If you’re looking for an affordable, lightweight, portable and highly versatile setup to shoot overhead videos with your smartphone or small camera, you’re going to want to read this.
At least once a day, I’m asked to share how I shoot my overhead videos on my Instagram stories. My first answer is always, “I bite the phone between my teeth.” Each time, I desperately hope that someone actually believes me. I’m not positive, but I think I managed to fool one person! Sweet, sweet victory!
My second answer is usually, “I have a DIY clamp-holder-thingy”, which only leads to more confusion because I’m not quite sure how to explain it.
For the most part, my Instagram stories are shot with my iPhone from a top-down/overhead/bird’s eye perspective. Aside from a few in-between shots that I like to use while chopping certain vegetables, or the infamous final tasting scenes, all of my story videos are positioned above my cutting board or cooking surface.
If you’ve never seen them, you can head to @primal_gourmet and scroll through the saved highlights in my bio. I share new recipes every day or two so there’s a strong chance that there’s one live as you read this.
There are, of course, a variety of other ways to shoot a recipe or cooking video. In my experience, the overhead angle is the best one for demonstrating ‘how to cook’, since it allows viewers to envision themselves as the one doing the cooking.
Likewise, there are an equal number of ways to physically setup a camera to record yourself cooking from an overhead perspective. Many of which are clumsy, expensive, complicated or impractical.
I’ve tried positioning my camera on shelves, tripods, stacks of books, you name it. All of which produced inconsistent shots and required bulky gear. I even went ahead and bought one of those flexible clamp holder thingamajigs from the dollar store because it looked so convenient. The bendy arm collapsed from the weight of my iPhone and the clamp snapped into three pieces on the first day. Worst $2.99 I’ve ever spent!
Finally, I found a setup that worked like a charm and didn’t break the bank and I’ve been using it ever since. I honestly believe this is the best overhead camera setup for smart phones or point-and-shoots.
Unlike other DIY rigs, this setup is not just limited to shooting overhead shots. You could use it to shoot at virtually every angle with very little effort and no extra gear.
This makes it great for a variety of filming purposes, such as filming your Make Up Tutorials or showcasing your DIY videos.
Nevertheless, there are a few things you should know before you buy any of the gear.
Things You Need to Know
Compatible with Almost Every Smart Phone:
If you want a sense of scale, I have an iPhone 7plus, which is fairly wide and tall, and have had no issues.
Works with Point-and-Shoot Cameras:
I also occasionally use this setup to shoot videos with my Canon Gx7 MkII. This isn’t the camera I use to film my Instagram stories, but it might be useful for YouTubers looking for a face-to-camera setup.
Not Intended for Larger DSLRs:
The swing arm and ball joint are simply too weak to support the weight of even a light DSLR. If that’s what you’re shooting with, this ain’t for you.
You Need All Three Components for Maximum Control:
The beauty of this setup is the unbelievable versatility in manipulating angles. Each component plays a role in making sure you can fully manipulate the angle of the camera so that it is perfectly level with your cooking surface.
What Makes this the Best Overhead Camera Setup?
The entire setup costs under $30 USD on Amazon.
I haven’t put it on a scale, but the complete setup only weighs a few pounds.
The swing arm folds up and the other components come apart very easily, making it perfect for small spaces or travelling.
As long as you have each of the 3 components, you should be able to hit any angle and have a sturdy shot.
The first component is the swing arm, which has two parts. The top part, extends and contracts and the base clamps down onto any surface with a edge that is under 2.5” thick.
The second component is the ball head mount. This will give you a dynamic range of motion. You can use any ball head you like and it doesn’t have to be expensive since you’re only going to be holding a smart phone or small camera. Nevertheless, I recommend buying a ball head that can articulate 90 degrees for maximum range of motion.
NOTE: The ball head linked here will come with a small metal insert. Simply unscrew the metal insert before threading it onto the bolt of the swing arm.
The last component is the smart phone mount. This one can articulate 90˚ and can be adjusted to fit narrow and wide devices.
Of course, you’ll need something to film with, such as your smart phone. Or even a point and shoot camera.
How to Install
- Slide the base of the swing arm onto the lip of a countertop or table (I’ve even used the seat of a chair) and tighten the clamp. My counter’s lip is quite shallow but this still works.
- Loosen the opening at the top of the base, and slide the swing arm down into the hole. Then tighten the screw.
- Screw the ball head onto the threaded bolt of the swing arm.
- Screw the smart phone clamp onto the ball head.
- Loosen the ball head and position the clamp so that you can attach the smart phone. Adjust the smart phone clamp to fit your device, then tighten it to hold. Now you can position your phone to face the direction your shooting.
- Make sure each joint of the swing arm is nice and tight and that’s it! You’re ready to roll!
- If you want to film with a point and shoot camera, simply unscrew the smart phone clamp and screw your camera directly onto the ball head. *But, as mentioned, a DSLR won’t work here because it’s just too heavy.
- Once you’re done filming, unscrew and collapse the swing arm, remove the base and tuck it in a drawer, under your sofa, or wherever else you keep your prized possessions.
Now you all know exactly how I film my step-by-step Instagram stories and are set to spin as many onions as your heart desires!
You can loosen the base of the swing arm and have it swivel 360 degrees.
Or you can loosen the ball head and have it articulate up and down 90 degrees, or 360 degrees around.