Many factors can make or break your food photography. Issues with lighting, composition, or food and prop styling will all have an equally big impact on how appealing your work is. Even minor decisions in these areas can cause an image to feel slightly “off”.
Camera angle is an aspect of composition that needs careful consideration. This is because it can have a powerful effect on your final image. What might work very well for one image, will not necessarily work for another. Before you pick up your camera, you need to think about what kind of food or dish you are shooting and which camera angle will help bring out its best features.
There are three main camera angles used when photographing food: overhead, 3/4 angle, or straight on. Slight variations on these exist, but these are the main ones.
The 3/4 Angle for Food Photography
This angle is when your camera is placed anywhere from 25 to 75 degrees in relation to your subject.
Typically, 45-degrees is the most common angle for commercial food photography. It’s a popular angle because it’s so versatile. You can usually show the front and surface of the dish, as well as the sides.
The 30-degree angle is a variation of the 45-degree angle. The camera angle is slightly lower and allows the viewer to see the background, as in these images of an apple pie.
The image on the left is shot at 30-degrees, the image on the right is shot at 45-degrees. You can see the background in the left image, butin the image on the right, you only see the surface the pie was placed on. You can also see the surface of the pie more clearly. Your camera is more on top of the food.
Both of these photographs were shot at 70mm, so the focal length was the same. The differences came from the camera angle.
When choosing the angle for your food photos, think about what kind of dish you’re serving your food in. For a salad served in a bowl, we would want to see deeper into the bowl. This means choosing a 45-degree angle rather than a 30-degree angle.
When you’re shooting with a longer lens, you typically only see the food and the surface that it’s placed on. I almost always shoot at 70mm or higher on my full-frame camera. When it comes to food photography, a 50mm lens is a wide angle lens. If you are only shooting one dish, there will be too much of your surface in your shot.
You’ll need very large surfaces and backgrounds to work with. You’ll also have to get very close to your food to omit what you don’t want in the shot, or a lot of empty space.
The 50mm is a great lens to work with if you are doing a tablescape or have other dishes or props in your scene. For shooting one dish or minimalist food photography, I find it too limiting. In food photography, the food needs to be the focus, even when you have several elements in the frame. These should support the main subject, not detract from it.
Choose your camera and props before you start setting up your shot, as one will influence the other. So will the lens you use and the distance between your camera and subject.
Overhead Camera Angle
This is the 90-degree angle. This has become a very popular angle lately, largely due to Instagram. It’s very good for smart phone photography because phones have a very wide angle lens. Food shot at 45-degrees on a phone can appear as if it’s sliding off the table, due to the distortion caused by a wide angle lens.
This angle definitely has several positives. It’s good for fitting several elements into a scene, like in a tablescape. This makes it a great storytelling angle. You can see a variety of props, ingredients, or dishes of food in the frame when you shoot from overhead. It is also often easier to compose your shot using this angle than a 3/4 angle or straight-on.
If you are a budding food photographer, this is a great place to start from.
However, the overhead angle doesn’t work for every type of food shot. It eliminates depth, which gives a more graphic pop to an image but is not suitable for every type of food. With the overhead angle, you emphasise the shape of the food and various elements of the scene.
In the image of the spaghetti carbonara below, the choice of a 90-degree angle allows us to see completely into the dish. It brings to full view details such as the bacon, parsley, grating of cheese and the ground black pepper. It is a minimalist shot with a lot of negative space, but the end result is pleasing to the eye.
We can see a lot of texture in not only the food, but also the pan and the background. Texture is a very important element in food photography and the choice of an overhead angle can allow us to utilise it effectively.
This camera angle is most suitable for “tall” foods, like burgers or stacks of pancakes. It emphasises the height of a dish. When you are shooting burgers and sandwiches, the bun or the top piece of bread hides what is inside, so taking the shot from anywhere above the food doesn’t make sense. Remember, the objective is always to focus on the best features of the food.
In the image of the Eton Mess below, straight-on was an obvious choice. It allows us to see the meringue and whipping cream layered with the fig and blood orange slices. In the image of the chocolate brownies, we can see their texture and the cherries. And we have the contrast of the sprinkle of icing sugar.
Had I taken the shot overhead, the icing sugar and the texture of the top of the brownie rather than their centres would have been the focus.
To sum up, begin by considering the food you are shooting. Does it have layers, like a sandwich? Or is it a flat food, like a pizza? Also, think about where you want the focus to be. My recommendation is that you focus towards the front of the food.
If you are shooting with your phone, use the overhead or straight-on angle. Avoid taking slanted images. There is a tendency when starting to shoot food photography, to take pictures at an angle. This never looks good and will brand you as an amateur–especially if it looks like the food is about to slide off the table!
The more you shoot and practice food photography, the more intuitive it will become. You’ll learn to easily choose the angle that will best work for the items you are shooting. It can be very helpful to plan things out in advance, but you want to allow some room for creativity too.