Photography Lesson: Simple Ways to Take Top-Down Photos | Personally Andrea: Photography Lesson: Simple Ways to Take Top-Down Photos

Photography Lesson: Simple Ways to Take Top-Down Photos

Monday, February 2, 2015 by

Top Down Photography // succulent and twine

top-down photography * succulent love

Hey, how is everyone?  I’ve been thinking…haven’t had a photography lesson around here for awhile.  And in these cold dark winter months we need all the photography help we can get, right?  Creativity is key when the light is hard to find.  So here’s a little lesson on shooting top-down, which can be done with fancy equipment, or pretty easily like I do.  Sound good?  Then I’ll show you how.


So first of all, what does it mean to shoot top-down?  It might be obvious from the term, but basically it means that your camera is above the subject and you’re taking the photograph downwards from straight above, and not at any kind of angle.  You’re trying to capture the top surfaces of everything in the frame.  Top-down.

Snack. #midmorning #energyboost #cleaneating #minimalist #vsco #nothingisordinary #myweekofAnythingGoes

smoothie and straw

Why Shoot Top-Down?

Well, good question.  So here’s a few reasons why, and then I’m sure you’ll be able to think of more.  Especially once you start trying some photography from this angle.

1.  to see the top

Obviously.  Sometimes a view from the side or even a 45° angle doesn’t really capture what’s interesting about an object or a scene.  This is often true for food or tablescapes, or for anything that’s inside a container, like the smoothie above for instance.  Think about the colour or texture of the top surface of your subject.

Homemade Granola // Mason jar with chalkboard painted lid

we want to see the chalkboard lid

2. the shape is interesting

Sometimes you’ll have an item or group of items that are maybe all similar in height, maybe even quite flat, and nothing is really interesting about the texture or colour or anything else.  So if it’s the shape of an object that will make the photo, then definitely shoot top-down.  Strong shapes like circles, squares and triangles obviously.  But also more intricate shapes, like plants and leaves.  And if you have a combination of interesting shape and beautiful texture then you’re golden.  Top-down.

I'm saving them for a craft. She said. By the way this is the finished backdrop I made with leftover laminate floorboards and chalk paint. What do you think? #roses #rosepetals #cantthrowthemaway #myweekofsimplicity #vsco #nothingisordinary #chalkpaint 

delicate shapes

And just a little note about composition for these two scenarios.  If it is the shape or the top surface you’re trying to capture in your photo, then it’s great to have a really simple backdrop so as not to distract.  Do you notice any other rules of composition that help these photos?
Here’s one with strong shapes and where the top surface tells the story…

Drove through Tims on the after-school run. {looking down} #thebethadillychallenge #vsco #coffee

timmy’s run * B * that’s me

3.  flat lay

Maybe this is a bit of a bloggy term.  But a flat lay is when you take all your pretty things and arrange them nicely on the bed, on your table, on the ground…whatever…and take a top-down photo.  It’s a favourite of fashion bloggers (which I am NOT) but it can work for cooking and crafting and gardening too.  If you search the hashtag #flatlay on social media you’ll get a good idea of what I mean.  Here’s one that I did for an instagram challenge…

February Flatlay // Instagram

February #flatlay

Some helpful tips for shooting your own flatlays.

How to Shoot Top-Down:

So there’s the really easy way, the pretty easy way, and the complicated way…

1. smartphone

With a smartphone it’s really easy.  You just need to hold your phone horizontally down towards your subject.  Easy.

Trying to capture how incredibly pretty and sparkly the snow is today. #thebethadillychallenge #canadianwinter #nofilter

shy girl’s selfie

2. handheld dslr

Your DSLR will give you more options for playing with depth of field, focus and compression.  But you want to look through the viewfinder to make sure you’re getting it right.  So that means leaning over your subject matter with your camera ready.  Sometimes you need to stand on a chair, or a ladder, or the countertop.  Yup. 

Watch out for your shadow, tie your hair back if it’s long, make sure the camera strap is out of the way.

Top Down Photography

crazy photographer

Do you see how with the DSLR you can really focus on the detail that’s closest to the camera?  In this photos it’s the very centre of the succulent.  If you were photographing a beautifully decorated cupcake for example, you’d want to focus on the very centre tip of the icing swirl.

Succulent and Twine // Top Down Photography

focus on the details

3. tripod dslr

This is something I don’t do…yet.  I tend to travel light and figure out how to shoot handheld in natural light.  I don’t have a lot of patience for things that are fiddly and time-consuming.  My tripod only comes out for special occasions.  But it is something you should know about, so you can decide for yourself if you want to try it.  So here are a couple of good links for equipment and tutorials for using a tripod to shoot top-down.

This one particularly for food photography by Click it Up a Notch, especially tips 3, 4 and 5.

General tips for using a tripod From Digital Photography School.

Try it.

Besides that…experiment a little and have fun.  When the photography advice is to change your perspective, this is one of the things they mean.  Look at your subject differently and add some variety to the way you shoot.  You might be surprised by what you can capture.

And don’t forget to check out some of my other photography tutorials about using your smartphone camera, shooting backlit photos, and my unexpected tips for photographing your vacations.  Also, one of my favourites…how to take your own family photo.

Baking chocolate chip cookiesCamera, Mason Jars, Wood BackdropMontreal BicycleHow to Take Your Own Family Photo

Thanks so much for reading!  See you here again soon,
xo andrea

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