Overhead shots in food photography are absolutely gorgeous and very popular. There are a few ways to shoot overhead, but not all of them were 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 issues when it comes to shooting food overhead and results in gorgeous images every time.
HOLDING THE CAMERA
A lot of food photographers, including myself, started shooting overhead shots by standing over the food and holding the camera. You know the drill: you look, you lean and you hope you got the shot. Several images and a sore back later, this method was too much of a guessing game for me. It’s a quick way to do it, but it didn’t always result in great overhead shots. Plus, it’s not an effective way to approach shooting if you’re in a low light situation.
USING A TRIPOD AND 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 camera correctly for the overhead shots. I thought this was THE answer to beautiful 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 of the image space, 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. It just wasn’t efficient for multiple setups.
I found some ooooold pictures of this tripod setup starring one of my talented food stylists, Elena.
The Extension Arm
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 through the light stands
* Allows me to use my Tripod separately for the angle shots
* 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. Two Manfrotto Light Stands
Set these up first. These light stands will hold the extension grip arm (listed next) and allows you to raise and lower the camera with ease. You will need to raise and lower one stand at a time, however, I find this to be a lot easier than adjusting the length of the three tripod legs. You can purchase a level to be sure that your bar is perfectly straight.
The two light stands will hold the extension grip arm about 40 inches apart. This grip arm comes with an Avenger Grip already attached on one end.
If you want a wider width (beyond 40 inches), I recommend purchasing a longer conduit pipe from Ace Hardware or Home Depot. You’ll just want to be sure the pipe fits through the Avenger Grip securely.
3. Two Avenger Grips
The Extension Grip Arm will come with one Avenger Grip attached on one end, but you’ll need two more to use with the grip arm: 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.
If you purchase a longer conduit pipe instead of the 40 inch Extension Arm, you’ll need to purchase one extra Avenger Grip (totaling 3) since the pipe won’t come with an Avenger Grip attached on one end like the Extension Grip Arm.
This will attach to the grip in the middle of your extender arm and will also to the ball head from your tripod. You’ll get two per order, but you’ll only need to use one.
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. Buy the Ball Head Separately
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. 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.
Nikon Users & Live View
If you’re a Nikon shooter like me, it’s important to note that Lightroom does not support Live View with Nikon cameras. You will have to take a picture to review on your monitor as you get the composition you want. While Live View would be awesome, I haven’t found this to be much of an inconvenience at all.
Live View Options for Nikon
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.
This whole setup 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.
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 best solution for consistently beautiful overhead images and I hope it can be helpful for you. If you run into any questions, feel free to comment below or shoot me an email: 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 all the links to the equipment I mentioned above.
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.
7. For a wider width (beyond 40 inches), you’ll want to purchase a conduit pipe cut to the length of your choosing and three Avenger Grips so you can attach one on each end one one in the middle.
* This post contains 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.