How to shoot flat lay food photography
We’ve all seen those amazing overhead photos of food taking over our Instagram and Facebook feeds over the last few years that have probably had you wondering how to shoot flat lay food photography without having to perform a circus balancing act on the edge of the table to get the shot.
Below, I’m going to give you three different ways to achieve this without breaking the bank (and the table).
Using a tripod for flat lay food photography
The simplest way, especially if you don’t already have a tripod, is to get yourself a tripod which has the ability to hold your camera out over the table. I’ve put together another short blog post HERE on which tripod to use for food photography if you want a little guidance on which one to choose.
If you already have a tripod but it doesn’t have the ability to extend the centre out horizontally then you can get yourself a horizontal arm, like this one from Manfrotto which will give you the ability to get your camera over the top of most tables.
Now, anyone who has already tried this method will know it is super easy, but also comes with a few drawbacks.
The main one is that you are severely limited by the legs on your camera and how close they let you get to the table. Once you get flush to the table, you also have to be careful you have your tripod either really well balanced or that you have some kind of weights on there to prevent it tipping over (and taking your camera with it).
Using a lighting stand (or two) for overhead food photography
Your second option for getting your camera into position to shoot flat lay food photography is using a lighting stand.
If you already have these lying around, then great. If not, I would really recommend investing in a couple of really good stands. They may be a little bit more expensive now, but they will last you a lifetime if you look after them well, whereas many of the cheaper eBay offerings will be lucky to last you a year and won’t be able to take the weight of your camera.
Using a light stand is a great way of getting your camera over the top of your subject.
A couple that I would recommend and personally use on a daily basis are:
These stands give you the option to use them as a boom arm with the top two sections being placed horizontally as well as using it as a standard light stand.
The great thing about using a light stand like this, instead of a tripod, is that it allows you to get much closer to the table, as the legs are at the bottom of the stand. It also allows you to extend your camera much further over the table too, as it has two sections which extend.
Make sure you have a counterweight on the other end of the stand if you are using it in a horizontal position, otherwise have a brush close by to sweep up the bits of your broken camera.
*Little tip – If you have a second lighting stand you can also use that to form a frame by inserting it into the spigot at the end of the boom. You can then attach a super clamp across the boom arm and attach your tripod head to create a really solid platform to hold your camera.
The second way to use lighting stands is similar to creating the frame above.
Using two standard light stands, attach an avenger grip to each and run an extension arm between the two to give you a solid brace. Then, either attach another avenger grip or a super clamp with a spigot attached across the extension arm and you have a great, cheap way to hold your camera solid.
Shooting your food from above offers tonnes of composition opportunities.
With your camera now up high, a great next purchase is some stepladders to get access to your camera, you don’t want to keep taking it down to change the settings and losing focus and also grab a couple of sandbags to make sure your camera stays rock solid.
If you have live view then it’s great to tether your camera to a laptop and you can control it from there and can see in real time, and – more importantly, from the right angle – how the image will look on screen before you press the shutter.
I use the cables from Tethertools, they’ve never let me down and are bright orange. Which as well as being a great marketing gimmick, means they’re really easy to avoid tripping over on set.
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