When taking a portrait of a person, you generally point your camera toward the person’s face — you don’t really have to think too much about the angle. When taking pictures of food, however, the angle can have a huge impact on the final shot.
The food isn’t going to move — it will just sit there on the plate. If you look at the dish from different points of view, though, you’ll see different details. You may see the top, or the front, or somewhere in between. I’ve found that there are three general food photography angles that you can shoot a dish from and create a great shot.
1. The Overhead Angle
If you think of the plate sitting on a table as a horizontal plane, then your subject is a point on that plane. Now imagine that the front of your camera is another point. If you draw an imaginary line from your subject to the lens of your camera, it will create an angle between this line and the horizontal plane of your shooting surface.
An overhead-angle shot is when your camera is above your subject and points straight down onto the subject. From this angle, you can only see the top of your subject, and it may be difficult to tell how it is. If your set is on a table and is too high to get an overhead angle, you can use a ladder, or move your set to the floor. In the set-shot for this image, I decided to move my set to the floor.
2. The 3/4 Angle
The 3/4 angle looks great on almost any dish. If you aren’t sure what angle to capture your food from, this is a good place to start. With this angle, your camera and lens line will be around a 45-degree angle to the table plane. Depending on the dimensions of your dish, this angle could be really anywhere from 30-60 degrees.
I call this the 3/4 angle because the front, top, and sides of the dish are in view. The only part of the dish that you can’t see is the back. With this angle, you are viewing 3/4 of the subject.
3. The Head-On Angle
A head-on shot is one where you look directly at the front of your subject. The angle from the subject to the lens line would be at a 0-degree angle to the table plane.
With this camera angle, you are only seeing the front of the your subject, which can make it hard to tell the exact depth of what you are photographing.
When should you use each camera angle?
Have you ever heard someone say, “Shoot me from my left, it’s my better side”? Like the human face, every dish will have an angle that is better to shoot it from. The major impact on which angle you should choose is where the detail in the dish lies. Let’s take a look at a bowl of soup shot from a head-on angle.
At this angle, you have a pretty good idea of the shape of the bowl, but it’s hard to get an idea of what the soup really looks like. Does this angle make you want to grab a spoon and take a bite? The problem is that the head on angle is only great at showing details on the side of your subject. When you look at the bowl of soup from the head-on angle, you only see the side of the bowl. If your subject was a dish with some height, like a towering sandwich, the head-on angle would work really well.
Here is the soup and bowl at a 3/4 angle. At this angle, you can see more of the soup and some detail on top of the bowl. The 3/4 angle does a great job showing the majority of the subject. If you are ever in doubt of which angle to shoot a subject from, start with this angle and then make adjustments. If you want to see more of the top, then raise your angle and go closer toward an overhead angle. If you want to see more of the sides and front, lower your angle more toward a head-on position. Every dish will be a little bit different, but you can usually find a great shot between 30 and 60 degrees.
Here is a shot of the soup from an overhead angle. Notice how you can see all the details in the soup and the details on the plate. This angle is great for photography of flat foods, where all of the detail is on the top of the subject. If you’re shooting something that has a boring top compared to the rest of the subject, then the overhead angle won’t be the best choice. (For example, looking at the top of a hamburger bun is not as interesting as a lower angle shot, where you can see the burger and condiments.) However if you are shooting a dish like soup or pizza, where the majority of the detail is on the top surface , the overhead shot is the way to go. The overhead angle is also a great way to have many different subjects in the same shot.
Choosing the correct angle will have a great impact on your photography. If you’re ever in doubt of where to begin, just remember to think about where the detail is in the dish and try to capture that. I hope you enjoy adding some variety to your food shots by varying your camera angle!
Let’s go back to the basics. Here’s how to create your own food photography studio at home.