9 Pro Secrets for Shooting Top-Down Food Photos

Shooting Top Down Food Photos

Discover the secrets of the pros with these simple but effective hacks, and learn how what goes into shooting top-down food photos.

Whether it’s an image of a mouth-watering brunch, or a delicious dinner, we’ve all seen top-down food photos that stop us in our tracks. The best examples not only highlight the featured dish, but they also tell a story about the occasion. Flat lays are consistently in-demand, and each one requires the photographer to show off their creativity and style when it comes to shooting top-down food photos.

There’s an art to capturing those indulgent images, and some of our Shutterstock Custom contributors have truly mastered it. That’s why we asked them to weigh in on the tips and strategies that have helped them on set when they are shooting top-down food photos. Here are nine ways to improve your top-down food photography.

9 Pro Secrets for Shooting Top-Down Food Photos — Melanie Shields
Image by Shutterstock Custom contributor Melanie Shields
9 Tips on Shooting Top-Down Food Photos
Tip #1: Keep Things Steady

When shooting food-themed flat lays, using a tripod is non-negotiable. Shutterstock Custom contributor Anastasiia Tretiak takes this one step further, reminding us, “Make sure your camera is placed at a 90-degree angle, otherwise your food will look like it’s falling off the table.” Shutterstock Custom contributor Melanie Shields agrees. Shields says using a tripod or boom arm improves consistency when shooting top-down food photos: “You can keep your ISO low and your shutter speed longer if you want to incorporate motion.”

9 Pro Secrets for Shooting Top-Down Food Photos — Keep Things Steady
Image by Shutterstock Custom contributor Anastasiia Tretiak
Tip #2: Focus on Your Lighting

Always pay attention to your light source, and how light is entering the frame. Shutterstock Custom contributor Joanie Simon points out that if the viewer were sitting at a table they’d likely block the light, so having light enter from the top or side of the frame would be more natural.

Shutterstock Custom contributor Margarita Garcia Acevedo suggests setting your scene up as closely to a window as you can. That way, you can maximize the amount of natural light at your disposal, and diffuse or bounce it with a reflector if you need. “Remember that highlights and shadows bring volume into flat lay setups and can help you tell a story about the time and mood to your viewer,” says Garcia Acevedo.

9 Pro Secrets for Shooting Top-Down Food Photos — Focus on Your Lighting
Image by Shutterstock Custom contributor Margarita Garcia Acevedo
Tip #3: Choose Props that Pop

It all comes down to your style. According to Shields, including textured napkins or cutting boards in complementary colors can add visual interest to your flat lay. She also recommends including individual ingredients featured in the main dish. Tretiiak suggests choosing fabrics that catch the light or accessories that are similar in shape (i.e. all round) for added impact when shooting top-down food photos.

Need more prop tips? Check out this article on plating.

Tip #4: Let Your Composition Lead the Way

“If you have an overhead scene with a lot of elements, like a table with a fabulous brunch spread, make sure to intentionally craft the composition to a primary focal point,” says Simon. “Select the most important element within the scene and then use leading lines, curves or color patterns to drive the eyes to that subject.

9 Pro Secrets for Shooting Top-Down Food Photos — Let The Composition Lead
Image by Shutterstock Custom contributor Anastasiia Tretiak

Effective images are easily understood at a glance, but they also invite a viewer to linger longer and explore the finer details. This can also be accomplished by incorporating negative space around the more prominent elements on the table. “Negative space plays an important role in giving the viewer a path to follow,” says Garcia Acevedo.

Tip #5: Play with Height

Consider which elements will appear closest to the viewer. Garcia Acevedo suggests incorporating height differences when you want to emphasize certain elements in the tablescape over others. “This will allow you to play with your depth of field and make decisions about where you want the focus to be,” she says. “This is another tool you can use to create a visual path for your viewer.”

9 Pro Secrets for Shooting Top-Down Food Photos — Play with Height
Image by Shutterstock Custom contributor Margarita Garcia Acevedo
Tip #6: Use Creative Cropping

“Don’t be afraid to use the crop tool and play outside the lines,” says Simon. “Cutting off the edge of a plate or having a napkin peeking into the frame can make an overhead image a bit more interesting and dynamic, leading the viewer to understand that there’s a larger story happening beyond the edges of the frame. It engages the imagination.” Shields adds, “Don’t be afraid to crop in post. Sometimes cropping out a napkin or cutting off the bottom of a fork that’s creating a line toward your dish makes the whole image stronger.”

9 Pro Secrets for Shooting Top-Down Food Photos — Use Creative Cropping
Image by Shutterstock Custom contributor Joanie Simon
Tip #7: Avoid Distortion

If you’re shooting top-down food photos with a focal length that’s less than 50mm, you can rely on Lens Correction tools during the editing process. “Distortion is normal at these smaller focal lengths,” says Simon. “Adjusting the Distortion slider will help the table to appear flat and prevent everything on the edges from looking like they’re going to tip off.” Alternatively, you can avoid shooting with a wide-angle lens completely by opting for a longer lens and moving further away from your subject matter.

Tip #8: Less is More

Above all, remember that less is more when it comes to editing in post. “Make strategic decisions on set to avoid having to do too much editing work later,” says Garcia Acevedo. One helpful way to prevent extra steps in editing is to bring extra lighting on the day of the shoot. “You always want food to look as natural as possible,” she says.

9 Pro Secrets for Shooting Top-Down Food Photos — Less is More
Image by Shutterstock Custom contributor Joanie Simon
Tip #9: Control Your Colors

When editing after shooting top-down food photos, keep in mind that true-to-life color is key. “Control your editing environment. Having a proper color balance is essential,” says Shields. One helpful way to ensure that your white balance is accurate from the start is to capture a grey card or color checker on set. “[When editing], be sure to have a neutral colored environment around your screen, and a color calibrated monitor for best results.” Tretiiak adds, “In editing, make sure that the other colors don’t take away from the food itself — it’s our hero after all!”

9 Pro Secrets for Shooting Top-Down Food Photos — Quality is Key
Image by Shutterstock Custom contributor Anastasiia Tretiak 

We hope these tips help you the next time you find yourself shooting top-down food photos. Not a Shutterstock Custom contributor yet? Click here to find out more and apply. We can’t wait to see what you shoot next.

Top Image by Anastasiia Tretiak

Want to know more about working as a Shutterstock Custom contributor? Check out these articles.

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