Quick tips for overhead food photography

Quick tips for overhead food photography

I was in Colorado Springs sharing some overhead food photography techniques for commercial photography with the Professional Photographers Guild of Colorado Springs (PPGCS). I highly recommend their group if you live anywhere near the area to network and learn photography skills. They bring in speakers from around the country with lots of different specialties. A very active and welcoming group!

Straight out of camera photo of the charcuterie board. Note the reflector in the lower left corner.
1692886947 910 Quick tips for overhead food photography | Theedgesm
Employing the Content Aware Fill and Dust and Scratches filters in Photoshop cleans up the background.

Overhead food photography

This can be a great setup for capturing a lot of food dishes in a short period of time. Once the set is in place and the lighting is correct you are good to keep moving different dishes through. You’ll still need to work on the images in postproduction but your time in the restaurant will be relatively minimal. And, clients love it when you don’t impede on business hours.

Here are the tools I use

To make this overhead food photography setup work well, not having a tripod on the set is critical. It is way too easy to bump a leg while you are making images. The cleaner the set, the faster the job goes.

Bob Coates presenting overhead food photography
When teaching, being able to use OM capture with my Olympus E-M1 Mark III camera allows students to see changes in lighting or composition and captures in real time. This is the set allowing an overhead view with no tripod to get in the way. (Tara Patty Photo)

I use a Platypod eXtreme as the base. You could also use a Platypod Ultra as well. Two Platypod Handles are attached to the base for the rise. This can give you a camera height between 14 inches and approximately 22 inches. Depending upon plate sizes these heights are perfect. A Platyball or other strong ball head is on top of the Handles and another Handle is used to move the camera over the product. An additional ball head supports the camera.

Key to this set is to have a woodworkers clamp to secure everything to the table. Without the clamp the weight of the camera will be too heavy to stay in place. This is an inexpensive set of clamps. The squeezy handles are the type I recommend as you can tighten them quickly and release them with a tap as well. By the way, you can never have enough clamps on a commercial set!

Charcuterie board

Part of the beauty of a good food shot is the styling. If you can work with a professional stylist all the better. But often, you will find yourself styling the food while working with the owner or chef. If you have hot food coming through in the beginning you might want to work with a stand in plate of food then when the lighting has been perfected it’s time for the hero to arrive under the camera.

One of my students, Tara Patty did a great job of sourcing the materials to photograph! Meanwhile Elane Graves, did a great job of styling the board with the fruit, tomatoes, bread, cheese and sliced meat. While waiting for the food to complete, I also finished the lighting. You want to have light crossing the food to give it shape and form with soft shadow edge transitions and lovely highlights. A single light behind a diffusion scrim accomplished this. You find those inside a five way reflector. A piece of white foam core can serve as the fill light, angled opposite the main light. If you need deeper shadows, a black board can help with that.

Post production

You will want to keep your set as clean as possible. Because we were working fast to show as many different setups as possible, some crumbs were allowed during the shot. No worries. Using the Dust and Scratches filter in Photoshop cleaned that up with a click. I selected the charcuterie board using Photoshop’s “Select Subject” and placed it on a layer above the Dust and Scratches filter layer.

Photoshop Layers palette
Here what the layers palette looks like in Photoshop.

Final post production tweaks

To complete the photo, finishing touches included using the Clone Tool to remove stray breadcrumbs on the cutting board, a sharpening layer for selective sharpening and a Soft Light layer to refine the highlight and shadows. NIK Filters Color Efex Pro 5 added some Tonal Contrast for structure with some Glamour Glow to add some nummyness. By the way, nummy is a technical term I use to describe warm and yummy in a scene that gets really tasty!

food photograph of charcuterie board by bob coates
Here’s the image after the final post production magic, including a Soft Light layer for dodging/burning and some NIK Color Efex Pro 5.

Let me know if you have any questions or other ideas for making this type of image stronger in the comments section below.

Your in Creative Photography, Bob