MY OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

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.

This post contains affiliate links. Read the affiliate disclosure.

MY OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

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.

MY OVERHEAD SETUP FOR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY

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.

I currently have the Oben CT-3581 and the Manfrotto 055 Tripod with Ball Head.

Check out my simple overhead setup for food photography that results in beautiful flatlay images of food, props and ingredients everytime. Click to read more.

The CT-3561 Oben

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.

Check out my simple overhead setup for food photography that results in beautiful flatlay images of food, props and ingredients everytime. Click to read more.

The Manfrotto

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.

An Extension Arm for your Tripod

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.

Check out my simple overhead setup for food photography that results in beautiful flatlay images of food, props and ingredients everytime. Click to read more.

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!

Check out my simple overhead setup for food photography that results in beautiful flatlay images of food, props and ingredients everytime. Click to read more.

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 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

Check out my simple overhead setup for food photography that results in beautiful flatlay images of food, props and ingredients everytime. Click to read more.

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.

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.

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

The Extension Grip Arm will come with one Avenger Grip attached on one end and you’ll need two more avenger grips for this setup.

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.

4. NEEWER 1/4 TO 3/8 SPIGOT

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.

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 tethering 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.

Check out my simple overhead setup for food photography that results in beautiful flatlay images of food, props and ingredients everytime. Click to read more.

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.

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.

2. IMPACT 40 INCH EXTENSION ARM

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.

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. BUY THE BALL HEAD SEPARATELY

Happy Shooting!

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. 

  1. Janelle F. says:

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

    • REGAN says:

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

    • James says:

      Super detailed, amazingly helpful post. Thank you for sharing – I’ll be doing my best to replicate it at my home studio!

    • Zubida says:

      Hi,
      Great setup! Thanks for sharing.
      I have not utilized a tripod previously and I am acknowledging it would be decidedly effective. I didn’t see before that I generally have a slight shake when I take photographs. Scarcely perceptible, however present in any case. I preferred the Manfrotto tripod ( Manfrotto 058B Triaut Camera Tripod – Replaces 3251) that you connected to in your post. It was around $500. Do I need anything else to go with it? I mean to shoot both calculated and overhead photos and in the end possibly video. Do I need an extra ball head (?) and the arm to empower me to do as such? Much obliged ahead of time!

      • reganbaroni00 says:

        Hi there!
        I am not familiar with that tripod or the type of camera you’re shooting with. But, for overhead shooting, you may need an extra extension arm such as the Manfrotto 131D Lateral Side Arm. The tripod you listed is also for medium format or 4×5 cameras, so be sure to check with Manfrotto if you will need a separate ball head or not. So glad you enjoyed the post! Cheers!

  2. Jas says:

    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.

    • REGAN says:

      Hi Jas!
      Thanks for commenting! I shot with natural light for years, but I actually shoot with studio lights now – for the same reason you mentioned – control and not always being able to shoot at that “perfect time of day.” My home studio is setup in our entryway where there is a decent amount of natural light from that large window, however it doesn’t affect my working with studio lights. My camera settings and the power of the lights allow me to control the look I’m going for completely – without relying on natural light at all. I hope this helps and good luck with your photography!

  3. Barbara says:

    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.

    • REGAN says:

      Hi Barbara!
      Thank you so much for this question! You are correct – I typically raise one light stand at a time and make sure it’s level. It doesn’t take much time at all. Adjusting the light stands height is much easier (and faster) than adjusting the three legs of my tripod. The 24-70 lens is a GREAT idea for this overhead setup if you’d rather just adjust the light stands once and then zoom in or out with the lens throughout 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!

  4. Barbara says:

    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!!!

    • REGAN says:

      Hello again! Yes, you are correct. Lightroom doesn’t support live view for Nikon cameras while tethered for the initial setup. During my workflow, I don’t mind taking a couple of extra pictures during the initial setup so I can see if the camera, props and food are positioned correctly. I can easily review the images shot on my computer and make adjustments to the composition as I get started. While having the live view would be so nice, this workflow has worked out really well for me. I’m debating trying Capture One, though, in order to have LiveView capabilities. I added links to Camera Control Pro 2 (a separate Nikon application) and Capture One (offering a free 30 day trial) in the post. I’ll list these under the “Shooting Tethered” section. Hope this helps and thanks so much for the great question!

  5. 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?

    • REGAN says:

      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 – it can vary depending on what I’m trying to accomplish with the look of the image. I shoot with studio lights and my entry way also lets in a fair amount of natural light. I will diffuse the natural light with a modifier and use one or two strobes with modifiers during my shoots. My camera settings and the power settings of the studio lights help me get that light to dark look that you mentioned. I hope this helps! Cheers!

  6. Girish says:

    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.

    • REGAN says:

      Oh, thank you so much!!! I used a ladder and a couple different tripods in the past too. This setup is a little more involved at first glance, but once you get it set up, it’s so much easier to get perfectly shot overhead images. It’s easy to setup and easy to take down and can pack up and travel on location, if needed. There’s nothing wrong with using a great tripod, but I got annoyed with having to adjust the legs for overhead shots. Hope this helps!

  7. Carrie Ann says:

    This is a game changer – thank you for sharing!

    Cheers!

    • REGAN says:

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

  8. Cacey says:

    Such a well organized post! I’ve had all the same frustrations, and I think I already have most of the gear you mentioned for this. Eager to try it out!

    • reganbaroni00 says:

      Awesome, Cacey! I’m so excited for you to try it! Glad the post was helpful.

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