Overhead shots in food photography are very popular and can be absolutely gorgeous if they’re shot correctly. There are a couple of common ways to shoot overhead, but they weren’t always successful for me. I’m going to share what didn’t work and what “sort of” worked, but most importantly I’m going to share my overhead setup for food photography that results in beautiful images every time. I’m also listing all the gear you’ll need to set this up in your home studio.
MY OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
WHAT DIDN’T WORK: HOLDING THE CAMERA
A lot of food photographers, including myself, start 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 shoot overhead, but it didn’t always result in the best images.
WHAT “SORT OF” WORKED: USING A TRIPOD
I decided to get a tripod that would hold up in my home studio, but that could also travel with me on location shoots. Investing in a good tripod is definitely a better idea than standing over your food and holding the camera. For a while, this was my solution for overhead shots.
This tripod is super lightweight and packs up nice and small which is great for travel. The legs flip upside down so I can position my camera for overhead shots without using an extension arm. This tripod is great for smaller spaces, because it’s pretty flexible and easy to adjust.
NOTE: If the CT-3561 Oben is unavailable, this one is similar.
The problem I had with this using this tripod for overhead shots was that sometimes the legs would get in the way of the image, resulting in extra editing during post production. I would also have to setup my shots on the floor, which wasn’t efficient if I wanted to shoot at an angle too. I would have to take the board from the floor and move it up to a table and then readjust my tripod to shoot at an angle. See an image of this Oben setup below.
This tripod is a more heavy-duty tripod, which I like because it feels more secure for stabilizing my camera and it still travels well for on location shoots. It also works well in small spaces.
What didn’t work for me when it came to overhead shots with this tripod was that the arm wasn’t very long. It wouldn’t reach far enough over the table for certain shots. I decided to get a Photek Tripod Extension Arm which definitely solved that problem. Another good extension arm is the Manfrotto 131DB.
But, I have to be honest with you… I really don’t like adjusting the tripod legs for overhead shots. It’s difficult to make sure they’re each in the right position and then I have to completely readjust the tripod for my angled shots. See an image of this setup below.
WHAT DID WORK: MY NEW OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY
Thanks to Skyler over at We Eat Together, I FINALLY discovered a reliable and pretty badass 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. No more tripod adjustments. 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 using 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 YOU’LL NEED
Let’s talk about the gear you’ll need. I’m sharing images that I’ve shot with this overhead setup, pictures of the gear you’ll need and the steps to set it up. I’ve included links to everything you’ll need below and you can also stop by my Amazon Store. 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.
Note: If the Extension Grip Arm is unavailable, I recommend purchasing a conduit pipe from Ace Hardware or Home Depot. Bring one of the Avenger Grips (listed next) with you to be sure the pipe is the right diameter and have customer service cut it to your desired length. If you purchase a conduit pipe, you will need to buy 3 Avenger Grips.
3. TWO OR THREE AVENGER GRIPS
Note: If you decide to purchase a longer conduit pipe instead of the 40-inch Extension Arm, you’ll need to purchase one extra Avenger Grip for 3 total.
This will attach to the grip in the middle of your extender arm and will also attach to the ball head from your tripod. You’ll get two per order, but you’ll only need to use one.
Note: Check out the gear in my Amazon Store.
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: email@example.com.
Skyler also made a video for the setup so be sure to check that out too. It was super helpful for me.
List of Links
Here’s a round up of all the links to the equipment I mentioned above and you can hop on over to my Amazon Store to check out the gear listed in this post.
1. MANFROTTO LIGHT STANDS (2)
Set up the two light stands first.
This comes with one avenger grip already attached on one end.
Note: 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.
3. AVENGER GRIP (2 or 3)
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.
Note: You will need three Avenger Grips if you purchase a longer pipe.
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.
READ MORE ABOUT: My Current Gear for Food Photography
* 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.