MY OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

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.

Investing in a good tripod is definitely a good idea. I currently have the Oben CT-3581 (pictured below) and the Manfrotto 055 Tripod with Ball Head.

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.

The Solution

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

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

The Gear

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 allow you to raise and lower the camera with ease.

2. One Impact Extension Grip Arm – 40″

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.

4. Neewer 1/4 to 3/8 Spigot

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.

5. 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. Buy the Ball Head Separately

I bought an extra ball head (you can buy it separately here), so I could leave one attached to the Avenger Grip Arm for the overhead setup and have an extra to use on my tripod for angled shots.

Shooting Tethered

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.

The Cost

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.

Summary

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: regan@reganbaroni.com

Skyler also made a video for the setup so be sure to check that out too. It was super helpful for me.

Links

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.

2. Impact 40 inch Extension Arm

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. 

4. Neewer 1/4 to 3/8 Spigot

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.

5. Manfrotto 055 Tripod with Ball Head

6. Just the Ball Head

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. 

Happy Shooting!

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* 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. 

  1. Janelle F.

    January 27th, 2019 at

    Love this – super helpful! Adding all of these to my amazon cart now. Thank you!!!

  2. Regan

    January 27th, 2019 at

    Awesome, Janelle! This setup has been a game changer. Let me know if you run into any questions!

  3. Jas

    February 6th, 2019 at

    This is so informative!! Thank you so much! On another note…I noticed on your setup that it looks like you have an umbrella light and a reflector…do you shoot with natural light? Would I be able to attain the beautiful soft lighting you get without the natural light? It’s a challenge finding time to shoot while the sun is still out and without my 5 year old running around during the day lol.

  4. reganbaroni00

    February 6th, 2019 at

    Hi Jas!
    Thanks for commenting! Yes, I shot with natural light for years before I got into using studio lights. I love natural light, but I really really love studio lights now because of the consistency and control I have – no matter what time of day it is and no matter what the lighting situation is. It allows for more flexibility on ‘when’ you shoot, especially if you are juggling other things during the day when natural light is readily available. I hope this helps! Feel free to email me directly with other questions. Cheers!

  5. Barbara

    March 6th, 2019 at

    It’s an interesting set up and thank you so much for your post and for sharing. But I’m having a hard time understanding how the set up allows you to raise and lower your camera with ease. Wouldn’t you have to raise or lower one side and then go around to the other side to rasie and/or lower that side and then use a level to make sure everything is level and if not repeat the process? I’d really be interested in hearing how you address this potential problem. I think maybe using a 24-70 would save substantial time but I love my primes.

  6. reganbaroni00

    March 13th, 2019 at

    Hi Barbara!
    Thank you so much for this question! You are correct – I typically raise one side at a time and make sure it’s level. It doesn’t take much time at all, because adjusting the light stands height is much easier than adjusting the legs on my tripod. The 24-70 lens is a great idea if you’d rather just adjust the light stands once and be done – and then just adjust the lens accordingly during the shoot. Everyone’s workflow is a little different, but I’ve definitely found this setup to be way easier to work with for overhead shots. Hope this helps!

  7. Barbara

    March 6th, 2019 at

    Hello again! Apologies for the second reply here but I was reading your post again and Lightroom doesn’t support Nikon tethered in live view. You mentioned that “tethering allows you to view the images on your computer screen instead of on the camera back.” So my question is what software are you using to view the images while tethered? Can’t be LR. Thank you!!!

  8. reganbaroni00

    March 13th, 2019 at

    Hello again! Yes, you are correct. Lightroom doesn’t support live view for Nikon cameras while tethered for the initial setup. I have a small step stool on hand to review the basic setup on the back of my camera, if I feel I need to look at the setup in Live View. It may sound a little tedious, but it only takes a minute or two. Overall though, I don’t mind taking a couple of extra pictures during the initial setup, reviewing the images on my computer and making adjustments to the composition as I go. While having the live view would be nice, this workflow has worked out really well for me. However, I will link to Camera Control Pro 2 (a separate Nikon application) and Capture One (offering a free 30 day trial) as other potential work arounds. I’ll list these under the “Shooting Tethered” section. Hope this helps!

  9. Mary McDonald

    March 22nd, 2019 at

    Hi Regan! Great post, I’ve been looking for a solution for top view images since my tripod isn’t tall enough, and I’ve encountered all the problems you mentioned. So I generally get on a chair and shoot without a tripod at all, but this limits me because I can’t get any shots with my hands in the photo, and it can get exhausting going up and down the chair 100 times, lol. So thanks for this post. Also, I see you’re using a white reflector, but your shots generally look light to dark with nice depth, do you block light on the sides or opposite of the light source?

  10. reganbaroni00

    March 29th, 2019 at

    Hi Mary! I’m so glad you found this overhead setup helpful! I absolutely love it. As far as my light setup in the pictures — if I’m shooting in my entry way where it’s naturally brighter, I’ll set up a studio light opposite the window and use a diffuser over the window to keep the light soft. My camera settings and the power of the studio light help me get that light to dark look that you mentioned. I hope this helps! Cheers!

  11. The Best Food Photography Setups | Kenzie Gulley Photo

    July 10th, 2019 at

    […] This photographer is great at food photography.  http://reganbaroni.com/blog/food-photography/simple-overhead-setup-for-food-photography/ […]

  12. Girish

    August 7th, 2019 at

    I’ve recently been following your work on Instagram! I’m loving what I see. Very inspiring work (just left a comment on instagram as well :P) Thanks for sharing this set up. I’m presently using a tripod, a small ladder to do overhead shots but I’ll definitely try to get this set-up in the future.

  13. reganbaroni00

    August 26th, 2019 at

    Oh, thank you so much!!! I used a ladder and a couple different tripods too… which worked for a while. This setup is a little more involved, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a great go-to for those overhead shots. And, it can pack up and travel on location, if needed, which is a bonus. But, nothing wrong with a great tripod either! Cheers!

  14. Carrie Ann

    January 4th, 2020 at

    This is a game changer – thank you for sharing!

    Cheers!

  15. reganbaroni00

    January 4th, 2020 at

    Awesome! You’re very welcome, Carrie! Cheers!

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