When it comes to food photography tips, this overhead setup is one of my favorites. With as popular as overhead images are in food photography, it’s important to have a solid setup that will help you take beautiful overhead images every time. Let’s dive into my favorite overhead setup for food photography!
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Popular Overhead Setups For Food Photography
There are two very common ways to shoot overhead. These include holding the camera or using a tripod. But, for me, these two options weren’t always successful for shooting images overhead. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of these two popular overhead setups.
Holding The Camera
I didn’t have a lot of food photography equipment in the beginning and when I was first starting out, I would shoot overhead images by standing over the food and holding the camera. It doesn’t get much easier than that, right? There’s no extra gear needed! You look, you lean and you hope you got the shot. And, sometimes you get it! But, sometimes wasn’t enough for me or my clients.
When I would hold the camera, a lot of my overhead shots either looked off balance or a little out of focus when I would review them later. This caused a lot of inconsistencies in all of my images, not just my overhead shots. As I gained more experience with client work, I noticed that a popular request was to get overhead images that could work well horizontally as well as vertically to accommodate different media orientations. Holding the camera always made this really difficult to achieve. Several images and a sore back later, holding the camera was too much of a guessing game for me. So, I decided to get a tripod.
Tripods For Food Photography: Oben CT-3581
The Oben was exactly what I was looking for in the beginning. It’s super lightweight (only 3 lbs!) and packs up small, which is really convenient for travel and shooting on location. One of my favorite features was that the legs flip upside down so I could position my camera for overhead shots without needing a separate extension arm. It also doesn’t take up a lot of room if you work in a smaller space for shooting your food photography.
The issues I discovered with using this tripod for overhead shots was that the legs would sometimes get in the way of the image. This resulted in extra editing for me after the shoot. It was a bummer that my favorite feature ended up being more of an inconvenience.
I would also have to set up on the floor for overhead shots, which wasn’t efficient if I wanted to shoot other angles too. To shoot other angles, I would have to physically move the board from the floor to a table. Then, I would have to completely readjust my tripod to shoot at an angle. It was annoying and unnecessarily time consuming.
TIP: IF THE OBEN CT-3581 IS UNAVAILABLE, THE OBEN CT-3535 IS SIMILAR.
Tripods For Food Photography: Manfrotto 055
I decided to get another tripod and got the Manfrotto 055. Manfrotto is a very popular brand in the photography community because the quality is sturdy and reliable. This tripod weighs a little more than the Oben (around 7 lbs). I didn’t mind the extra weight, because it felt more secure for stabilizing my camera. It also travels well for on location shoots and doesn’t take up too much space.
The Manfrotto tripod comes with a center column arm for shooting food overhead. The issue is that the arm isn’t very long at all. It doesn’t reach far enough over the table to capture a nice table scape.
After doing some research, I decided to get an extension arm to attach to the Manfrotto. I ordered the Photek Tripod Extension Arm which allowed my camera to reach further across the table. Another good extension arm option is the Manfrotto 131DB.
The Manfrotto with the extension arm worked great for overhead shots. But, I came to the conclusion that I really don’t like adjusting the tripod legs for overhead shots. I think it can be time consuming to make sure each of the legs are positioned correctly.
And, when I wanted to shoot at an angle or straight on, I would have to remove the extension arm and completely readjust my tripod. This also felt unnecessarily time consuming.
I came to the conclusion that I love using tripods for angled and straight on shots, but for overhead shots, I wasn’t satisfied with all of the extra effort and time it required.
TIP: IF THE MANFROTTO 055 ISN’T AVAILABLE, THE MANFROTTO 190 XPRO WITH BALL HEAD IS SIMILAR.
The Best Setup for Overhead Photography
Thanks to Skyler over at We Eat Together, I FINALLY discovered a reliable (and pretty badass) setup that works perfectly for overhead food photography. No holding the camera or tripods needed.
- Perfectly level shots that work both horizontally and vertically
- Ability to raise and lower my camera easily using the two light stands
- Allows me to use my tripod separately for the angled and straight on shots
- Easy to set up and take down
- Expandable for different surface widths
- No more holding the camera and “hoping” I got the shot
- No more tripod legs interfering with the image
- No more shooting on the floor
- No more annoying tripod leg adjustments
- The extra equipment may take up a little more space
- The cost of equipment could add up depending what you actually need
- You will need to shoot tethered using this setup (this isn’t necessarily a con, but it depends on your workflow)
Equipment For Overhead Food Photography
I’m going to walk you through the setup and include pictures and links to the equipment that you’ll need. There will be a summary of equipment listed at the end of the post and you can also stop by my Amazon Store to check out all of this equipment too.
1. Two Manfrotto Light Stands
First, you’ll need two light stands. You will need to set up the light stands first and space them out far enough to support the width of your extension arm or pipe (listed next). The stands will allow you to raise and lower the camera with ease. I find adjusting two light stands much easier than adjusting the length of the three tripod legs. I recommend purchasing a level to be sure that your camera is positioned correctly.
Next, you’ll need a bar to extend to the length of your choice. You can get an extension grip arm which is 40 inches in length. This grip arm comes with one Avenger Grip (listed next) already attached on one end. If you get this extension arm, you’ll need to purchase two more Avenger Grips for the overhead setup.
If the extension arm isn’t long enough to work with your surfaces, or if it’s unavailable, there are two other options you can try below.
A lot of my surfaces are wider than 40″, so I decided to get a conduit pipe cut to 80″ from Ace Hardware instead of the extension grip arm. I brought an avenger grip to the store to be sure the diameter of the pipe would fit securely into the grip. If you decide to get a conduit pipe, you will need to buy three Avenger Grips for the overhead setup.
C-STAND WITH BOOM ARM
Using a C-Stand with a Boom Arm is another option as well. This will also come with one grip, so you’ll need to buy two more Avenger grips for the overhead setup.
3. Two or Three Avenger Grips
You’ll want to be sure you have a grip to attach to each end of the arm and your light stands, as well as one positioned in the center of the arm to hold your camera.
Next, you’ll need a spigot. One end of the spigot will attach to the grip in the middle of your extension arm or pipe. The other end will connect to the ball head from your tripod (listed next). You’ll get two per order, but you’ll only need to use one. These are small, so save the extra in case you lose the other one.
I like having my overhead setup as well as a separate tripod for other angles. I mentioned the Manfrotto 055 earlier in this post. I still use this tripod for other angles, and decided to buy an extra ball head to support my overhead setup. You can buy the tripod and ball head together or buy the ball head separately.
6. Buy the Ball Head Separately
If you’d rather not invest in the tripod, you can buy the ball head separately. Since I already had a tripod with ball head, I decided to get one extra ball head so I could use one for my overhead setup and use the other for my tripod.
Tethered Shooting For Food Photography
This overhead setup for food photography requires you to shoot tethered. This means your camera has a cable connecting it directly to your computer. It allows you to review your images on your computer as you shoot, rather than reviewing them on the back of your camera.
Seeing your images displayed larger on your computer is a great way to improve your food images, because you can see everything better and make adjustments as you shoot.
There are a variety of tether cables to choose from. Make sure the tether cable you get is compatible with your camera model before purchasing. Tether tools is a great resource to make sure you get the right cable. When you go to their home page, click Search By Camera at the top of the page. From there you can enter your camera brand, model and computer port and it will tell you exactly what tether cable you’ll need. Easy peasy!
The Cost Of Overhead Photography Equipment
This overhead setup for food photography will vary in cost depending on what materials you actually need. It cost me under $500 for this setup and while that may sound pricey, it has been absolutely worth it for as often as I’m shooting food images overhead. I love having a solid overhead setup that allows me to use my tripods separately for angled and straight on shots. It’s been a super efficient way to shoot.
In conclusion, there is no right or wrong way to shoot overhead food photography. It’s important to do what works best for you, your space and your budget. I hope it works out for you! Reach out with questions anytime!
SUMMARY OF EQUIPMENT
- MANFROTTO LIGHT STANDS (2)
- IMPACT 40 INCH EXTENSION ARM
- IF THE EXTENSION ARM IS UNAVAILABLE, GET A C-STAND WITH A BOOM ARM.
- AVENGER GRIPS (2 or 3)
- NEEWER 1/4 TO 3/8 SPIGOT
- MANFROTTO 055 TRIPOD WITH BALL HEAD
- BUY THE BALL HEAD SEPARATELY
- SMALL LEVEL
FIND ALL OF THE GEAR FOR THIS OVERHEAD SETUP IN MY AMAZON STORE.
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.
All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.