When it comes to food photography, overhead shots are absolutely gorgeous. There are a couple of ways to go about it, but they weren’t always successful for me. I’m going to share what didn’t work and why, but most importantly, I’m going to share a simple overhead setup for food photography that I learned from the super talented Skyler over at We Eat Together. It has solved all of my problems when it comes to shooting food overhead and results in gorgeous images every time.
Holding the Camera
Like most food photographers, including myself, you probably started shooting overhead shots by standing over the food and holding the camera. You know… you look, you lean and you hope you got the shot. Several images and a sore back later, this method was just too much of a guessing game for me. Sometimes it worked out, but “sometimes” wasn’t enough for me.
Using a Tripod (and an extension arm)
I decided to invest in a good Tripod that would hold up in my home studio, but could also travel with me on location shoots. The legs flipped upside down, so I could position the ball head for overhead shots. I thought this was THE answer to my problem with overhead shots and for a while, it was.
The problem with this overhead setup for me was that the legs of the tripod would get in the way a lot, which would cause frustration during the photo shoot and extra editing during post production. I would also have to setup my overhead shots on the floor, which got exhausting. And, if I wanted to get angled shots from the same shoot, I’d have to take the setup apart and redo it on a table. No bueno. I dug up some old pictures of this setup starring one of my food stylists, Elena.
I also invested in a Photek Tipod Extension Arm for my tripod, which eliminated the issue of the tripod legs being in the way, but I still had to setup my overhead shots on the floor. So, I kept looking for another solution… and finally, I found it.
Thanks to Skyler over at We Eat Together, I now have a reliable (and pretty bad ass) overhead setup that works perfectly for my food photography. No more guessing and hoping I got the shot…no more tripod legs interfering with the shot… no more shooting on the floor… and no more sore back!
The benefits of this set up include:
* Perfectly level shots that work both horizontally and vertically
* Ability to raise and lower my camera with ease
* Allows me to use my Tripod separately for the angle shots (less setup and resetting up)
* Lightweight enough to take on location
* Easy to setup and take down
* Expandable for different sized tables
Let’s talk about the gear you’ll need. I’m sharing images that I’ve shot using this awesome overhead setup and included links to everything you’ll need below. There’s also a summary with all of the links listed at the end of the post as well.
1. You’ll need two Manfrotto Light Stands.
Set these up first. These stands will hold the extension grip arm (listed next) and allow you to raise and lower the camera with ease.
3. You’ll need two Avenger Grips.
The Extension Grip Arm will come with one Avenger Grip attached on one end, but you’ll need two more: one for the middle of the arm to hold the camera and another to attach to the other end of the extension arm so you can attach it to both light stands.
4. You’ll need a Neewer 1/4 to 3/8 Spigot.
This will attach to the grip in the middle of your extender arm and also to the ball head from your tripod. You’ll get two per order, but you’ll only need to use one.
5. You’ll need a Manfrotto 055 Tripod with Ball Head.
This tripod is very sturdy for my home studio and also travels really well. The ball head is easily removable to use for this overhead setup.
6. If investing in a tripod is not an option right now, you could just buy the ball head separately.
I already have the tripod mentioned that comes with the ball head. I purchased another ball head separately. This allows me to have one ball head connected to my overhead setup and the other connected to my tripod for straight-on shots and angle shots.
It’s important to note that this overhead setup requires you to shoot “tethered” which means your camera has a cable connecting it directly to your computer. This allows you to review your images on your computer as you shoot, rather than reviewing them on the back of your camera.
However, if you’re a Nikon shooter, it’s important to note that Lightroom does not support Live View with Nikon cameras as you are getting setup. In a nutshell, this means that you can’t view your setup in Live View in Lightroom directly on your computer. You will have to take a picture and then review it on your camera and make adjustments as you go. I haven’t found this to be much of an issue, though.
I also have a small step stool on hand in case I need to review the Live View on the back of my camera. But, I rarely need to work this way. I will shoot, review on my computer and make adjustments as I go.
While Live View would be nice, taking a couple extra pictures to review on my computer doesn’t interrupt my workflow enough for me to find it bothersome.
If you’d rather explore Live View options, a couple of work arounds are:
1) Use another application such as Camera Control Pro.
2) Try out the 30-day free trial of Capture One.
I use this Teathering Cable because it’s compatible with Nikon and long enough to let me setup my computer in a convenient location (out of the way). Make sure that the tethering cable you want is compatible with your camera model first. You can find this information in the description of the product, by googling it or just ask the seller directly.
There is no right or wrong way to shoot food photography. It’s important to do what works best for you, your workflow and your budget. I found this setup to be the answer to all of my overhead shooting issues and I hope it can be helpful for you. It cost me under $500 and with as popular as overhead food shots can be, it was absolutely worth it. This setup is solid and will last forever.
If you run into any questions at all, feel free to comment below or simply shoot me an email directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Skyler also made a video for the setup so be sure to check that out too. It was super helpful for me.
Here’s a round up of the equipment, setup steps and links.
1. Manfrotto Light Stands (You’ll need 2)
Set up the two light stands first.
This comes with one avenger grip already attached on one end.
3. Avenger Grip (You’ll need 2)
Attach one avenger grip in the middle of the extension arm and the other on the end of the extension arm. Connect the avenger grips on the ends to the light stands. Use a level to be sure your setup is straight and even.
Attach the spigot to the middle avenger grip. Then, attach the ball head from your tripod to the spigot. Make sure it feels secure. Then, attach your camera and use a tethering cable to review some test shots on your computer to be sure the setup is level and displaying the shot as you’d like. Make adjustments as needed.
* This post may contain affiliate links which means if you click or make a purchase through my site, I might make a small commission (at no extra cost to you). I only promote products and equipment that I actually use and support.