Have you ever looked at high-angle, or aerial views, of food and thought that would be a fun way to photograph meals during your next vacation? Or a holiday is coming up and you have always wanted to immortalize the amazing spread of delicious dishes before it all becomes leftovers and dirty dishes?
With a window and at least one chair, you can replicate the style of those beautiful, high viewpoint images that you sometimes see on Facebook and Instagram feeds or Pinterest boards.
They aren’t as hard as they look, but on the other hand, they aren’t as easy either. The first step is to pick a table near a window with diffused sunlight coming in. If there is direct sunlight streaming through the window, the lighting will be too harsh for anything to look good. The diffused light of indirect sunlight creates large highlights that make food look much more appetizing and lowers the contrast of the scene.
The next step is to find a chair sturdy enough to stand on. A bench seat is even better, if there is one next to your table, and a small stepladder from the kitchen is best of all, if you have the nerve to ask for one. One way or another, your camera needs to be directly above the table.
I usually use a tripod for support, placing the legs on the table and adjacent chairs. It’s more trouble than hand holding your camera, but I don’t have to raise my camera’s ISO to get a fast enough shutter speed to steady both my camera and myself while balancing on a chair.
The fun step is arranging the various dishes on the table that you want to include in your photograph. Roughly center the largest dish, the main dish or the most exotic dish and then add the peripheral dishes to fill the frame. Don’t forget to add a drink or two, sauces, tableware—anything that supports the ethnicity of the cuisine and indicates that a group of friends are sitting down to a great meal.
Although not always necessary, I usually bounce light back into my still life with a reflector opposite the window. It controls contrast and produces more highlights, making the food look more tasty. Have someone hold a white menu for this if you don’t have a reflector handy. And don’t hesitate to have a friend reach in to try one of the dishes. A hand gives scale to the photo and makes it a little less sterile.
If your friends haven’t already started grazing on your still life, shoot quickly before everything cools down. Holding back fellow diners is often the hardest part of the job. If you are successful in controlling the mob, or maybe just your spouse, frame the image rather loosely and do your final cropping in post-production without the pressure of hungry friends or relatives.
These aerial photographs of food have an unexpected viewpoint that is very graphic and can be used to illustrate a range of dishes from a particular culture all in one image. Give it a try on your next trip and try not to fall off the chair. It makes a real mess of the food. Just saying.