Three ways to mount a camera for overhead stills or video

Oct 10, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Three ways to mount a camera for overhead stills or video

Oct 10, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Mounting a camera overhead can be a difficult task if it’s not something you need to do regularly. Many of those that do need it regularly have permanent camera installations so they’re always ready at a moment’s notice. For those who prefer to take the DIY approach, we’ve covered quite a few options before. Sometimes, though, you don’t want a permanent fixed rig.

What do you do for those random occasions where you just decide you want an overhead shot, and need to setup in a hurry? Well, this video from the folks over at Wistia offers three different ways to help you get the overhead shot with minimal extra kit.

 


Method number one is the much hated “stick the camera on a tripod and point it straight down” technique. It’s not that this technique can’t work, it’s just not very reliable. The legs can easily appear in the shot. They can also can get in the way of you actually being able to perform whatever you need to do for the camera.

overhead_tripod

In short, it’s the reason why dedicated overhead rigs were created in the first place. But, in an emergency, it can still be a viable option. You just have to be very careful about how you do it.

The second option uses a light stand and a monopod in combination with each other. This is a method I’ve used myself a couple of times. It also isn’t ideal for every situation, but it offers distinct advantages over just using a tripod.

overhead_boom_pole

Going with this route means you need a pretty sturdy light stand. In the video they suggest C-Stands and you’ll want to weigh down the legs with sandbags, as it will be quite top heavy. The main weight is also well out from the centre of the pole, so prone to tipping without them.

Basically, you attach a grip head & boom pole holder to your light stand, put your camera on a monopod, and then combine the two. This gives you a boomed camera over the top of your scene that can point straight down. You also have more room to move freely under the camera without worrying about knocking into tripod legs.

The third solution is one I hadn’t even considered before, but could actually make life a whole lot easier, especially for operating the camera. Here we use a mirror, and simply record the image reflected in it.

overhead_mirror

Working this way means you can have your camera set up at a more realistic position. You won’t have to use external screens to monitor framing and composition. It’s also a lot easier to get to your camera’s controls, as they’re all at normal tripod height. You’ll also need to flip your image horizontally, and possibly vertically depending on the orientation from which you shoot.

Of course, most photographers don’t carry mirrors around in their gear bags, so this is something you’ll need to plan ahead for, but it’s an excellent option for setting up a temporary overhead rig.

Do you find yourself using overhead rigs away from your regular shooting space? What do you use as a portable or temporary overhead camera rig? Or do you just shoot overhead in one location with a fixed rig? Let us know in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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5 responses to “Three ways to mount a camera for overhead stills or video”

  1. MindStorm Avatar
    MindStorm

    Uh… why not just use a tripod with a center arm that can rotate 90 degrees? My Indurama tripod has done that for nearly a decade now…

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Not all tripods do, though. I have 6 tripods, and only one of them will allow you to place the centre pole in such a position.

      It’s also going to have the centre of balance thrown way off, like with the boom pole example above, and it’s not always that easy to attach sandbags to a tripod’s legs like it is the feet of a c-stand. You’d need to have the legs so splayed out on most tripods to account for that shift in balance that they’d either still get into the shot, or the tripod would be too short.

  2. Rick Avatar
    Rick

    On the cantilevered monopole approach it takes far less weight to balance the load with the sandbags on the opposite end of the pole rather than at the light stand base. Not such a big deal in the studio but makes a difference when traveling.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Indeed. I’d still suggest bags on the ground, too, though. Even if balanced, the centre of gravity would still be pretty high. :)

  3. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    Polecats can provide a really sturdy mounting point, just throw a Mafer clamp on there and you’re set.
    Another similar option is a background stand, mount that over your surface, throw the Mafer clamp on and shoot down.
    If you have a jib you can use that.
    You can use a multi-mount.
    Finally you can get tripods with adjustable centre columns.
    As a last resort there’s always the shitty rig of tying your tripod to the top of a ladder, though I don’t recommend it.