is at the top of my list.








Which one is your favorite?  What are your go-to sources for rugs?

Pits and Stems

Flat lay image of cherry pits and stems.

Today I was reminded that sometimes you get a pleasant surprise when you decide to go with the flow and experiment with what you have in front of you and the conditions that are set.  As I was preparing to make cherry compote for a recipe that I wanted to photograph, I was simultaneously lamenting that I hadn't started the process earlier in the day.  My typical food and flat lay photography setup involves beautiful, even natural light.  But, when I stepped into my office off the kitchen (the area I designated for this shoot so that I could have easy access to the kitchen and my supplies), I noticed that the sun had already started to shift and would soon create hot spots on my backdrop.  "No worries," I thought.  "I'll move quickly, make the compote, and adjust to the changing conditions by pulling my setup away from the harsh light.  Easy peasy."  In the meantime, I finished pitting the cherries, mesmerized by the splatters of the juice as the pits came out.  While the compote bubbled up in the pot on the stove, I decided to style the scene so that everything would be ready.  That's when I noticed the effect that the harsh light coming through the windows had on the backdrop.  In that moment, I decided to adjust to the situation in front of me.  After all, I've been wanting to experiment with different types of lighting and was inspired by the discarded materials (pits and stems).  What better time to start than now.  I must say that I love the result.  (But, I'm still going to photograph the dish with the original lighting that I envisioned.  Old habits die hard.)

Dionne - Atlanta Makeup Artist (MUA)

Atlanta headshots

A couple of weeks ago, I photographed Dionne, an Atlanta makeup artist (MUA), in Inman Park in Atlanta.  Even though I hadn't seen her since she did my makeup over a year ago, it seemed like very little time had passed.  She just has that type of spirit that you immediately connect with.  It doesn't hurt that her smile is contagious.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from the session.

How To Get Pure White Backgrounds In Flat Lay Images

Flat lay image showing how to get a pure white background

From time to time, you might want to create an image with a pure white background.  Pure white backgrounds can come in handy when you are displaying a single image of a product; others can "clip" your image from the web and include it on a style board with other inspiration images or in a gift guide.  These types of images can also be used as the backdrop for magazine pages or presentation slides with text overlaid.  However, while desirable, a completely white background is often challenging to achieve for many people.  Since I often get questions about how to get a completely white background, I thought I'd share my process below.  Please let me know if this is helpful or if you have other questions related to flat lay photography.

How To Get a Pure White Background

1.  Start with a smooth, white background.  I typically use white foam core.

2.  Make sure that your flat lay set is evenly lit.  I typically use natural light from a large window, combined with a reflector.  If you don't have a room that gets good light, take your setup outdoors!  You can also use artificial light.

3.  Take the picture, making sure that it is properly exposed.  Expose for the subject, not the background.  The background will not be pure white straight out of camera (SOOC).

4.  Edit your photo in Photoshop (PS) and/or Lightroom (LR).  I typically make preliminary adjustments in LR, pull the image into PS for additional edits, and do any final touch-ups again in LR.  In PS, adjust the levels, using the white eyedropper on the white background.  This should turn your background pure white or pretty close to it.  If necessary, move the highlights level on the right to further brighten the white background, making sure that you don't wash/blow out the rest of the image.  Adjust the mid-tones and shadows as needed.  (If you have areas that still don't look pure white, use the adjustment brush in LR to clean up those areas by selectively adjusting the "whites" or "exposure.")

5.  In LR, check to make sure that the background is truly white by hovering your mouse over various areas of the white background.  It should read R: 100% B: 100% G: 100%.  This last step if very important because what looks white to the naked eye may not actually be pure white.

Was this helpful?  What other questions do you have about flat lay photography?

The Nook (01): 365 Postcards for Ants by Lorraine Loots

Flat lay image for book review of Loraine Loots' 365 Postcards for Ants

When I was a child, I loved reading everything I could get my hands on.  I started out with the Highlights Magazine (my parents recently bought a subscription for my toddler daughter) and graduated to chapter books.  My favorites were Choose Your Own Adventure books, The Sweet Valley High series, and The Baby-Sitters Club.  Do you remember your favorite books from childhood?  Fast forward (mumble mumble) years, and I still love reading.  These days, I lean towards business books and art books that provide a dose of inspiration.  I literally have tons of books (okay, maybe not literal tons, but you get the drift), so I'm starting a new series on my blog to share some of my favorites.

First up is one of my favorite art books.  A couple of years ago, I came across miniature art masterpieces on Instagram by South African artist Lorraine Loots.  Being a sucker for anything in tiny form, my first thought was, "Oh, how cute!"  But, when I really looked at them, I got beyond the darling size and was blown away at how detailed they were.  In full fangirl mode, I kept raving to my husband about how amazing she was and encouraged him to check out her traveling exhibit in person while he was doing a summer program in NYC.  He, too, was impressed.  A few months later, I was surprised by a package with a South Africa postmark that contained her book, 365 Postcards for Ants.


365 Postcards for Ants is the result of the ultimate 365 project.  Like many artists (e.g., photographers), Lorraine Loots decided to take on a daily creative project on January 1, 2013.  She vowed to create one painting each day of the year and share it online.  While it may seem that the tiny size was a way to be unique and stand out in the crowded market, Loots said that she "chose to paint in miniature for the practical reason that it would offer [her] that achievable goal."  This book contains each dated image from that first year, complete with a description.


One of the things that I love about this book is the diversity of the paintings.  While Loots started out with painting her own ideas, she also took requests from her followers on social media.  This knowledge makes it feel like a community project to which we can all feel connected.  I'm also blown away by how detailed the images are, especially when each is about the size of a dollar coin (see image above).  You need a magnifying glass to fully appreciate how talented she is, which makes studying her art feel like play.  While some may be skeptical about whether she really created these in miniature form vs. scanned them and reduced the size, a quick look at this time-lapse video created by Gareth Pon shows Lorraine Loots in action, using her finger nails as her palette. 


Set big goals, but be practical in your approach to achieving them.

Pinterest image for 365 Postcards for Ants

What is your favorite art book?

Featured: The Everygirl's Guide To Atlanta

Picture of the best restaurants and shops in Atlanta.

Collaborations have been my jam this year! I was super excited to team up with Khristian A. Howell, Atlanta-based designer and color + pattern expert, to create an Atlanta City Guide for The Everygirl. The cover image above shows some of the spaces I photographed. If you are planning a trip to Atlanta or live here and want to explore some new shops and restaurants, be sure to check it out. Head on over to The Everygirl to see which spots made the list!

Featured: Belong Magazine Article on Tips for Successful Blogger + Photographer Collaborations

Flat lay image by Kimberly Murray Photography of Belong Magazine, glasses, and a blanket.

A couple of months ago Belong Magazine published an article I wrote sharing "Tips for Successful Blogger + Photographer Collaborations." True to the theme of the article, I collaborated with Brittni Mehlhoff of Paper & Stitch on the images.  ISSUE 07 was all about care and collaboration and featured several great pieces written by female entrepreneurs in various industries.  For example, Cyndie Spiegel, business coach and founder of The Collective (of Us), wrote about "Cultivating Business Relationships That Matter: The Pursuit of Genuine in a (Ridiculously) Social World" and Latasha Haynes of Ike & Tash wrote about the BLINK Conference.

In my piece, I shared the following tips in detail:

  1. Do your research.
  2. Come to agreement.
  3. Respect the art of both fields.
  4. Come prepared on shoot day.
  5. Follow general etiquette after the shoot.

If you'd like to read my article about my successes, challenges, and lessons learned along the way, click here to purchase the digital or print version.  After you've read it, I'd love to hear what you think!

Stack of magazines and books with glasses and Holestee Manifesto

My Flat Lay Tools

Tools and gear used to create flat lay images

Although I've started seeing more and more lifestyle images shot from different perspectives on Instagram and websites, it appears that flat lay images are here to stay.  I frequently get questions about how to style flat lay images or the best gear to use, so I thought I'd share what is in my toolkit.

1. Camera || I currently shoot with the Canon 5D Mark III.  I have no idea whether Canon is better than Nikon.  I've just always been a Canon girl because that is the brand that my wedding photographer recommended back in the day when I wanted to learn photography.

2. Lenses || The lenses that I most frequently use for flat lays are the 50mm 1.2, 35mm 1.4, or 50mm macro lens. I use the macro lens when I am going to photograph small objects like jewelry or when I want to get up close and personal to really show off details.

3. Lighting || In the majority of cases, I use diffused natural light.  I like the soft light it creates;  scenes look more like how your eye sees them.  However, natural light can be uneven, it may be unavailable (e.g., on a raining and dreary day), or I might need to photograph something at night.  So, I will sometimes pull out my studio lights.  The image above was shot at about 11pm with an Alien Bee 800 with an octobox on one side and a Canon 580 EX II speedlight with a white umbrella on the other side.

4. Various backgrounds || The backgrounds vary depending on the vibe I am seeking to achieve.  I might use a marble slab, small piece of slate, different color foam core or paper, fabric, etc.

5. Reflector || My backgrounds sometimes double as reflectors.  For example, I often use a piece of white foam core to bounce light back into the scene and further reduce shadows.  (Although, some shadows are pleasing to the eye because objects naturally cast shadows.)

6. Tripod || I use the Manfrotto MT055XCPRO4 tripod with a MH055MO-Q6 head and love it.  What I love most about the tripod is the horizontal arm so that I can shoot overhead.  It is also sturdy.  I recommend that you invest in a good tripod. 

7.  Simply Tacky || Removable putty that keeps objects in place.  Pull off a piece and stick it to items that are prone to roll away or that refuse to stay in place.  Be careful, though.  It can create oily stains on your foam core.

8. Spritzer Bottle of Water || I primarily pull this out when I am photographing fruit that needs a little boost or plants that need a little life.

9. Risers || Washi tape, a small piece of wood, small notebooks, you name it.  Anything that you can put under something to prop it up.  This works well when photographing stationery, if you want to create soft shadows under the stationery or make it pop off the page to stand out.

10. Tethering Gear || Tools (cords and computer software) that allow me to see what I am shooting so that I can make styling adjustments in real time.  More on this in an upcoming post.

11. Props || Need I say more?

What tools do you use in your flat lay photography?  What questions do you have about my toolkit?

Do Tell // No. 01

Black and gold fashion flat lay by Kimberly Murray

At any given time, I have at least 10 tabs open on my computer and probably about 5 times more on my cell phone. Every time I see an interesting article or recipe on social media or in my email, I click the link and vow to read it later. But, then later never seems to come, so I keep the tab open as a reminder that I still want to read it. I later started emailing myself the links so that I would always have them, but who really wants yet another email to read? (I miss the days when I used to get excited by those three magic words, "You've got mail.") So, I finally decided to start this blog series where I share the helpful, educational, inspirational (you get the idea; insert your adjective of choice) links that I've come across for both you and me. If you check any of them out, let me know what you think!

1.  I love pizza. I love chicken parmesan. Together, they sound like the perfect combination. I'm going to make What's Gaby Cooking's Chicken Parmesan Pizza this week. Oh, and I'm excited that she has weekly meal plans to make life easier.

2.  Apparently, Netflix's new series, Abstract: The Art of Design should be on the must watch list for every entrepreneur, and this is why.

3.  From taking "movement breaks" to practicing gratitude, here are 10 habits that will change your life...and they only take 2 minutes. Who doesn't have 2 minutes in their day?!

4.  Do you mind your manners when you send emails? How many of these 19 email etiquette mistakes are you guilty of? (I maaaay be guilty of putting one too many exclamation points in my emails. I can't help it! I just get so excited sometimes!!!)

5.  What if Disney princesses were revolutionaries? These are the signs that Illustrator Amanda Allen Niday thinks they would carry. Thanks, Teen Vogue, for sharing this with young women.