Tips and Tricks Overhead Food Photography with Bob Coates

Words by Bob Coates - A Platypod Pro
Edited by Eryka Bagwell

sooc - Straight out of camera photo of the charcuterie board. Note the reflector in the lower left corner.

This technique is not just for food. Any time you want to have a top-down view, this works great.

Over head food photography:
This can be a great set 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 post-production but your time in the restaurant will be relatively minimal. Clients love it when you don’t impede on business hours.

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)

Here are the tools I use:
To make this work well, not having a tripod in the way is critical. It is waaaay too easy to bump a tripod leg while you are making images and concentrating on your subject. The cleaner the set the faster the job goes.

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 while attached to the top of the Handle. 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. BTW, you can never have enough clamps on a commercial set!

Charcuterie board:
Part of the beauty of a good food shot is styling. Working with a professional stylist is the best. 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(s) to arrive under the camera.

One of my students, Tara Patty, did a great job of sourcing the materials to photograph! While Elane Graves,, did a great job of styling the cutting board with fruit, tomatoes, bread, cheese and sliced meat. While the food was being styled I was finishing lighting the set. You want to have light crossing the food to give it shape and form with soft shadow edge transitions and lovely highlights. This was accomplished with a single LED light placed behind a diffusion scrim. A five way reflector with the covers removed is easiest to use. Fill light can be handled with a piece of white foam core angled opposite the main light. I often take a gooseneck with a Mini-Super Clamp and attach a reflector to a Platypod Ultra plate for ease in setting placement. If you need deeper shadows a black board can replace or be used in conjunction with the white.

Photoshop layers palette

Post production:
Some crumbs were allowed to remain during the shot. No worries. Using the Dust and Scratches filter in Photoshop cleaned that up the background with a click. The charcuterie board was selected using Photoshop’s Select Subject and put on a layer above the Dust and Scratches filter layer. (dust and scratches filter blurs the image somewhat).

Final post production tweaks:
Finishing touches to complete the photo included using the Clone Tool to remove stray bread crumbs, and a Soft Light dodge and burn layer to refine the highlight and shadows. NIK Collection Color Efex Pro 5 added some Tonal Contrast for structure with some Glamour Glow to add some nummyness. BTW, nummy is a technical term I use to describe warm and yummy in a scene that gets really tasty!

Your in Creative Photography,
Bob Coates - A Platypod Pro


You can view more of Bob Coates' delectable work by visiting his website and/or his Instagram page.

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