Hilary's (@hlrys) feed is a manipulation of the most playful of colours, in a beautifully curated mix of fashion, flat lays, and food. Her detailed curation is a product of hard work, and most importantly, love for the art.
Tell us a bit more about yourself.
H: "I’m a food writer by day, and on the side, I curate an Instagram account called @hlrys. It’s basically my name but without all the vowels. It’s just my collection of ideas and pictures that I want to curate."
How and when did you start with the curation of @hlrys?
H: "I started my colour checkered theme around the beginning of last year. Before that, I was just experimenting with checkered photos, but I knew that I wanted to alternate my posts between one OOTD and one product shot. Also, I was studying at the time so I didn’t have that many people around me to help me take photos everyday, so those ‘filler’ photos would suffice in helping me get more breathing space in between to shoot my OOTDs (Outfit of the Day) and portraits."
So when you started off, you already knew you wanted a curated Instagram feed?
H: "I didn’t want to be just another fashion instagrammer who would post random photos of their outfits; I wanted to stand out with a highly curated feed. I found a few girls on Instagram doing ‘Moody’ feeds but I felt like that didn’t represent who I was as a person. It was really hard for me to find a niche up until I stumbled upon a few girls from the US who had these really colourful feeds. These people are called wall-chasers or mural-chasers and they go from city to city to hunt down the most beautiful and colourful walls to take pictures with. They’ll even call up friends who live in other cities to recommend walls for them! That’s how I decided that I’ll revolve my feed around finding coloured walls.
Plus, I live in Bukit Batok which is quite an old neighbourhood, and there were quite a few coloured walls near my house. I started from there and then branched out to other areas in Singapore. On Saturdays, my boyfriend and I will drive around the neighbourhood and look for new coloured walls to take pictures with. He’s gotten used to it overtime, like I’ll suddenly ask him to pull over cause I just spotted a new coloured wall, and we’ll get super excited!
So from that pool of walls, I have a list of walls which I reference from when I curate my feed. For example, I’ll match up my outfit colours with the walls, and we’ll plan in advance when and where to shoot. From there, I’ll plan my Instagram feed’s flow. Those wall-chasers were my inspiration in helping me get started on my feed.
Also, there’s been a recent development of an app which primarily helps curators like me with colour editing, which makes things so much easier! The app VSCO is used mostly by curators with ‘Moody’ and ‘Hypebeast’ feeds, however, curators like me who play with bright colours will use the app A Color Story. I’m a big fan of their app; I’m the first to purchase their new presets and features every time they have an update. I’m especially fond of this feature called the hue shift, which is really useful for curators who want to see the extent of variation in colour that their photo can achieve."
Hilary shares with us her experiences of back when she first started.
H: "One of my earlier experimental photos actually got featured in the New Paper. I had a friend who reached out to me who wanted to do a piece about Instagram curators and asked me how many photos I took before I finalized on one. I took around a hundred photos before deciding on the perfect photo to post, back when I started. Needless to say, staying there for such an extended period of time to take the perfect shot always garnered a lot of judgemental stares. That’s why I’ve moved from taking photos in more public places like in town, to quieter places like my own neighbourhood and the like. Back then, it was my mum who always helped out with taking the photos for me as well. I would pre-set everything up on a tripod, and have her simply spam the shutter button. I also realized then, that I really liked pastel walls, so I stuck with the pastel colours on my feed for quite awhile."
She also touches on her encounters in the Singapore Instagram scene.
H: "A lot of people comment and ask me where do I find my walls, but I rather not tell as I think that ruins the fun in having people explore and find the walls themselves. I will usually point them in the general direction of where the walls are, but I won’t give exact details down to the wire of where they are. It’s not that I’m being selfish and I don’t want to share it, it’s just that I really believe in the excitement and fun of finding the walls on your own. However, there are some curators in the community that ask simply because they want to ridicule and judge you for the walls that you use. That’s when I will just ignore their comments. It’s quite political, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m quite wary about sharing walls. I believe it’s just the scene here; other curators will get jealous that you have a good wall that’s never been photographed before."
So what makes you want to stay on, considering there’s so much politics in the scene here?
H: "I love the thrill of finding walls, and creating a beautiful feed. For me, it’s more of the sense of satisfaction I get when curating my portfolio, than it is a rat-race for followers and likes."
Creating such a highly curated feed must take a lot of work, what is the process like?
H: "I will plan my feed’s colours and transitions around 2-3 posts in advance. My friend who was renovating his house actually recommended me an app that helps to plan out and let me visualize colour palettes. I used to use another app as well, which helps you generate pantone colour codes, and match them with other colours. Even though it seems very detailed and time-consuming, it’s a hobby and passion of mine, so it doesn’t feel like work."
Do you have other friends and curators you wall-chase with?
H: "Unfortunately not in Singapore. But aside from wall-chasing, I’ve been getting into flatlays as well. So I have made quite a few friends with flatlay curators, who thankfully aren’t as political as wall-chasers or fashion Instagrammers. They have been really kind in giving me tips about the flatlay shooting process. One major tip is to, as much as possible, use natural daylight to shoot your flatlays. However, since I work from 10am - 7pm, I barely get to see any daylight when I shoot. Thus, I invested in a softbox which enables me to shoot my flatlays at night after I get back from work, without the use of natural daylight."
When did you start with flatlays, in comparison to your fashion/wall-chasing posts?
H: "I started with my fashion photos around 3 years back. Back then, I didn’t even know there was such a huge outlet for me to showcase my outfits and ideas. Everything really started picking up speed when I had my first sponsor; YoungHungryFree. From there, things just started to flow and sponsors kept flooding in. Regrading flatlays, my goal is to one day be able to create huge ones like @taramilktea. However, it’s very difficult as you must have enough props to fill up all of the space. It’s only recently that I started buying and looking for props seriously. In my last trip to Melbourne, I was looking specifically for a mocha pot. They are really expensive in Singapore, and I’m not the type to invest in overpriced props, if I know there is a cheaper option. I spent days asking locals and rummaging through stores in Melbourne before I finally chanced upon this store which was closing down. In the store, there was an entire shelf of mocha pots in every possible size! I was so excited, I went into the store, and my Mum knowing me, left me in there to go crazy over the mocha pots, and told me she’d come back to find me later!"
Was it difficult for your Mum to understand your decision to pursue this as a hobby?
H: "At the start she was a bit confused as to why I had to buy so many props or why I was so nitpicky about certain things, but eventually she came to terms with it, and now she even helps me out. She knows that this is my hobby and interest, and she’s supportive of the fact that I have an outlet to do what I love. However, one setback from this, is that I’ve started hoarding so much stuff as props. For example, I’ve got 100-200 bottles of nail polish at home, which I will organize and stack by colour and shade. So, you can say that my Instagram feed and curation style is essentially the way I handle everything else as well; detailed, organized, colour-coordinated. Due to the immense load of props and products that I have to store, I’ll sometimes approach other beauty Instagrammers and ask them for tips on how to store my props and press kits. Beauty Instagrammers also dabble in flatlays but in a different style, such as swatches and close-ups of products. It’s from these interactions that I get to learn and try out different styles of curation, so that I can find the one that suits me best."
Is this your escape from work, or do you see it turning into something more in the future?
H: "I don’t think I’ll pursue this as a full-time career. I know how hard it is to build a brand as a one-man team. You will always need to a team to help you in this aspect, which is exactly what I learned from my day job. I love my current job as a food writer, and I also love the fact that I can go home after work and pursue what I’m interested in; building flatlays and curating my feed."
Is there anything you wish to achieve from your Instagram?
H: "I think this really is just a hobby and escape for me. It’s more personal than anything, I’m just happy to be able to share my flatlays with people who appreciate them. Considering that Singapore doesn’t have as many or as beautiful murals as the ones overseas, it was my goal to showcase that our own HDB walls can be just as gorgeous. I remember when I was shooting at one of the walls with my mum, a security guard came up to me and asked us what we were doing. My Mum immediately shouted, “School Project!”, and carried on shooting! All in all, it’s really fun. I love taking photos of both my OOTDs and my flatlays. However, I’m actually now on a 3 week social media break due to work. I know 3 weeks is basically social media ‘suicide’, but I needed the break to clear my work before I left for my trip to Sydney. Work will always come first to me. I take a lot of pride in what I do at work, and same goes for my Instagram, which is a hobby I love more than anything."
How to: Hilary's Flat Lays
Hilary shares some quick tips & tricks on how to achieve the perfect Flat Lay:
Bonus Tip: If you are trying to create a Flat Lay feed on your Instagram, try including the main colour of your next Flat Lay post into your current Flat Lay, to show more fluidity in your feed and reduce clutter.
Hilary shot all the Flat Lays above with the OOWA 15 mm lens.