The 3 Main Angles for Food Photography
Some product links are affiliate links but all are where I make my gear purchases. You can also find all of my photography gear recommendations here.
Whenever I’m bored, I like to look at food photography on Pinterest. Seriously. I’ve heard some creatives talk about how they try to limit the amount of creative work they view in some sort of effort to keep their work pure. I take the exact opposite approach. I want to see everything and I want to categorize and organize it and think about it.
So I’ve been looking at food photography for a long time and somehow it dawned upon me recently that there are really only 3 angles for food photography. Food is generally approached in a practical manner (aside from very abstract or stylized shoots). It’s usually on a table or on some sort of flat surface.
Thanks to the practical perspective and it’s manageable size, I’ve noticed that food is almost always photographed from above, at about 45 degrees or straight on. For a while, I assumed it was pretty obvious which angle would be best for which situation but I’ve now seen enough sandwiches photographed from above (where you can’t see what’s actually in the sandwich!) to realize that it’s not exactly common sense.
Here are the 3 most common angles for food photography and the situations that they’re best for -
Anything in a bowl is best photographed from above or from a 45 degree angle. Large table arrangements are also great photographed from above. Basically anything that you can’t see into or in detail from straight on is best photographed from above or from a slight angle. If you’re going to photograph a sandwich from above, please cut it and arrange it so it’s possible to see more than just bread.
Around 45 degrees
It’s kind of a cheat to say this is a single angle but let’s not get persnickety. Basically I’m counting anything that’s shot from a slight angle, somewhere between straight on and from above, as a 45 degree angle shot.
I really only like food photographs shot on an angle if there’s a row of items or a busy arrangement and the angle is used to bokeh out all the extra stuff and draw attention to the main item. When I went hunting through my own photo archives, I realized that around 90% of the food photos I take are shot from above from from straight on. Usually I shoot from an angle if there’s some sort of issue that I’m trying to work around.
Please have mercy on me and photograph your burgers and sandwiches straight on. It drives me a little mad when something is shot from above that you can’t actually make out what it is.
Aside sandwiches and other tall foods, straight on shots are my go to for any photos that have some sort of pouring element.
Angles and Food Photography
Remember standardized math tests? Every now and again there would be some question about permutations and combinations. It starts out seemingly sort of simple. You have 7 friends but 4 tickets to a concert, how many possible combinations are there? Suddenly you’re stretching your multiplication capabilities and going considerably beyond single digits. Sometimes that’s how I feel with photography. It starts out sort of simple, you have a dish and a camera. Then you add in angles, lighting, different lenses and settings. The combinations aren’t exactly endless but there are a lot of possible outcomes.
I like to think that the more I improve at understanding one component of food photography, the better I become as an overall photographer. That might be optimistic thinking but it works for me.