Top Notch Top Down Shots!

If you make videos with any sort of regularity, at one time or another, you’ve probably wanted to film a top-down, overhead angle. But if you’ve ever tried to film an overhead shot, you know that it can be pretty frustrating…

Overhead camera angles are beautiful in their simplicity, but more often than not, they can be a total pain to set up. Last year I found a really cool piece of equipment that I’ve been using for my overhead shots, but before we get to that, let’s start out with something that most of us already have: a tripod.

The simplest way to film an overhead angle with a tripod is to just put the tripod over your subject and tilt the camera down. The tricky part, however, is trying NOT to get the tripod legs in the shot while still being able to achieve the framing you’re going for. Depending on the size of your tripod and filming surface, you may be able to place the tripod directly on the surface itself (but in my case, the table I use is too narrow to fit a tripod).

More advanced tripods often have the option to extend and reposition the center column horizontally for an overhead shot. Doing this does make the tripod much easier to tip over, so it’s a good idea to add some weight to the back, or to make sure the tripod’s legs are firmly against your table to keep it steady. It’s also usually easiest to position the tripod on the opposite side of your table from you, and then rotate the footage in your editing software (since it will likely be upside down from this angle). 

Depending on your setup, you may be able to position two of the tripod’s legs on your table, with the third on the floor for additional support. This is ideal because it makes it easier to position the camera exactly where you want it. 

Now, if you’re like me and you film a lot of overhead shots, it’s probably worth investing in a dedicated piece of gear to help you get the job done. Last year I found this Glide Gear overhead rig on B&H Photo for $200. This is in no way a sponsored video, but I’ve been using this for a while, and I think it’s really awesome– I actually look for excuses to use it because I like it so much.

This overhead rig lets you mount your camera directly above what you’re filming, and gets all of the other mess out of the way. It’s super sturdy and the entire thing is made with metal construction. The base has holes in it which allow you to permanently mount the stand directly onto your filming surface, but I’ve found that it’s plenty sturdy on its own, and I like the freedom to move it to different locations if needed. Mine hangs out in the corner when I’m not using it, and then I can easily move it around when I need it.

For this video I’ve been using my Sony RX100 as a “prop” camera to show how the rig works, but I usually use my Canon 6D Mark II when filming with this stand, and it’s never had any issues supporting the weight of a full size DSLR and lens. I sometimes have the camera’s battery grip attached too and still haven’t had any issues with the weight. Of course you could attach a ballhead or other mount to add even more versatility, but I’ve just been sticking with the simple 1/4 20 mount that came with the stand. 

Aside from the fact that it works like a dream, the best part of this stand is its insane versatility. There are 1/4 20 mounts EVERYWHERE! On both of the side supports and all across the main top piece. These give you a ton of options to mount not only your camera, but lights, monitors, audio, and more.  Basically, it makes it really easy to get exactly the style you’re going for.

All in all, if you only film top-down angles once in a while, then a little effort with the tripod you already have will probably get the job done. But if you incorporate a lot of overhead shots into your work, then I think it’s definitely worth investing in a dedicated stand like this Glide Gear overhead rig. I’m recommending this stand specifically because I’ve had such a good experience with it, and also because I haven’t really seen anything else like it. 

Plus it’s built to last forever, and the headaches/time it’ll save you are more than worth the price.