Pink Apple - Photo by © Reka Csulak

Let’s Talk About Head-On Angle In Food Photography

with my professional guest, Jella Bertell

The next camera angle we will talk about in this post will be the head-on angle. It is also called straight-on or zero-degrees angle. In this episode of the ‘Let’s Talk About…‘ post series, you will learn more about how to make the best out of this popular angle.

If you are interested in learning more about other perspectives, you can visit the post that helps you discover the 3/4 angle by clicking on the link.

Are you ready to improve your photography and styling skills? Let’s do this together!

Cinnamon Bun Cake © Reka Csulak
Find the recipe of this Cinnamon Bun Cake here! – Photo by © Reka Csulak

We need more drama

The head-on angle is a winner choice to show tall subjects and layers from a dramatic perspective. It is great to reveal what’s inside: all the elements of that juicy burger, sandwich or cake that are otherwise hiding under a mysterious top layer.

As a photographer, it’s your job to choose the most complimenting perspective for the food or drink you are capturing, so it is always worth playing around with the position of the camera. If you are having a hard time finding the hero angle, read some handy tips in this blog post.

Do you like those amazing action shots when scrolling through your Instagram? The head-on angle is perfect to make our heroes more interesting by incorporating actions. Show sprinkles, drizzles, exploding particles our sauces being poured over the dish.

Chestnut honey © Reka Csulak
Honey and spoons – Photo by © Reka Csulak
Meringue Crush © Reka Csulak
Meringue crush- Photo by © Reka Csulak
Curd cheese doughnuts © Reka Csulak
Curd Cheese Doughnuts – Photo by © Reka Csulak

If you are positioning your camera a little bit below tabletop level and tilt it to look up slightly at the hero, then you can show it bigger and magnificent, and increase the potential of the drama that head-on angle provides you.

The other great opportunity that head-on angle gives to us photographers is that we can easily leave negative space for a logo or copy, without giving up on styling.

Grated Curd Cheese Cake – Photo by © Reka Csulak
Red Wine Poached Pears © Reka Csulak
Mulled wine poached pear – Photo by © Reka Csulak
Poppy Seed Apple Trifle – Photo by © Reka Csulak

Exercise: Use of Props

Practice head on-angle with the following exercise:

  • style the scene without using any props other than backdrops and surfaces, utilize light to make your hero standing out in the simplistic environment
  • use more props to set up an environment for your hero, that tells a story

When the hero itself needs to get all the attention and built up from multiple elements or busy layers, sometimes it is better to minimize the number of props on the image, such as at the burger shot below.

At the same time, a nice atmosphere can be created by fabricating a feel-good story around the star of our image, just like I did when setting up the summer window frame behind this yummy Italian sandwich.

© Reka Csulak - Burger styling
Food in focus, no props – Photo by © Reka Csulak
Italian Sandwich - Photo by © Reka Csulak
Use props for storytelling – Photo by © Reka Csulak

When it comes to this modern version of a Battenberg Cake served in jars, the tasteful use of props adds value to the scene and creates a cheerful mood. When it comes to this rhubarb-infused gin cocktail, no props are needed, all eyes are drawn to admire the hero, the garnish, and the gorgeous patterned gin glass.

Batternberg Cake in a jar- Photo by © Reka Csulak
Rhubarb Infused Gin Cocktail- – Photo by © Reka Csulak

I invited a professional photographer friend to process this topic by digging deeper into the stylistic and technical considerations about creating amazing compositions by using the head-on angle on our photos. Welcome Jella Bertell on board!

Who are you and what is your photography specialty?

My name is Jella Bertell and I’m a food blogger and food photographer from Helsinki, Finland. My specialty in photography is dark and moody style using both natural and artificial light and I’m especially drawn to capturing all kinds of fascinating textures in food!

Portrait - Photo by © Jella Bertell
Portrait – Photo by © Jella Bertell

We often capture food from the head-on angle. How does this perspective help the viewer discovering the hero dish?

When food is captured from head-on angle, it brings it to our eye-level, giving us a perfect opportunity to present the vertical elements of the food. We are usually looking downwards to our meal, so this ”0 degree angle” is an opportunity to create an elevated feel: to lift the subject visually higher – or to lower ourselves to its level. In either case, we are eye to eye with the subject when photographed from this angle and it can make the scene feel more intimate, up close and personal.

Photo by © Jella Bertell 2020
Photo by © Jella Bertell

What are your technical and styling preferences when shooting a scene from the head-on angle?

Shooting food from eye-level is not something I do a lot, but at times it’s the best angle for specific kinds of dishes: stacked elements like a pile of tortilla wraps, pancakes, burgers… I also use this angle often for drinks in tall glasses! When shooting from this angle, I often opt to keep things very minimal with plenty of negative space. Eliminating other elements from the frame can be a very powerful move!

Photo by © Jella Bertell 2020
Photo by © Jella Bertell

With head-on angle we can find ourselves in the situation, that we find all elements on an even plane. What is the easiest way to overcome this challenge?

When shooting from eye-level, I like to keep my hero in the front part of the frame, with props further back in the scene. I might sometimes place a blurry and soft decorative element also super up close. Typically my aim  is to keep the depth of field shallow enough to have only the hero in sharp focus to create a beautifully soft and blurry background.

To be honest, I rarely shoot from precisely 0-degree angle, usually, I will lift my camera a tiny bit higher especially, if I have multiple elements in my scene.

What lighting setup(s) work for you the best with head-on angle?

With head-on angle I often go for anything in-between side-light and backlight. Especially when capturing frames with smoke or steam, this is the way to go and with translucent and/or iced drinks backlight creates a beautiful glow in head-on frames, highlighting the color and texture of the ingredients.

Having a light source that’s tall and narrow (a strip light) creates a natural separation between the front of the image and everything placed in the back. This way the dish gets to pop with color, contrast and texture, with the background staying more muted and demure. When shooting with natural light, I block the light to create a similar effect.

Photo by © Jella Bertell 2020
Photo by © Jella Bertell

Make sure you check the website and other beautiful images of Jella, by visiting her

Show me your food photos by tagging @rekacsulak
on your social media posts.

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