Styled in-situ with Connie Chan

Meet your Mentor Connie Chan

Connie from @whatshepictures sure knows how to make a product shine. Her images are beautifully styled visual stories that present products in an authentic and relatable manner. Connie regularly shares content creation tips and there is always something to learn from her posts on Instagram. Connie is on maternity leave after the birth of her little one Avery so we were lucky to catch up with her to find out what inspires her and get some more of those invaluable tips.

Q&A with Connie

Hey Connie! Thanks for joining us as a mentor for a Creatively Squared challenge during our lifestyle month. We are absolutely thrilled to have you mentor the community. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you came to be creating such beautiful imagery and flatlays? 

Thanks for having me as a mentor. I’ve been a photographer for over 15 years. I trained in commercial photography in my home town, Toronto, Canada. Up until about 1.5 years ago I was working as an in-house photographer for an ecommerce company, but I wanted to get out of the corporate world and work for myself again.

So I quit that full-time job and started freelancing from home.

You are so talented at producing beautiful content. Can you tell us about your creative process and how you go about deciding what to share next on your Instagram account?

Most of my work is for brands so I begin by talking to my clients about what they hope to achieve with their new images. Knowing the goal behind each image is the foundation for every photo I create. Everything from the lighting, to the camera gear, to the styling, to the editing is all determined from there.

As for my Instagram account @whatshepictures I like to plan the look of my grid in advance. I use Later to schedule my posts and write my captions. I always try to keep in mind my target audience when posting to Instagram and I try to tailor my images and captions to speak to that audience.

Who or what inspires you the most to create your images and share your journey?

When I was starting out, I was so frustrated at how confusing it was to build a career as a freelance photographer. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do or what was normal in my industry. I didn’t know how to have a photography business. There was a lot of fumbling around in the dark until I finally found my feet. I share my journey on Instagram in the hope of being a trusted resource for young creatives trying to find their feet today.

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This challenge is all about capturing products and everyday things in situ. You are always so helpful with tips so what are your three top tips for others wanting to create appropriate and beautiful product images.

  1. Know the why behind your photo. Always understand the message you’re trying to convey for every image you create. All the decisions you make when creating that image should support your why.

  2. Lighting is everything. Lighting can make or break any image so be intentional with your lighting choices. Natural window light is a popular choice because it has a beautiful quality, and best of all it’s free.

  3. Don’t be afraid to style your scene. There’s a huge emphasis towards authenticity now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t style your scene to make it look its best. It’s like deciding to wear make-up and putting on a great outfit before going to an important meeting. All you’re doing is putting your best foot forward. You can style a scene and not be fake at the same time.

Do you have any hacks, tricks or tools which help?

If you follow my Instagram account @whatshepictures you’ll see in my behind the scenes photos that I often use white boards to bounce light into my sets to brighter the shadows. It’s one of the simplest, cheapest ways to improve the lighting in any shot.

For more details on this simple technique see our blog post: Expert tips to amplify ambient light when shooting indoors

What equipment do you use?

I usually use Fomex strobes for my client work because I like the precision and reliability of studio lights. But sometimes I like to use window light because it has a gorgeous, soft quality that’s hard to replicate using artificial lighting. 

My main camera is a Canon 5D Mark III which I often like to set up on my Induro tripod. I edit those photos on my desktop using Adobe Photoshop.

My behind the scenes photos and Instagram stories are all shot and edited on my iPhone 7 using the native apps that come on the phone. 

What is your favourite image that you have created? Can you tell us why it is special to you?

One of my favourite images that I’ve taken is a product shot I created for Code Republic. They make premium laptop bags and accessories for professional women. I love how this shot is more than just a flatlay because of the added dimensions to the composition. It’s a non-flat flatlay. It also speaks to my love of perfectly squared compositions.

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We can all relate to falling in and out of love with Instagram, how has your account evolved over time?

My account has always been a reflection of what I shoot, although I don’t share all of my projects. But I guess you could say that my account is a reflection of what I want to shoot. I want to attract clients who will hire me to shoot images that look like the ones you see on my account, so if I shoot a project that doesn’t really reflect my brand or my aesthetic, I don’t share it on my social channels. 

I use my account as a marketing tool for my business so I always keep in mind my real target audience when it comes to my posts. I try not to get too caught up in the vanity metrics of Instagram as a personal critique of my work. Instead, I assess the engagement I receive as a way to learn more about my audience. I don’t think I’ve ever really fallen out of love with Instagram the way many people have because I only ever saw it as a learning tool for me. The trick is understanding that your Instagram account is not about you. It’s about your audience.


Connie is the guest mentor for our September 9 - 15 creative challenge ‘In-Situ’ and will be featuring her favourite entries and feedback on the @creativelysquared Instagram account. You can find Connie at @whatshepictures on Instagram. We invite you to join Connie and the rest of the Creatively Squared community to get styling the things we love and use everyday. Hit the button below for entry information and full resources.